Pilipino Festivals of Light


I’ve only been to the Philippines once. I was eight years old and there are only a few flashes of my trip that I can remember: playing with my cousin’s ten puppies in Pampanga, eating birthday cake with my grandfather in Bikol, and scratching my legs - which were so swollen with mosquito bites that I was starting to look like The Thing from Fantastic Four. Besides those memories, the only images I have of the Philippines are from news articles, TFC and stories I hear from my family. I’m dying to go back someday soon and have crated a hefty bucket list of things to see and do. At the top of the list are witnessing the different festivals of light in the Philippines that seem to me both breathtaking and hauntingly beautiful.

Ligligan Parul- Giant Lantern Festival giant parol

I’ve seen a parol or two hanging in my aunt’s windows during Christmas time, but they don’t have anything on the blazing 20-footers showcased in the parades of the Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando, Philippines. A parol is a Christmas lantern representing the star of Bethlehem and was originally made from “simple materials like bamboo sticks, Japanese rice paper, crepe paper, and a candle or coconut oil-lamp for illumination.” The parols of San Fernando, however, are gargantuan modern day feats of engineering and flair, bedazzling audiences with kaleidoscopic stained glass windows, illuminated by electrified lights dancing in synchronicity to cheery Christmas music. The parade, which has been held every December for the last 80 years, has become such a crowd-drawing phenomenon that San Fernando has been dubbed the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”

All Saint’s Day/All Soul’s Day

all souls day When my family first told me that for All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day they spent all day and all night in a cemetery, I thought the tradition sounded downright morbid and creepy. They assured me that it was, in fact, quite the opposite. These observances, practiced on November 1st and 2nd, are meant to honor and remember deceased loved ones in celebration. With smiling faces they reminisced and told me how they would stay up with all their friends and family in the crypts, eating, drinking, praying and dancing. It was a party, both somber and joyful all at once. Best of all, the millions of candles lit in remembrance of the deceased would fill the crypts with an ocean of twinkling lights.

Sky lantern celebrations

Philippines Lanterns Guinness Record While technically not a Pilipino tradition rooted in cultural history (major sky lantern festivals are traditional in Taiwan and Thailand), floating sky lanterns are popularly used in the Philippines to celebrate special occasions or released just for fun. In 2013, the Philippines broke the Guinness World Record for most sky lanterns flown simultaneously. 15,185 sky lanterns were released into the atmosphere at the University of the Philippines Visayas Miag-ao by Pilipino and Thai participants from the faiths of Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. The demonstration was intended to encourages harmony and promote world peace through inner peace.

What is it about these grand displays of light that draw people together in celebration? Maybe they remind us of the tranquil charm of a star-studded nighttime sky. Maybe the candles or lanterns symbolize glimpses of joy and hope amidst darkness. Whatever it is, it’s beautiful. And I would love to go back to the Philippines someday to see these festivals of light and experience the magic first hand.

Photo credits: prafulla.net, phwow.com, blogs.ft.com