“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber
Last December 14, three friends and I embarked on another new experience — the Giant Lantern Festival of Pampanga. We arrived in the city of San Fernando just a few minutes before 7 pm, yet the main roads were full of vehicles trying to get to Robinsons Star Mills, the location of the lantern competition. Several barangays were set to compete on this day, bringing home thousands of cash (and bragging rights!) of having made the best parol, or lantern, in the city. San Fernando is well-known throughout the country as the makers of the best lanterns.
While we had a few minutes to spare before the competition was set to begin, we had the trouble of finding a secured parking slot. Our driver, Kuya Emil, also wanted to watch the show, so we didn’t want to just leave him behind in the car. Luckily, we found one parking spot in the rival shopping mall, SM San Fernando, and began our walk towards the venue. As we got nearer the site, the crowds became thicker. By the time we saw a giant lantern lit up, it was already the second to the last! Apparently, this was how the show works. First, each of the ten barangays participating in the competition would showcase its own lantern. Soon after, the lanterns were lit up as groups — the first three, the middle four, and the last three. At the end, all ten lanterns were dancing to the lively holiday tunes!
Unfortunately though, I was too short to even see the dancing lights of the lantern. I could only hear the lovely Christmas carols being played. My friend Mimie and I ventured to get deeper into the crowd, when our luck struck as somebody left his elevated post to give way to us. Several colors of light were suddenly playing before our eyes. Some made patterns that resemble animals, others were left abstract. I particularly loved one parol when it just used the white/yellow lights. Indeed, simplicity is beauty.
We didn’t wait for the announcement of the winners anymore, hoping not to coincide with the exit of the other viewers. As we were walking, I asked Kuya Emil whether the parols were electronic. He said no, these were purely mechanical ones and are being lit up as some men labored through them back stage. Phew! I instantly felt more appreciation for what I just saw. When we reached the parking lot, it was traffic! It took us over an hour to get out of SM compound and finally depart the city of San Fernando.
Here are a few tips if you’re planning to go next year:
1. Buy a VIP ticket. The show is free, but if you have money to spare, I would recommend getting a VIP ticket. You would have a car pass, meaning that you have reserved parking slots near the venue, plus you’d have seats when you watch the competition take place. I’m just not sure how to get tickets.
2. Otherwise, be there early to get the best viewing area. Make sure you stay at an elevated portion to prevent being blocked by the crowd, or bring a stool to stand on.
3. Bring your telephoto camera or lens, or your best camera…period. Capturing the lights could be quite a task. If you’re equipment is not up for it, just enjoy the sights and the sounds of Christmas in the Philippines!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, everyone! Hope you all have a great holiday season, and cheers to the coming year!