Giant Lantern Festival

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The Giant Lantern Festival is a festival held every year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve in The City of San Fernando in the Philippines. In this festival, there is a competition of lanterns nearly 20 feet in diameter. There is a 5-minute display of each lantern's light effects to the tune chosen by its designers. Then the lanterns are presented again in groups of three. As a finale all the lanterns are displayed with their lights flashing to music chosen by the organizers.

The popularity of the festival has led to the development of the parol-making industry in San Fernando as well as the city's nickname the "Christmas Capital of the Philippines" and its Paskuhan Village.



The Giant Lantern Festival has its roots in the Pampango tradition of lubenas, a lamp-lighted procession held on each night of Simbang Gabi from as early as 1830. The lanterns were made in the forms of religious symbols and the highlight of the procession was a giant lantern behind the carroza.

The first lantern competition was supposedly held in San Fernando in 1904, when the provincial capital was transferred to San Fernando from Bacolor. The Bacolor Ligligan Parul festival tradition was said to have transferred to San Fernando as well, though this may not have taken place until 1908. In the earliest festivals, the lanterns were merely 2 feet in diameter. The barangays of Del Pilar, Sta. Lucia and San Jose were among the first participants in the festival. The tradition of a lantern festival continued, and in 1928 a special festival was held in honor of President Manuel L. Quezon. Because Quezon favored nearby Arayat as a place for relaxation, he converted Mount Arayat into a tourist resort and the festival was dedicated to him out of gratitude. The prizes for the festival were donated by Quezon and presented by First Lady Aurora Quezon.

With the use of electricity starting in 1931, elaborate light effects in lanterns became possible. Eventually, the size of the lanterns became the focus of the competition, partly in hopes of getting into the Guiness Book of World Records.

The making of the lanterns

Each giant lantern takes several months to construct and is made with the contributions and collaborative effort of an entire barangay. The lanterns can cost as much as 300,000 pesos to make despite the simple materials used, like cardboard and plastic. Each polyethylene cell is painted with the desired color, and ordinary white bulbs -- up to 5,000 of them -- are used.

The light effects are achieved not with computers but with manually rotated rotors turned with coordinated efforts to the directions of a conductor. Each lamp circuit wire leads to one of these large round drums mounted on the flat bed of the truck. The rotors, some bigger than oil barrels, are wrapped with electrified wires that have alternating insulated and bare un-insulated sections. These alternating wire segments provide the "program" or sequence to light each bulb on the lantern. When held against the rotor, the lamp circuit wires pick up electricity from each un-insulated section of wire. Each rotor controls different elements of the design. The rotor operators work together, guided by the conductor, to produce the overall effect on the face of the lantern.


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