Colorful paper lanterns herald the Yuletide season in the Philippines, retrieving memories of Colonial Spain. They are called “Parols” and they come in different sizes and shapes. When lit, they have a shimmering effect of a Kaleidoscope. The materials used in their construction such as rice paper and split bamboo reeds suggest a Chinese origin, but the designs are strongly Aztec, hints of which could only have been transported to the Philippines by the Conquistadors. As soon as they appeared, they faded into the distant past, but both Chinese and Japanese festivals exhibit parallels in usage, although the configuration of a star only gained popularity in the Philippines.
They begin to appear about six weeks before the season, fragile creations that can be expensive. Well crafted ones are about US $40 and up, depending on the quality and size. Illumination was once provided by candles and now, incandescent lamps, the former being considered hazardous. Either way, the light sources tend to bake both the bamboo frames and rice paper, making them brittle and susceptible to breakage. In any event, each individual piece is meant to be ephemeral, so the next season would usher in intricately different designs. Once confined to provincial regions, the custom has since crept into the cities, where they grace modern buildings. Few people take the trouble to contemplate its history, but all appreciate its beauty. It would not be Christmas without them.