This Winter Festival in the Philippines Lights Up the Sky With Musical Lanterns
Dubbed the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines,” San Fernando draws crowds each December for its Giant Lantern Festival. Twelve teams of designers and electricians from the region’s villages build colorful, intricate lanterns, or parols, that go head-to-head in competition for Best Lantern before being exhibited in public spaces around the city.
The parols have come a long way from those that originally inspired the event. The lanterns have roots in the Filipino Catholic tradition of building small, colorful lights to illuminate the procession to Christmas Eve mass. Today’s giant lanterns are engineering and electrical feats that measure approximately 20 feet tall and can have up to 10,000 bulbs. Each lantern is designed to put on a seven-minute light show, set to music, and is judged based on originality and design. This was the 111th year of competition.
The prize-winning lantern in 2019, from the team from Sta. Lucia, featured a mechanism that allowed the center of the piece to open, revealing a stained-glass scene.
Every year, the Giant Lantern Festival lights up San Fernando for locals and thousands of visitors from the middle of December until New Year's Day. Photographer Chona Kasinger, who grew up near San Fernando, was on hand for the 2019 competition and shares her photos with us here to help make your holiday a little brighter.
The Del Pilar lantern team performs a test before the competition begins.
Team members put finishing touches on their lanterns before the show begins. Each parol is built by a team of electricians, designers, directors, and builders.
Crowds can visit outdoor markets while waiting for the sun to set and the lantern competition to begin.
A small handmade parol for sale at the festival.
A band is on hand to set the mood before the lantern judging begins.
Crowds begin to fill the seats at the Giant Lantern Festival before the lantern judging begins.
The competition takes place in elimination rounds. In the first round, each team runs their lantern through its full seven-minute show, set to music. The elimination rounds continue with lanterns going head-to-head until a winner is declared.
Each parol is incredibly detailed, and can have up to 10,000 lightbulbs. This is the entry from the village of Bulaon.
The lanterns are around 20 feet tall, towering over the crowds below.
A giant lantern in action.
Parols from San Agustín and San Pedro.
The top prize went to the parol from Sta. Lucia, which featured a surprise reveal: the center of the lantern opened to reveal a stained glass nativity scene.