Despite the cancellation of the enormously famous giant lantern festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic, San Fernando’s local officials and civic leaders chose instead to showcase the colorful creations of the city’s barangays to an online audience to keep the 112-year-old tradition going.
“We will not allow the absence of lanterns,” said Ernesto Quiwa, great grandson of pioneer giant lantern maker Francisco Estanislao. The annual event used to gather 50,000 spectators from here and abroad.
The exhibition will be held at San Fernando’s Robinsons Starmills to be aired live on social media and local TV stations.
“The lantern festival is our way of thanksgiving for surviving the hardships during this pandemic. It is our way also of spreading the messages of hope and trusting in God,” Mayor Edwin Santiago said.
Number of participating barangays decreased to seven this year from 12 last year, according to Ching Pangilinan, city tourism officer. Only Sto. Niño, San Juan, San Nicolas, Sta. Lucia, Bulaon, Telasbatagan and Calulut will display their giant lanterns by mostly reusing pieces used in 2019.
Quiwa said several barangays almost run out of budget, spending their funds to control the spread of the virus and help those affected by the pandemic.
Giant Lantern Festival Inc., Robinsons Starmills and other companies pooled funds to allocate P150,000 for each barangay to cover the cost of transporting and repairing the lanterns.
Only Sta. Lucia, which won the 2019 festival, is presenting an entirely new lantern, courtesy of last year’s best lantern maker, Byron Bondoc whose creation showed the birth of Jesus in a humble manger at the lantern’s center.
“We do not intend to create crowds. The audience has to watch from the safety of their homes,” Santiago said.
“In normal times and in disasters, we spread joy. Six months after Mt. Pinatubo erupted [on June 15, 1991], all lanterns competed in the festival. We always find ways to make the lanterns alive during Christmas,” Quiwa, 74, said.
In 1908, Estanislao, a salt vendor, made a 2.43-meter (8-foot) bamboo lantern in honor of Sta. Lucia, his barangay’s patron, for the nine-day Christmas dawn Masses and processions,.
Pampanga’s giant lanterns are one-of-their-kind in the world. Measuring 6.09 m (20 ft) in diameter and fitted with 15,000 light bulbs, the lanterns appear like dancing. Several rotor or aluminum barrels that connect the bulbs and wires to the source of electricity through hairpins or bicycle rods enable craftsmen to let out numerous patterns of colors and designs that turn on-and-off in sync with a medley of songs.