Feeling like a kid again at the Parol Lantern Festival and Parade

By Matt Maxion

Glowing. Shimmering. A kaleidoscope of dazzling greens, yellows, pinks and whatnots were shining fiercely, alternating colors in one-second intervals. Some faster than a blink of an eye. Some blinding in radiance and others more subtle. These star-shaped lanterns gracefully adorned the walls of Jessie Square Sunday night for the 10th annual Parol Lantern Festival and Parade hosted by Kularts, a contemporary and tribal Filipino arts organization.

Though having experienced many Filipino Christmases, the parol and I haven’t been close acquaintances. I was never that curious of the bright, shiny handmade sculpture that would hang outside people’s front doors and windows. It was nothing more than a passing thought.

Now, here comes a parol lantern festival, which came just in time to satiate my quota of 25 service hours I needed for an Asian American studies class at San Francisco State University. It sounded like the perfect opportunity to swoop a day’s worth of volunteer hours.

But after seeing all of the work that’s put into creating an event of this scale, I’ve gained a better understanding of the parol, its meaning and history—better yet, the raw, human emotions they provoke. The parade featured meticulously handcrafted parols from 20 local Filipino organizations and schools.

Organizers at the Bayanihan Community Center, located on Sixth and Mission streets, dedicate a massive amount of time and effort in setting up a parade and festival every year. For an event like this, months and months of time is set aside to organize volunteers, the contingents and the venue. And after 10 years, the tradition is still holding strong through all the hard work, and it shows.

The parade marched from Yerba Buena Lane to St. Patrick Church at Jessie Square, while strokes of luminous colors emanated from the wide variety of lanterns—one was even crafted with used milk cartons. Onlookers craned their necks in curiosity. Children clapped their hands in joyous furor. I joined in. I felt like a five-year-old again packed with a tremendous amount of gleeful abandon.

These star-shaped Filipino lanterns symbolize peace and goodwill during the holiday season. And it’s funny to think that I haven’t experienced this childish glee when I was younger. While my eyes were fixated at the sea of colors that crossed Mission Street, I began to understand why parols act as a sort of glue that ties a family together for the holiday season.

It’s simple. There’s an unbreakable line of connectivity among generations. Whether crafting a parol yourself or with family, there’s a common rapturous feeling shared among children and adults, which starts to envelop during this time of year. Suddenly, I didn’t care whether I’ve completed enough service hours for my class. I was too preoccupied soaking up all the laughter and joy in the air, remembering what it felt like as a little kid to gaze at the glimmering star perched on top of my family’s Christmas tree.

Perhaps this is what it means to get in the Christmas spirit.


Matt Maxion is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and loves all things food and culture. He was recently the online managing editor for SF State’s news publication, Golden Gate Xpress, for the Fall 2012 semester.

Photo Credits: Matt Maxion 2012

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