SF Parol Lantern Festival and Parade: Remembering Filipino Christmas traditions

SF Parol Lantern Festival and Parade: Remembering Filipino Christmas traditions

It’s a few weeks before Christmas and the holiday air is alive with music, decoration and reminders of the season.  However, for most Filipinos in the United States, it brings back nostalgic memories of Christmas past.

This year’s Parol Lantern Festival and Parade — which is held annually at the hear of SoMa Pilipinas in San Francisco — celebrates this holiday with the theme “Let tradition be our light.”  The theme seeks to impart that from its own experience as an immigrant community that tradition has effectively served and continues to be the light of the Filipino community outside of their original homeland.

One of the most awaited holiday celebrations in San Francisco, it is an event when Filipino culture can be prominently and distinctly showcased.  Since its inception in 2003, the Parol Festival has highlighted the rich tradition of parol making, the festival of lights ritual and the taste of Filipino Christmas in the city.

The annual event is among the many cultural assets and community celebrations that propelled the Board of Supervisors and the City to unanimously adopt a resolution in 2016 that establishes SoMa Pilipinas as Filipino Cultural Heritage District.   Just last July, the California Arts Council designated SoMa Pilipinas as among the 14 districts that will serve as California’s inaugural state-designated Cultural Districts, highlighting thriving cultural diversity and unique artistic identities within local communities across California.

For many decades SoMa Pilipinas has and continues to serve as a touchstone for Filipinos seeking to connect with their cultural heritage. As a Filipino cultural heritage district, it celebrates and preserves the community, individual and family narratives, common cultural memory, and historical continuity that gives a sense of bounded solidarity with the country of origin as an immigrant community in the Filipino diaspora, and with San Francisco and the U.S. as an emerging and thriving community.

Each year, the SoMa community showcases the quintessential parol lanterns and the taste of traditional Filipino Christmas.

The parol festival is scheduled every second Saturday of December, the Saturday before Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo, a nine-day early morning at St. Patrick’s Church before Christmas.

The main event is held on Saturday, December 9, and it starts in Yerba Buena Gardens at 5 p.m. and moves to St. Patrick’s Church.  Parol strollers with their brightly-lit contingent lanterns gather for a lively parade and holiday festival which includes performances, community presentations and the annual Tala Awards for the best parol lanterns.

A Parol Gallery will also be mounted at Jessie Square to showcase the beautiful lanterns from the City of San Fernando Pampanga, the giant parol capital of the Philippines, the commissioned lantern sculptures of Lynn Luzano Bryant and Gene Apellido, and many locally-made lanterns.

An added feature of the Parol Festival is a food-tasting program held at the Social Hall of St. Patrick’s Church from 3 to 5 p.m.  Dubbed as Taste of Filipino Christmas (Patikim ng Pagkain Pampasko), it aims to share and promote the rich culinary tradition and delicacies associated with holiday celebration.

Among the food to be featured are tsamporado with danggit flakes, arroz caldo, cassava cake, suman, bibingka, tibuk-tibuk, tamales, and a puto-bumbong cooking demonstration.

There will be performances by ACPA Rondalla, Autonomus Region, and Kulintronica.

The parol festival is presented by the Filipino American Development Foundation and KulArts in partnership with the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, MJM Management, and St. Patrick’s Parish, and supported in part by Grants for the Arts, California Arts Council, Yerba Buena Community Benefit District and SoMa Pilipinas.

For more information, please contact Parol Festival at (415) 348-8042, parolsf@gmail.com or visit www.bayanihancc.org/parol-festival.html and  www.kularts.org/kularts-present/parol-festival/.  (AJPress)

*Many thanks to MC Canlas for his assistance in this feature.

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