Bright star-shaped lanterns represent hope during a dark year for many Filipino Canadians

Bright star-shaped lanterns represent hope during a dark year for many Filipino Canadians

For many in the Filipino community, the parol — or lantern — is a reminder of family and a symbol of hope in troubling times.

The star-shaped lanterns are often seen hung in the windows of Filipino households during Christmas.

For Rosalyn Salanguit, who started making her own this year after years of watching her father make the lanterns, it’s a way to keep her family close during a year when she is unable to be with them because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Right now, especially when we are now forced to stay in and we’re really having that time to reflect on what’s important to us … it’s like those times I took for granted when I was watching my dad make those parols are now traditions I want to carry for myself,” she said.

Parols were originally hung in windows to light the streets for people heading to church during Simbang Gabi, a tradition celebrated by Catholics that consists of a series of dawn masses on the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve.

The parol represents the star the three wise men followed to the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Traditional parols are made with five star points, but some believe the eight-star parol represents the eight major islands of the Philippines.

While many modern parols now feature bright multi-coloured light displays, artist Bert Monterona says the traditional parol is more representative of their origin in working-class regions of the Philippines.

“Since it’s using bamboo and … Japanese paper [that] are very cheap, you can even see some parols during Christmas in rural areas and even in the mountains living in the farmland,” said Monterona.

Salanguit has spent much of the past month making and selling traditional parols. She says her designs are inspired by her father’s, who used to make more elaborate lanterns.

“My dad would make the real big ones and the ones with all the frills and all the different colours on there,” she said. “His would have the Christmas lights that would flash glowing around it.”

She hopes her handcrafted work will represent a little glimmer of hope for other people who might be in the same situation.

“To me, this might just be a star that I’m making,” she said.

“But to someone else, it might represent something bigger, like a piece of home that they can’t have right now.”

Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC

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