Parol Lantern Festival and Halo Halo Holiday crawl brighten San Francisco
SAN FRANCISCO – On its 20th year, the Parol Lantern Festival held a milestone celebration last Dec. 10 at the Yerba Buena Gardens, while rain did not deter Kapwa Garden’s second annual Halo Halo Holidays.
“It was very exciting. It was great to see people that we’ve seen from years ago but also energized seeing lots of young people coming out and young families bringing their children as well,” says Bernadette Borja Sy, board member and former executive director of Filipino American Development Foundation (FADF) /Bayanihan Community Center.
This year’s festival was presented by SOMA Pilipinas and FADF in cooperation with community organizations, Filipino Community Center (FCC) and South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), and in partnership with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, Yerba Buena Forum, Yerba Buena Gardens Conservancy, Children’s Creativity Museum, and Yerba Buena Community Benefit District. Event production was by Make it Mariko and promotion by Kultivate Labs.
“This year, we really wanted to do it justice given the history and the legacy of the Parol Lantern Festival and all the foundations that FADF has laid out to really develop this tradition in the cultural district. The number one thing is the community coming together,” says Raquel Redondiez, director of SOMA Pilipinas.
It is the second year that SOMA Pilipinas is the main organizer with support from FADF after taking it over from KULARTS, with Alleluia Panis at the helm, who ran the festival’s program from 2006 to 2020.
The theme of this year’s festival is Illuminating Legacy to Light Our Path.
“Meaning, after 20 years, it’s a legacy which is something that you need to highlight,” says MC Canlas, pop-ed educator, community strategist, historian, SOMA Pilipinas ethnotour docent, and founder of the Parol Lantern Festival.
Canlas and Borja Sy have stepped back from organizing the festival after two decades, although he is still involved in running the Parol Making Workshops, curating the Taste of Christmas and, according to Gina Rosales, founder and CEO of Make it Mariko, Canlas is involved with “a lot of direction and keeping us all aligned historically in what’s been done.”
Alongside the 20th Annual Parol Lantern Festival was the 2nd Annual Halo Halo Holidays, a seven-venue “festive Filipino holiday crawl” presented by Kapwa Gardens in SOMA Pilipinas, Filipino Cultural Heritage District.
“Showcasing what our artists are working on, what our entrepreneurs are up to and doing it in a way that the community can stumble upon things that are in the works,” says Marissa Macayan, general manager of Kapwa Gardens.
Halo Halo Holidays is part of a strategic plan to make Mission Street a commercial corridor in the district.
“It is one way of tying that vision together. Having all the different spaces get activated at the same time, so you can go in and out of the different community and business spaces that are owned or operated by Filipinos and our allies,” says Desi Danganan, executive director and founder of Kultivate Labs and project lead of Kapwa Gardens.
Rainy weather did not deter the organizers or attendees. A few program and venue adjustments based on a “rain plan” guaranteed a successful, well-attended event and celebration. Instead of Kapwa Gardens as the intended venue for retail, food and drinks, and activities, Trellis, next door, became a cozy stop at Halo Halo Holidays.
Other Halo Halo Holiday stops were at Barbary Coast Dispensary across the street that featured Chef Charleen Caabay and her cannabis infused treats; Community Arts Stabilization Fund (CAST) where Balay Kreative grantees held an exhibit of their grant produced work; Balay Kreative Studios with an open studio, live art space, and pop-up stores; San Francisco Filipino Cultural Center that hosted an Arkipelago Books pop-up store and a cultural exhibit focused on Philippine Textiles curated by the Hinabi Project; and an afterparty at Executive Order that included a fundraiser for the Galing Bata bilingual after school and summer program of the Filipino Education Center.
“The next generation is here and they’re really involved and really sharp,” says Macayan. “I think that the energy is high right now among our creatives and all we need to do is keep showing up for one another.”
Sandwiched between these stops is the 20th Annual Parol Lantern Festival.
The celebration began with a Taste of Christmas that offered free samples of traditional Filipino holiday dishes from community chefs and Filipino restaurants: Ate Rosie Drapiza, Kababayan, Lota & KJake, Phil House, Ling Nam, Mang Bonnie, and Ate Tess of JT’s Restaurant.
Among the featured food and drinks are star bread, cassava suman, lechon, suman bulagta, biko, bibingka, carioca, turon, tsamporado, arroz caldo, vegetarian lugaw, hot chocolate, salabat, balut, pandesal, filipino tamale, and cassava cake.
“The spread this year is definitely more robust than we’ve seen at past events,” says Rosales.
Along with the food sampling was a parol gallery exhibit featuring various kinds of parols, including those featured in past festivals through the years, as well as parols for sale from SF Farols, and live music and cultural performances from local Filipino musicians and community members: Kapwa Kultura, Kulintang Dialect, Galing Bata Student Choir, Retro Pop, DJ Thow Wow, and Ukulenny.
There was a cutout photo board of a jeepney provided by SOMCAN, a parol workshop, and festival merchandise for sale. A bar with Filipino themed cocktails served drinks throughout the evening.
What was new at this year’s festival was the installation of parols around Yerba Buena Gardens.
“We want to advocate for permanent pedestrian level parol lights in the Yerba Buena area and the cultural district,” says Redondiez. “A beautiful cultural marker for the district but also would provide more safety and security for families and seniors by providing pedestrian level lighting.”
The plan is to have parols hanging around the district annually during the holidays. “Starting in September you’re going to start seeing the parols in SOMA Pilipinas because that’s just how Filipinos roll,” says Gayle Romasanta, executive director of FADF/Bayanihan Community Center.
Way before the main festivities, held annually during the second week of December, it all begins in October with the Parol Making Workshops which was traditionally held at the Bayanihan Community Center. The workshops are also hosted by several community organizations and held at different institutions, including schools and churches, in the city.
Through the years, Parol Making Workshops have also been held in several museums including the Asian Art Museum as well as the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
According to Redondiez, the parol workshops are also an important tool to build bridges with different institutions, communities, and stakeholders as well as an expression of solidarity. This year the San Francisco Planning Department requested a Parol Making Workshop. “It’s coming together to make something together.”
At some point in the evening, the rain stopped and a window of opportunity opened for a Parol Stroll that was originally canceled at the last minute due to the weather. Festival attendees enthusiastically braved the cold outside for an impromptu Parol Stroll around Yerba Buena Gardens.
The festival program ended with the Tala Awards, a competition of parol creations that are judged “based on festival theme, craftsmanship, concept execution and creativity, and exhibition presentation.”
The first place winner besting six entries with a cash prize of $1,000 was Filipino American Arts Exposition (FAAE)/Pistahan for their parol entry Liwanag sa Dilim (Light in Darkness).
As part of its design, it highlights SOMA Pilipinas standing “in solidarity with other cultural districts around the city” as all being “an integral part of the fabric of the diverse, multicultural, and vibrant city” and “to inspire communities that have struggled in the past to support and shine brightly together.”
Second place with a cash prize of $500 went to Filipino Education Center (FEC) Galing Bata for their entry Ningning ng mga Ninuno (Radiance of Our Ancestors) and third place with a cash prize of $300 went to Westbay Pilipino Multi-Service Center for their entry Home is Where the Heart is.
The first Parol Lantern Festival was held at the YBCA Forum and 20 years later, after being held in St. Patrick Church and Jessie Square for years in between, it has come full circle.
In 2003, the Parol Lantern Festival was created as an event for the soft opening of the Bayanihan Community Center on 6th and Mission Streets. It was also a way to make visible and establish the cultural identity and expression of the Filipino community in the South of Market.
“What’s beautiful about the parol is that it is uniquely Filipino,” says Canlas. “Parol Lantern Festival has a huge role in the creation of SOMA Pilipinas and it becoming a Filipino Cultural Heritage District.”