Pinoy parol shines bright in the Bay Area | Inquirer

Pinoy parol shines bright in the Bay Area

21st Parol Lantern Festival, Halo Halo Holidays bring Christmas cheer to Fil-Am communities
/ 07:07 PM December 22, 2023

Parol making contest winners pose for a group photo

The Filipino-World Language in Elementary School (Filipino-WLES) Advocates’ entry, Pagkakakilanlan at Tiwala sa Sarili (Self-identity/Cultural Pride and Self-Confidence/Self-Worth), wins the Silver Tala Award. Photo from Wilfred Galila

SAN FRANCISCO – In its third decade, the 21st Annual Parol Lantern Festival shone bright at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) and the Yerba Buena Gardens on Dec. 9.

This year’s festival was presented by the Filipino American Development Foundation (FADF) and SOMA Pilipinas, co-sponsored by the Filipino Mental Health Initiative of San Francisco (FMHI-SF) and  produced by Make it Mariko for the third year in a row.


The Parol Lantern Festival was also part of the 3rd Annual Halo Halo Holidays, a “Filipino Xmas Crawl” in SOMA Pilipinas produced by Kultivate Labs.

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Spread across multiple spaces in the Filipino Cultural District, this year’s festivities started at 11 a.m. with the Halo Halo Holidays Market at Sentro Filipino featuring a variety of small businesses.

Participating businesses included Araw-Araw, Avenoir Co., Baba’s House, Bayani Art, Bongangung Supermarket, Dear Flor, Hatzumomo, Hinabi Project, I Can Plant, Kalingafornia Laga, Kandelita, Kapuwa Co, Kristian Kabuay, Mahika Made, Mie Makes, Native Sol, Petty Party Co., Studio Damili, The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration, Vintage Steez and YAZ Queen. Food and drinks were sold by Uncle Tito, Lady Victory and Marahuyo Confections.

Parol making contest winners pose for group photo

FEC Galing Bata’s parol, Pagbangon (Arising), wins the Gold Tala Award. Photo from Wilfred Galila

“It was another successful third-year run of the Filipino Holiday Crawl,” said Desi Danganan, Kultivate Labs executive director. “We’ve proven that there are many places to visit at SOMA Pilipinas.”

Happening simultaneously was the Balay Kreative Open Studios for a sneak peek of a secret workshop to view amazing art, meet artists, shop, participate in art workshops and be in community.

Balay Kreative resident artists, ChiChai and VeeCaps, sold prints and accessories. Fellow resident artist and maker, Ciriaco Sayoc, held a parol-making workshop, and a Holiday Wreath Making workshop was provided by San Bruno Mt Plants.

“It was cool seeing all the people in there making wreaths and making parols,” said Danganan. “My wish is to build on that and more arts and crafts making – an activation within an activity.”


Happening simultaneously was the Republika Holiday Pop-up at The Metreon with gifts, books and retail curated by Archipelago Books, ASMBLY HALL and friends.

Republika – a non-profit venture designed to be a cornerstone of community, commerce and culture, serving as an incubator for innovative retail concepts and food pop-ups – will have their holiday pop-up at 165 4th Street until December 26.

Parol contest winners post for a group photo

SOMCAN wins the Bronze Tala Award for their entry, Sinagtala (beam of light). Photo from Wilfred Galila

“That’s a highlight for us because the city has a lot of vacant storefronts and this is one of our initiatives – to open up vacant storefronts for Filipino entrepreneurs,” Danganan said. “It’s apropos for Archipelago Books to be in a space that used to be Chronicle Books.”

The opportunity of “working with new spaces” was a big highlight for Danganan this year. “We’re really excited to partner with Sentro Filipino and the Republika Pop-up at The Metreon,” he said.

Danganan said he and his team are toying with the idea “to try to figure out a way to dovetail our event with SantaCon.” “SantaCon happens at the same time, so how can we do it that it fits in with what we’re doing?” he added.

Danganan pointed out that “a lot of the participants in SantaCon are in their 20s and 30s. “They’re young adult singles. When I look at Halo Halo Holidays, it’s great for shopping, it’s great for young families, but what about the young singles in our community? How can we get them involved in it? I think finding a way to dovetail SantaCon might be the way to go,” Danganan said.

‘Taste of Xmas’

The Parol Lantern Festival started at 3 p.m. with theTaste of Xmas,” featuring Filipino holiday delicacies provided by Pinoy’s Place, KusinaNiJavenJesel, Kababayan Restaurant, JT Restaurant and Catering, Rosie Drapiza, Tita Pearl, Mang Bonnie, Lota & Jake and Bliss Pops. This year’s food and drink offerings included an ice cream cart and balut.

It was originally known as Taste of Filipino Christmas (Patikim ng Pagkaing Pilipinong Pamasko), coined by community historian and strategist and the Parol Lantern Festival founder, MC Canlas.

“It’s really a taste, a small portion that is more to provide for the longing for Filipino food,” Canlas said. “Your familiarity with your culture is really with your food, and there are certain foods that you can only taste during Christmas.”

Colorful parol on display

The parol gallery at the YBCA Forum spreads holiday cheer. Photo from Wilfred Galila

Live music and performances happened at the main stage at the YBCA Forum and the YBCA Lobby throughout the event, featuring local Filipino musicians and community members.

Performers included Manilatown Ancestral Ensemble, Ukulenny, DJ ET IV, CMC Bayanihan Equity Center Older Adult Choir conducted by Robin Estrada, FEC Galing Bata Program, ReTas, KABATAAN-SF of the Filipino Community Center, West Bay Moms and Filipinx.

The festival program emcees this year were Luisa Antonio, Bayanihan Equity Center executive director and mainstay host of the festival, and Joe Cascasan, theater actor and director.

A gallery of parol lanterns were on display at the YBCA Forum. Parol lanterns created by community organizations and members vying for the Tala Awards were also on display.

There were parol lanterns for sale by Farol by Wicked!, the only official parol retailer in the SF Bay Area.

A variety of activities took place at the YBCA Lobby, such as a coloring station for kids and an arts and crafts workshop by the Children’s Creativity Museum. A paper parol-making workshop was conducted by master parol maker Gene Apellido.

Illuminating mental wellness

The theme of the 21st Parol Lantern Festival was “Breaking Dawn: Illuminating Mental Wellness.” This year’s festival aimed to shed light on the important issue of mental health within the Filipino Community.

Beyond celebrating our cultural traditions, the festival aimed to dispel the stigma around mental health, fostering a community that nurtures mental well-being.

Dr. Jeannie Celestial – FMHI founding member, licensed psychologist, consultant and author – said she “felt very honored by this year’s theme and also very hopeful.”

Celestial said that “it’s historic” that the festival “would highlight mental wellness at this juncture of our community’s story.”

“The pandemic invited the world to pause and take stock of what’s really important: life and relationships with ourselves, our families and others, and the Earth it/herself,” she said. “We lost many Filipino healthcare workers during the pandemic. Recently, SOMA Pilipinas suffered the passing of artists, activists, and community members, such as Joyce Juan-Manalo. So, it’s important to grieve and honor our departed loved ones as acts of healing and wellness.”

FMHI-SF offers psychotherapy scholarships called the ADUA Program providing free individual and group therapy sessions. They also provide free monthly community-based wellness activities called Kapwa is Medicine.

MC Canlas, who conducts yearly parol-making workshops in conjunction with the festival, said that parol making is also good for mental health and wellness. “It’s connecting individuals in making a project a creative undertaking,” he said.

By 6 p.m., the Parol Stroll, comprised of community-based and professional organizations, contingents, community members and guests, circled around the Yerba Buena Gardens in a jolly parade of lights that included the six parol lantern entries for the Tala Awards.

Introduced in 2006 by KULARTS and artistic director Alleluia Panis, who ran the festival’s program in past years, the Tala Awards is an annual competition of parol creations that are judged based on festival theme, craftsmanship, concept execution and creativity, and exhibition presentation.

Gold Tala Award: Pagbangon

This year’s Gold Tala Award with a $1,000 prize went to the Filipino Education Center (FEC) Galing Bata Program for their parol entry Pagbangon (Arising).

According to Charm Consolacion, FEC Galing Bata site director, “It’s more than just art, it’s a beacon of empowerment.”

“We call it Pagbangon (Arising) above the stigma and outdated views of mental health because a lot of people have a certain mentality of how mental health is,” she added.

The eight origami stars on the parol symbolize the eight dimensions of wellness –  “the emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, occupational and social ways of taking care of yourself,” said Consolacion. “If you don’t have all of these in a balanced way, something will be off in your own wellness,” she said.

The parol, made with a material that renders a rainbow-like effect, also celebrates inclusivity.

At the center of the parol, making up the design of a person’s head, are statistics and facts about Filipino mental health in the US and in the Philippines.

“We really took it seriously to acknowledge these types of data because mental health is really a stigmatizing thing to talk about in the Filipino community,” said Consolacion. “And it’s nice that we’re starting to open up a little bit more about it. It’s really great to have more openness and healing.”

The structure of their parol is a 10-point star representing October 10, World Mental Health Day, and September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day.

Additionally, Consolacion and her parol team had written out positive affirmations that they gave out to passersby.

“People need to have affirmations to really let them know whatever you’re doing to take care of yourself, it is enough,” she said. “Having this affirmations also really empowers people to think, ‘I am enough.”’

Their winning parol lantern was a collective effort among FEC Galing Bata students, parents and staff members. “They always look forward to this activity. Having this tradition of doing this parol, it’s part of our healing too,” said Consolacion.

Silver and Bronze Tala Awards

The Silver Tala Award with a $500 prize went to the Filipino-World Language in Elementary School (Filipino-WLES) Advocates for their entry Pagkakakilanlan at Tiwala sa Sarili (Self-identity and Cultural Pride and Self-Confidence and Self-Worth) and the Bronze Tala Award with a $300 prize went to the South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN) for their entry Sinagtala (Sinag = beam/ray of Tala = light and star).

The event featured a special parol sculpture honoring Joyce Juan-Manalo, a beloved, prominent and respected community member who recently passed.  The sculpture was presented by Gayle Romasanta, current FADF executive director, to Alan Samson Manalo, Joyce’s husband, former artistic and managing director of Bindlestiff Studio, and a mainstay host of the Parol Lantern Festival in past years. The parol sculpture was created by Ciriaco Sayoc, who also created the Tala Awards trophies.

The 21st Parol Lantern Festival had more than 2,000 attendees that occupied a large part of YBCA and the Yerba Buena Gardens this year.

It has come far from its humble beginnings as a small community event brought to fruition by MC Canlas for the soft opening of the Bayanihan Community Center in 2003.

The festival is instrumental to the designation of SOMA Pilipinas as a Filipino Cultural Heritage District.

“If you have a cultural ritual like that, you have a basis for your community to be a cultural district because it highlights the culture and the community,” said Canlas.

He has grappled with the changes to the festival through the years, most notably in the last three years, into and out of the pandemic, when the festival started becoming bigger each year under new organizers.

What used to be an event put together and ran by community members is now under an event company. Canlas said the “professionalism in organizing is very good” but still considers the festival as “a work in progress.”

“The expectation was not to really make it super big. It’s really the community coming together,” he said. “The contingents are really the organizations in SOMA Pilipinas and the people that work closely with FADF. It’s a community party of the year.”

In relation to the festival, Canlas elaborated on the difference between a transactional relationship and one that is truly rooted in community. He cited the festival’s volunteers as an example and “the difference with the organizing.”

Canlas said that in the past, “you have the community coming together to bring stuff to St. Patrick’s Church and Jessie Square (former festival venues).”

“Then after the event, they come back to Bayanihan Community Center and have the volunteers eating, debriefing, sharing stories, etc. So volunteers are coming every year because they know that’s their role,” he said. “Every year you see people committed to that. If it’s a ‘professional’ thing, your volunteers are only volunteers of the moment.”

Canlas added that what essentially drives the festival is “really the people’s dedication and passion.”

“You carry that and you pass it on to the next generation,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 21 years. Sometimes I think, if I’m gone, who is dedicated enough to carry it on? If we can sustain a community ritual, that’s the best that we can offer.”

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TAGS: holidays, parol-making, San Francisco
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