STUNNING CHRISTMAS STARS. The Giant Lantern Festival 2020 takes center stage at the Robinsons Starmills in the City of San Fernando, Pampanga on Thursday night (Dec. 16, 2021). The annual festival was staged not as a competition but as a virtual exhibition by lantern makers from the city's seven participating villages. (Photo by City Government of San Fernando)

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga – Not even the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic can pull the plug on Pampanga's Giant Lantern Festival (GLF), which this city holds every year to illuminate the time for joy and hope among Filipinos.

Now on its 113th year, the world-renowned “Ligligan Parul” took center stage on Thursday night at Robinsons Starmills here to keep the Kapampangan’s cultural tradition alive despite the presence of the virus.

For the second time, the event was not held as a competition but as a digital exhibition of seven giant lanterns from Barangays Sto. Niño, San Juan, San Nicolas, Sta. Lucia, Bulaon, Telebastagan, and Calulut.

The glittering parol (lantern) display was aired live via regional television network CLTV36 and social media sites.

Since last year, the event organizer which is the GLF Foundation, Inc. and the San Fernando city government decided to skip the actual competition to promote and implement “safe tourism” amid the current global health crisis.

Despite limitations and restrictions, the opening of the annual festival was staged successfully as it showcased the strong message of hope and unity.

“Our goal is to continue our tradition and keep the spirit alive this Christmas despite this pandemic,” City Tourism Officer Ching Pangilinan said in a live-streamed event.

Through live stream, viewers in this province, other places in the country, and even abroad witnessed the grand display of spectacular lights, the interplay of colors and kaleidoscopic patterns of the giant lanterns to the beat of lively songs.

It will not be a joyful Christmas for the Filipinos without the ubiquitous parol and those who watched the opening of the exhibition at the safety and comfort of their homes have expressed their amazement via social media for the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the lantern makers from the seven participating barangays.

Roger Ilagan of Barangay Telabastagan, this city, said the Giant Lantern Festival is a symbol of hope amid the challenges due to the health crisis.

“I am proud to be (a) Kapampangan. The Giant Lantern Festival is part of our tradition that we would not let it die,” Ilagan said in an interview.

“The Giant Lantern Festival is an annual traditional event that we have always been waiting during this Yuletide season and we are excited to watch it again personally through its nightly exhibitions,” Rocelle Sebastian, a 36-year old housewife from Gapan City, Nueva Ecija.

Unlike last year, the country's Christmas capital is opening the grand lantern display to the public but still compliant with the existing health protocols.

People can now watch the nightly exhibitions from Dec. 17 to Jan. 2, 2022, except Dec. 24 and 31, at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Robinsons Starmills ground through limited face-to-face, group viewing, and drive-in viewing.

“We have two exhibition shows per night. Around 300 people are allowed to watch the per show. All they need to do is to register online,” she said.

For those interested, one can book online through www.giantlanterns.com or onsite to get the entry pass.

A PHP1,000 accumulated purchase at any retail shops at Robinsons Starmills and Robinsons Angeles or PHP1,500 purchase at Robinsons Supermarket from those two malls are among the requirements needed for registration.

Once registered, a unique QR code will be sent through an email address.

“They need to show the QR code at the venue gate to confirm their registration, health declaration, and vaccination card for face-to-face seated and group viewing,” she added. (PNA)