Giant Lantern Festival – Awesome Lantern Competition, Only in the Philippines!


First of all, Merry Christmas and advanced Happy New Year to all of you!

One of the reasons I love the Philippines is because of its awesome Festivals like the 76th Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando Pampanga last night. I’m a newbie to this festival which is locally known as Ligligan Parul. We were glad that Ivan Henares hosted us and even gave us free guest passes in the reserved seating section. “Ivan is a travel freak, frustrated historian and heritage activist. A member of the Board of Trustees of the Heritage Conservation Society, he is a feisty advocate for the preservation of Philippine architectural heritage” (-quote from his Ivan about Town blog). Aside from this, Ivan has a very popular post about Pampanga’s pride. Three years ago, he was the chairman of this Giant Lantern Festival in 2003 so he was able to gave us all the juicy details about this festival. If you haven’t seen this, this is one of those moments where you will be proud of the Filipino’s creativity and hard work.

There were 12 giant lanterns during this year’s festival which makes this the biggest festival so far in terms of participation. It was held at the back parking lot of SM Pampanga. All the giant lanterns were lined up in front of two tents where the different celebrity and prominent judges were seated. There is no entrance fee to watch these giant lanterns but the place is too small for 100,000 people that it is literally a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. The giant lantern competition usually starts at 8pm+ until 11pm to complete all the three rounds of competition. The different barangays are competing for barangay pride and there is no cash prize.

It is advisable to already be in SM Pampanga at around 3-4pm so that you can find a parking space in the parking lot nearest the exit. This is an important strategy that Ivan shared with us, make sure to park in the parking space in front of Watsons, also near the Toll gate and near the exit of SM Pampanga. Otherwise, due to the large crowd, you can wait for an hour just to get out of SM Pampanga after the competition is finished at around 12mn. Once parked, you can go around SM Pampanga and you should definitely try the P109 Eat-all-you-can Pampanga Merienda Buffet from Party Land in the Entertainment area. After eating your heart out, you should start finding your way to the venue at around 6pm to reserve your seat or spot.

These lanterns are 18 feet in diameter and it just gets bigger and bigger each year, last year was 16 feet. Each segment in the lantern usually have white japanese or paper cover having 3-4 bulbs behind it with different colors. It is like the Red-Green-Blue (RGB) configuration in our computer monitors. Of course, each lantern has its own unique design and creative purpose. Just imagine how complicated it is to create these giant lanterns and coordinating the switching of the colors. During the competition, the lanterns need to dance and showcase its lights to the tune of the Christmas songs.

Related Posts:
Ligligan Parul and more from Pampanga from Ivan. He even has the 5 minute video of the third round of the competition where all the lanterns are dancing posted in youtube! You should watch that show to give you a first hand experience of the Giant Lantern Show.

And the winners were:

1st Place: Barangay San Felipe.
Congratulations to Barangay San Felipe for dazzling everyone with this dancing angel and PEACE, HOPE, and LOVE signs. Admittedly, they were the only lantern that was able to execute this while everyone has their own usual routines and dancing colors.

2nd Place: Barangay San Pedro.
Congratulations to the second place winner for this magnificent golden sun lantern that is simply amazing.

3rd Place: Barangay Del Pilar
Thanks to Barangay Del Pillar for the great lantern show that was full of oohs and aahs with this stunning bright white lantern as the highlight.

Special Giant Lantern Trophy

These trophies were created by artist, Toym Imao, son of National Artist Abdulmari Imao. We were seated beside them (amazing :). Aside from symbolizing the lanterns, the trophy also signifies a sail boat and pays tribute to the usual shapes used in the lanterns.

Giant Lanterns Up Close

Looking at the lanterns, you would only see a white facade. Once the lights are turned on, the magic starts and you’ll be in awe of the Kapampangan creativity.

Here is a perspective on how big the lanterns are. It is attached in the front of a truck and it is almost 3 persons wide in diameter! Ang galing talaga…

There are three rounds in the competition and I’ll try to explain each of them for those of you who would want to go here next year. There are no commercials or intermission in between the competition so it is actually 2 full hours of magical giant lantern show that you will only see here in the Philippines!

Competition Format Round 1: (7 minutes x 12 lanterns = 84 minutes total)
One by one, each lantern is given 7 minutes to dance to a christmas melody of their choice. So this is a choreographed 7 minutes and usually it showcase the best of the lantern.

Sometimes it usually start with a slow music like silent night and culminating until all the lights are dazzling it all its glory.

I like the San Jose show with these rotating legs which reminds me of a Ninja weapon (shuricane ba yon?)

Competition Format Round 2: (5 minutes x 6 pairs = 30 minutes total)
The second round is done in pairs and the music is a surprise for 5 minutes. So each lantern needs to anticipate and accurately dance to the songs picked by the committee randomly.

One of the reasons that San Felipe won was that it started with this angel right at the start of its round 2 competition. It was a perfect timing to the slow Christmas Song and everyone was amazed and clapping with this.

The round 2 showdown was fun to watch and you’ll be amazed at how the lanterns are able to dance in sync with the Christmas songs.

Competition Format Round 3: (5 minutes)

All the giant lanterns will be turned on at the same time and dance for 5 minutes continuously to a surprise christmas medley.

It was a mad scene watching all the 12 lanterns dance all the same time!

How I wish that I have a long lens so that I can capture each one clearly in all its lighted beauty.

SM Tents and Reserved Seating area.

Oh, this was the tent that I was referring to and most of my shots originated from there. This photo was taken with the giant lanterns at my back . This was around 6pm when the people are just starting to trickle in. If I were to do it again, I would want to seat here in the tent area otherwise, you would have to bear the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd which could be unsafe if there is stampede or if there would be an emergency. I do hope that SM would be able to find a lot bigger space to host this festival in the future.

By the way, it is easy to go here. Just go North Luzon Expressway and exit San Fernando, Pampanga. You should already see SM Pampanga to your left in front of Robinsons Star Mills.

Thanks again to Ivan Henares for hosting us in this Awesome Giant Lantern Show!!


P.S. You can still see these lanterns in San Fernando Pampanga for an exhibition show. From Dec. 17-20, you can see them in Paskuhan village. On Dec. 21 and 24, The Giant Lantern Exhibition will be in Sindalan and City Proper.

10 thoughts on “Giant Lantern Festival – Awesome Lantern Competition, Only in the Philippines!

  1. oh my gosh! we were there too! so many many many people, it took us about an hour to get out. my dad being a photoaddict learned his lesson the hard way. he wasn’t able to take any clear shots of the lanterns. but he promises to bring a foot stool or two step ladder next year! haha

  2. Hi Anton! I had a great time hosting you too. Thanks for coming! One correction though, it’s the 76th Giant Lantern Festival since they count from 1931 (but we still have to confirm since this part of our history is still sketchy).

  3. We arrived there at about 8 PM so as expected, we the place was already teeming with curious lookers (like us) so we had to make do with whatever space left unoccupied. Turned out not too bad since were standing right under 2 giant lantern and had a front view ( I could kiss the lanterns!).Yes there are indeed amazing but I wonder most of them were playing Western melodies? It would have been better if they played ‘Kumukutikuitap or any local (Kampanangan?) Christmas songs.
    Diba? ;o)

  4. ^^ Hi tokayo! Yes, I agree with you 100 percent. Implementation is another thing though. I don’t think there are available mixes/versions of the said songs with the x-factor to suit the lantern routines. I tried “Kumukutikutitap” once and it was difficult. Maybe they could make a remix next year for the festival.
    For Kapampangan Christmas songs, I listened to the songs available and none have that x-factor needed for showtime. If there are people who may have Pinoy Christmas songs/mixes which you feel would suit the lanterns, send them to me so that I could put them on file for consideration next year.

  5. oo nga ano I have thought about it that way….
    I think Filipino novelty songs lang ang babagay. So maybe some Gary V fast songs hindi nga lang christmas…
    Thanks again Ivan H. for bringing us to this Giant Lantern Festival!!
    Ivan Mandy — sayang di tayo nagkita… pero ang galing niyo. Sakto kayo for the 8pm show… galing 🙂

  6. hi anton! great pics…bdw, i always see your flickr daily zeitgeist…i also have a flickr account although free lang pero di ko alam how to do that…how do you do that thing ba? thanks!

  7. It was nice to have finally met you and your family. I was so excited – I’ve been raving about your blog to Toym. Anyway, you took great pics. I gave up after my first shot came out and all I got were the tops of people’s heads.
    If you still have time, do visit the Mega-Carousel Festival at Marikina Riverbanks. It’s also an annual competition for the barangays in Marikina. It’s not as huge as the Giant Lantern Festival, but an interesting alternative to malling during Christmas.

  8. ….lol!….wow!….oo nga naman why was tagalog christmas songs not played instead?….i find it tuloy na medyo odd kasi parol ay filipino originals di ba….iba sya kaysa sa other catholics lanterns around the world….next christmas pag andyan ako i will definitely remind them and using non tagalog is o.k. din naman pero it must also be in western style lantern if admitted para walang descrimination ang festival if i am there kasi syempre medyo half local half foreigner din kami{in a way}lol!….advance merry christmas and thank you so much for showing this to us anton rache aidan and joshua…!

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