Follow the stars to the Parolan where craft and tradition lives on
FOR THOSE LIVING in Metro Manila, there are signs that signify the start of the Yuletide Season: The smell of cooking rice cakes (bibingka and puto bumbong) wafting in the air; hearing Jose Mari Chan’s Christmas in our Hearts on the radio; and the streets somewhere along Greenhills, San Juan lighting up with a spectacular display of lanterns and Christmas stars being sold along the highway.
For as long as people could remember, the stretch leading to the intersection of Ortigas, N. Domingo and Gilmore streets, transforms into an instant Christmas lane once the ‘Ber’ months set in. Vendors would set up an impressive display of bright and colorful lanterns, parols of different designs, holiday lawn ornaments, and other light fixtures to entice pedestrians and motorists to stop by the curb of the bridge where they are usually located, and get into the mood of holiday shopping.
The display has proven to be enchanting — the vibrant display of lights make people not only nostalgic, but celebratory of the coming days ahead. And once the months of November and December sets in, the area — referred to as Parolan sa San Juan — becomes an instant backdrop of families spending the holidays together.
This year however, the Parolan of San Juan has seen some major changes — most of the displays have been transferred to a nearby vacant lot along Granada Street in Brgy. Valencia because of the ongoing repair of the bridge where the vendors are usually located. The shops are a bit harder to find, as guests need to go inside a side street to get in the Parolan compound.
Lorie Baniaga of Pampanga Lanterns, one of the pioneer vendors of the Parolan, shared that they would have preferred to stay in their original spot but for now would have to adjust to their new location.
“It’s harder to get a customer here. Unlike before near the bridge, there’s a chance to find pedestrian customers, those who come from nearby restaurants, and motorists passing by. Now they have to figure out how to get in the lot,” she said in Filipino.
More than 10 stalls have been relocated inside the empty lot that’s being rented by a private owner and managed by the local barangay. The vendors pay monthly lease, and they are allowed to put up a decent-sized shop inside. The place has ample parking spaces for visitors who need to pay a P30 parking fee to get inside.
The move, although less visible, allow the vendors to fully display their merchandise — ornaments bought and assembled from various places such as Antipolo and Taytay in Rizal, Laguna, and Pampanga. Currently, there are more than 10 vendors who have set up shop inside the compound.
“It’s convenient in a way because it’s easier for us to manage the shop, especially for vendors like us who live somewhere else. Now we get to have a small living space inside the shop where we can eat and sleep.”
The designs being sold have not changed much, as Filipinos continue to buy lanterns made from their favorite local material: Capiz.
“Capiz remains to be popular among our buyers because it can last for a long time,” said Baniaga.
Some of the popular designs that can be found at the Parolan include the tala (star), the Nativity, and the Christmas lawn ornaments (Santa with his reindeers, angels or snowman).
For most of the vendors, selling Christmas lanterns have been a major source of income for their family, and has financed not only their immediate expenses, but the future of their children.
Baniaga, who has been selling parols for almost 28 years now, shared how she was able to pay for her children’s education by selling parol from September to December.
“We were able to support our children’s college education by selling parol. My eldest graduated nursing in 2009 and was able to immediately pass the exams, while my youngest graduated with an HRM degree in 2015.”
She also shared how she and her husband were able to buy their own home because of the business. “Whatever we were able to accomplish, we did it because of selling parols,” she said.
Baniaga said that a big part of their accomplishment in the business, is being able to sell to large clients such as the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila, who would usually buy ornaments from them to be used in the campus’ major holiday displays.
“We don’t always get to sell to them every year, and when they don’t, it’s always an assurance that something else will come our way. This business is a blessing for us.”
Gloria Siervo of Gloria’s Lanterns, on the other hand, another pioneer, shared that she has been selling parols for almost 20 years. “We’ve been selling lanterns back when my first husband was still alive. That was 19 years ago.”
Today, she manages her shop with her second husband, who helps out in the repair of old parols. “We still get the same customers, and we even have some celebrities who still go to us for repairs or to buy new pieces.”
Some of the stars she has served include Lolita Rodriguez and Nova Villa.
Siervo shared that she and her first husband got into the parol business by starting out as helpers to another businessman who makes parols. She would eventually learn the craft and the couple decided to start their own brand. She would also open a mechanical shop, and those businesses sustained her family for many years.
The income from the lease collected from the Parolan vendors are used every year by the local barangay to finance projects that help street children and the elderly of the community.
“It’s harder to sell in this compound, but we don’t mind that much because we know that it’s also helping others. That’s one of the contributions we can share in the parolan community,” Baniaga said.
The Parolan community hopes to get back in the streets next year to renew the tradition of selling their products along the bridge, but for now, they hope that their displays are bright enough for customers to find their way.