Anyway, after the brief tour, we rushed back to SM City Pampanga since we didn't want to join the mad rush to the festival, which would mean heavy traffic and no parking. So we decided to wait it out in SM. Since we were all hungry, I took them to a branch of the popular San Fernando restaurant called Partyland. They are most known for their buffet lunch, merienda and dinner and the cost of each varies. For just PHP109, you get an eat-all-you-can merienda which includes local favorites such as dinuguan and puto, ginataan, arroz caldo, tokwa't baboy, turon, palitaw, pancit palabok, lumpia, and spaghetti with the Filipino twist. If you think that isn't enough, the package includes the halo-halo bar too!
By 6 p.m., we walked to the venue at the back of the mall to check out the lanterns while there were no people, and to get some good seats in the reserved section. There were already people waiting in the venue, also to reserve good positions to view the twelve giant lanterns. I got to chat with a lot of old friends and relatives while waiting. Of course, sculptor Toym Imao, son of National Artist Abdulmari Imao, was there since he designed the trophies. They invited me and Anton to check out their Marikina studio which I hope to visit soon.
What I did now expect was a movie promotion from 6 to 7 p.m. which was annoying due to its obvious political overtones. What is even more despicable is they covered the backdrop of the Giant Lantern Festival with large posters of the movie and its lead stars, a family of Pampanga politicians. Things like those have no place in the Giant Lantern Festival since it pollutes the atmosphere.
The organizers were irked too when they saw the posters and had them removed as soon as they were done. I was told that this timeslot was requested by SM for a program. When I was chairman of the festival in 2003, I declined offers of SM for celebrities to sing before the festival. SM argued it would attract people. But I said, it was not needed since people came to watch the lanterns whether there was a celebrity or not. It makes the festival so commercial when you add those sort of programs! This is an old Christmas tradition of the city and the best way to set the mood would be a marching band playing Christmas songs, the way it used to be before SM entered the picture.
Anyway, it was a great show as always. We had a lot of celebrity and diplomat judges and guests such as Senator Mar Roxas and Korina Sanchez, French Ambassador H.E. Gerard Chesnel who chaired the Board of Judges, Tina Monzon-Palma, and Inquirer founding chair Eugenia Duran-Apostol among others.
As I was watching, I remembered how much the festival had changed since I was a kid. Although I lived in Manila at that time, the entire family always slept at our grandparents' house in San Fernando for Christmas Eve. The lantern festival used to be held after the midnight Mass in a small square beside the church. And the lanterns danced to the music of a live marching band. Smaller lanterns used during the lubenas and the barangay patron saint were also brought to the venue.
After the festival, the giant lantern of our barangay, San Jose, would pass by the house on the way home, in a procession together with the smaller lanterns and the image of San Jose on a carroza, accompanied by a marching band. And those in the house would usually ask who won since the rivalry between San Jose and Del Pilar was still very strong then, with Del Pilar usually winning and San Jose placing second. Those were the days!
It looks like my lantern appreciation skills worked well tonight since the three lanterns that I predicted would win, all made it! Congratulations to Barangay San Felipe, and my friend, lantern-maker Roland Quiambao for winning this year's competition! Their winning streak was broken only last year when they placed second. Hats off as well to second-placer Barangay San Pedro and Barangay Del Pilar which placed third. But all the twelve entries deserve praise for the effort they put in the lanterns. So what's the prize? No cash, just a trophy. More than the cash, it's barangay pride that is at stake. And I hope it remains that way, a community effort where everyone pitches in, hoping to win top honors at the annual festival.
Above are photos of Barangay Santo Nino. Imagine, that's just one lantern! You can still catch the giant lanterns sans the crowd from December 17 to 20 at Paskuhan Village, December 21 in Barangay Sindalan, and December 24 in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando. Call the City Tourism Office at (045) 9615684 for more information.