The Christ-Child Dwelling Within
Published on December 10-11, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Long before lights illuminated trees and homes, Filipino families have hung Christmas lanterns from their windows. Known as the parol in Tagalog, this traditional lantern was crafted in the shape of a five pointed star. Thin bamboo sticks were used to build its frame which would then be covered with colored cellophane or rice paper (papel de japon). Before the advent of electricity, a candle was lit at its center, allowing the tinted lantern to lend to many a darkened home its radiant glow.
In my native Pampanga, a Ligligan Parul (literally, a lantern showdown) is held every December. Known to tourists as the Giant Lantern Festival, the contest features gargantuan parols spanning a breadth of 40 feet and lit by generators powerful enough to light an entire barrio. Gone is the singular candle of old; in its place are a thousand bulbs, timed to beam and dim in a rhythm that gives each stellar lantern a luminescence that can best be described as kaleidoscopic.
In many ways, the sparkle of these man-made stars reminds us during this season of Advent that “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (Jn. 1:9). However dark these December nights might be, light has not faded from the earth; rather, it blazes with the feat and flourish of these giant lanterns, recalling the words of the evangelist John: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5).
In olden days, the smaller lanterns also lit the path of those headed to the parish church for the misa de gallo (literally, the rooster’s Mass), the Mass celebrated after the first cock crow. The faithful would flock to Mass every morning on the nine days before Christmas and each parol, like that fabled star of Bethlehem, led them to the place where they could worship the Christ-child.
Now that street lamps line the path to the Church, the lanterns no longer serve their initial practical purpose. And yet, a Filipino home, however decked with Christmas lights it might be, would still appear naked in the night without a parol gleaming from its window. I suppose that for us the parol has become this radiant reminder of what every Christian home is called to be on Christmas and every day of the year: a shining beacon in this shadowed world, radiating such light and warmth that it invites all those passing by to find at its heart the Christ-child dwelling within.