Traditional 'parols' burn brightly in homes throughout Emirates.
Star adds twinkle to Filipino Christmas away from home
ABU DHABI // For Bal Junio and his family, Christmas away from home would not be complete without the parol - the star-shaped lantern from the Philippines.
The family put up the Christmas tree in their villa on National Day this year. Bal's wife Evangeline, 42, and their children - Angelika, 12, Julian, 8, and Alexander, 4 - helped to decorate the two-metre tree at the centre of their living room.
But Bal, 42, a finance and administration manager at the Royal Stables in Abu Dhabi, is particularly proud of his collection of lanterns.
The family owns four made from capiz shells of red, green, blue and yellow. Capiz, known as "windowpane oysters", are found in Indonesian and Philippine waters.
Bal's fondness for them began a couple of years ago when a friend in Dubai gave him a capiz parol. Last year, the couple bought one at a Manila shopping mall. They were given two more by relatives this year.
"They really look lovely when lit at night," says Bal.
Parol comes from the word "farol", Spanish for a lantern or street lamp. They were originally made of bamboo frames covered with rice paper.
"It reminds us of an age-old tradition in the Philippines," says Bal, who has lived in the capital for 15 years. "It is a symbol of hope and enhances the spirit of Christmas."
In the Philippines it is common to see parols hanging on the walls or in windows of homes.
"Despite the hard times, Filipinos back home manage to celebrate and enjoy Christmas," says Bal. "Everyone shares the festive moment when they hang a simple Christmas lantern in their homes."
Demy Luceno, 39, an electrical engineer in Abu Dhabi, fondly remembers buying a parol every Christmas in Las Pinas City, metropolitan Manila, before moving to the UAE three years ago.
"We always look forward to hanging a parol since, for Filipino Christians, it represents the star of Bethlehem that guided the three wise men to the manger of the baby Jesus Christ," he says.
Filipinos like to get an early start on Christmas, with radio stations cranking out carols from September and festivities extending well into the New Year.
"We start putting up Christmas decorations as early as September or November," Demy says.
His group, Organisasyon ng mga Pilipinong Mang-aawit sa Abu Dhabi (Organisation of Filipino Singers in Abu Dhabi), is making a metre-high holiday lantern.
They want to keep the design under wraps because they are taking part in Parulan 2011, a lantern-making contest in Abu Dhabi. Three cash winners are to be named on Friday.
"The parol brightens the Christmas holidays of Filipinos abroad," says Arnold Peter Miranda, 48, the contest's organiser. "Christmas is for children. For those living overseas, they get to marvel at the beautiful colours and lights of these giant lanterns and learn to appreciate our customs and traditions."
It has been five years since the Filipino electrical engineer was back home for Christmas.
"I feel homesick at the sight of these illuminated star lanterns," Arnold says. "The parol reminds us of home and how special a Filipino Christmas is."