SAN FERNANDO CITY, Pampanga - For some lantern makers here, shifting online has spelled their industry's survival.
Evangeline Roxas, 64, seller of eye-dazzling, honeycomb-like, colorful Christmas lanterns said going online has helped them weather the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the province, known as the capital of parol-making in the country.
“Sa totoo lang, apektado rin naman kami (ng pandemic). Pero kasi itong mga buwan na ito talaga kami malakas, di ba kapag magpapasko. Tapos nag-oopen na di ba ang ekonomiya, so kahit papaano may bumibili naman,” she said in an interview.
(In truth, we're also affected by the pandemic. But these past few months business has been getting strong as Christmas approached and the economy reopened, so people have somewhat been spending.)
“Pero ngayon, pino-post na namin sa social media at kung may umorder, ipapa-deliver namin,” she said.
(We now post on social media and have items delivered to customers.)
Evangeline one of 14 workers at a store store owned by Renan Cayanan. She recalled how business had been slow, especially in the onset of the pandemic.
“Nung nag-lockdown noong March, nagkataon summer, so wala naman talagang bumibili na rin noon,” Evangeline said.
(The lockdown happened in March, during summer, so there were really no shoppers.)
“Pero ngayong taon, nagsimula na kami magtinda noong September, imbes na July noong mga nakaraang taon. Mas late talaga ngayon kasi pandemic at nag-iingat din lahat,” she explained.
(But this year, we began selling in September instead of July in previous years. We started later because there's a pandemic and everyone is being careful.)
Cayanan, 34, is the third generation in his family that continues the production of giant lanterns started by his grandfather 50 years ago.
Lanterns are being produced at the back of the store. It is usually made of wire lights, led lights, polyvinyl plastic, and capiz - a shell of the Placuna placenta mollusk, which is native to the seas of Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia and the Philippines.
Each giant lantern features a series of multiple spinning lights, shining brightly especially at night. It can light dark streets and can be visible even at 6 meters high.
Sellers did not lower prices of the lanterns this year, but the buyers remain few. They offer the smallest (14-inch) lantern at P700. It is the cheapest among all shining lanterns in the said store.
On the other hand, the largest, most expensive one (48-inch size) costs about P14,000.
“Maraming bumibili na buyers sa amin mula Batangas, at Laguna, tapos sila na magre-resell doon,” Evangeline discussed.
(We have many buyers from Batangas and Laguna and they resell there.)
“Pero kumpara noon, mas gamit na gamit talaga online selling ngayon, kasi siyempre ‘yung iba takot din bumili ng direct dito sa Pampanga,” she explained.
(We now use online selling more because most people are too afraid to directly shop here in Pampanga.)
One lantern could last up to 5 years as long as the customer takes good care of it.
On average, makers can create up to 40 pieces of different lanterns per day.
“Pero siyempre kung kita pag-uusapan, mas mababa talaga,” Evangeline said.
(If we talk about sales, it's much lower.)
October to December are the peak months, but some clients still buy until February for the Chinese New Year celebration. Before the pandemic, they earn an average of P100,000 per month.
But now, things have changed.
"Hindi ganun kalakas, ramdam mo talaga," Evangeline said. "Pero dapat maparamdam mo pa rin sa lahat na may Pasko kahit may pandemya."
(It's not that brisk, you could really feel it. But we should still be able to make people feel the spirit of Christmas despite the pandemic.)
Jessica Lugtu, 27, was laid off as a worker of a fastfood chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She then applied as a lantern seller.
“One time, P550 ‘yung pinakamura namin, ayun nakabenta kaming isa,” Jessica said.
(One time we only sold one Christmas lantern, the cheapest we have at P550.)
“Pero tuloy lang, may bumibili naman kahit papaano. Tiyaga lang din,” she added.
(But we keep on, there are buyers if we persist.)
Their store opens as early as 7 a.m. these days and closes at 11 p.m. to maximize sales.
Christmas lanterns offer hope to many Filipinos as it symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem.
The lantern-making industry in the city started in 1964. Until today, the City of San Fernando prides itself as the “Home of the Giant Lanterns” and remains the leading and reputable name in lantern making amid the COVID-19 crisis.
According to the City Tourism Office, the Christmas lantern or Parul Sampernandu in Kapampangan can never be distanced from the town, as it is what San Fernando is known for.
The word parol derives from the Spanish word "farol," which means lantern or light.
Currently, there are 32 registered manufacturers in the city. From P85.9 million earnings in 2018, it went up to P115 million total in 2019.
How the industry fared in 2020 is yet to be seen. But the pandemic certainly has affected the production and selling of lanterns. Despite this, the local government is still hopeful.
“Parul sampernandu is regarded as a Philippine icon. It gives hope to people amidst the pandemic, that everything will be okay soon,” the city tourism office said in an email interview.