Out on Parol

Every year around Christmas time, the wife and I like to drive around various neighborhoods looking at all the different Christmas lights people have hung on their homes. Although the wife likes to ooh and ahh at all that is bright and blinky, I just like seeing how many Filipino households I can spot during these night-time drive-bys.

How is it that I can pick out a single Filipino household from the hundreds of other twinkling homes? My Filipino readers may already know the answer to this, but I’ll clue everyone else in too. In addition to the normal strings of Christmas lights stapled/nailed/duct taped to the eaves of houses, Filipinos may sometimes display a large star-shaped lantern, called a Parol, in their windows or on the outside of the home.

For instance, here’s a look at my parents’ home with a Christmas Parol in their window:


And here’s a look at me and the wife’s place with our Parol in one of our upper windows:


I know, the single string of lights at our place is totally weaksauce, but me and ladders are mortal enemies.

Originally, Parols in the Philippines were made from simple materials like bamboo sticks, Japanese rice paper, and candles
that were lit from within the fragile lantern. Nowadays, Parols are lit
with electric bulbs and are made with anything from Capiz shells, to
plastic and metal. You can buy overpriced Parols online, but they are also sold for much less at Filipino markets.

Here’s a closer look at my Parol:


Plastic keeps everything safe and clean.

I like to keep my Parol wrapped in its original plastic packaging because, well, because I’m Filipino and I like to keep things wrapped in plastic. Also, my Parol is made of very fragile Capiz shells that allow the blinky electric bulbs on the inside to shine through. Parols are generally star-shaped, though mine is also shaped like a Sampaguita flower (at least that’s what the tag says). The Sampaguita is the national flower of the Philippines.

The significance of a Parol to Filipinos
is that it represents the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Wise
Men to Lil’ Baby Jesus. Therefore, Parols are a very fitting tradition
to the Christmas season and thankfully, it’s a tradition that has been
continued by Filipino Americans all across the U.S. I know that there
are even Parol festivals and Parol-making workshops–at least there are in
California–every December.

In keeping with the Parol theme, I thought I’d share some Christmas cookies with you, star-shaped Christmas cookies.


The usual.

Of course, the wife baked these cookies, not me. She makes sugar cookies every year and usually adorns them with colored frosting and sprinkly thingies.

This year, however, I did chop up some Candied Kalamansi Peel and studded some of the cookies with the sweet rinds.


Recognize anything?

I know it doesn’t look like it, but in the picture above, the candied
kalamansi is firmly entrenched in the cookies–just make sure you press
them into the dough prior to sticking in the oven. You could use any sugar cookie recipe you want, but we used this Alton Brown recipe with great results.


Kalamansi in these too?

In addition to the sugar cookies, the wife also made some citrus-glazed ginger cookies from this Sunset recipe. But again, I did find a way to work Kalamansi into these cookies by using Kalamansi juice, instead of lemon juice, in the glaze that was drizzled onto the cookies. We love these sweet, spicy, and chewy ginger cookies so much that the wife bakes them every year as well.

The glaze also worked well on the sugar cookies.


Kalamansi drizzle.

Anyhoo, now that you know how to locate and identify a Filipino
household based on the presence of a brightly shining star, it’s not a bad idea to make friends with the inhabitants of
that household so that you can mooch some delicious Filipino food–at
least that’s what I would do if I weren’t Filipino.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Maligayang Pasko!

  • caninecologne December 21, 2008, 8:00 pm

    hi marvin
    we do the same thing! which is spotting which houses are Filipino in the local hoods by the presence of a capiz parol. there’s quite a few! unfortunately we don’t have one. maybe we’ll have to spring the $159 at Seafood City!
    liked how you included kalamansi as an ingredient for your Christmas cookies. very creative and tasty, i’m sure. i’ve used kalamansi juice in my adobo in addition to vinegar.
    so are your couches wrapped in plastic too? kidding dude. hope you and your family have a great Christmas!

  • Manggy December 21, 2008, 10:09 pm

    Hee! I thought you had buckled down and baked anyway despite your promise to me that you’d never again 😛 Those mini-parols (they are, aren’t they? 😉 look deeelicious, I’m sure I would’ve gobbled them up in no time. The kalamansi glaze is also a great change from lemon. The ginger cookies also look awesome– since I started baking gingerbread I’ve fallen for the whole spice-thing.
    You’ve got a great parol. Take it out of the plaaaastic! I remember we used to have the bamboo-and-cellophane parol as an elementary school project. I sucked at crafts so I had my dad do it 😛

  • Mila December 22, 2008, 4:10 am

    Maligayang Pasko Marvin and Barbara! It was a pleasure getting to know you two in 2008. I hope your new year is a blessed one. Cheers!

  • greasemonkey December 22, 2008, 6:59 am

    maligayang pasko! = )
    at manigong bagong taon! = )
    if you have extra kalamansi, you can also add some of the juice to sinigang recipes (especially those with fish/shrimp/prawns/crabs).

  • Erin December 22, 2008, 8:33 am

    The church I grew up in had a huge Filipino population and parols were a part of our decor. The northern windows were covered with them and I remember being entranced by them during midnight madness while I attempted to stay awake. I had forgotten all about them.
    I used to mooch all kinds of delicious Filipino food at church events. Man that was awesome.
    Merry Christmas to you both!

  • Joelen December 22, 2008, 8:38 am

    Great use of your candied calamansi! Ahhh, I miss seeing the parol during the holidays. We don’t have one and our parents are a bit of a drive away…

  • Theda December 22, 2008, 2:09 pm

    My Mom made a parol from scratch when we were kids. Unfortunately,my siblings nor I learned how to make one, but a capiz shell parol sounds pretty.
    And I love all your uses of calamansi. My dad has a tree; I’m going to have to pick some on Christmas day and try my hand at making candied calamansi.
    Maligayang Pasko!

  • manok December 22, 2008, 2:19 pm

    I have read somewhere that the origin of the parol was symbolic of the lanterns used by the farmers and fishermen heading to church to hear mass very early in the morning (simbang gabi) before starting work in the fields for the farmers and after having a bounty of their catch for the fishermen. That, I think is very cool.

  • Katrina December 23, 2008, 7:49 am

    Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon, Marvin and B! :-)
    The parols made of sticks and Japanese paper, or sticks and cellophane, are still around — though lit with bulbs, of course, not candles. I like both the colorful capiz ones, like you have, and the more traditional paper ones with their pretty “tails.” The problem with the latter, though, is that they’re so flimsy; they can’t get wet, and are so hard to store that you almost have to buy new ones every year. I guess that’s why fewer people have them now. But I miss seeing them.

  • rita December 23, 2008, 10:02 am

    The Parols sure give a beautiful statement, doesn’t it? Those calamansi cookies look good! I wish I can grow or buy them here in Germany. I guess, I’ll just have to wait when we visit the Phil. Any bibinkas? I miss those.
    Wishing you and your dear ones the best this holiday season and throughout!

  • fin December 23, 2008, 2:09 pm

    I, too, like to spot Filipino homes with parols. Every November-December at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco they have classes on how to make parols.

  • Meg December 24, 2008, 5:53 pm

    It’s Christmas eve and I found your blog as I searched the internet for an Arroz Caldo recipe. It’s quiet night for my husband and I in our home in Denver. I thought arroz caldo would be a nice connection to home this evening. Your blog just made my night. Thanks for the smiles and the great memories. I’ll check your blog again soon.

  • Jude December 25, 2008, 2:55 am

    Our household in pinas has had the same parol for.. since before I was born. That’s a long ass time.
    Maligayang Pasko!

  • elmomonster December 25, 2008, 11:17 am

    Yours is a truly Fusion household! I had no idea about those parols. I knew about the wooden spoons, but now I’ll have to keep a lookout for parols too!

  • monzie December 25, 2008, 4:41 pm

    happy christmas!
    this is so ironic, i was just explaining to my co-workers how spotting a parol signifies a Filipino family in the neighborhood. =)
    hope you’re having a wonderful holiday.

  • Lori Lynn @ Taste With The Eyes December 27, 2008, 2:36 pm

    Hi Marvin – I plan to keep my eye out for the parol. I’m not sure if I have the guts to knock on the door and mooch some food though…
    Hope you and the wife are enjoying the holidays!

  • oggi December 27, 2008, 5:00 pm

    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas!
    And have a happy New Year too!
    Love the star cookies.:)

  • Darlene December 29, 2008, 4:01 pm

    Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon! <-- I had to look that up online. I would hang a parol at our place, but I'm having a hard enough time having my fiance remove his shoes when entering the house.

  • Yarn Hungry Hog December 29, 2008, 9:12 pm

    First off, hope you and your wife, and the rest of your family and friends had a wonderful Christmas holiday.
    Those are great-looking parols. I’ve always wanted to get a parol, since it’s an authentic Filipino symbol of Christmas. But they’re sooo expensive, specially the Capiz shell ones. I remember attempting to make one to show off to my hubby, but it turned out looking like Frankenstein made it!
    Anyway, I finally made ukoy based on your recipe. Remember I left a comment on your blog entry of the Ukoy subject, promising to make it?
    Check this out:

  • Culinary Education History December 30, 2008, 4:20 am

    Christmas Parol its looking beautiful. The cookies are yummy.
    Thanks for sharing

  • Jescel January 1, 2009, 12:55 pm

    oh my this is funny… you’re so right, my filipino neighbors have those parol, except me.. been trying to get one, but it’s pretty darn expensive to buy it here! Happy New year!

  • Jescel January 1, 2009, 12:56 pm

    by the way, is that kalamansi from your tree? LOL…

  • bernadette January 1, 2009, 5:53 pm

    Happy New Year, marvin!
    Hahaha! love your statement about how we Filipinos love to wrap our things in plastic! It started with wrapping our elementary notebooks in plastic, I suppose?
    But you do have a lovely parol! It’s worth wrapping it in plastic…just change the plastic when it starts to become yellowish. hehe!
    The star motif is quite Filipino-ish? I just made my husband this star for Christmas not because I thought of the parol but…it looks really deeply ingrained. see my blog—http://nutart.blogspot.com/
    thanks and looking forward to another year of Marvin-isms! 😀

  • Julie January 2, 2009, 11:03 am

    Feliz! I hope your holidays were awesome. I channeled the Alton spirit, too, with some holiday sugar cookies, but I wish now that I’d had some kalamansi cheer to go along!

  • Cynthia January 2, 2009, 8:29 pm

    Happy New Year to you and the Mrs!

  • Heidi / Savory Tv January 3, 2009, 11:51 am

    The Parol, and your cookies are gorgeous! And thank you for the tidbit of Filipino culture!

  • Burnt Lumpia January 5, 2009, 12:17 pm

    Thanks caninecologne. No, my couches aren’t wrapped in plastic, but only because they didn’t have any when I bought them;)
    No manggy, it’s going to be a while until I bake again myself! well maybe.
    Thanks very much, Mila! Happy New Year to you!
    Hi greasemonkey! Yes, I can imagine a seafood sinigang with lots of kalamansi!
    Hi Erin, I hope you had a wonderful holiday season.
    You should look into buying or making a parol Joelen.
    Hello Theda. Thanks for visiting my blog!
    I’ve also read different stories of the origins of the parol, manok. I think overall, they are simply a symbol of joy during the holidays;)
    Hi Katrina. I’ve seen the smaller “handmade” parols with the tails as well in the Filipino market here. They are indeed very pretty, but like you said, they also seem flimsy.
    thanks very much rita, happy holidays to you as well.
    Hi fin. thanks for visiting my blog. I’ll have to look for a parol-making workshop here in socal.
    Hello meg. I’m glad you got a smile out of my blog, and I hope you visit often.
    Happy New Year, Jude!
    Hey elmo! Yes, do keep an eye out for the parols, now you can tell a Filipino household from the outside now;)
    Thanks very much, monzie. Happy holidays to you.
    Hey there Lori Lynn! Yeah, it might take more than a knock on the door to get some filipino food;)
    Happy New Year oggi!
    I had to look it up too, Darlene! Happy New Year;)
    Hi Yarn Hungry! I’m glad you finally got around to making the Ukoy! thank god your hubby liked them!
    Thanks Culinary Education.
    Happy New Year, Jescel! And no, the Kalamansi is from my mom’s tree.
    Hi Bernadette! I’ve always enjoyed your coconut art, but that star-inspired one is truly beautiful! Happy new year!
    Feliz, Julie!
    Thanks Cynthia! Much success to you in the new year.
    Thanks Heidi. I’m glad you learned something about our culture.

  • Maryanne May 26, 2009, 8:27 pm

    I have never seen another parol in Oregon or Colorado where we are now. I have a very borning one which I love with white capiz shell. I have made several paper ones, using balsa wood and tissue paper. The directions are from an old Sunset Magazine, maybe the 80s.

  • precious September 29, 2009, 12:14 am

    Capiz Parol pictures from this site: http://capizparolsforsale.blogspot.com/


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