Niles lantern-making workshop adds traditional Christmas touch
Artist Fred DeAsis instructs how to make a parol, a traditional Christmas lantern from the Philippines, during the 7th annual parol festival at St. John Brebeuf Church in Niles. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 4, 2013 1:16AM
NILES — A large bag filled with colorful, sparkling decorations sat on the table before Tina Velasco and her two young children, Mateo and Sofia.
The family members, of Chicago, were ready to participate in a parol-making workshop at St. John Brebeuf parish in Niles, an activity that has become a family tradition.
Parols are star-shaped Christmas lanterns from the Philippines made out of bamboo and colored paper. Fred DeAsis, a Filipino artist, has been holding parol-making workshops at St. John Brebeuf for the past seven years. He said that it is a great way for families to carry on a significant Filipino tradition and make new friends at the same time.
Some of the people who attend the workshop only see each other during the once-a-year event, DeAsis said, so it serves as a reunion for them, as well as a way to prepare for the upcoming holiday.
“It’s a symbol of getting ready for Christmas,” said DeAsis.
Velasco’s son, Mateo, was excited to make an “Angry Bird” parol this year. The family has been participating in the parol workshop at St. John Brebeuf for the past few years.
Velasco said her children are Filipino and Latino and she participates in the parol workshop so that they stay connected with their Filipino culture.
“It’s just fun, too,” Velasco said of parol-making.
Parols are often hung inside the windows of homes or outside the home. In the Philippines, parols can be very extravagant — even electronic with lights — and it is not unusual for an artist to spend several months making a parol so it is bigger and better than the previous year’s decoration.
Centuries ago, the parol lanterns were used to light the way to the local church on Christmas.
During the Nov. 18 workshop DeAsis taught participants how to make the star-shaped frame of the parol using five bamboo sticks. Then participants used colored paper and vibrant decorations, including glitter, snowflakes and bells, to finish off the lantern. The parols also feature two large tassels that hang from the bottom of the star.
DeAsis said he encourages people to bring photographs of their children or pets to use for the parols and make them more personalized.
The hope is that families will keep the tradition alive and teach family members and friends how to make the parols once they learn how.
“It’s a great way for her to be exposed to the Filipino culture,” said Patricia Reyes, who brought her six-year-old daughter, Amanda, to the event.
Reyes, of Des Plaines, said that when she was younger she remembers seeing parols displayed at her grandparents’ home in the Philippines.
“It’s nice for her to be able to have the same experience,” Reyes said of her daughter.
Reyes added that it is also good for her daughter to spend time with other children who share a common heritage.
“It’s an experience for them that they can relate to and pass along to their kids,” noted DeAsis.
DeAsis said he was happy with the turnout at this year’s event. He also gives similar workshops at other churches in the area and teaches Filipino writing classes as well.
St. John Brebeuf, he said, is a good, centralized location for members of the greater Filipino community to attend the parol-making workshop.