More than just a Christmas lantern

Updated: Mar 4

Raise your hand if you cried after watching "From Our Family to Yours" by Disney. I'm raising my hand. In fact, I ugly cried while watching it... and I STILL hella cry when I rewatch it. Did it hit home for you too? If so, what emotions came up? I journaled to gain clarity on what was in my heart. I realized I was feeling a whole gamut of emotions, but I was particularly surprised to find that I felt more pain than happiness.

Assimilation & Disconnection

I am a first-generation American millennial whose parents are immigrants from the Philippines. They have been U.S. citizens for over 30 years. Although some Filipino customs, traditions, food, etc. have sustained in my family, I did not grow up making parols. Our family never owned one either. I knew what they were though, because my parents would point them out during Christmas.

Sure, there could've been several factors to why we didn't own a parol. One factor being that authentic parols were pretty expensive. I've seen some impressively elaborate parols made out of shells, for example. What kept running through my mind, however, was an experience from my childhood when I was around relatives making fun of another Filipino family for owning a parol.

I stepped back and put myself in a place of compassion. I felt that I witnessed my relatives' discomfort with holding on to their own identity while expecting to stay in-line and conform to a new place. The parol was a target on your back for being Filipino. Assimilation meant survival, which unfortunately may be at the cost of erasing one's beautiful traditions.

Whether it's realized or not, colonization mentality profoundly affects American-born people of color too. Based on my own experience, the video revealed to me how disconnected I was to my Filipino heritage. For others, this historical trauma can show up in different ways.

One of my best friends, who is a first-gen millennial of Filipino descent, moved to the Midwest where it is predominantly white. The video brought up some sadness and longing in her since she was born and raised in the Bay Area where it is highly diverse. My friend expressed concern for her daughter not getting the chance to experience Filipino culture like she did growing up. I didn't quite understand that logic at first since she and her Filipino mom could teach her daughter all about Filipino culture. Again, in taking a step back I understood that my friend has gone through an assimilation process of her own. She's not an immigrant, and yet she lost this piece of her identity when she uprooted so she could fit in.

The Remembering

I really felt seen in mainstream media for the first time ever, and for that, I am grateful. There were so many moments that resonated with me. The animation stirred up pride for my ethnicity and pride of whom my people are. It touched my core, because it activated ancient memories within me.

The Philippines' Landscape

I went to the Philippines with my mom in late August of 2019, so the memories of the trip were really fresh in my mind. I found that the video was on point with the portrayals of the cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages and old Spanish-style abodes. I was taken back to Vigan City, which is one of the places by my mom's province.

Vigan City, Philippines 2019

Filipino tradition: Parol

I knew instantly the animation was going to be a Filipino story because of the parols. The whole storyline was based on this tradition. Parols are the star-shaped lanterns that you could see throughout the video. I wouldn't call this an indigenous tradition to the Philippines since its roots came from Catholicism and Spanish. The parol, however, is pretty iconic when it comes to Filipino Christmas traditions and is unique to Filipino culture.

The parol represent the Star of Bethlehem that guided the 3 magi to the stable where Jesus was born. Furthermore, the word "Parol" is a derivative of the Spanish word "farol," which means lantern. The letter "F" is not in the Filipino alphabet.
Parols being sold on display

The parol represents the Star of Bethlehem that guided the 3 magi to the stable where Jesus was born. Furthermore, the word "Parol" is a derivative of the Spanish word "farol," which means lantern. The letter "F" is not in the Filipino alphabet.

Filipino custom: Mano

In the animation when Lola ("grandmother" in Tagalog) was a little girl, she does a hand gesture called "Mano." She takes her dad's hand and places the back of it to her forehead. This gesture is a sign of respect to an elder and an ask for his or her blessing. I remember doing this at family parties when I was growing up.

Remembering My Grandpa

When Lola spots her dad at the beginning of the video, she calls him "Tatay." Tatay is the tagalog word for "Father." This pretty much started the waterworks for me, because it took me back to when my maternal grandfather was still alive. My mom used to call him "Tatang," which means "Father" as well but in my mom's dialect of Ilocano. The physical features of Tatay in the animation also resembled my grandpa, who was tall and skinny with slicked back hair. The essence of Tatay made me miss my grandpa so much.

Valuing What's Important

Admittedly the present-day timeline in the video brought up feelings of remorse for me. Lola reminded me of my little ol' 92-year-old maternal grandmother, who is alive today. I felt a pit of guilt in my stomach during the part of the animation when Lola was feeling lonely. I believe my grandma experiences those moments of loneliness too. My grandma has been widowed since 2005. All her siblings have died within the past few years. I can't even imagine how lonely she must feel not having someone to talk to on a regular basis and knowing she is the last one standing. The thought of mortality is probably more real to her everyday. I hate to say that I saw myself in the granddaughter of the animation. Typical millennial, am I right? My grandma isn't a crafty one like Lola, but she is a great storyteller. Instead of wasting away precious time on my phone when I'm with her, I ought to invite my grandma to retell her stories. I'll miss them one day, plus this would ensure the oral tradition of our family continues living on.

The Birth of an Old Tradition

The video inspired me to have a conversation with my parents about starting a new family Christmas tradition. I asked my mom if she had seen Disney's "Our Family to Yours" and if she'd be down to make parols this year. She did see it, and she surprised me by being really into the idea. She even bragged about making the best parol tails in elementary school. I was very explicit about wanting to publicly show off the parols at my parents' house. This type of visibility was very important to me, because I wanted to show my parents that there was nothing to be ashamed of about being Filipino. I believe in my heart of hearts that making parols with my family this year was healing for all of us. It was more than just a nod to our heritage; it was a reclamation of it.

Our parols

I will say that making a parol was not as easy as it looked. The process was long and took a lot of work! It took us approximately 4 hours to make each of ours, but that was time well spent together. Priceless indeed. Even my grandma stuck around for a while to be up in the mix. This moment was one of the best things that manifested for me in 2020. Our first time making parols as a family will be imprinted in my mind forever, but I'm looking forward to more parol-making memories in the future as this becomes a staple in our Christmas family traditions.

From my family to yours

Videographer and Editor: Eric Ventimiglia

Our traditions are what connect us to our family, culture and ancestors. It's imperative we learn them and carry them forward for the next generations to come