Its shape is said to be inspired by the star on the Nativity of Jesus that guided the Magi to the manger. It also symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and the Filipinos' hope and goodwill during the Christmas season.
The Parol, technically called Philippine Christmas lantern, was adapted from the Chinese lantern and the Mexican piñata to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. Patterns of the parol evolved from the five-pointed star-shaped paper lantern that was crafted by an artisan named Francisco Estanislao in 1928. His creation was made of bamboo strips pasted with papel de japon (Japanese paper), illuminated by a candle or kalburo (carbide). This kind of lighting was adapted by barrio folks to light their paths during an annual ritual dawn Mass called Misa de Gallo, due to electricity being unavailable at the time.
Traditionally, parols are made from a star-shaped framework made of bamboo sticks which are then covered by colored pieces of either Japanese paper or crêpe paper. Nowadays, the materials range from various non-traditional materials such as beads, feathers, glass, hemp, leaves, plastic, seeds, shells, soft drink straws, wood and even metal. They usually comes in various sizes—from small, tinsel and foil lanterns to gigantic one—shapes and artistic designs where some lanterns can be electrically lit at night. Other designs include that of Santa Claus's face, angels, reindeer, huge flowers, happy faces, and Christmas trees. More complex shapes that are seen are the rose, the bromeliad, the snowflake and the sea urchin.
The star-like shape of the parol which has been its original design remains common in the Philippines and considered distinct for Filipinos. The crafts are usually made in the barrios and the poblacions and is rarely done in urban areas. On the contrary, Parañaque, a city in Metro Manila, has the largest production of Parols.
In the Philippines, the parol has become an iconic symbol of a Filipino Christmas and is as important to Filipinos as the Christmas Tree is to other cultures. Its appearance on houses and streets which usually starts in September along with other Christmas symbols signals the coming of the season. The parol is associated with the Simbang Gabi, a series of dawn masses that lasts for nine days. Parols remain until in January, usually removed by the sixth day of the month, to honor the "Three Kings" and their visit to the child Jesus. Filipinos hold competitions to see who can make the best parol. The annual Lantern festival in Pampanga attracts various craftsmen around the country. The competition revolves around the illumination and performances of giant parols that can reach up to in breadth. These giant lanterns are also made to "dance" at the music of a brass band.