From flowers to parols

By Victor Anthony V. Silva |December 03,2017 - 10:07 PM

Maribeth Toralba attends to a customer in her store at Freedom Park, downtown Cebu City.

How family from Guadalupe nurtured Freedom Park store for 6 decades

Christmas is easily the most anticipated holiday in the Philippines and in the rest of the world, especially since it is one of the few times most extended families get reunited over glorious food and songs of good tidings each year.

But for this family from Guadalupe in Cebu City, the yuletide season has not only been the glue that unites them but has also been a steady source of income in the last several decades.

Fifty-year-old Maribeth Toralba and her sister manage a humble store named after their mother Dolorosa at the Freedom Park in downtown Cebu City, a business the family has been running for more than 60 years.

While the Freedom Park is known as a marketplace for fresh flowers, like Maribeth, some vendors in the area sell Christmas decorations when the advent season comes.

Maribeth sells flowers and ornamental plants from January until October and starts displaying Christmas lanterns or parols after All Saints’ Day in November.

“We’ve been in this spot since my mother was 12 years old. Now, she is 72,” Maribeth told Cebu Daily News in Cebuano.

Maribeth took over the store when she was 30 years old, allowing their mother to retire.

Outside and inside her store hang Christmas lanterns in different colors and sizes, which set the place apart from the others that are still displaying mostly flowers.

A parol is an ornamental, star-shaped Christmas lantern popular in the Philippines. It is traditionally made out of bamboo sticks and paper or plastic.

It comes in various sizes and shapes, but the basic star pattern generally dominates.

The design of the parol evokes the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Kings to the manger where the baby Jesus lay, as well as symbolizes “the victory of light over darkness and the Filipinos’ hope and goodwill during the Christmas season.”

Maribeth’s father Exequiel, now 80 years old, has been making Christmas lanterns since Maribeth was a child.

She described her father as a master parol-maker and expressed her regret that he can no longer do the kind of work he used to do before.

“He used to create unique lanterns. One was never the same with the other. We want to continue the family business, but I think we’re sticking with the simple designs,” she said.

Almost all their neighbors in Guadalupe are engaged in the lantern-making business as well, from whom they get some of their parols on display.

For each parol they buy from their neighbors, they earn a profit of P10, prompting Maribeth to admit that it’s better to sell their own creations, except that it is easier if they just buy their supply from others instead.

Maribeth said their lantern-making venture has helped provide for their family over the years and has even sent her and her five siblings to school back then.

The same venture helped Maribeth provide for her own children and now her grandchildren.

“It really helps augment our income, especially because these are the times when the sales are really good,” she said.

As early as January, she and her family start assembling the skeleton of the lanterns. She said she can finish making 20 big lanterns in one day, albeit still without extra decorations.

She said that their eldest sibling, a seaman, is helping them make lanterns while waiting to board a ship again.

Maribeth isn’t privy to how much her father spent to start the business, but she said P500 would already be enough for around 20 lanterns.

“We’ve been making lanterns ever since I was young. We used Japanese paper then. Now, we just use plastic,” she explained.

Each parol sells for P35 to P180, depending on size and design. She said they expect sales to pick up in December, with 10 to 20 lanterns in a day.
However, she said sometimes they do not sell anything at all, especially in November.

To make up for slow business, she said they also sell artificial flowers and garlands in March when graduation ceremonies abound.

Maribeth said they don’t ask for much from their venture, only to be able to eat every day, be free from sickness, and live comfortably.

“We’re taking it little by little. Whatever we can do, we do. This has been something our family has been doing for many years and we intend to continue doing it for many more,” she said.

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