Art of making homemade star-shaped lanterns for Christmas on revival mode in Kerala

Senior citizens recall the season of joy when Christmas decorations were made at home

December 10, 2021 03:53 pm | Updated 03:53 pm IST

Eco-friendly star-shaped lanterns made by students of Life School International during a two-day workshop at their school, which was led by art teacher Babykutty KC

Eco-friendly star-shaped lanterns made by students of Life School International during a two-day workshop at their school, which was led by art teacher Babykutty KC

On December 9, 40 students of Life School International at Vettickal, near Mulanthuruthy in Ernakulam district lit star-shaped lanterns that they had made from scratch with reed, paper, coconut shell and candle. Participants of the two-day workshop (on December 8 and 9) were taught by their art teacher Babykutty KC to make the eco-friendly lanterns.

Twinkling in myriad colours and shapes, star-shaped paper lanterns herald the season of cakes, wine, feasts and family reunions in Kerala. Come Christmas, the stars, big and small, are available in neighbourhood shops all over the State.

In the decades before stars could be picked up from shops, they were made at home with reed, cane, bamboo, midrib of coconut leaves, dried sticks and coloured paper. The task of making the Christmas stars was assigned to youngsters and children in the family and neighbourhood.

“To get rid of the pandemic blues, we organised this workshop and the children made the most of it. Students of classes nine and ten and Plus Two participated,” says Gregary John, Principal of Life School International.

Recently, 51-year-old Babu Stephen from Nadavayal, Wayanad, made the lantern for a video being recorded by his parish. He explains: “We chisel, splice and shape the bamboo into the required lengths and tie them together with twine or rope to make the frame of the lantern. Two such star-shaped frames are made and a hollow in the centre is formed when the frames are joined with short bamboo splices separating the two.

“One side of the frame is covered with coloured paper. The frame behind that is partially covered with paper, leaving a space at the base for a lighted wick to be placed in a coconut shell. That was our star!”

Eco-friendly decorations

Many senior citizens remember making such stars to decorate their homes. Ninety-four-year-old Thomas Abraham remembers making lanterns from dried twigs and sticks of othalam (Cerbera odollam ) during his childhood at Edathua in Alappuzha district.

Eliyamma George, 93, goes back to a time before electricity came to their homes in Malayattoor, 47 km from Kochi. “We hung up kerosene lamps in earthen pots in which holes had been made. The light cast by the pots looked like a thousand stars had come to our house,” she says.

Sixty-five-year-old Anne Koruth from Thiruvananthapuram, who grew up in Kaviyoor, Pathanamthitta, says her brothers would start preparations for the stars at the beginning of December itself. She recalls that they would cut and collect the cane required before the holidays began. “Soon after the Christmas examinations got over, we would begin making the frames in earnest. There was a healthy competition in the neighbourhood to see who would make the most number of such stars in different sizes to decorate our homes,” she recalls.

Childhood nostalgia

Kochi-settled Jose Philip Alumparambil wanted to revive the joy of handmade lanterns. He remembers showing his children how to make the lanterns at his family home in Kottayam. “Making those lanterns was a family affair. While my elder brothers cut and shaped the bamboo, some of us applied the gum. My sisters cut the coloured paper and pasted it on the frame.”

Getting silver foil for decorating the stars was difficult in Kottayam. He says it was up to the boys to collect it from discarded cigarette boxes. The butter paper was peeled off and the silver foil was set aside to be used for the lanterns. He adds: “For some reason, the coloured paper was called ‘Chinese paper’. Either that or white paper was used to cover the frames, gilt was pasted on the edges and a lamp was connected to the base of the lantern, which was kept hollow.”

In 2017 and 2018, 60-year-old Babykutty, then an art teacher at Labour India Gurukulam at Marangattupally, near Kottayam, held two workshops to teach students of the school how to make homemade lanterns for Christmas. More than 500 students attended the workshop and made the lanterns with bamboo and coloured paper. Candles were placed inside coconut shells to light the lanterns.

Recounts Babykutty: “One batch made the stars and another batch stuck the paper. Before the school closed for the holidays, we invited parents to see the display of ‘Christmas stars’. Each one had the name of the student who made it. I wanted them to understand the pleasure of making the lanterns for their homes.”

Reminiscing his boyhood in Manarcaud, Kottayam, he says none of the children then would dream of buying stars for their homes. “The crass commercialisation that has enveloped all festivals is quite disappointing. I feel it has robbed the spirit of the festival. The workshop was held to revive the joy of making such ornaments to decorate homes and also teach them eco-friendly methods to celebrate festivals.”

As Christmas is around the corner, Babykutty plans to take the bamboo frame with him to make a lantern to usher in the festivities.

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.