8 Filipino Traditions Celebrating Lunar New Year

FEU Advocate
February 01, 2022 03:14

By Angelic Mizpah Chaste C. Bulanhagui and Samantha Cheyenne Gail D. Pagunuran

Declaring Chinese New Year as a special non-working holiday in 2012 was a breakthrough for the Filipino-Chinese Community. It is one of the country's most-awaited and sensational events, next to Christmas and New Year.

Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, begins as the new moon emerges, based on the lunisolar Chinese Calendar between January 21 and February 20. This Spring Festival is remarkable since it removes the bad and the old and welcomes the good and the new. All people greet each other with “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (Mandarin) or “Kung Hei Fat Choy” (Cantonese), which means “wishing you great happiness and prosperity.”

Both Filipinos and Chinese have different customs and beliefs, especially on occasions like this. So, here is a list to relive and practice Filipino-Chinese traditions before February 1, this year’s date for Lunar New Year.

1. Binondo Trip 

Being the oldest Chinatown globally, Binondo is the center of Lunar New Year festivities in the Philippines. The Spanish established this during the 1590s in Manila for Catholic Chinese immigrants. For more than 400 years, it has been a place for trade and commerce where businesses continue to thrive.

Ongpin Street gets more spectators during this celebration because of its vibrant streets, vendors, and performers. Most people visit this iconic place for a “Binondo Food Crawl.” Whether dining for authentic Chinese cuisines or grabbing a classic snack, there are many specials and discounts for that day.  

No Lunar New Year would be complete without consulting their feng shui experts, casting Chinese horoscopes, museum hopping, and paying tribute to temples here. Sometimes, it is also the best time to purchase lucky charms, such as figurines, bracelets, and plants. 

2. Color Red Everywhere

In Chinese culture, red is a popular and traditional color of fire for all their celebrations. It began from a legend where a beast named Nian revealed itself during New Year’s Eve to cause damage. The beast was afraid of this color, hence, encouraging people to display red decorations for harmony and prosperity until today.

This 2022, the Year of the Tiger, fiery red is a lucky color that represents movement, vitality, passion, and love. Filipinos even wear red clothing pieces for strength and give red envelopes or Ang Pao money to children for long life and abundance. 

3. Dancing Dragons and Lions

While accompanied by a live percussion band, different dance troops perform in dragon and lion costumes to dispel evil spirits and attract prosperity. The usual instruments people would hear on the street, especially on Binondo, are drums, cymbals, and gongs.

The Tang Dynasty started lion dances that involved two persons with acrobatic movements on poles. While in dragon dances, at least nine people control the dragon’s body to set patterns on the street.

Dragons embody great power, auspiciousness, and strength, while lions signify safety and luck. A lion dance would not be complete without receiving red envelopes with money as a reward. The different colors of the dragon have different meanings - green for a great harvest, yellow as respect for the empire, gold or silver for prosperity, and red for excitement and fortune.

4. Food Symbolisms

Food is another way to embrace the solemnity of the Lunar New Year. rice cakes, specifically tikoy, are available and countless at all markets or grocery stores from January to February. People believe that this, along with noodles, let success and prosperity, or family and friends stick together with you throughout the year. Also, longevity noodles are eaten during this event for those who hope for a long and happy life.

Twelve round fruits, in golden hues, if possible, are also must-haves on a family’s dinner table. These represent fullness and fortune during the twelve months of the year. 

Filipinos also learned about cooking spring rolls and dumplings from the Chinese. Including them as food in this celebration symbolizes prosperity as they appear like gold bars and money pouches. If desiring surplus by the end of the year, few people serve steamed fish. Those who excessively value their families prepare steamed chicken for reunion and rebirth.

5. Cleaning Dos and Don’ts

Like the Chinese, Chinese-Filipinos, and Filipinos, in general, maintain the tradition of visiting their family home on occasion. Just as with many things observed in these cultures during special holidays, cleaning– or not cleaning– carries significance and intent.

More than allowing families to celebrate and welcome the upcoming year in a clean home, conducting a general house cleaning is an opportunity to showcase and strengthen a family’s harmony as members band together to finish their chores. Failure to do so will mean bringing the accumulated bad luck, and dust, into the new year as well. 

All cleaning must be done before New Year’s day, and especially cleaning that requires the use of water, as the birthday of the Water God Shuishen is observed on the first two Lunar Year days. Along with the belief that sweeping floors on New Year’s day will brush away wealth, the Chinese holiday is a no-chore day meant to be enjoyed.

6. An Explosion of Sounds

Amid delicious smells wafting in homes and the abundance of red-colored items, there is always an anticipation for the noise that rings throughout neighborhoods as the clock strikes 12. Trumpets blaring, pots and pans clanging, crackling firecrackers and fireworks taking off into colorful displays of light, making noise also stems from Chinese traditions for ushering in the new year.

The legend says that a beast and human-eating monster Nian came to villages each New Year’s Eve to wreak havoc until the villagers discovered that explosive sounds from burning dry bamboo scares away the monster. This was replaced by firecrackers that were invented later on.

Now believed to drive away bad luck and evil spirits, this cacophony of sounds also adds cheer to the festive spirit of New Year celebrations.

7. Superstitions

New year, new me– and what better way to start fresh than observing meaningful superstitions such as settling one’s debts, wearing new clothes, or filling rice containers on New Year’s day?

Chinese superstitions adapted in the country maintain its designs with the underlying purpose of bringing in luck and warding off misfortune. One of the more sensible practices, paying off debts before the year ends, is said to signify leaving bad financial habits in the past and facing the future free of monetary constraints.

On a more figurative note, taking medicine, using sharp objects, and gifting clocks or scissors should be avoided as these are said to be of bad omen. At the same time, wearing torn, damaged, and black or white clothes are believed to invite bad luck. Instead, one should opt for red or polka-dotted clothing which symbolizes positive energy, luck, and wealth. 

The Filipino-Chinese also make sure to fill rice and water containers to the brim, display coins throughout the house, and open all doors and windows– including cabinets and drawers– to welcome even more luck and prosperity into every possible space!

8. Eating together as a family

Both upholding the importance of family, welcoming the New Year together is a given in Chinese and Filipino cultures. After all, celebrations are not meant to be enjoyed alone!

 Surrounding oneself with family on the dinner table on such an important day allows reflection and growth as meals are being shared. At the same time, this ties back to sharing good fortune and long life. 

As a community of people with mixed cultural heritage, the inheritance of Chinese traditions by the Filipino-Chinese is a beautiful affair that will endure for generations to come. Although many of the traditions lend themselves to faith, its persistence is proof that the Lunar New Year’s customs far outlies geographical boundaries. 

(Illustration by Sophia Kaye Fernandez/ FEU Advocate)


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