People of Chinese descent are scattered all over the world. With the current census pegging their number at around 1.35 billion, they make up roughly 20% of the world’s population.
Here in the Philippines, the Chinese hold great cultural influence, having lived in the country even before the Spaniards arrived in the 15th century. Consequently, Chinese traditions and customs have now blended with Filipino culture.
Ongpin and the other major streets of Binondo, considered one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world, are gearing up for their grandest affair—the Lunar New Year, also known as the annual Spring Festival in other parts of the world
This year, February 19 marks the beginning of the Year of the Wood Sheep. The date of celebration varies each year, between the months of January and February. Though the Chinese celebrate their New Year in various locations, depending on where they reside, the principles and elements basically remain the same.
THE COLOR RED
During this holiday, red becomes the predominant color in welcoming the New Year. People decorate their houses with red lanterns and paper cutouts. People also dress up in red as it symbolizes good fortune.
Nián Gāo to the Chinese, tikoy is the Filipino version of the sticky rice cakes only available during this time. This traditional food embodies close familial ties. That’s why the tikoy remains a prominent fixture on the dining table as the whole family welcomes the New Year.
Ang Pao, a small red envelope with Chinese characters filled with money, is one of the most common gifts given during the Spring Festival. These are usually given to children or placed above the houses’ doors as offering for the dancing lions. Ang Pao symbolizes prosperity and abundance in the coming year.
LION AND DRAGON DANCE
During the Lion and Dragon Dance parade, the streets are filled with the sounds of drumbeats and cymbals. The dragon dance ceremony is believed to ward off bad spirits and is associated with good luck, wisdom and power.
Small oranges known as kiat-kiat and other round fruits are known to symbolize prosperity and good health.
CHARMS AND OTHER TRINKETS
Lucky charms in the form of pendants, bracelets, rings, figurines and other merchandise are believed to protect the wearer from bad omen, and bring good luck.
Making noise and lighting firecrackers is also one of the most important customs in celebrating the Chinese New Year across the globe. In Chinese mythology, people learned that Nian, a mythical beast known to eat livestock, crops and humans, fears loud noises and the color red. Thus, people put up red lanterns and light firecrackers to scare away the beast.
For generations, it has been customary for people to wish each other good luck and happiness in the coming year. In the Philippines, the Chinese-Filipino communities use Hokkien and greets with Kiong Hee Huat Tsai. The Cantonese version, Kung Hei Fat Choi, is dominant in Hongkong. Meanwhile, the Mandarin version is Gong Xi Fa Cai. All these roughly translate to “Congratulations and be prosperous.”
On a side note, Malacañang has declared February 19, the Chinese New Year, as a special non-working day and a special holiday for all schools nationwide.
In line with this, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz reminds employers “to provide the mandatory holiday pay to workers who will report for work on Thursday.”