Thursday, February 7, 2008

Chinese New Year

The most important Chinese holiday of the year, Chinese New Year (also called Spring Festival), is also the major festivity of the Philippine Chinese Community. Though there are many customs, rituals, beliefs and myths associated with the New Year, most of the traditional rituals are still observed in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In Manila, particularly in Binondo, lion dancers roam the streets; prosperity signs (red pieces of paper) decorate stores, restaurants, and residences; and many people wear red–the traditional good luck color that is also believed to exorcise evil. It is also believed that red scares away a legendary monster that terrorized people on New Year’s Eve.

Traditionally, festivities for the New Year commenced as early as the 23rd day of the 12th moon of the lunar calendar, and ended with the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the New Year. As times changed, the nonworking days were reduced to three in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In Manila, students in Chinese schools get an afternoon off. Though the local Chinese do not get New Year’s day off, they still celebrate it.

The annual grand celebration is primarily a reward for a year of hard work. Because the festival falls before China’s planting season, when the ground is still frozen, farmers have to wait for the soil to thaw. People traditionally spent their free time making offerings of gratitude to the gods, especially to the Hearth God. It is the Hearth God’s duty to report everything that transpires throughout the year to the Emperor of all Gods.

Families offer the Hearth God sweet foods so that he will report sweet things. One offering, tikoy (Filipino for ti ke–sweet cake), is very sticky and is said to be capable of gluing the Hearth God’s jaw shut (on the theory that no news is good news). After the food offerings are complete, an image of the Hearth God is placed on a paper chair and set on fire so he can "ride the flames" to heaven. On New Year’s Eve he returns when the celebrations are at their highest. New Year’s Eve dinner is a time for family reunions (in their homes or in restaurants). Fireworks go off at midnight–it is said that the noise scares off bad spirits. Because of the belief that the later children stay awake, the longer they and their parents will live, children stay up past midnight to welcome the New Year. After midnight the young are given ang pao–red envelopes, containing cash, with the words hi (happiness), sin (long life), and kiong hi huat tsai (congratulations and prosperity) printed on it. On New Year’s Day people greet each other with "kiong hi."

The most colorful New Year ritual is the dragon, or lion, dance. An enormous dragon/lion head with a long body of colorful fabric, manipulated by skilled operators, performs a vibrant and energetic dance. In Manila, many lions roam the streets of Binondo (right photo). Residents who want the dragons/lions to cleanse their homes and bring good fortune hang an ang pao at the top of their gates. The lion dancers demonstrate their strength and skill as they climb to reach the red envelopes. After capturing the reward, the dragon/lion does a short victory dance, bows three times in thanks, and proceeds to the next ang pao.

Another traditional custom is settling all debts before the year’s end. Since a new year is a chance for a new beginning, one may as well start it.

Here in Davao, Philippines we celebrated a New Year even we not a Chinese. Mostly some school here they no class joined the fun of this event. Some students they also perform the street they parade wearing a red dress. After that they eat a “misua” the food that they eat first because it gives you a “long life” and the other one is “tikoy” makes your family more close to each other.

Gung Hay Fat Choy.. .. to all Chinese over the world..

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