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Feature: Filipinos welcome New Year with Chinese traditions

by Alito L. Malinao

MANILA, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- Filipinos welcome the New Year literally with a "bang."

And how else could they express their joy of having survived a year and to prepare for another year ahead than by exploding firecrackers, a Chinese tradition designed to ward off misfortune and evil spirits?

It is believed that the custom of lighting firecrackers has been introduced by the early Chinese settlers in the country even before the coming of the Spanish colonizers and has been handed down from generation to generation.

As in other adopted customs, Filipinos tend to overdo the use of firecrackers. They have invented giant firecrackers, locally called "piccolo," that when lighted, creates a very loud explosion.

Oftentimes, these kinds of firecrackers cause fires or injuries, or even deaths, to users and bystanders.

Because the wanton use of firecrackers has resulted in deaths and injuries to children and adults, the local government of Davao City in the southern Philippines has adopted a total ban on firecrackers.

For several years now, residents of Davao City, some 1,500 km south of Manila, have been content in welcoming the New Year by striking metal pots and pans and by blowing paper horns.

Every year in Manila, aside from exploding firecrackers, there is also a beautiful display of fireworks at midnight of Dec. 31. The rockets are fired from barges moored along the Manila Bay and the colorful fireworks can be seen throughout the city.

Another Chinese tradition adopted by Filipinos is by having 12 kinds of round-shaped fruits on the dining table where the family gathers and partakes of a sumptuous snack after the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31.

This Chinese tradition in welcoming the New Year is done only by middle-income Filipino families because the poor cannot afford to buy 12 kinds of round-shaped fruits.

The Chinese, however, need to have only eight round fruits on the table because the number eight signifies good luck.

For Filipinos, the belief is that the 12 round fruits represent 12 months of the year and would assure good fortune to the family members all year round.

Since it is a tropical country, it is not difficult in the Philippines to find round-shaped fruits such as oranges, watermelons, mangoes, pineapples, guavas, rhambutans, jackfruits and peaches.

In the Chinese tradition, also adopted by Filipinos, the pineapple is an important fruit for the New Year celebration because the "eyes" of the fruit symbolize success in one's career and more opportunities in the coming year. So, Filipinos would include a pineapple on their dining table as they welcome the New Year.

But Filipinos do not place pineapples outside doors or on windowsills as some traditional Chinese families still do.

Most Filipino families have also adopted the Chinese custom of giving red envelopes with new crisp banknotes to children. In Chinese, red is associated with good luck and happiness.

Usually children and even adults are asked to hold coins of various denominations and jump at the stroke of midnight, another Chinese tradition to usher in a prosperous new year.

The belief is that when children jump at the stroke of midnight, they will become taller by a few inches in the coming year.

A weird custom but nevertheless followed by some Filipinos is to wear a polka-dot dress during the New Year as round shapes in the Chinese tradition signify prosperity and happiness.

Many Filipinos also believe that having money in their pockets and wallets at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve will ensure a prosperous year; the crispier and the bigger the denomination the better.

Most Filipinos, like the Chinese, also believe that what you do at the beginning of the year will have an effect on your life at least until the end of the year.

Along with the 12 round-shaped fruits, sticky rice, locally called malagkit or "nian gao" in Chinese, is also served with the belief that good luck sticks to the members of the family all throughout the year.

The menu is decided with good luck charms in mind. Pancit or noodles are prepared for long life, whereas eggs are eaten as a symbol of new life.

Houses are cleaned properly with doors and windows open as the clock strikes 12:00 so that evil can move out and good fortune enters.

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