How do we begin to understand the Chinese New Year? As Filipinos, our Catholic tradition yearly steeps us in the long drawn-out festivities of the yuletide season, a bustling period of merrymaking and gift giving that begins with the hurried preparations for Christmas and ends with the rapturous New Year celebrations. On the first day of the year we are usually filled with the thought that the previous year had been finally rounded out and we get set to begin anew with a couple of resolutions. But here’s the catch: we do not exactly as yet buckle down to facing those resolutions until some weeks afterwards once the Chinese New Year is celebrated.
The Chinese New Year defines for us the character of the year ahead. Way after the Christian New Year, we wait for the Chinese zodiac of the year to officially fall to usher in for us the auspices and blessings that await us. The particular zodiac brings with it a cosmology of forecasts that we usually take to guide us with the resolutions we have adopted to live by through the year.
We might say that this celebration is a follow-up to the New Year that we celebrate based on the Gregorian calendar, and so the year will not exactly have started until it becomes tagged with an animal sign in the Chinese zodiac. 2012 is the year of the yang water dragon. Along with it comes what is expected to characterize how people will fare through their endeavours and engagements, and this may be the reason why we feel hanging after our own catholic new year. The Chinese New Year has become to mean for us a way of life.
The Chinese new year is a spectacle of bright colors that come in a flurry and spate of red and gold and is met with the blastful accompaniment of gongs and drums and the grand dancing of the lion or the dragon through crowds in the streets. Peso bills contained in red envelopes or ang pao are given to the dancers as they make the dragon writhe through the crowd and the gongs are beaten ever more loudly to ward off evil spirits.
It is said that during the Sung dynasty a mythical beast called Nian would attack the village every start of the year. The Chinese folk would lose their livestock to this horrible hungry beast every year and so to avoid this from happening, the villagers would set large amounts of food at their doorsteps to fill up the evil beast. Until one day, the villagers witnessed how Nian took off at the sight of a child wearing a red article of clothing. From then on, at the start of the year the folk in the village would hang red lanterns on their windows and set fireworks to drive away the horrible beast.
It is a misconception among some to think that the dancing dragon or lion is actually a re-enactment of the beast Nian attacking the village. Rather, the dragon is a symbol of the Chinese emperor at the height of his empire’s power and wealth. This dragon is said to strike like lightning and shift like a whirlwind. Thus the dragon is a symbol of might and fortune and brings with it a host of luck, good wishes and cautions at the same time. Feng Shui, the Chinese art of arrangement to achieve balance, has become not only for the Chinese community but also for many Filipinos a sort of guide in drawing in luck and prosperity at the start of the year and the whole year through.
The Chinese New Year has undeniably become a significant celebration in the Philippines. It has not become so not only due to its age-old mythical aspect but to the profundity of its integration in Filipino’s way of thinking and handling parts and areas of their lives. Way before the Spaniards came to our parts, the Chinese had been trading with the natives into our shores and had brought with them not only their goods and wares but also their traditions and customs. Long before we knew it, the Chinese as a group have become our brethren and many Filipinos would start tracing their ancestry to them, and the Chinese new year would so much become an influence on the way we carried out our endeavours from the littlest things about the way we arranged furniture in the house to the manner we handled business.
The celebration issues from traditions and these include family reunions and banquets where food is prepared and eaten as it should be. For instance, fish should be a staple on the table and should never be eaten up. A leftover from the dish must remain. The Chinese believe that fish stands for bounty and the leftover would spell abundance for the entire year. Tikoy, a sort of soft gelatinous round cake is distributed to friends and relatives as a way of wishing good luck; the round shape of the cake signifying a cycle of prosperity for the recipient. It is interesting how red pockmark the surroundings, from the wrapping of food and presents, to the ang paos that contain peso bills to the clothes that are worn as almost everyone including a significant number of Filipinos prepare to meet the coming of the Chinese New Year. Red is believed a protection from bad luck and helps attract conditions fertile for business.
It is this sense of good wishes for prosperity that usually holds together the beliefs that are observed during the Chinese New Year. It may also mean to many Filipinos some grasp on how to carry on through the year. For instance, it is commonly held that one should settle all debts before the New Year sets and everything should be clean or as good as new. Every nook and corner of each house must be squeaky clean and a facelift on the house may be done if necessary. Jobs at repainting the house are common to bestow the place a new look. Speaking of new look, many rush to line up in beauty salons to get a haircut and then to boutiques to grab a new dress or shirt. Getting a new item or a new look is turning one’s back on the previous year and welcoming a new wave of prosperity. This is the reason why old worn out stuff are usually gotten rid of and finally thrown away.
Two thousand and twelve is the year of the water dragon and as such the year is expected to be characterized as the dragon is believed to be in Chinese tradition. The dragon is the lone legendary sign among the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac. This makes the year a very lucky one as it is will be full of unexpected turns of fortune for people born under the sign. It is said that during the celebration, one must be wished well in order to partake of the promises of the dragon year. As the dragon is a symbol of power and wealth, the year spells profits for business enterprises and success in the pursuit of any undertaking. It will be important to be as passionate as the dragon is construed to be, never becoming unfazed by challenges that jump out of the bush along the way. This is so because as the dragon is said to be like the whirlwind, the year will be full of surprises. It will bring surprises that one should turn into opportunities for making lots of money.
As Filipinos our understanding of the Chinese New Year begins at the moment we feel that something dangles and is left unturned right after the celebration of our Christian New Year. It is the feeling that there is yet a follow-up to this celebration, a follow-up that is meant to complete our yearnings and wishes for a bountiful year ahead. It is so much like we are in a space whose both ends are seeking to be connected together in a loop, and this loop completes the way we understand a tradition that also seeks connection with the way we understand our heritage as Filipinos: a heritage shared with our Chinese brethren.