For most people, January 1 marks the beginning of a new year.
But for those of Chinese descent who have undergone the influence of the Chinese culture and traditions, the new year typically begins somewhere between late January to mid-February, as the calendar followed is based on lunar phases, solstices and equinoxes. The celebrations last for 15 days, ending with the Lantern Festival, and are filled with traditions that set the tone for the rest of the year.
In 2015, February 19 marks the beginning of the Year of the Ram (it is sometimes referred to as the Year of the Goat or Year of the Sheep), the eighth sign in the 12 cycles of the Chinese Zodiac.
Also known as the Spring Festival, Lunar New Year is celebrated in many countries throughout the world. With Chinese Filipinos dispersed across the globe, they continue carrying on the celebrations wherever they may be. As in other places, celebratory activities in Southern California include lion and dragon dances, the hanging of lanterns and giving of red envelopes with money.
In the Philippines, Lunar New Year is widely celebrated, demonstrating the influence of Chinese culture and ancestry on Filipinos. Families observe the new year by honoring ancestors and deities, similar to All Saints’ Day, and following customs to bring more blessings and luck for the year ahead.
Chinese New Year was declared a nationwide non-working holiday in the Philippines by President Benigno Aquino III in November 2011. He said the holiday “is a manifestation of our solidarity with our Chinese-Filipino brethren who have been part of our lives in many respects as a country and as a people.”
Chinese Filipinos are one of the biggest overseas Chinese communities in the Southeast Asia region, with unofficial figures estimating approximately 1.5 million Filipinos of pure Chinese ancestry, which is about 1.6 percent of the population. Of the more than 100 million living in the Philippines, an estimated 18 to 27 percent of Filipinos are of Chinese descent.
In Manila, Lunar New Year festivities in Binondo, which is Manila’s Chinatown, celebrations are still filled with vigor and enthusiasm, despite the passage of time. Parades with lions and dragons weave through alleys in the area to the sound of drums.
Other Philippine cities with considerable Chinese populations include Cebu in Visayas, and Cagayan de Oro and Davao City in Mindanao.
There are three ways to greet one another a happy new year:
- Kung Hei Fat Choi (Cantonese)
- Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin)
- Kiong Hee Huat Tsai (Hokkien)
The first of these is the most commonly used among Chinese Filipinos. However, Hokkien in a dialect spoken by at least 98 percent of Chinese in the Philippines, so this may be the best greeting to use. Additionally, these phrases actually translate to, “May prosperity be with you,” rather than “Happy New Year.”
Chinese zodiac signs
Every year is represented by one of 12 Chinese animal zodiacs; the cycle repeats every 12 years.
People born in the year of the ram are believed to be mild-mannered, polite and amicable. “Although they look gentle on the surface, they are tough on the inside, always insisting on their own opinions in their minds. They have strong inner resilience and excellent defensive instincts,” according to the website China Highlights.
According to Chinese astrology, each zodiac animal has “lucky” numbers, days and colors. For the ram, the numbers are 2 and 7 and any combination of the two; colors are brown, red and purple; days are 7th and 30th of any month.
Lion and dragon dances
Lion dances are sometimes mistakenly referred to as dragon dances, which is another Lunar New Year tradition. Lion dances are performed by two people under a costume that, from the outside, bears the resemblance of a lion with four visible legs. As a representation of good fortune, lion dances are typically performed in front of businesses and shops.
In dragon dances, performers are easily seen because the dragon is held up with poles by many people, whose faces are easily visible. In Chinese culture, the dragon is viewed as a friendly creature. Dances are performed to bring good fortune and longevity. Longer dragons are considered to bring more luck to the community, so communities aim to have long dragon dances on Lunar New Year.
This snack is the Filipino glutinous rice cake version of the Chinese nian gao and is among traditional food typically given as a gift during Lunar New Year celebrations. This is done because according to Chinese folk mythology, the Kitchen God makes his yearly trip to Heaven right before the new year to report to Jade Emperor, emperor of the heavens, on what has been taking place in households throughout the past year. Tikoy is offered to the Kitchen God so that his mouth becomes sticky, which disables him from bringing news to the emperor.
In the Chinese culture, the Mandarin pronunciation of nian gao is similar to that of nian gao, which means “higher year” when pronounced with a different intonation. So, tikoy is symbolic of a “higher year” on the way.
Tikoy is created from glutinous rice, which is pounded or grounded into a paste that can then be molded into a desired shape. Then, it is usually steamed, dipped into a beaten egg and fried in oil.
Before the New Year, the house should be cleaned to get rid of bad energy and evil spirits. However, cleaning should not be done once the lunar celebrations have begun as it may sweep away any good fortune.
Red is an important color for the Chinese, as it represents prosperity, longevity and happiness. Gold is another lucky color, symbolizing wealth. Plants, such as orange trees and bamboo, should be arranged around the house to symbolize life and growth.
Carried on from Chinese tradition, Filipinos who celebrate Lunar New Year also engage in the giving of money in red envelopes, called ang pao in Hokkien. Elderly and married couples gift ang pao to the young to spread prosperity and ward off evil spirits.
Oval-shaped lanterns are also hung during Lunar New Year. Like money envelopes, they are red for the same reason: because it symbolizes good luck and drives off evil spirits.
(With reports from Yahoo! Philippines and Xinhua)
(LA Midweek February 18, 2015 MDWK pg. 2)