In 2012, then-President Aquino declared that the the Lunar New Year would be a work holiday for all Filipinos, finally recognizing a celebration that had been a part of life in Manila for over five centuries. In the Philippines, Lunar New Year festivities center around Binondo, the world's oldest Chinatown, located in the heart of Manila.
Binondo was created in 1594 under Spanish colonial rule, and was designed to isolate anyone of Chinese descent from the rest of Manila. Residents were subjected to brutal pogroms over centuries, but the community has continued to thrive and its vibrant celebrations have become famous the world over. Filipinos of all backgrounds gather here in the thousands to celebrate every year. As in Malaysia, the Tsinoy (Filipinos with Chinese heritage) also speak Hokkien, a dialect of Chinese, and greet the new year with "Kiong Hee Huat Tsai" (or "congratulations, and be prosperous!").
It is traditional to see dragon dances and lion dances line the streets of Binondo, and residents will leave red envelope offerings at the entrances and doors of their homes along the dance routes for the lions to "eat." The dragon represents power, auspiciousness, and strength, while the lions that accompany it represent safety and luck. All doors in the home must be left open when the clock strikes midnight, to allow good luck to enter, and in order to help scare away the mythical Nian, folks will also use horns and bang cooking pots to add to the din of the New Year's fireworks and firecrackers.
It is extremely important for all family members to be present for the New Year's eve dinner, and families will traditionally prepare 12 different kinds of lucky or fortunate fruits for their families to eat that night. Speaking of food, tikoy, or sticky rice treats, are a huge favorite in stores across the Philippines, and are only sold during a small window around the Lunar New Year. Unlike in China and Malaysia, some communities in the Philippines deliberately avoid eating fish during days around the Lunar New Year, believing it to be associated with food scarcity instead of abundance.
Though celebrations across the Philippines were cancelled last year due to COVID, they are back on this year, and we hope that everyone will be able to safely gather with their families after a very, very long year.
by S. Sifton
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