Sunday, February 10, 2013

Celebrating Chinese New Year 2013: A New Beginning

The celebration of the Chinese new year is based on the belief that the lunar calendar month marks the beginning of the spring season. The Chinese widely observe it in many countries where they have formed a community known as the 'Chinatown.'

Chinese new year brings hope, good luck, and prosperity to people. It is the beginning of another year full of positive aspirations to achieve for self, family, and community. The colorful festivities in dominant red bring abundance and spare negativity in any form. On this particular day, people wear red color shirt and make home decorations in red that symbolizes prosperity. Since most Chinese are engaged in business, they always put something red in their buildings to attract wealth for the new year and beyond.

Binondo, one of Manila's busiest and most populated districts, is the place for the Filipino-Chinese community, popularly called 'Tsinoy.' Although they are found in various areas of the Philippines, the significant population and highest concentration of their population is located in the Chinatown of Binondo, Manila.

Lion dance along Ongpin St. Binondo, Manila

I was lucky to have witnessed and celebrated the event with the 'Tsinoys' in Binondo. My trip started with a bit of prayer in the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz, known as the 'Binondo Church.' This is where the 'Tsinoys' of the Christian faith usually go to pray and strengthen their spiritual life.

A few steps from the church are where the journey commences, in the old street of Ongpin. A variety of Chinese merchandise offers products and services on this busy street. Gold shops of high quality can be found in this little yet vibrant place. Restaurants catering to authentic Chinese cuisine, including the 'President's Grand Palace' and the 'President's tea house,' relax your senses. 

Shops cater to Chinese delicacies like the famous 'Eng Bee Tin,' which produces tikoy and hopia in different variants and flavors. I've seen people falling in a long line just to satisfy their cravings for this food that is said to bring good luck. The 'tikoy' is made of sticky glutinous rice flour, thus symbolizing a family and relationship that is well bonded according to Chinese norms.

Red lanterns in Chinatown Mall to welcome the new year

The most common business in Ongpin is the lucky charms and decors. There is so much jewelry for different purposes depending on form and color. One has to wear a particular bracelet or necklace to attract prosperity and drive away bad luck. There are red lanterns in various sizes and forms for home decoration to symbolize wealth and good luck.

One of the most exciting parts is witnessing the lion dance. This mythical Chinese creature dances gracefully as it is maneuvered by several dancers. They perform lion dances from one shop to another for an opportunity to receive angpao or the red envelope with money. They have always succeeded in entertaining business owners with a well-rehearsed and choreographed presentation.

There is also a dragon dance, which is quite long and carried by several dancers. Like the lion dance, it is also a powerful mythical creature in Chinese culture. It is to spare negativity in business, the house, and the environment. Both dance presentations are seen throughout the new year's celebration in Binondo, particularly in Ongpin. It is colorful, entertaining, and attracts a crowd.

In a traditional Chinese family, 'angpao' is given to the unmarried and usually children. The little kids fall in line and patiently wait for their turn to receive 'angpao' from the elderly or their grandparents. They are expected to greet the happy new year in Chinese as they receive it, but they are not supposed to open the red envelope until they run away from the giver.

In The Chinese new year, there are several ways of greeting; in a language known to them. Whether you hear the greetings 'Kung Hei Fat Choi,' 'Gong Xi Fa Chai,' or 'Kiong He Huat Tsai,' it is a valid form of new year greetings. It does not literally mean 'Happy new year,' but it means congratulating and wishing someone for prosperity. 

Giant red lanterns are legendary Chinese handicraft that symbolizes good luck.

In the Philippines, the standard greetings are 'Kung Hei Fat Choi,' which has been made the standard in media and other printed publications. It is a Cantonese greeting, usually spoken in Hong Kong and Macau, but the 'Tsinoys' speaks 'Hokkien' and prefer the' Kiong Hee Huat Tsai' greeting. However, no matter what language or dialect is spoken for greetings, there is a spirit of understanding that sends a single message of 'Happy New Year!'.

The Chinatown Mall is where I have witnessed cultural presentations from different groups. They have presented charming Chinese folk dances, melodic choral, and exhibitions of Chinese martial arts like 'Wushu' and Tai Chi.' There is also some modern Chinese hip hop that captures the attention of the younger generations. It is a day-long event until the countdown for the new year is observed, and fireworks are witnessed to lighten up the evening. 

The Chinese people love to preserve their heritage, and they significantly influence culture, food, social norms, and beliefs. In the Philippines, people are familiar with 'Feng Shui," and this is attributed to good luck, happiness, and prosperity in businesses and houses. There is also the 'horoscope' where people consult their luck or destiny on a particular day, month, or year depending on the zodiac sign and animal sign you were born. Also, Filipinos have been fond of eating noodles and soups brought by the Chinese since long ago.

Although the world constantly evolves and the culture of peace and freedom is changing, we should learn so many things from the Chinese. Perseverance and endurance at work, accompanied by humility and gratitude, made them succeed in their family, careers, and life. 

The Chinese culture has uniqueness, and their unique customs make us multi-cultured people. Our beliefs should not be restricted to what has been instilled since birth. Open-mindedness and acceptance of faith and cultural differences bring a peaceful and vibrant living. We learn from each other, and the wisdom gained truly brings good luck and prosperity in our lives no matter who and what we are; and no matter who we will become.

© 2013 Del Cusay