Celebrating Chinese Lunar New Year in the Philippines


via philstar.com – The Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival which falls on Thursday this year, is celebrated not only by the Chinese community in the Philippines but also by other Filipinos who have been influenced by the Chinese culture and traditions through the years.

The celebrations gained added significance four years ago after Philippine President Benigno Aquino III declared the Chinese New Year as a nationwide holiday.

In November 2011, Aquino said the declaration of the Chinese New Year as a special non-working holiday would allow Chinese- Filipinos, locally known as Tsinoys, and Filipinos themselves to fully celebrate the Spring Festival.

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,” said the president.

Aquino himself has Chinese ancestry. His mother, the late president Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, came from the large Co-juang- co clan that originally came from Fujian province in southern China.

Even before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the early 16th century, Chinese immigrants have already settled in various parts of the Philippines.

Chinese-Filipinos are one of the largest overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia.

Unofficial figures said while there are only about 1.5 million Filipinos of pure Chinese ancestry, or 1.6 percent of the population, Filipinos with Chinese descent comprise about 18 to 27 percent of the total Philippine population of over 100 million.

It is understandable, therefore, that Tsinoys have their presence felt not just in commerce and business but even in politics and other social, cultural and professional activities.

Because of their pioneering spirit and Confucian work ethics, many Chinese-Filipino families now control major business establishments in the country.

This will also explain why the traditional Chinese celebrations of the Lunar New Year is very popular not only in Manila but also in other urban areas in the country.

Just like in other parts of the world with large ethnic Chinese communities, the Chinese New Year is considered the single most important holiday among the Chinese in the Philippines.

The celebrations usually last for 15 days and culminate with the Lantern Festival. Each year is associated with one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. For 2015, it is the Year of the Sheep.

According to old-timers in the Binondo District, Manila’s Chinatown, the vigor and enthusiasm in the celebrations of the Chinese New Year have not diminished even with the passage of time.

During the Chinese New Year, there is a big parade of dancing lions or dragons that snake through the narrow streets and alleys of Binondo with participants dressed in colorful red costumes dancing to the sound of drums.

Such festive atmosphere is duplicated in other cities with big Chinese population, such as Cebu city in the Visayas and Davao city and Cagayan de Oro city in Mindanao.

During the celebrations, people in the streets and storeowners greet each other with “Kiong Hee Huat Tsai” in the Hokkien dialect or “Kung Hei Fat Choi” in Cantonese, which means “Congratulations and Be Prosperous” in the incoming year.

Of course, amid the noise and bustle, are the sounds of lighted firecrackers which, in the Chinese customs, would drive away the evil spirits and bring good luck in the year ahead.The food most locally looked forward to during the Chinese New Year is tikoy, a delicacy made from sticky rice. It has to be fried first before it can be eaten.

During the Spring Festival, everyone, especially the women, wear red dress, considered by the Chinese as a lucky color. Also during this occasion, children look forward to receiving fresh peso bills placed inside bright red envelopes, called “ang pao” in Hokkien, with Chinese characters written in it.

Storeowners usually put “ang pao” at the entrance of their stores so that dancers participating in the dragon parade can pick them up as New Year’s gifts for them.

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