Manigong Bagong Taon! I was thinking of the Filipino New Years traditions as I was watching a livestream of a fireworks display in Amersfoort, Netherlands. No, I’m not currently in the Netherlands, but my friend, Father Roderick Vonhögen, is based there. It was a really neat (and loud!) display, and whilst he was filming all of that outside on his balcony (before the cold rains drove him back inside his flat), I was discussing with friends all over the world about the New Years traditions with which I grew up and hold very dear.
Speaking of fireworks: this seems to be a very common thing amongst all cultures. As I was admiring the display outside Fr. Roderick’s window, I was thinking of relatives in the Philippines who, 7 hours earlier, would have set off their own fireworks. Traditionally, fireworks are set off as the clock goes past midnight to give off light to greet the new year. It’s not the safest thing to do, however, and my Facebook newsfeed was full of admonitions to the people to be very careful as they set off their fireworks. Going to the hospital because of a fireworks-related injury is not a very nice way to spend New Year’s Day.
One tradition my English friend, Liam, really found interesting is the tendency of Filipinos to turn on every single light as the clock strikes midnight. I told him that Filipinos believe the coming year will be filled with light if you do that. In addition, all the doors and windows would be open, which means all the grace would be flowing in for the new year. (I dare not do that here, though, not with temperatures expected to be around 39 °F./4 °C at midnight here in Durham, NC. I will have faith that my graces would flow in from elsewhere. )
I suspect some of the following traditions I’ll be discussing came from the Chinese. The common theme here is round: round coins in pocket, round polka-dotted clothes, round fruits, etc.
As the clock turns to midnight, you would be wearing polka-dots, and you should have some coins in your pocket, which will also signify prosperity in the new year. Essentially, if you wear anything round, it resembles coins, which signifies wealth and prosperity in the coming year.
Speaking of round fruits: we have a couple of traditions using round fruits.
Tradition #1: my mother hangs green grapes at the kitchen window. She’ll put a fresh bunch on a hook on New Year’s Eve, where it will hang for the entire year. She said it signifies money and prosperity.
Tradition #2: the bowl filled with fruit. The picture that opens this post was taken last year, when I was in San Diego for the Christmas holidays. In the days leading up to it, my mother would start gathering thirteen round fruits to place in a bowl at the dining room table. (There’s the round thing again.)
The fruits need to be round because they signify coins, which signify wealth and prosperity. As for the thirteen fruits, I’ve heard many different reasons, but the explanation my mother gave makes sense: she merely pointed at the tapestry of the Last Supper on the wall when I had asked her about it. It, of course, depicts Jesus and His 12 apostles, hence 13 fruits. It’s a perfect explanation, especially considering that the majority of Filipinos are Catholic and/or Christian. Some also do just twelve fruits, which would signify the twelve Apostles. If you have any other explanations for 13 or 12, I’d be happy to hear about them. Let us know in the comments section below.
Here’s another thing: some say the number should actually be eight fruits because to the Chinese, it sounds similar to the word for wealth or to prosper. So whether one does eight or thirteen round fruits, the effect is still the same: it’s done to bring about good luck and prosperity for the new year.
When I was a kid, I was always told to jump as high as I could because that would mean I’d grow taller. (I stopped growing taller when I was about 13.) Now I’ve noticed my brother and his wife tell their kids the same thing, so as soon as the clock strikes midnight, they’re jumping up and down (and making lots of noise as they’re doing that).
Finally, Filipinos have a tendency to celebrate “Media Noche”, which is the counterpart to “Noche Buena” which one does after Midnight Mass. The Media Noche would be a meal to honour Mary, especially since January 1 marks the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, in addition to being the Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord. The food on the table: in addition to all the round fruits, one would have noodle dishes. I grew up eating sotanghon (“glass” noodles made from mung beans) for New Years Eve. The symbolism is that the long noodles signify long life. There would also be an abundance of food in the house.
What traditions do you observe as the new year dawns? Please let us know in the comments below.
I’ll leave you with a screen shot of the Amersfoort fireworks from Fr Roderick’s balcony. Best wishes to all for a happy and blessed 2013!