Rethinking Chinese New Year customs and traditions

By Bernadine Racoma, as originally posted at the Philippine Online Chronicles/ Blog Watch


“Kaya malakas ang loob ng mga intsik angkinin ang teritoryo natin eh… nagsi-celebrate tayo ng Chinese New Year. Akala nila mga intsik din tayo, teritoryo nila tayo.”


This witty comment (paraphrased) spread around the Internet is funny but it has a point worth mulling over. Why are we celebrating Chinese New Year? Why is almost everyone around the world doing this very Chinese event? Why are the Chinese not synching their calendar with the rest of the world’s?

Also referred to as the Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year is one of the most important celebrations in China. It is one of the occasions that put pressure on a lot of Chinese, to the point that some women even rent a boyfriendjust for the event. Celebrations usually extend up to the “Lantern Festival” on the 15th of the first month in the Chinese calendar. Yes, Chinese New Year celebrations are quite long although not as long as the Filipino celebration of the Christmas season.

Despite being already adopted as one of the widely observed occasions in the Philippines, perhaps there is a need to be somehow more discerning on the seemingly blind emulation of Chinese New Year celebrations and traditions. There’s nothing wrong about celebrating it but committing to it in the same way we celebrate our Christmases and “real” New Years may not really be worth the effort. Why should it be made a non-working holidayfor Filipinos?

Here are some reasons why celebrating Chinese New Year and getting caught up with the traditions, practices, or activities associated with it are worth rethinking.

Forecasts and Predictions

Every year, Chinese psychics and fortune tellers don’t fail to make it on TV spewing predictions or forecastson what people’s fortunes would allegedly be in the upcoming year. They always get featured on TV, in primetime news programs in particular, to tell the public about who or what’s lucky or not, what to prepare to avoid misfortune, how to arrange your home or belongings to attract luck, and various other whatnots that many people tend to believe or at least remember for guidance.

These highly ambiguous forecasts and predictions, rationally, don’t merit attention and yet TV stations obligingly provide airtime for them. Radio stations even have fortune tellers for hour-long interviews. Avoid looking silly by ignoring them or ignoring all the hype about the Chinese New Year altogether.

So what will you do if that person on TV says you will be up to a very challenging or unfortunate year because of your animal sign? Should you let that pull you down to depression or excessive worrying? Should you then start avoiding business or investment opportunities because that fortune teller on TV said you should refrain from engaging in spending or investment activities during the first half of the year?

If this is one of the things you unwittingly observe during the Chinese New Year celebrations, it will be good having second thoughts.

Tikoy and Lots of Food

Remember that from Christmas to New Year and the week in between you already engaged in some good amount of binging after all the parties and compulsory noche buena and media noche. You can’t just add more calories to your already abused and bloated bodies some weeks after the January 1 New Year celebrations.

Tikoy, one of the staple foods of the Chinese New Year, is said to be an offering to the “Kitchen God” to prevent him from badmouthing humans to the Jade Emperor. Tikoy is a sweet and calorie-rich food you would likely not want to be consuming right after the binge some weeks ago.

Hongbao, Ang Pao, or Red Envelopes

Could it be that the alleged “brown envelopes” during the GMA administration were inspired by the perennial red envelopes associated with the Chinese New Year? Well, this may sound farfetched but you just can’t help cringing over the connotations of money contained in an envelope. We are not giving credence to Senator Miriam Santiago’s comment that China invented corruptionbut we prefer not getting reminded of our corruption and bribery culture represented by money-in-an-envelope. Yes, it would be great receiving those red envelopes but it does not sound right expecting to receive them or going out of your way just to be able to give one.

Fireworks and Firecrackers

The cold spellthat is expected to extend into February is one significant reason to minimize or totally shun fireworks use. Cold temperatures and fireworks are not a good combination. The heavy air blanketing cities will slow down the dispersal of pollutants and other particulates released by fireworks. It is advisable to avoid fireworksuse as there are many other ways to celebrate without harming our lungs and environment.

Besides, would you want to expose your pets to another round of traumatic explosions and light displays again? That fireworks and firecrackers can drive away evil spirits is something unproven. What is proven is the fact that fireworks and firecrackers leave an expansive phantom of pollutant smoke that certainly has no benefits on human, animal, and environmental health.

Red Lanterns, Clothes – Red Everywhere

For the Chinese, red is a lucky color that it dominates the New Year celebrations. If you are not a big fan of President Aquino, you would be glad to see some dominant color that is not the jaundiced yellowness of Aquino’s favorite color. However, you will be also reminded of the color of Chinese communism enveloping the entire city. It may be uneasy realizing how the Chinese have slowly taken overthe waters the Philippines has legitimate claims to. The bold and provocative Chinese move of requiring “foreign fishermen” to secure permits before fishing in Philippine waters comes to mind.

We appreciate seeing the red motif before the start of February, but we’d expect this to be the red heart decors in preparation for the romance-filled Valentine’s season. Based on the assignment of colors in our flag, the prevalence or dominance of the color red does not infer something good.

Yes, we sound a little killjoy here but we’re actually just trying to lighten things up for those who have received inauspicious predictions for the year ahead. Yes, that’s you Mister and Miss who have just finished reading “forecasts” related to your animal sign, having just learned about an allegedly unfavorable future in the year of the horse. Don’t take this seriously – we have the power to create our own fortunes and futures. Don’t rely on traditions and beliefs in planning the year ahead of you.


And to our Chinese and Filipino-Chinese friends,

here’s wishing you a Happy Chinese New Year!


Disclaimer: With due respect to the Chinese and Filipino-Chinese in the country, this is just an opinion of the author and not necessarily of the Blog Watch community. 



Photo by Noemi Lardizabal-Dado. Some rights reserved.