On Saturday, January 25, members of the Chinese-Filipino community will be holding their traditional ‘Chinese New Year’ celebration, marked by an abundance of food, noise and a host of age-old beliefs and practices.
As such, the Chinatown area in Ongpin, reputed to be the biggest in the world, will be the center of festivities, as usual.
Since early this week, the perennially-busy Chinatown area is already abuzz with various activities as Chinese-Filipinos or ‘Chinoys’ usher the entry of the `Year of the Metal Rat’ on January 25. Said day is the new moon day of the first Chinese lunar month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar system.
Among others, we may expect colorful dragon and lion dances as well as firecrackers being lighted up, all throughout the day. These activities are ritually done as they are believed to be effective ways of driving away bad luck and bad spirits while inviting good luck as well, especially for business establishments.
Gerie Chua, the humble philanthropist who owns the very popular Eng Bee Tin Bakery located in the heart of Chinatown and which is known for featuring special Chinese products that are requisites to be atop the table if you want to invite fortune into your home, has shared some of the beliefs, practices and rituals that are done and which continue to be observed, these days, even by non-Chinese Filipinos.
More important than all such practices, according to Chua, is for one not to forget doing good deeds whenever the opportunity presents itself, not only on Chinese New Year but all year round.
True to this, proceeds of his restaurants ‘Café Mezzanine’ and Chuan Kee being co-managed by his son Gerik and which offer traditional soups and medicinal concoctions as specialties, are used to fund the needs of volunteer firefighters just like himself.
The Eng Bee Tin flagship store just across the Ongpin monument meantime, features the largest ‘tikoy’ in the country where selfies can be done all day long, free of charge. What makes it even more unique is its flavor—cheese.
At the second floor, one may enjoy a host of delicious Chinese dishes at the Great Buddha Café –I recommend the beef tendon and I heard it will be among those to be offered at the planned buffet setup- and the sight of a gargantuan, golden Buddha which is also great for picture-taking.
Among the most common activities held in observance of the Chinese New Year are lion and dragon dances which are not only meant to invite goodluck but also doubles as a way of bringing entertainment to both the young and the old.
Unlike other business establishments selling the same kind of products, part of the proceeds coming from goods sold by Eng Bee Tin goes to a fund which helps less fortunate volunteer firefighters. Chua, after all, is the founder of TXTFire Philippines composed of fire volunteers from various parts of the country.
Apart from the lion dances, Chua, whose family observes the Chinese time-honored traditions in ushering in the New Year, said Chinese temples are expected to be full to the brim as ‘Chinoys’ pay homage to their gods, to thank them for the blessings of the past year and wish for another good year.
Preoccupations of the day among Chinoys, he said, would include getting a haircut — supposedly to rid oneself of the past year’s badluck -- and settling all debts to start the new year with a clean slate.
Sweeping of homes, Chua said, should be avoided altogether in order to keep the luck within the household. Cleaning, if needed at all, must be made before the New Year’s eve.
Dining tables meanwhile, must be filled with foods that symbolize affluence such as steamed whole fish or carp — with its tail unbroken or uncut -- and pork, as the new year comes in.
Also considered as a ‘must’ on the dining table is ‘tikoy’ since its roundness, stickiness and sweetness are, as commonly believed, certain to bring about luck, unity and harmony among the household members for the whole year.
For the purpose of covering all that is wished for, Chua’s store offers an abundance of yellow, violet and green ‘tikoy’ whose colors signify prosperity and luck, among others. Even the eight kinds of fruits which should be placed atop the tables must be mostly yellow, aside from being round and sweet.
Chua said another must-have on the table is the ‘huat kee’ or ‘fortune cake’ which are both believed to invite abundance into one’s home, along with the pineapple, since it signifies ‘ong lai’ which, when translated literally, would mean “luck, come in”.
To complement these, bright-colored garments such as red, yellow or green must be worn and black is a definite ‘no-no’.
Aside from sharing tea with friends and handing over boxes of ‘tikoy or small red envelopes or ‘angpao’ containing money which is widely believed to bring good luck to the giver, an auspicious year also awaits those who will exchange greetings. So, allow me to greet all of you— ‘Kung Hei Fat
Jokjok (from Alexander Hidalgo of Caloocan City)— BOY: ‘Wag mong isiping pangit ka/UGLY GIRL: Salamat ha/BOY: Oo, kasi, MAIINIS KA LANG! ***
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