This makes sense when you take a look back at Philippine history. Even before the Spaniards laid claim to these islands in the name of King Philip II, Filipinos and Chinese maintained friendly trade relations. Today, that relationship is somewhat strained, but that's a discussion for a different post in a different blog.
Regardless, Chinese communities in the Philippines continue to thrive. For example, Manila has Binondo, considered to be the oldest Chinatown in the world. If you want to get a feel for Filipino-Chinese culture, that's the best place to visit.
Now that we've got introductions out of the way, let's talk about the Chinese New Year. For 2016, it will fall on February 8, which signals the start of the Year of the Fire Monkey. So what does that mean for Filipinos?
Buying Charms for Good Luck
According to the Chinese zodiac, each person is born under one of 12 animal signs. These animal signs, in turn, correspond to one of five elements, depending on what cycle of the lunar calendar they fall under: Wood, Fire, Water, Metal and Earth.
For example, Person A is born in 1977, while Person B is born in 1989. Both of them are born under the Year of the Snake, so they will exhibit similar personality traits (according to Chinese tradition, at least.) But since 1977 is the Year of the Fire Snake, while 1989 is the Year of the Earth Snake, these personality traits differ in some respects.
So what does this have to do with good luck charms? Well, if you want to buy, say, a figurine for good luck, one of the things you should consider is your year of birth, the corresponding animal sign and the corresponding element for maximum effect.
Also, you need to account for the position of the figurine in your house, so that "lucky" energy will flow through it according to feng shui (lit. "wind water"), the Chinese version of geomancy.
Buying Food for Good Luck
In a previous post, we mentioned how Filipinos prepare 12 round fruits and pancit canton (stir-fried noodles) for the New Year. That's because these were adopted from Chinese traditions!
Specifically, the tikoy — a sticky cake made from glutinous rice — is eaten every New Year. Its sticky quality is supposed to symbolize how good luck is supposed to stick to you as well. You'll find huge quantities of it sold in stores every January and February, so there's enough luck for everyone. (Of course, if you forget to cook the tikoy before eating it, you'll have a different kind of luck.)
Handing Out Red Envelopes
Traditionally, parents or older relatives give ang pao (red envelopes containing money) to children. These envelopes symbolize financial prosperity and good luck, and you can buy them in bookstores. Be careful about the ang pao you buy, however: Some envelopes are designed for weddings, while others are only for personal gifts. Ask the vendor if you're in doubt!
Watching Dragon and Lion Dances
This is arguably the highlight of the Chinese New Year. If you live in a place with a large Filipino-Chinese community, you'll be treated to the cacophony of Chinese percussion instruments, followed by groups of performers dressed like dragons and lions.
In Chinese culture, the dragon symbolizes good luck. It's often depicted as chasing a pearl, which represents its pursuit of wisdom. There's no uniform length for the dragon, but it's believed that the longer it is, the more luck it will bring.
The lion, on the other hand, has the dual function of bringing in luck (hence the bright colors) and driving away evil (hence its position as the head of every performance). Unlike the dragon, which needs multiple people to support its performance, the lion needs only two people.
Greetings and Explosions
Of course, no Chinese New Year will be complete without the customary "Kung Hei Fat Choi" greeting. Since that's a Cantonese phrase, however, and the majority of Filipino-Chinese speak the Hokkien dialect, it's more appropriate to say "Kiong Hee Hua Tsai." For Mandarin speakers, it's "Gong Xi Fa Chai."
And, like its Western counterpart, the Chinese New Year is greeted with a barrage of firecrackers. Not only do these usher in the New Year in the noisiest way possible, but they're also supposed to drive away evil spirits. Before you buy one of these for your own, make sure it's on the list of legal explosives.
Even with the current political situation between China and the Philippines, it's highly unlikely that Filipinos will do away with tradition so easily. After all, if these traditions were able to bring luck to the country before, what's to stop them from doing the same in the future and the years to come?