In another culture... Part II: New Year  

Posted by Laya in ,

The custom of "pamamasko" lasted from Christmas to New Year and in some cases even up to the first Sunday of January, the Feast of the Three Kings. I felt awkward accompanying the family in making the social rounds of grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles, cousins, godparents, and family friends, but everyone was really nice. I realized that I was witnessing in action another part of Filipino culture that I had learned about in school but had never really thought about: the legendary Pinoy hospitality that decreed that all guests are to be made welcome. The Tagalogs have it down to an art.

Even on New Year's Eve, my boyfriend's sister asked me to accompany her to take a cake to her ninang's house since she had not been there. I don't understand why they call "small talk" small when it could last for quite a long time! We ran back home at a quarter to twelve, yelling at the people along the road to wait until we had gone safely past before they started throwing firecrackers. The noise was quite deafening, though it was not yet midnight. And since this was Bulacan (Bocaue, Bulacan, could very well be the Fireworks Capital of the Philippines) the variety of firecrackers and fireworks was amazing.

My boyfriend had bought some whistle bombs, and tied them together in a string similar to a Judas belt (the names they think up for firecrackers!) Like all boys, he was looking forward to the great big bang they were going to make, and I didn't have the heart to rebuke him although I hate firecrackers and the nasty things they can do aside from making loud noises. The most I could hope for was that he would be careful. Tatay (what I call my boyfriend's father) had a boga, a sort of homemade cannon made out of a plastic pipe attached to the rifle he used for bird hunting (I swear, more people there had guns for bird hunting than I ever saw in Mindanao where I grew up, and I thought they said Mindanao was the violent place!). Tatay kept spraying the inside of the boga with this mixture of water and calburo, sort of like a modern version of the traditional Philippine bamboo cannon that used to be the symbol of the Filipino New Year, and Nanay kept laughing when all it made was a soft phut! instead of the loud boom that he was aiming for.

Anyway, at five minutes to midnight, the firecrackers were in full blast. We all gathered in the yard to watch the next door neighbors launch a spectacular fireworks display that Nanay heard had cost them over Php10k! Grrh, 10 thousand pesos for a spectacle that lasted only less than fifteen minutes, how many people could that have fed, I thought. The fireworks were great, though, great big blossoms of red and green and blue, and sparkling flowers and showers here and there. The people across the street launched a couple of Judas belts on the pavement, making us all shriek and run indoors as the firecrackers popped every which way and made an unholy din. In the interval, my boyfriend launched his string of whistle bombs. Then the neighbors retaliated with a bundle of kuwitis, and we finished it off with a couple of fountains.

Despite the ban on firecrackers (I hear that now they're going to ban everything that goes bang! and not just the very dangerous ones) we Pinoys think New Year is not complete without all the paputok. Must be a holdover from the very Oriental belief that loud noises drive away evil spirits. The Chinese used firecrackers for this purpose while the Arabs, according to one of my favorite stories, Eleanor Hoffman's Mischief in Fez, shoot off guns. (Mischief in Fez is no longer in print, they say--- I was lucky there was a set of Collier's Junior Classics in our library when I was in high school, else I would've missed out on a lot of great stories!) And what time is it more appropriate, rather, more imperative, to scare away evil spirits, than on the New Year?

We Pinoys make much of our New Year celebrations--- in fact, I have heard a lot of people say that they celebrate New Year better than Christmas (forgive the heresy!) . It's because New Year stands for a brand new start, where we leave all the bad luck and negative things of the old year behind and look forward to starting anew. In my family, it is customary to conduct a general cleaning (and I mean general cleaning!) of the house on the last day of the year. We wash and clean all the linens, do all the laundry, scrub the floors and walls, wash the windows, polish the furniture, etc. On New Year's Eve, we put all new linens on the beds and new curtains on the windows, and wear new clothes (preferably with polka dots, especially red or green polka dots). We make sure that there is nothing dirty left in the house, so that none of the "dirt", bad luck, negative things of the past year will be carried over to the new one. We put twelve varieties of round fruit in a special basket on the table, for good luck. (Nanay has thirteen, for more good luck; she also hangs a bunch of round fruits, like grapes, over the door, to invite money into the house!) We prepare a lot of good food, to ensure that we do not go hungry in the new year. We fill the rice bins and the food and spice containers, for the same reason. As midnight nears, we make all the noise we can make. We turn the stereo and TV up to the highest decibel (our power companies must love this holiday!), fire off our firecrackers and fireworks to chase off the bad luck, and open all the windows and doors to let the good luck in. We even start our vehicles, (cars, jeeps, motorcycles, etc., and rev the engines (the oil companies ditto!). We keep coins in our pockets (to invite in money) and jingle them; we also jingle coin purses and coin banks. Merchants and store owners keep the first sale of the new year separate and untouched until the next new year, as good luck tokens.

I guess, looking at it all now, we Pinoys need all the luck we can get, what with the state of our nation! Perhaps all of these New Year preparations are manifestations of our perpetual cock-eyed optimism--- no matter how bleak things are, we are still eternally hoping that with the start of a New Year, things might just change for the better.

Good luck to all of us, I guess!

This entry was posted at Wednesday, January 09, 2008 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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