CHINESE NEW YEAR. From the moment we walked under the Arch of Goodwill, it was clear that it was festival day. The regular noise from vehicles passing Plaza Sta. Cruz was replaced by the sounds of thundering drumbeats and clang-clang of cymbals, an indicator that we are close to seeing for the second time the Dancing Dragons and Lions in Binondo.
Every first day of the lunar year, Ongpin Street and the major streets of Manila’s Chinatown are filled with spectators watching dragon and lion dance performances. Like in most Chinatowns around the world, they are the major elements of the Chinese New Year Tradition.
CHINESE NEW YEAR TRADITION. The Chinese has a deeply rooted cultural legacy in the Philippines. Historical records reveal that the Chinese were living peacefully with the ancient Filipinos for centuries even before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521.
They introduced not only goods and technology from their homeland but also their traditions and customs. Some of these ancient customs survived through the years and have blended with the Filipino culture.
BINONDO. In the 16th century, the Chinatown in Binondo was founded, making it one of the oldest Chinatowns in world. For the next 400 years, Binondo has become the economic and cultural center of the Chinese community in the Philippines. Thus, it is in Binondo where we thought it’s best to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
LUNAR CALENDAR. For the Chinese, the New Year of the Lunar Calendar is the most important and the first of the four traditional festivals of the year. But unlike the January 1 New Year, which follows the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese New Year has no fixed date. For example, the first time we went to Binondo for the 2008 celebration, new year fell on February 7. In 2011, new year was celebrated on February 3.
The dates of the Chinese New Year may change but not the festival elements like driving away bad spirit through loud firecrackers and dancing dragons.
ENTER THE DRAGON. We were approaching midway of the kilometer-long Ongpin Street, when we saw a dragon dance being staged. Our effort of inching our way through the thick crowd for a front seat has paid off as we watched the dragon dancers demonstrate their coordinated steps and alternating movement, making the mythical creature come to life by waltzing the poles holding the slender body of the dragon up and down then making swift swirling motion, taking the cue from the beat of the drums.
FIRECRACKERS. Soon the long firecracker belt was set off. Each deafening blast caused the crowd to scramble away from the scene but the dragon kept twirling and dancing around the frightening and smoky staging area.
ANG PAO. Moving around the dragon in varying sharp dance patterns were a pair of Chinese lions held by two dancers hiding under the beasts’ colorful head and body. On one part of the dance, one of the two lions would reach for an ang pao, a small red envelope with luck money.
MONEY ENVELOPE. The ang pao is given to children on Chinese New Year to keep evil spirits away from the children and ensure them a peaceful new year. Traditionally, the money placed inside red envelop should be in even numbers since odd-numbered values are given in funerals.
EPILOGUE. As we strolled around Chinatown, we saw different groups of lion dancers performing in smaller packs, each with their own percussion team. They too demonstrated the dance that drives away bad spirits and bring forth good fortune and a peaceful new year.
Chinese New Year
3 February 2011