Experience Chinese New Year traditions in Manila Chinatown
Manila Chinatown would let you experience how Chinese New Year traditions had been kept and followed.
Manila Chinatown is known as the world’s oldest Chinatown. Chinese had settled on this area before the Spanish era and Chinatown had been established in 1594. The place was the center of trading and commercial activities.
The place is still alive with all businesses owned by Chinese businessmen. Here, Chinese new year traditions is alive, even the years had passed.
A day before Chinese New Year, I decided to have a quick drop to Manila Chinatown. Riding a jeepney to Quiapo, I walked along Carriedo going to Sta. Cruz Church.
Meanwhile, as I passed by this street, merchants chose to sell round fruits hoping to bring luck to their buyers.
When I entered the arch signifying Manila Chinatown, a different scenario was unfold. Ongpin street was so alive with such number of people walking in and out of stores. That is to say, each person was in a hurry to complete their planned New Year celebration.
Me and Ed leisurely walked the road, observing the people around and, above all, feasting our eyes on such plenty of carts full of their merchandise.
Sparkling Red Decorations, one of the colorful Chinese New Year traditions
All stores had red decorations hanging on their front. Moreover, the whole street had red festive decorations dangling on the center, sides and street posts. Having these bright red color decorations bring wealth and luck to the ones who practice this Chinese new year tradition.
Ginger crop was also well topped with cute red ribbons. In addition, grains were arranged in a bunch, tied with a red ribbon and inserted with a red envelope.
Fruit plants would serve great Chinese decoration to brighten one’s home. Certainly, its lively energy would spread on which home it would be placed.
Red Envelopes and Gifts, Great Chinese New Year Traditions
The gift giving tradition is still well practiced, you can feel that here in Ongpin Street. They were everywhere. Red envelopes were sold in packs, with 10 pieces on it. Or you can see these envelopes hanging with the lucky fruits, encircled by a red ribbon, and extended so the red envelope be tied on the same ribbon.
Red envelopes contained money usually given to children and older persons. It would be a lucky gift for the receiver, and a lucky thing to do from the giver. Likewise, employers do give this red envelopes to their unwed older employees.
There were also lucky amounts such as 88, considering 8 as a lucky number.
Lion dance or dragon dance are one of the Chinese new year traditions performances. Above all, it was always the much-awaited show everyone is looking forward to see.
It is a dance with a movement of lion, having a costume of a huge head of a lion worn by a person, and the costume is usually extended for its body and tail, usually with the second person inside the costume. So, there were two performers inside a single costume.
The lion would dance outdoor while visiting business establishments, shops and houses. Above all, lion dance brings luck and good fortune. They were usually accompanied by loud music to drive away ill spirits.
Red envelopes with gift cash are then fed to the lion for their great dance. These envelopes were given by establishment owners to whom the lions were visiting.
As we trek the length of Ongpin, a corner street had an altar, where one can light a candle or lit an incense, to pray for the petition you wished to be granted. The corner space had no chairs or pews.
You just lit your candle, stand the candle on the appropriate bowl or candle holder. And, standing up, say your prayer, a quick prayer yet very personal, to be silently recite.
This altar was a great encounter, especially dropping a thanksgiving prayer for the fruitful year that would past and another new year for morrow.
A Family Gathering, the most awaited event on Chinese New Year traditions
One of the greatest Chinese new year traditions is the time when families get together, seat side by side, eating the reunion dinner. Meanwhile, shopping marts were full-packed with customers buying for the completion of their menu. Even on streets, the abundance of ingredients was seen. Onions, sugar canes, mushrooms were freshly lined up.
Carvajal street offered fresh greens, your eyes would not be mistaken, for you were looking for the next freshest salad to make. Likewise, you would never missed the Lumpia House, for the line was visible on this narrow street.
And, of course, the Quik Snack. My feet wanted to enter, but I am not yet that hungry to allow myself to indulge on their sumptuous, juicy Chinese foods.
All of these food stores were busy with their buyers who are preparing something special for the family reunion. In Chinese new year, everyone need to be with their family as each of one is expected to be home on this remarkable gathering. As a result, festive meals prepared, shared by family members invite blessing and abundance.
Not only groceries and marts were full. Moreover, even the restaurants and the estero food stalls were crowded.
Estero means a canal. These estero food stalls are located beside a canal here in Chinatown.
Everyone was enjoying their food, chewing the freshly cooked seafood. There were lots of choices and the place had many concessionaires. Certainly, you only choose your seat and order, such an easy thing to do.
So, we continued walking. The sticky tikoy was very much loved. It was bought on boxes of 10, 20 or even more. Many made this as a gift or token for their friends and loved ones.
Its stickiness symbolized the unity of the relationship, likewise, to be remained as sticky as you chew this tikoy.
Furthermore, each time one bought a charm or a stone or a crystal, they it place on a bowl to energize the charm. They called the bowl as the singing bowl, wherein you would place the crystal on the center of the bowl, and apply sound cleansing. There is a small wand that you would used, lightly striking the bowl and touching the wand around the rim of the bowl produced a sound that invites you to get still and meditate, feeling its echo vibrating in the inner you. As a result, placing a crystal on the singing bowl would cleanse it and would work good to your liking.
Big stores selling crystals had singing bowls. And, even sidestreet vendors selling charms on their carts, had also have their own singing bowl. It is god to have your charms charged before wearing it, the negative vibes would be removed and the charm would definitely be a lucky one.
The Two Catholic Churches
Sta. Cruz Church
Before entering Manila Chinatown in Ongpin street, I pay a visit to Sta. Cruz Church. Though this church is not inside Manila Chinatown, it is on the vicinity.
And will the design dangling on the church, you would not be mistaken that they are one with the spirit of the Chinese new year.
Certainly, Chinese catholic had took a big part to represent this Church and allowed the Chinese new year’s spirit be greatly felt.
Finally, at the end of our own walking tour in Ongpin street, we visited Binondo Church. The quietness had become a place for us to rest our whole being, thanking God for the experience.
Aside for the Chinese New Year, both churches can also be visited for Visita Iglesia on Maundy Thursday of the Holy Week.
Chinese New Year Traditions Experienced
To sum up, the rest had energized our spirit looking forward for the Chinese New Year. It is such a significant experience to feel the spirit of Chinese New Year right on the oldest Chinatown.
Truly, Chinese kept their traditions on huge occasions of their life and even on death. As I had explained it all on my article about Manila Chinese Cemetery.
After that, we decided to go home and trudged the same way back were we entered Manila Chinatown. It was such a good feeling. The plan for a quick trip here ended up a little longer, but we were very much educated and the experience would linger.