The narrow alleys were filled with a busy and vivacious crowd. The scorching weather can do nothing about it but to intensify the festivity going on. Without a definite program, the turn of events went naturally spontaneous. Celebrating Chinese New Year in Binondo was indeed more than just a special occasion marked on the calendar but to a deeper extent, a revelry of culture, tradition and belief.
Chinese New Year and the Lunar Calendar
Chinese New Year is also known as Spring Festival. Maybe you had asked yourself once why there is a celebration of New Year in a different time than what the rest of the world normally has (January 1). Chinese New Year is actually based on the Chinese Lunar calendar that is influenced by the moon and sun. And yes, this calendar is used as basis for traditional activities in China. Though Chinese New Year has really no exact date, it falls between the third week of January and the third week of February.
Chinese New Year in Binondo
Binondo, a district in Manila, is claimed to be the world’s oldest Chinatown. It is a famous food trip destination for those wanting to try authentic Chinese food. I had been in Binondo for several times already for various agendas – club photowalk, gastronomic hangouts and heritage tour. For the second time, I was able to celebrate Chinese New Year in Binondo.
As expected, the streets were as crowded as it can be. As we mingled around, we witnessed the different events that set Binondo Chinese New Year a flamboyant and significant custom engraved in the hearts of many.
Probably one of the celebration highlights is the Dragon Dance. The Dragon Dance is an essential symbol of Chinese culture. I remember watching some in other places like corporate establishments and shopping malls during the same season.
The Dragon Dance had been widely re-enacted mainly because of the notion of luck and driving away of evil spirits. During Chinese New Year, we saw several groups performing Dragon Dance. They performed both in the streets and even inside the shops and restaurants.
We also saw a different version of the Dragon Dance. A rendition without extravagant costumes but definitely embodied a huge sense of creativity. It was performed by children with their own ‘dragon’ made out of cloth and carton and an aluminum food tray as drum.
Aside from Dragon Dance, we were also entertained by some other group of performers fearlessly presenting Fire Dance in the streets. Note that they usually asked spectators for some donations.
Parade of Tikoy and Fruits
Together with the crowd, tikoy and fruits on a sale parade congested Binondo streets during Chinese New Year. Notice how the fruits were adorned with red ribbon and even with ampao (red envelope).
Chinese New Year will definitely not be complete without Tikoy or Nian Gao. It is a rice cake made of glutinous rice flour cooked with egg serving as the New Year’s cake. During this time, different Tikoy flavors were being sold. If you go to famous shops like Eng Bee Tin, you’d really fall in a crazy long line to be able to buy one.
Lucky charms were another item included on the must-buy list of many people visiting Binondo for obvious reason – to gain more fortune! The streets were also flooded with vendors selling trinkets and other house decorations believed to be magnets of luck.
When you buy a charm bracelet, a simple ritual will be performed on it – the bracelet will be put on a bowl after which the seller will pound on the rim of the bowl.
• Restaurants can get easily full during the Chinese New Year. You’d line up for hours with the large volume of customers.
• Better enjoy the activities happening on the streets than spend a lot of time falling in line in restaurants or shops. Try getting some street food for added fun!
• If you want to go on a food trip during this season, better go a day or two before the New Year itself. You’d also be able to witness the Dragon Dance and you’d also feel the Chinese New Year atmosphere less the crowd. Fruit and lucky charm vendors were also already flooding the streets during this time.
• Wear comfortable clothing.