Did you know that pork is a lucky food to eat on the New Year because “because poultry scratches backwards, a cow stands still, but a pig roots forward, ergo those who dine upon pork will be moving forward in the New Year”? Heck, I never heard of that one until I started scouring the web for superstitions and traditions associated with the New Year to write today’s column which I decided to entitle “Jump in polka dotted clothes.” The full text follows.
Despite the annual photo and video parade of blown off fingers and hands as a result of lighting firecrackers during the New Year’s Eve revelry, Filipinos still do it every year. Tradition is a funny thing. Breaking up with tradition is like giving up one’s comfort zone. So people observe them whether or not they make sense.
On the lighter side, it is amusing to note some of the traditions associated with the New Year. While the lighting of firecrackers and noise making may be the most visible and audible, there are a lot of other traditions associated with the New Year. Some are practical while others are so way out that they’re nothing short of hilarious. Here are some I have seen observed in the Philippines.
1. Making New Year’s resolutions. This is probably the most popular tradition of all when people vow to work harder, study harder, exercise more, give up vices and generally try to be a better person than they were during the previous year. Teachers even make pupils write down their New Year’s resolutions on the first day of class after the Christmas break.
2. Wearing clothes with polka dot prints. The dots symbolize coins and the practice is supposed to invite money in the coming year. The way coins have lost their value, I remember my daughter, eight or nine years old at the time, commenting that one to ought to wear clothes with checkered prints instead to represent money bills which have more value than coins. I think the polka dots will do so long as they represent gold coins rather than Philippine currency.
3. Jumping up and down at the stroke of midnight will make one grow tall. Ah, you cannot imagine how many mothers with undersized young sons follow this tradition. In fact, there are adults who do this whether for fun or because they take it seriously.
4. Eating all available varieties of round shaped fruits at the stroke of midnight. This is something similar to the polka dots practice, the round shape of the fruits symbolizing money and prosperity. Note that the practice does not mean one has to eat whole fruits of every variety. A slice of each fruit is enough so long as one eats a piece of all varieties.
5. Paying off bills and stacking the wallet with bills in large denominations. You know, start the New Year free from financial obligations and making sure one has ready cash as well. It’s kind of hard to start the New Year free from ALL financial obligations these days when people tend to buy on credit and installment.
6. Filling up the cupboards especially with basic food stuff – rice, salt and sugar – to make sure that the family never wants for food in the coming year. This practice, I try to observe, not only for the New Year but at all times of the year. Who wants to run out of rice, sugar and salt, anyway?
But there are a lot of unfamiliar traditions and superstitions that are practiced all around the world. Among the Chinese, it is taboo to sweep the floors on New Year’s Day because good fortune might get swept away too. Ergo, cleaning and sweeping are done on the last day of the old year.
What to eat and what not to eat on New Year’s Day? From Snopes: Pork is a lucky food to eat on the New Year because “because poultry scratches backwards, a cow stands still, but a pig roots forward, ergo those who dine upon pork will be moving forward in the New Year.” Similarly, one should refrain from eating “chicken or turkey on the first day of the year lest, like the birds in question, diners fate themselves to scratch in the dirt all year for their dinner (that is, bring poverty upon themselves).” And from Chiff (www.chiff.com): “Chiacchiere, honey drenched balls of dough ensure a sweet year in Italy. Grapes, one for each month, make for a lucky year in Spain and many Latin countries.”
And then, there are the firecrackers. Brilliant lights and deafening noise. Are we just echoing the beliefs of the Chinese that the noise scares the bad spirits away and the lights keep the lucky dragon on course? I used to think so but, apparently, there are similar practices in other cultures. In Iran, there is the Noe-Rooz celebrations where noise making and public bonfires figure prominently. There is an Irish tradition of banging on doors and walls to get rid of bad luck and invite good spirits.
What we ought to remember is that these are all traditions steeped in superstitions. The reality is that lighting firecrackers can get your hands blown off and leaves filth in the air while noise causes pollution. We all pitch in to help move away from harmful traditions but some attempts are just as silly as some of the practices they seek to regulate. Just a few nights ago, I was watching the news on ABS-CBN and there was a report that mentioned the need for a permit to transport firecrackers from the store to one’s house. Permit to transport? Are there enough cops to apprehend people buying firecrackers? Don’t cops buy firecrackers too? Who will apprehend them?
Ah, traditions. As Tevye knows well, it is something one does not give up unless one has no choice. The truth is, there is nothing more effective than educating people. Harmless superstitions like jumping while wearing polka dotted cloths might be fun and tolerable but those that can harm – both us and the environment – are issues that deserve serious concern.