Maligayang Bagong Taon!

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New Year is a riotous, rowdy fiesta when, according to Filipino Chinese beliefs, evila and ominous spirits should be warded of by noise. Familes from all walks of life gather together at the stroke of mindnight for the salubong (Welcoming the New Year). They light firecrackers, or bet their drums and pans. Some toot their car horns while stringing along empty cans. Some also ring their bells or sound sirens.

Traditional Midnight Mass has been recently moved earlier in the evening so that family members are all gathered safely home by midnght where the sumptuous Media Noche (family midnight meal) is served. On the table one would typically find 12 types of round-shaped fruits such as oranges and grapes to represent the 12 months of the year.

For New Year everyone usually ware their new clothes, preferebly with polka dots or in "prosperity colors" of red and gold. Clothes must have deep pockets and be filled with new money bills and coins, that are jingled vigorously at the stroke of midnight for good luck.

To invite prosperity in one's home, all light in the house must be lit and coins are scattered throughout the window sills and door steps.

Crackers and Noise

During the whole day of December 31, children blow their plastic toy trumphets (torotot) and stamp on their watusi - a kind of small firecracker that when rubbed against a rough surface and released, crackles into a little sparkwork dance. Bamboo cannons boom, low and basso. There is, too, the sporadic bang of firecrackers.

After dinner these noises are joined by rowdier ones: the hiss of the baby rocket that ends with a burst-boom, the sudden explosion of a bawang ("garlic"), or a trianggulo ("triangle"). By 11 pm the air becomes charged with the rat-tat-tat of a "Judas belt", the ear-splitting BAM of a dinamita ("dynamite") or the shrill of a whistle bomb.

By 11:15 the air is shattered into smithereens, each bit charged with thunder. Some people fling their windows wide open, and beat on cooking pans or meta; basins to drive malas (bad luck) out of every cabinet and corner of the house.

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Cacophony goes mad as all the crackling, banging and booming rise to a climax that is joined by the honking/hooting of car horns, big and small, the wailing of ambulance sirens, and the clanging of fire truck bells. Absolute madness!

The year ends in cacophony, and it is that same discordant noise that welcomes the New Year. Ending and beginning are the same: not a whimper but a bang. Goodbye and hello are coterminous. And since they are, the dichotomy vanishes. The sliding out is the sliding in.

Around 12:15 am, the noise zenith starts its decrescendo. The human voice reasserts its presence. The air gradually fills with conversation. The New Year has arrived!

Excerpt from "The Sound of Our New Year" by Edilberto N. Alegre in Pasko by Alejandro and Chorengel       

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