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Year of the Wooden Horse gallops in

Dragon dancers perform in front of business establishments on the eve of the Chinese New Year in Manila’s Chinatown district yesterday. Lower photo shows a 3D gold-foiled, embossed stamp featuring the Year of the Horse released by the Philippine Postal Corp. Story on Page 3. VAL RODRIGUEZ/EDD GUMBAN

MANILA, Philippines - Today marks the start of the Lunar New Year, celebrated in most of Asia with weeklong festivities. In China it is called the Spring Festival, the most important in the lunar calendar.

For the second year in the Philippines, the occasion is included in the official calendar as a special non-working holiday.

Tsinoys celebrated last night with family gatherings around tables laden with food traditionally associated with the festival – noodles, whole fish, dumplings, sticky rice cakes, all sorts of sweets.

The new year’s eve dinner is celebrated at home rather than in a restaurant, as the idea is for the family to gather around the familial hearth (wei lu). Thus, particularly in large families, preparation and cooking started days before, as the table must be crowded with both food and relatives, and this is one meal where the no-leftover rule does not apply – there must be leftovers (what my grandmother used to call deng ni cai), signifying an abundance that will overflow to the next year.

Symbols of prosperity and plenty have become popular décor items. Kiat, those little mandarin oranges that are in season this time of year, are displayed in baskets or strung into garlands; kiat plants in full fruit are also put by the door. Kiat signifies bearing fruit, and the plant indeed is most prolific, with the oranges covering nearly all the leaves.

Rhizomes such as ginger and gabi are popular for the same reason of multiplication but, as our population nears 100 million, it may not be such a good idea.

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Red lanterns, particularly those in the form of a pineapple (the Hokkien term for pineapple, ong lai, is a homonym of “good fortune come”), and an upside down “Fu” (fu means good luck, and turning the character upside down makes a dao, which sounds like “arrive”), usually written in gold on diamond-shaped red paper, are put up on doors or in the living room.

The color red is not just a festive shade; wearing red and posting red papercuts on doors and windows is rooted in the myth of the monster Nian, which comes out on the last night of the year to wreak havoc on people and property.

Villagers discovered that the monster was afraid of fire, the color red and loud noises, and thus began the tradition of fireworks on new year’s eve, displaying red lanterns and décor, and making noise.

The festival starts on the new moon, and ends on the full moon 15 days later, this year on Feb. 14. During this 15-day period, children go around to greet and pay respect to their elders and godparents, who give them red packets with money (hong bao or ang pao) as a symbol of good fortune. This does not mean that everyone can go around collecting ang pao though.

Incidentally, tomorrow – the second day of the year – is believed to be the birthday of all dogs, so give your loyal companions extra love... and don’t forget the treats.

This is the Year of the Horse, the seventh in the Chinese astrological cycle. The governing element is Wood, which many believe augurs a gentler, less tumultuous year after the cataclysmic Year of the Snake.

The year will favor enterprise and creativity, and the world’s economy is seen to improve, propelled by a bullish stock market and increased consumer spending.

However, the absence of the Water and Earth elements and the dominance of the Fire element could mean an aggressive Horse, so be ready for a possible wild ride. One should thus be prepared to take advantage of opportunities and, as President Aquino said in his New Year message, “head towards our goals through unity, mutual respect and positive engagement.”

While predictions vary greatly, some say that this Year of the Wood Horse will not be good for those born under the Horse sign. One recommendation, according to CNN, is for Horse people to wear red underwear to fend off misfortune.

Gong xi fa cai, and may fortune smile on you this year.

 

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