Starweek Magazine

Xin nian kwai le

SINGKIT - Notes from the editor - The Philippine Star

I write this in the midst of preparations for our family’s Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner. Like Chinese everywhere, in China or overseas, including Tsinoys, this is a major occasion for us, like Christmas and New Year. I have been planning this for the past two weeks, changing the menu several times depending on the availability or unavailability of certain foods. At this rather late point I am still considering variations on the theme of noodles...

It was a mad scramble at Farmers’ Market in Cubao as fish supply was limited, due to the cold weather, according to the tinderas. I had to wait half an hour for the arrival of my suki’s delivery for the day, and managed to grab – niceties fall by the wayside when you gotta have your fish! – some apahap (bass) that will be my yu tonight.

I have designated myself as the keeper of tradition in our family, which means I get to set new traditions as well. Fortunately I paid attention to what my grandmother used to do – which isn’t very much as she frowned on a lot of the superstitious practices – as well as to the stories my parents told about what people back in China did. The emphasis is on tradition, rather than on what is masuerte – for example, we don’t have an upside down fu or hok symbol hanging on the door or anywhere in the house, nor do we have pineapples since it is not a fruit we particularly like. We just have food a-plenty, and everyone (including a couple of friends) is around the table, and we all have a merry time welcoming the Year of the Sheep.

There is some discussion on whether this is the Year of the Sheep or Goat, or even Ram. Scratch the ram off straight away as it is sexist, the ram being an adult male sheep, unless you want to add the ewe to the equation and further complicate the issue.

The character used for the eighth animal in the Chinese zodiac is yang, which could refer to any of those animals. Goats are more common in southern China, where most Tsinoys are from, while sheep are a common sight in northern China’s prairies. In the Philippines, sheep (tupa) are a rarity, while goats (kambing) can be found practically everywhere.  

In the Christian tradition that most of us are familiar with, sheep play a major role, present at the beginning of Christendom when the angels announced the birth of Christ, and sheep are used in many of Christ’s parables. Scholars, however, say that the Chinese zodiac is a Han tradition, and the goat is the more common Han livestock. A lot of Chinese art like papercuts show horned and bearded goats to represent the year. 

But the sheep is cuter, and coupled with its reputation for gentleness it is certainly more appealing, particularly from a merchandizing standpoint. Besides, the goat has some not too positive connotations; for example, the cadet who graduates last in class at the Philippine Military Academy is the goat, a tradition adapted from the US West Point academy.

But Sheep or Goat, Ram or Ewe, let me wish you a year of peace and plenty.






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