China has the biggest population in the world. It is then no wonder why Chinatowns are scattered in all corners of the world and why big cities worldwide are celebrating Chinese New Year.
Did you know that the oldest Chinatown in the world is in Binondo, Manila? Yes, Chinese had considered the Philippines as their place of imperial expansion even before the Spaniards came. That said, celebrating Chinese New Year in Binondo, Manila is the best way of witnessing Chinese traditions in the Philippines.
Chinese New Year in Binondo Be Like
Most Filipino-Chinese speak Hokkien but I don’t know why the Chinese New Year greeting “Kung Hei Fat Choi” in Cantonese is more popular in the Philippines than the Hokkien "Kiong Hee Huat Tsai". The phrase means “wishing you prosperity’. Any way it’s said, let me give you a glimpse of how Chinese New Year is celebrated in Binondo, Manila, in photos.
Dragon and Lion Dance
Chinese New Year in Binondo wouldn’t be complete without the traditional dragon and lion dance. The undulating dance is accompanied by beating of drums, clashing of cymbals and the banging of gongs. Dragon symbolizes power and auspiciousness.
The dragon dance is often accompanied by a pair of colorful lions dancing in pantomime-like gestures. The lion dance is, likewise, a symbol of auspiciousness. Dragon and lion dancers would visit the rows of Filipino-Chinese establishments along the streets of Binondo. The ritual is believed to bring good luck to businesses and to people.
Colorful lion dance
Will I be luckiest this year if I chase as many dragons as I can?
Touching the dragon, they say, will bring good luck and prosperity
Dragon dancers: Time to pose and smile
Before the dragon and lion dance end, long strings of firecrackers are lit in some instances, in the belief of scaring away the evil spirits. Well, I swear I’m not an evil spirit but I got scared of the firecrackers. I’m okay with hearing the loud crackling and smelling the smoke from a distance.
I don’t blame Chinese tradition but the way I see firecrackers is that they’re sources of air and soil pollution.
Smoke gets in my eyes
The Year of the Dog
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2018 is the year of the Earth Dog. You won’t have to doubt because every inch into the Binondo streets would give you an indication that it is the Year of the Dog.
Tikoy is a famous rice cake sold during Chinese New Year. The original white Tikoy has evolved into different variants such as chocolate, ube (purple yam), strawberry and pandan flavors. The sticky snack serves as an offering to the Kitchen God. It is believed to keep his mouth stuck together to prevent him from badmouthing the offerer when he reports to the God of all Gods.
Lucky charms abound in Binondo even when it’s not Chinese New Year. Hence, expect even more shops and street vendors selling all kinds of lucky charms in such forms as trinkets, decors and bracelets.
Small red envelopes for coins and for inserting in wallets. The vendor says you'll never run out of money when you have one in your wallet.
Are these lucky charms, too? Haha!
Lucky Money in Red Envelopes
Also called angpao, these are red envelopes where money is inserted then given to children as gifts to protect them from sickness and ward off evil spirits. This Chinese tradition has been adopted by Filipinos all year long. The red envelopes are gifted to children and adults alike for monetary presents, especially during Christmas season and special occasions.
Ever wondered why it’s raining red during Chinese New Year? Apparently, the evil spirits aren’t that hard to drive away. Red is also believed to scare them away.
Red Chinese lantern all over Binondo streets
Ahmmm....is this just a post-Valentines sale?
Okay, this one, you’ll find only in the Philippines – kids mimicking the dragon and lion dance using makeshift props. It’s ironic how these kids perform the dance not to bring good luck to others but as buskers who take this occasion as an opportunity to probably bring food to their plates.
Expect to see a lot of other street performers along the streets of Binondo who would gladly show off what they’ve got. It’s up to you if you’d be willing to put in money in their baskets (or in their costumes).
Notice those bulging things in his shirt? That's where he "baskets" his talent fee.
This little drummer girl has just finished her performance
These inked kids in diapers...I did not understand the thought of this
You can’t get hungry when you’re in Binondo. It’s a haven for food trippers who want a taste of both Chinese and Filipino food. It’s also easy to have snacks by choosing from a variety of street food available along this old Chinatown.
As the years go by, it seems that more and more people flock every year to Binondo, Manila to enjoy the festivities of the Chinese New Year. My friend even joked around that there were even more photographers (pro and non-pro) than Chinese.
Chinese New Year in Binondo becomes a congregation of Filipinos, Filipino-Chinese, Chinese and other foreigners during Chinese New Year. Why? There’s something about the Chinese culture, the joyful celebration, the chaos and the Chinese myths that make it so appealing.
Be Responsible Visitors
The aftermath of major public celebrations is often not favorable because of the enormous amount of wastes generated. Wastes end up littered on the streets with the people relying on public service to clean up the mess. And then we complain about our country not being as clean as its more developed neighbors.
If you want a clean environment, don’t wait or ask for change, be the change.
Avoid wastes in the first place, if you can. Click here to discover specific ways to make your travels greener.
Check out other annual events in Metro Manila like the International Pyromusical Competition
Looking for a place near Metro Manila to stimulate the artist in you? Visit the Pinto Art Museum
Other Activities In or Near Binondo
Try other suggested activities in Binondo and around:
Walk This Way Intramuros Tour with Carlos Celdran - Walk through the streets of Manila and travel back in time with the acclaimed Filipino guide, Carlos Celdran
The Big Binondo Food Wok - Learn all about the history of Binondo from a specialist foodie guide as you feast on specialty treats
Intramuros Bambike Tour - Cycle through the streets of Intramuros, one of the oldest parts of Manila
Old Manila Full Day Tour - Stroll along the Manila's streets from past to present and discover the Philippines' tragedies, tolerance, and triumphant recoveries from colonial influences
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