[PHOTO - DRAGON DANCE A dragon dance is performed along Ongpin Street in Manila as part of traditional festivities leading up to the Chinese New Year. (Photo by LINUS GUARDIAN ESCANDOR)]

MANILA, FEBRUARY 4, 2011 (BULLETIN) By CHRISTINA I. HERMOSO – Chinese communities across the country and in many parts of the world welcomed the Year of the Metal or Golden Rabbit at midnight with festive and time-test traditions meant to attract good health, prosperity, closer family ties, and peace in every household, as well as good fortune in business.

Based on the Chinese Almanac, the Year of the Metal Rabbit begins on Feb. 3, 2011 and ends on Jan. 22, 2012.

Days of colorful festivals, intense preparations, parades, dragon and lion dances, fireworks display, family gatherings, visits to friends and relatives, and the largest human migration around the world to travel home to attend reunions culminated Wednesday with the onset of the Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays.

[PHILSTAR PHOTO - Dragon dance performers lead a motorcade on the eve of the celebration of the Lunar New Year in Manila’s Chinatown yesterday. JONJON VICENCIO]

Age-old Chinese New Year’s Eve traditions were observed including the thorough cleaning of homes, wearing of new clothes and shoes, opening of doors, windows, and lights, getting a new haircut, cleaning and repainting of altars, preparation of fruits believed to invite good fortune on tables, and the repainting of doors and window panes. The color red, which is believed to scare away evil spirits and bad fortune, was liberally used in painting and decorating.

Lucky money in red envelopes were given to children, sweets were served, while some bathed in boiled pomelo leaves for good health.

There was also an abundance of food like fish, chicken, dumplings, nuts, noodles, and sweets like the popular glutinous rice flour (tikoy) to symbolize prosperity, abundance, and good fortune as well as in thanksgiving for the blessings of the past year.

The celebration of the Chinese New Year traditionally begins on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar and ends 15 days later with the observance of the Lantern Festival.

Often mistaken to mean Happy New Year, “Kung Hei Fat Choi!” is Cantonese for the greeting, “Congratulations and be prosperous.”

[PHILSTAR PHOTO - Entrepreneur Angelito Araneta Jr. with rabbit-shaped sticky rice cakes, locally known as tikoy, which he encrusted with 24-carat edible gold leaves and 0.2-carat diamonds. They sell from P21,500 to P120,000 each. JONJON VICENCIO, STAR]

The first two words were linked to the legend of Nian, the story of a man-devouring predator beast. According to a legend, greetings of “congratulations” were exchanged in ancient China during the first New Year celebration after the people survived the ravaging beast. The beast was said to be afraid of loud noises and the color red that the ancient Chinese drove and scared the creature away through firecrackers and the liberal use of the color red in homes.

Meanwhile, a bishop is not happy with Catholics who also observe the trappings and practices of the Chinese New Year.

Msgr. Pedro Quitorio III, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Media Office director, said some Filipino homes display images of the Sto. Nino while at the same time display lucky charms associated with the Chinese calendar and Feng Shui.

“If you want to be a Christian, then be a Christian. Don’t be the kind of Catholic with a segurista mentality because it means you don’t believe in Christ because if you do, you don’t need to have a sort of back-up religion,” he said.

Quitorio said this kind of approach to religion is called syncretism or the combination of different beliefs, which is very evident especially during Chinese New Year.

MALAYA PHOTO - Kung Hei Fat Choy. Dragon dancers enthrall crowds in the Chinatown district in Binondo a day before the Filipino-Chinese community welcomes the Year of the Rabbit. PHOTO BY PHILIP DUQUIATAN, MALAYA BUSINESS INSIGHTS]

During Chinese New Year, lucky charms and gems sell like hotcakes because people believe that having one would attract good fortune in the coming year.

Such mentality is not only common to Filipino Catholics but to other faiths as well.

“There are non-Catholics who also keep an image of the Sto. Niño because they hear of its power to help,” he said.

Quitorio said there is a need to purify the people’s faith.

“That faith should be purified because for a real Christian, Christ should be enough,” said Quitorio.

Meanwhile, some Filipino-Chinese communities gathered in front of the Philam Life building in Quintin Paredes in Binondo, Manila to witness the revelry of dances on the dawning of a new decade as they ushered in the 2011 Chinese Lunar Year.

They began with a traditional eye-dotting ceremony involving painting the eyes of “sleeping” lions and dragons with red ink to symbolize the awakening of these creatures. These mythical creatures are believed to be very auspicious and can ward off bad elements and attract good fortune.

In his speech during the celebration of Chinese New Year of Philam Life, Trevor Bull, president of Philam Life, said he valued the importance of family ties from generation to the next most especially in a certain Filipino-Chinese home.

“Filipino-Chinese are frugal, family-oriented, and business savvy. That is why we need to create innovative solutions to fit the unique needs and traditions of Chinese families,” he said.

He added that as the country enters a new decade and was started off with the year of the Rabbit, he expressed confidence on the future it will bring to the people. “The year of the Rabbit symbolizes energy, movement, rebirth and establishment. These qualities must be taken advantage of as we face the year,” Bull said.

With this, the over 60-year-old life insurer has launched three of its products which include Bright Future Plus, an education and life insurance plan-in-one for Chinese language studies, foreign studies or post-graduate studies of policyholder’s children or designated beneficiaries; Bounty, a savings and life insurance plan-in-one to build policyholders’ or their children’s capital for future business ventures; and Longevity, a savings and insurance plan-in-one to fund a daughter’s wedding dowry or a son’s engagement or wedding. (With reports from Leslie Ann G. Aquino and Sarah Hilomen Velasco)


China's New Year rail travel: Many opt for speed, comfort By Marianne Barriaux

(BULLETIN) [PHOTO - Chinese board a train at a railway station in downtown Beijing. Transportation officials in China say Lunar New Year holiday travel has been generally smooth ahead of the biggest travel days of the year. (AP) BEIJING (AFP)] Getting home for Chinese New Year used to mean squeezing into rundown trains that creak their way through the countryside.

But this year, many are opting for the comfort and ever-expanding network of China's high-speed trains, even if it means paying on average more than three times more -- sparking concern the not-so-wealthy are losing out.

''High-speed trains do not benefit middle- and low-income segments of the population,'' Zhao Jian, a professor at the Economy Management Institute of Beijing Jiaotong University, told AFP.

''They might benefit rich people, giving them another travel option. But we build railways to promote economic development, not to serve one particular group of people.''

China's high-speed rail network, already the world's largest, is expanding quickly. Railways minister Liu Zhijun said last month it would reach 13,000 kilometres (8,000 miles) this year, a more than 50 percent jump from 2010.

The sleek trains offer a respite from the cramped conditions often experienced by the tens of millions of people travelling for the Lunar New Year, China's most important holiday, which this year falls on Thursday.

The week-long holiday is sometimes the only occasion in the year for families to reunite. And at Beijing's main train station, many travellers said they would be happy to pay more if it meant getting home earlier.

''I got up at one this morning to get a ticket, and only got it at 10. I couldn't get a seat so I'll be standing 16 hours on the train to get home,'' Zuo Changming, who was headed to the northeastern city of Harbin, told AFP.

''I'd prefer a high-speed train as at least I'd get a seat, but those tickets sold out,'' said the 24-year-old, who works in the hospitality industry.

Wang Zhiguo, vice railways minister, told reporters on Sunday that so far, nearly 20 percent of all rail passengers had opted for high-speed trains during the travel period.

But some passengers, experts and even state media have expressed fears that the fast trains have left people with no option but to pay more out of their small salaries for tickets.

Liu Weidong, a migrant worker in the eastern city of Hangzhou, said he had had to pay an extra 400 yuan ($60) for his family to go home this year -- one third of his monthly pay.

''To us, 400 yuan is a lot of money. With that money, we could have bought many things for the festival,'' he told the Xinhua news agency after failing to secure ordinary tickets home to the neighbouring province of Jiangxi.

Resentment has spread online, creating a popular buzz word -- ''bei gaotie'' -- meaning having to buy more expensive tickets because normal trains are no longer available

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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