The feast of all new things

Published January 6, 2022, 7:30 PM

by Sol Vanzi

Filipino customs and traditions when greeting a new year

Our barrio was always most festive for New Year week, with activities surpassing those for Christmas and the town fiesta.

Christmas was a day for church and presents for children from their godparents. The town fiesta was a day-long frenzy of bands, games, and food. Preparing for New Year, on the other hand, took weeks or even months and involved the whole village.

Isis leaf

Bayanihan clean up and picnic

To face the new year properly spic and span, all the houses needed to be washed inside and outside, scrubbed with the rough sandpaper-like leaves of the is-is tree, which grew wild near the rice fields. This involved all the single young men and women of the village, who followed a schedule determined by the elders. House-to-house clean-up began right after All Saints Day.

Our barrio was always most festive for New Year week, with activities surpassing those for Christmas and the town fiesta. Preparing for it took weeks or even months and involved the whole village.

Homeowners prepared food for the day-long activity that the young treated like a picnic. It was also a rare chance for suitors to pursue their loved ones away from the prying eyes and ears of chaperones.

Pinipig

From palay to pinipig

A star of our Media Noche (New Year’s Eve midnight meal) was pinipig prepared into suman or kalamay. Pinipig comes from barely-ripe sticky rice palay manually roasted then pounded in a giant lusong (wooden mortar and pestle).

Suman

Making pinipig involved the whole community. The suman and kalamay were shared by all, with many reserved for the New Year breakfast.

Full containers

Tradition and superstition call for all containers of essential needs to be full at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31. This means rice, water, salt, oil, fuel, candles, and firewood.

The practice of displaying 12 round fruits to bring good luck is originally Chinese and has been copied by superstitious Filipinos only in the past few decades.

Other good luck charms involve polka dot prints on clothes, curtains, and table cloths.

Gilingang bato

All hands on deck

A neighbor’s gilingang bato (stone mill) was the only way we could make tamales in the days before food processors and kitchen gadgets.

Rice was soaked overnight, milled by the spoonful, poured into a cheesecloth sack, and allowed to drip overnight. Several men took turns turning the heavy stone while the women poured.

The drained mass was ladled on banana leaves, topped with peanuts, hardboiled eggs, cooked chicken, pork, and an atsuete-colored savory gravy. Each tamale was wrapped in several layers of banana leaves, then simmered in broth.

Bonding with family and neighbors– I can’t help but miss the simple joys of being with life-long friends and neighbors in the days when friends were real people and not virtual personalities one cannot depend on.

 
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