New Year’s Eve is a festive time in the Philippines. There are a lot of traditions that Filipinos follow in the belief of ushering in a prosperous New Year. Many of these customs you may recognize as showing a Chinese influence.
Special food is prepared, but not like the Noche Buena feast on Christmas Eve, although some families might be wealthy enough to prepare another lechon (roasted pig) after serving one on Christmas. For sure, pancit (noodles) are cooked to signify long life, as are eggs signifying new life. Traditional delicacies made from malagkit (glutinous or sticky rice) like biko are prepared — that’s so good fortune will stick around throughout the year. Fish and chicken are not served because these animals scrounge for food, and we don’t want to have to scrounge for food in the coming year.
Part of the fun in getting ready for New Year's Eve is to come up with twelve (12) round fruits, each to signify a month of the year. Ideally, there should be twelve different fruits — grapes, oranges, clementines, cantaloupe, pomelo, watermelon, etc. It’s a tough challenge, so half the fruits likely end up being non-circular like mangoes and apples. The fruit that Filipinos most associate with the celebration of the new year and will rarely be without is imported ubas, purple grapes that are very round.
The same way Americans enjoy Fourth of July fireworks, Filipinos go all out with the noise on New Year’s eve. Philippine firecrackers come in so many shapes and go by very interesting names — judas belt (a string of firecrackers), super lolo (“grandfather”), kwitis (from the Spanish word cohetes meaning rocket), bawang (“garlic”), airwolf, etc. Children love scratching the dancing firecracker watusi against concrete sidewalks and cemented surfaces, although the government has been warning against it because of chemical poisoning.
Pots and pans are clanged to scare away evil spirits. Cars and trucks are vroomed and horns are tooted to cause as much noise as possible. Empty cans are dragged all around, whistles are blown. Before the clock strikes midnight to herald in the new year, all doors must be left wide open to allow good luck to enter. This includes cupboards, drawers, cabinets, and even windows! Filipinos try to dress in polka-dots because the roundness signifies prosperity. Pockets are filled with round coins, which are jangled to attract wealth. Coins are also left on top of tables and in drawers.
At the exact moment of midnight, Filipino children jump as high as they can because they believe this will make them taller. It is believed that whatever condition your wallet is in when the New Year arrives, so it will be the rest of the year. So make sure to put in the money your received on Christmas. The same goes for the neatness of your home. Filipinos spend the last days of the year vigorously cleaning everything, especially of dust. However, on the first day of the new year, you are not supposed to do any cleaning. And don’t start the year off by spending money. Frugality on the first day sets the tone for wise money management in the coming year.