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Welcoming 2021

New Year’s celebrations differ in many countries. In Cuba and Portugal, where pigs are thought to represent prosperity, pork is part of what is served on New Year’s Eve.

The Dutch and the Greeks, for whom the circle symbolizes success, feast on round-shaped cakes.

In Sweden and Norway, rice pudding with an almond inside is served. The belief is that the person who finds the nut can expect a whole year of good fortune.

The Chinese believe that fireworks displays on New Year’s Eve drive away the bad spirits.

In many parts of the world like the Philippines, anything that is round like apples or a round cake is believed to symbolize coins or money, and having them on New Year’s Eve will herald financial success.

All the New Year’s rituals in all cultures point to one thing: hoping for prosperity in the coming year.

The two most celebrated holidays in the Philippines are Christmas and New Year. One can hear Christmas carols being played on radios as early as September. But as a religious event, Christmas officially starts December 16 with the nine-day series of pre-dawn daily Masses, known as Simbang Gabi.

New Year’s celebrations in the Philippines are devoid of any religious trimmings. The focus is more on welcoming the New Year and all that it symbolizes – new beginning, new relationship, new outlook, new attitude, and new life. For this reason, welcoming the New Year is the noisiest celebration in the Philippines. It is also the deadliest in terms of the number of people getting injured or killed by stray bullets, deadly firecrackers, and other pyrotechnic devices.

Seattle, where my family lived for many years, has a unique way of welcoming the New Year. A crowd of revelers would gather in the vicinity near the Seattle Center where they could watch the fireworks display on top of the 520-foot Space Needle to welcome the New Year. Others would watch the fireworks far away from the Space Needle to avoid the traffic after the show. Many families would just stay home to watch the grand finale from their television sets.

There are some locals who spend New Year’s Eve in posh hotels, drinking and dancing through the night. When the clock strikes midnight on New Year, people would sing “Auld Lang Syne” – the traditional song for ringing in the New Year – and they hug one another, wishing one another a happy year.

New Year celebrations in Seattle are more subdued and less noisy. The fireworks display does not last more than thirty minutes. There are very few firecrackers. There are no gun shots fired in the air. You don’t see children roaming the streets to enjoy the festivities because of the cold weather. There are no people making loud noises.

At homes or in hotels where people are partying, they have party horns or wear hats or what-have-you to welcome the New Year. There are no noisemakers like pots or pans or whistles. Simply put, New Year in the Philippines is noisier and fun.

New Year’s celebrations in the U.S. appear to be adult-oriented. It’s mostly adults or young adults who go out to hotels to party or watch fireworks displays somewhere else. Not many children are seen in public.

In keeping with our Filipino tradition, my family prepares steak, noodles, pastries, meat balls, and fruits that are round in shape to symbolize good luck. After watching the fireworks on TV, we snack on “kakanin” or pastries. All the lights in the house are turned on before the clock strikes 12 midnight. The belief is that luck enters the house that is well-lit.

As an immigrant in the U.S., what I miss the most about the New Year’s celebrations is the deafening noise that results from the combined effects of firecrackers, clanging pots and pans, and jeepneys and cars blowing their horns. I will also miss the collective anticipation of the people for a New Year that is believed to always bring luck and opportunities.

There is nothing like celebrating the New Year in one’s homeland. But I have come to accept that celebrating New Year in a foreign land, without the usual Filipino traditions and fanfare, is not easy. The redeeming factor is the presence of our daughters, their respective husbands and children who enjoy the Filipino tradition of sharing our love and good wishes for one another.

Now, for the years to come, I will look forward to celebrating the New Year in another American city – Las Vegas, our second home.

Las Vegas, as everyone knows, is a party destination throughout the year. Hotels and casinos try to outdo each other putting on their own shows. On New Year’s Eve, streets leading to the famous Las Vegas Blvd. – famously known as the Strip – are closed early. One has to plan to go to the strip early if they want to watch the fireworks put up by the different hotels. As expected, restaurants are fully booked with party goers, who are dressed in the latest fashion.

But whether I’m in Seattle ringing in the New Year or in Las Vegas or in the Philippines, at one second past midnight on January 1, I always look back at the previous year and resolve to do better in the coming year. It’s a practice that I have done through the years, even if I am not able to keep all my resolutions. I know I am not alone in this because, according to some studies, many people are unable to keep their New Year’s resolutions anyway. One wonders why people still do it.

What matters, according to David Ropeik, Harvard University Extension School instructor, is, by promising to fulfill our resolutions even for a moment, we give ourselves a feeling of more control over the uncertainty of the future.

Explains Ropeik, “New Year’s resolutions are examples of the universal human desire to have some control over what lies ahead, because the future is unsettlingly unknowable. Not knowing what’s to come means we don’t know what we need to know to keep ourselves safe. To counter that worrisome powerlessness, we do things to take control. We resolved to diet, to exercise, to quit smoking, and to start saving. It doesn’t even matter whether we hold our resolve and make good on those promises. Committing to them at least for a moment gives us a feeling of more control over the uncertain days to come.”

The year 2020 has brought so much loss and pain to so many people – loss of job, loss of business, and loss of life – all because of Covid-19. This pandemic might be with us for the long haul. The future may be bleak. But we can always resolve to be in control of how to make ourselves better in the coming year.

Happy New Year to one and all!


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