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Not everything is about tikoy: A Chinese-Filipino during Chinese New Year

When friends approach you and ask for tikoy, you know it’s that time of the year again. Also called the Lunar New Year, many of the practices done during the holiday are believed to have started when a Chinese village was attacked by a mythical beast called the “Nian”.

These practices continued throughout the centuries and people soon adopted new traditions as well; during Chinese New Year and other events, adults give money in small red envelopes called  angpao to children, and  tikoy is given to peers—its sticky nature symbolizing how you wish to stick together with those who receive it.

Through time, the tradition spread beyond Mainland China. As Chinese immigrants spread overseas, they brought their culture and traditions with them. Nowadays, we often see countries with notable Chinese communities continue to practice certain traditions and even adapting it to the local culture. The Philippines boasts a diverse community, and with the wide range of lifestyles in the country, it’s no surprise that some Chinese traditions have woven itself into the country’s rich fabric of cultures. Now, Chinese New Year has become highly regarded as an important holiday wherein local communities take part in the celebrations.


The spectrums of Chinese Filipinos

The reality, however, is that not all Chinese-Filipinos celebrate the holiday the same way. There are still traditional families who strictly follow many of the customs—even going to Binondo on the day itself, while there are also those who are more relaxed and just celebrate the holiday with a family dinner. I can say that my family still does a lot of these customs, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a very traditional Chinese-Filipino.

I still help clean the house because it symbolizes taking out old things and driving bad luck away, but my budget doesn’t quite agree with the idea of replacing my perfectly good clothes during the traditional New Year shopping. I’m not one of those who visit temples either—while there are still a great many Chinese Filipinos who are practicing Buddhists, many of us have converted to Christianity. I would also love to receive  angpao—but it’s only been a few weeks since Christmas, my aunts and uncles remind me. That aside, my family is still one of many others who partake in ancestral offerings of fruits and paper money, but these are no longer recognized by some of my other Chinese-Filipino friends as a yearly custom.

The difference of New Year practices may all be down to the variation in cultural identity of Chinese-Filipinos. Through time, the customs practiced by Chinese-Filipinos during the Lunar New Year have evolved. There are those who maintain the traditional practices, while there are those like me who throw away some practices to focus on other things. Both are valid, though. It could be argued that being both Chinese and Filipino is a factor in the diminishing significance of celebrating Chinese New Year and even in other Chinese practices and beliefs. To be of mixed descent limits me from wholly embracing one culture in fear that it could tip the balance of my cultural identity.



A mix of cultures

But saying that I can’t be too Filipino or else I’d lose my Chinese identity would be an exaggeration and completely inaccurate. Being of mixed descent does not limit me or others like me from embracing one culture over the other. It grants me the opportunity to appreciate both of the cultures I was born into. To be a Chinese-Filipino in the Philippines allows me to celebrate two rich cultures to the fullest without the need to alienate myself from being purely Chinese or purely Filipino.

Although Filipinos and Chinese might seem very different, there are many similarities between the two cultures and both have left their marks on each other. Both cultures promote a family-oriented lifestyle, with family being really important to us. A lot of times, in Chinese and Filipino families, there are many generations living under the same roof—a stark contrast to Western cultures. Respecting the elderly is an important feature of both cultures as well.

Feng Shui has also been adopted by many Filipinos, and many Filipino celebrations such as Noche Buena have been taken up by Chinese families as well. For Chinese New Year to be marked as a non-working holiday is a testament to how being Chinese-Filipino in the Philippines does not alienate us from celebrating our Chinese roots along with our Filipino identity.

Not all Chinese-Filipinos are the same, and there’s no problem with that. Being Chinese-Filipino is a prime example of how both cultures could be celebrated in unison. I celebrate Noche Buena and I can still celebrate Chinese New Year. I can partake in Chinese and Filipino customs and appreciate both cultures even if I’m of mixed Chinese descent. Chinese New Year in the Philippines may be a culmination of what it means to celebrate Chinese and Filipino cultures in unison.

In the end, Chinese-Filipinos are still a diverse bunch. Not everyone is the same; some are fluent in Hokkien while others are more comfortable talking in Filipino. So, before you approach your Chinese friend asking for tikoy,  consider that not all of us become  tikoy -giving beings come Chinese New Year—tikoy exists all year round and our friendship, too.

By William Ong

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