Living far from the Philippines, one tends to find friends good company during occassions like Christmas and New year, times when you usually spend with your relatives and being Filipinos, you usually spend it with several hundreds of friends and relatives spanning a few days or weeks!
So it was a different new year for us this time. We celebrated with family members on December 30th because everyone else is going back to Abu Dhabi and working. Of course, we weren't able to usher in the new year because technically, it wasn't new year's eve.
On the 31st of December, we went to buy our 13 round fruits to signify bounty. Had this been Manila, it would have required a fortune to purchase one round fruit of 13 varieties. Some friends used to but seven to mean 'lucky 7' because buying all 13 will drastically diminish their cash resources. And you've got to have money when the new year strikes!
So Pinoys would fill their pockets with money. Green money is preferrable as the exchange rate is just unbelievable between the dollar and the peso. It is currently pegged at 56 pesos to a dollar (US) so imagine if you've got hundreds of the green kind from Uncle Sam. Being without money as the new year approches signifies that you will want for money the entire year.
This goes the same for the basic spices of life. Filipinos make sure that the cupboards have enough salt, sugar, rice and food stuff to ensure that you will not lack for anyhting. It is also good to wear polka dotted or striped clothing because these means you'll have lots of money in the coming year.
The religious in us, start the new year hearing mass and afterwards partake of the Noche Buena. It is always good practice - and if you can truyl afford it - to fill your table with foods representing the various commonly edible (to the Filipino palate) produce. So in addition to the 13 fruits of bounty, you must have dishes made of fish, fowl, pork and beef - rounded, if possible, rich in sauces preferrably.
As the New Year arrives, Filipinos open their windows and doors to welcome the coming of the year and to say goodbye to the old one. This is usually done by lighting up firecrackers and banging on pots and pans or simply creating a ruckus by jumping up and down screaming "Happy New Year" and smiling so that you will enjoy happiness all year round.
There will be toasts using the native tuba or the beloved Filipino brew. Some more cultured would prepare a bubbly or wine to toast the coming of the new year.
Despite being another reason to party, the new year celebrations, Pinoy-style is also a chance to re-affirm good plans for the coming year, bridge gaps between severed friends and relations, and also to be thankful for the blessings of the past year.
In the midst of all the round stuff and the polka dots, behind the flashy fireworks and after all the noise to scare evil spirits away lives in the heart of every Filipino to yearning for a better life - not only for himself but for his fellowmen. There - in the heart of each kababayan - cries of pleading arise for a better leadership for our country so that we too can be truly a new dragon in Asia and show the world that we can make a difference.
In the quieter receptions in these parts of the desert, there is the longing to spend these precious times with family. How I wish the Noche Buena we have prepared can be share with poorer relations who would have enjoyed the fare more than us. And from the desert, a silent prayer is sent to all the loved ones who cannot be with us - in the hope that they are truly happy as the new year dawns upon us.