New Year’s Eve is as busy as Christmas Eve is in most Filipino households – the cooking and cleaning that comes – as the old year ends and the new one begins. Filipinos believe that you must cast away the bad and begin with a clean slate each year, that’s why New Year’s resolutions are very common, too common that at times these are taken for granted.
Many a home will have been cleaned spotless and polished to welcome the New Year. I remember in our family, all dirty clothes must be washed and pressed otherwise; your entire year will be soiled and crumpled like your soiled and crumpled clothing. As the home is cleaned, so should be the body. My grandmother used to bathe us with lukewarm water and scrub us not with the soft washcloth but the hard (ok smooth but still hard!) stone. Every bodily nook and cranny is reached, cleaned and rinsed in grim businesslike manner. This is the best time to get a haircut, as well as sport on new clothes. One must wear polka dotted clothing or stripes as these represent money. Many would wear red for prosperity.
Then there is the mad dash at the green grocer’s to complete a basket of 13 different rounded fruits. No pineapples as the spikes represent hardships, none of the sour ones as they represent bad luck for the entire year. So ripe atis (custard apple), though sweet is not acceptable because its surface is not smooth. Bananas, though they are sweet and smooth are not round! Therein lays the dilemma. In a country where local fruits are but few in the December-January season and the only foreign alternatives are the good old apples and grapes, how can one come up with thirteen?! But yes, people do come up with the required number but have to do a bit of rationalizing. Many have added the humble coconut because it represents a “waste not, want not” attitude. Every part of a coconut is usable – drink the juice, eat the meat, use the husk for firewood or to mount your orchids in, the hard shell can be converted to bowls or spoons of if really careful, can be like a piggy bank of sorts. The entire tree is usable for wood, the leaves as roofing and the thin, long spines are bunched up together to be the ever useful ‘walis ting-ting’ (stick broom) an every home must-have – good for cleaning cobwebs, sweeping earth, and even scaring wild boar.
So joining the centerpiece of fowl, fish, and pork or beef cuisine is the ‘basket of bounty’ laden with 13 rounded fruits. It is also wise to have a dish each of fish, fowl, pork, and beef and for good measure and to represent long life, a noodle dish to ensure that the entire year would indeed be bountiful. Having had to come up with such a spread for the occasion however, is sure to deplete funds in the coffers of even the wealthiest Filipino and thus defeating the purpose of the wish to be prosperous as the New Year starts.
Yet that is the Pinoy way, begin with a bang, everything fresh and clean, no expense spared and tomorrow begins the reality that a new year has 365 days.
Well fruits are soft and easily rot. Perhaps it should be 13 nuts instead of fruits. For nuts are hardy and strong and can last much longer than ripened fruits do. Also nuts represent health and intelligence – which perhaps we need more than the hopes for prosperity. So instead of wishing to have a really prosperous year, let’s with for a year where we can be truly smart and use our thinking caps daily and be wiser so we learn from our mistakes and move on.
Wishing you all a nutty new year.