Some ‘whys’ about New Year traditions

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Friday, December 27, 2013

HAVE you ever asked yourselves how and why rounded fruits are served on our dining tables during New Year’s Eve?

Well, most Filipinos simply ignore the explanation and just practice this time-honored tradition.

The explanations are quite simple though.

In anthropology, we call this the “Law of Similarity,” which supports the premise that certain objects represent something and such something attracts the objects it represents.

For example, the rounded fruits and polka dot clothes and garments represent coins, or collectively, money and those who possess these objects will attract money eventually.

Another custom that is practiced randomly among Filipinos is that of the firecrackers.

It espouses on the belief that ill spirits, as well as bad omens are expelled with the noise that is created by these impressive pyrotechnics.

In anthropology, this is a blend of the “Law of Similarity” and “Anthropomorphism,” which is an attribution of humanlike characteristics to supernatural beings or forces like evil spirits and deities.

Digressing a bit, last Christmas Eve, I attended an anticipated mass.

During the homily part, the presiding priest had invited a small guessing game among the churchgoers.

A bag of gift items awaited the one who could answer his query, which was: “Why is the practice of Christmas celebration unacceptable for the non-Catholic Christian denomination?”

It took a while for anyone to answer until a brave-hearted kid emerged out of the blue and answered that it had something to do with pagan practices.

And he got it right.

Having been educated in the paradigms and perspectives of the social sciences, I think this is a practice that is called in anthropology as “Syncretism,” which is actually the blending of different religious customs in one.

I also think that “Syncretism” is much a reality during New Year’s Eve as non-Chinese Filipinos, who are predominantly Catholics practice traditions that have Chinese roots like “Feng Shui.”

Overall, why do we practice all of these?

One plausible explanation can be deduced from a theory called “Functionalism,” which posits that the function of these behaviors or practiced traditions is to reduce anxiety that is caused by uncertainty.

2014 is filled with plans and optimism.

But it is also full of uncertainty.

No one really holds the crystal ball on his or her hands to foretell what the future, in general and the year 2014 in particular, holds.

It remains a mystery to us all.

The enigmatic nature of the future builds up anxiety to humanity that the latter have to create “symbols” to counter the effects of these anxieties.

As such, we turn to these firecrackers, polka dots and rounded fruits to somehow give us a symbolic insurance of abundance for the coming year.

It is called symbolic because these objects do not literally provide the desired material and non-material needs we crave for.

Rather, they merely represent what we ought to have.

While many would argue that practicing such is illogical and silly, some would counter to claim that we lose nothing if we choose to practice these traditions.

In fact, one joke I heard was that we lose nothing but anxiety.

After all, these traditions have been engraved deeply in our Filipino blood.

May everyone have a happy and prosperous New Year ahead!


Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 27, 2013.


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