Ringing in the New Year at the temple

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

WHAT is better than angpao stuffed with paper money? Why, it’s welcoming the Year of the Horse in one of the Buddhist temples that dot the city. Celebrating Bacolaodiat, one of Bacolod’s biggest annual events, in the Yuan Thong Temple is a must-try even once in a Bacolodnon’s life.

The Chinese New Year celebration in the Philippines reminds us of the Chinese heritage that is so tightly woven into our culture. The traditions that come with saying “kung hei fat choi” have crept into our ordinary lives that even the Chinese New Year’s Day is a special, non-working holiday in our country.

In that morning of January 30, I made sure the house was as clean as I could manage. A thorough cleaning is supposed to sweep away ill-fortune and make way for good fortune to enter the house. It’s also saying “Farewell” to the past. On the fridge door was a red poster I had secured with magnets. Written in Chinese characters were the words “Good fortune” and “wealth” and “longevity.” Then, later that evening, I was garbed in a red dress because red is supposed to bring good luck and scare away evil spirits and misfortune.


Dinner (or any meal for that matter) at the Yuan Thong Temple is always vegetarian. Susan The Cook whipped up a storm that evening for the hordes who came to usher in the New Year. The line to the buffet table was really long and late-comers were punished with empty chafing dishes.

Lesson of the year: come early for dinner on Chinese New Year’s Eve.
The Yuan Thong Gang, as I’d like to call this cohesive and active group of worshippers (“Omnitofo!” Atty. Cora Romero, Tita Nena, Ray Pe, and Tin Cordova) entertained the onlookers with a cowboy-inspired dance that was done to music with Buddhist lyrics. And who said Buddhists can’t have fun?

What followed was an hour-long chanting ceremony inside the big hall to pay homage to Buddha with the temple abbess Master Zhi Yi, and Venerable Jue Guan leading the chanting to the beating of the instruments at the altar. Ven. Jue Guan (translated into English by Master Zhi) shared words of wisdom to reflect on and to guide the listeners for the New Year.

Then, to drive away evil spirits from the premises, we exited the hall to witness the lion dance and the setting off of fireworks. The temple was alit with countless red and yellow lanterns that made the scene magical. Thanks to Arch. Ray Granada (Pe) who labored to hang beautiful lanterns over the ramps to the hallway. This is a first for Yuan Thong.

I couldn’t wait for midnight to strike and when it did, sleepy as I was, I waited until I could hear the pealing of the giant bell into the dark of the night to herald the New Year. Even Mayor Newks came just in time to do the honors of striking the bell. Many then, me excluded, went up to make a wish and strike the bell. Sorry, I was too sleepy to stay but I heard that the 108 drumbeats followed, and, I’m sorrier now more than ever, everyone was treated to the traditional miswa soup. (The Japanese also follow a similar tradition. The bell is rung 108 times to represent the 108 sins of humans according to the Buddhist belief. The ringing of the bell is done to also take away the 108 worldly desires. Then, they feast on soba noodles. )

I wish everyone a happy new year for the second time this year. May God’s hand be upon you all! And I shall leave some wishes for you to choose from.

•Jinyùmantáng- "May your wealth [gold and jade] come to fill a hall"
•Dàzhanhóngtú- "May you realize your ambitions"
•Jíqìngyouyú- "May your happiness be without limit"
•Fúshòushuangquán- "May your happiness and longevity be complete"

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 06, 2014.


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