Enter the Dragon: Celebrating Chinese New Year in the Philippines

Lion dance during Chinese New Year

The traditional lion dance is performed to welcome good luck and prosperity during Chinese New Year

The Chinese Filipinos are considered as one of the largest ethnic groups in the Philippines, so it’s not surprising that celebrating Chinese New Year is a big thing in the country. Over the years, its popularity has grown among Filipinos. This year is the very first time the Philippine government announced Chinese New Year to be a special non-working holiday.

About Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is perhaps the longest and most important event in the Chinese calendar. It is often referred as the Lunar New Year because it is not based on a specific date. Instead, it is based on when the first new moon of the year, usually between late January and early February. Among the Chinese, the Chinese New Year is also referred to as the Spring Festival because this date marks the end of winter and the start of spring.

Filipino Chinese New Year Traditions

The traditions observed during Chinese New Year in the Philippines is less extravagant than those in other countries like China and Taiwan. Nevertheless, these traditions and customs still make celebrating Chinese New Year in the country an experience like no other.

Lion Dance

One of the most popular traditions observed during Chinese New Year in the Philippines is the lion dance usually staged on the streets, particularly in Binondo—Manila’s Chinatown. The performance is often a mixture of dance and martial art movements, and is done to scare away evil spirits and to summon good luck and fortune for the year.

Chinese New Year Red Envelopes

Another tradition—and my favorite one—observed during Chinese New Year is the giving of red envelopes called ang pow to children by their parents. These red packets are often filled with money with the amount equivalent to even numbers, 8 being the best since the pronunciation of the Chinese character of the number 8 sounds very close to the Chinese character that means ‘prosperity.’ In effect, the act of giving these red envelopes is a sign of making sure that the children remain prosperous throughout the year.

Wearing of Red

Red is the color of good luck. Wearing red clothes during Chinese New Year is believed to symbolize that you’ll be carrying good luck and fortune wherever you go throughout the year.

Giving and Eating of Tikoy

Tikoy, or Nian Gao, is a sweet and sticky rice cake that is given away before the start of the Chinese New Year to be offered to the Kitchen God who is about to make his journey back to Heaven to report the affairs of the family to Yu Huang Da Di—the God of all Gods. The offering of the tikoy is said to do two things. The first is so that the Kitchen God will only report good things about the family. The second is to make the lips of the Kitchen God sticky, making it very difficult to speak and ensuring that he will not talk ill about the family in his report.

After the tikoy is offered, it is then cooked—usually dipped in egg before fried with butter—and eaten by the family. The Cantonese name for this sticky rice cake is a homonym for ‘higher year.’ Eating tikoy during this time of the year is symbolizing that you are going to the next level this coming year.

Lighting Fireworks

Of course, no new year celebration would be complete without fireworks. In the case for Chinese New Year, however, fireworks are not for entertainment purposes. The light and sounds coming from fireworks are meant to scare and drive away the evil spirits who may try to enter the house during the start of the year who aims to bring misfortune to the family.

Enjoying a Feast of Chinese Food

Food plays an important role in much of the celebrations held in the Philippines. Chinese New Year is no exception. The spread of food enjoyed during Chinese New Year varies, but there are three staples that are found in every table: steamed fish symbolizing prosperity, noodles symbolizing long life, and sweet dumplings for everyone to have a sweet year ahead.

Kong Hei Fat Choi everyone! Have a great Year of the Dragon!

Do you celebrate Chinese New Year? What traditions and customs do you practice for Chinese New Year?

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About Adeline Yuboco

A natural-born foodie with an eye for detail, I started Life and Leisure to be a place where I can share on how to travel and live in style within your means. At the same time, I cover various events for DigitalJournal.com where I'm a contributing journalist. If you got a great story idea or have an event you'd like me to cover, drop me an email at the Contact page, message me on Twitter, or Connect with me on


  1. I think you mentioned it all Adeline :D ..Well, im not much of a believer on Chinese traditions but following them seems to be a good idea.
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    • Traditions are really a nice thing to follow, not really whether or not you believe in the symbolisms, but more of because it’s a part of your heritage and culture. Thanks for dropping by and hope you and your family have a great and prosperous year ahead of you.

  2. Hello Adeline,

    I like the tradition too to hand out reenvelopes with money. What a nice gesture.
    I’m curious what the childeren do with the money. Do the spend it rigght away or do they save it for later?

    when I was a child we never received money gifts – unless it was for something bigger. I was as happy as a princesses when I had saved enough money to buy my own bike.I was very proud of myself being able to make that purchase.


  3. Hi Adeline:

    As a person who has family in the P.I. I’m very grateful that we have someone, who is a quite popular (well according to my analytics), who is informing people about the events that take place in P.I.

    Also, to answer your question – I must say that the traditions we uphold is the celebration of the dance. I’m not a rich person (nor is my family) we are steadfast when it comes to traditional dances. In addition, since born in the year of the dragon – it has become the duty (i’m also the oldest) to keep these traditions alive – every year.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Jonathan.

      I’m also the eldest in the family, and just like you, it’s also my responsibility to keep the traditions alive. At first, I thought it’s a chore. But the more I got involved in it, the more that I began to realize its importance. Traditions are a part of who we are and making sure that we don’t forget the traditions we’ve grown up with is one way of making sure that we don’t forget also who we are and our roots. :)

  4. Hello Adeline,

    Yes, I’ve noticed that. That’s why I was wondering if a 4+4 mix would work out too. I heard about the Chinese New Year here in Los Angeles in the news. It said that the Chinese New Year is as big as 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year combined. Pretty cool. I believe they mentioned it is the year of the Dragon. and it is to be expected, that more children will be born.

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    • Yes Anja. 2012 is considered to be the year of the Water Dragon to be exact. I’m really curious on how grand the Chinese New Year celebrations are there in LA. I’ve heard there is also a really large and active Chinese community there. I guess it doesn’t matter where you are. It’s the desire to connect with ones roots that makes such an important festival like this alive and vibrant.

  5. oh yes Adeline, L.A. has a large Chinese community check this out: http://www.chinatownla.com/

    And you are right about to keep connected to your roots. Here in L.A. we have different international cultural festivals to celebrate:
    The Chinese New Year, the Mexican Cinco de Mayo, the Irish St. Patrick’s Day, the German Octoberfest just to name a few.
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  6. Happy Chinese New Years to you! Great post on how lunar near year is celebrated in Philippines. Sounds like they also celebrate similarly to China & Taiwan counterparts.
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    • Hi Harrison,

      Thanks so much for dropping by. Glad you like the post. Yes, many of the things that they do here to celebrate Chinese New Year is very similar to the things that they do in China and Taiwan. But of course, it’s not as extravagant.

  7. Hi Adeline: Love the Lion Dance. We have an annual summer festival of nations here in Winnipeg (Canada) called Folklorama and the Chinese Pavilion is famous for its Lion Dance.

    Interesting how some of the customs you mention are also applicable to the Feng Shui New Year (which isn’t until Feb 4th.)

    Happy New Year,
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  8. Hi Adeline,

    I had no idea that the Chinese New Year wasn’t on a specific calendar date.

    Learn something new every day.

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    • Yes, Bryce. At least not on the calendar that we follow since the Chinese calendar follows the cycles of the moon. Chinese New Year always falls on the first new moon of the year, which is why it always keep on changing.

  9. I wanted so desperately to be there, as entering my year ( oh, yes I am a dragon!) And it seems so colorful and exotic:)
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  10. As I am Dragon by this Chinese horoscope I really like these tradition but it sucks that in my place there are no such carnivals or similar events. Would like like to visit carnival in Philippines, China or Brazil :)
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  11. Thanks for this wonderful post. there are so many traditions all over the world, and they are all fun, interesting and worth of mentioning. As much as i know, the 2012 year is considered to be the year of the Water Dragon! How nice!
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  12. I love that shot of the dragons, Adele! In my Filipino Chinese family, ang pao isn’t only given within families, but also within extended families. Aunts/uncles give red pockets to their nieces/nephews too. We’ve carried many of the same traditions over to Vancouver where there are Chinese from all over. =)
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