New Year Memories
Firecrackers Galore Highlights Festivities in the Philippines
From the Philippines to America and Europe, nothing can beat celebrating New Years Eve with the love of your life!
By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.
Publisher & Editor, Asian Journal (San Diego)
San Diego, California
December 30, 2005
People all over the world will again greet the coming New Year tonight. It is one of the few times in the year that we are able to look back, though not necessarily for a long time. In fact, I can vividly recall a few New Years Eve celebrations in my lifetime.
During the mid 1950s for instance, I remember celebrating New Years with my mothers side of the family on Pepin Street, in Sampaloc, Manila, the Philippines. My maternal grandparents, as well as uncles, aunts and their families, lived with us in a cluster of homes on one part of the street.
My father would ask one of his printing press employees to bring a big piece of bamboo from the province where he lived. He would have a hole drilled in one end of the bamboo which I would use as a canon during the celebration. I would put a chemical called “calburo in it, place fire over the hole using a piece of stick and the bamboo canon would make a “booming sound. Sometimes I would put an empty can of milk inside that would shoot out like a bullet once I lit the canon. During New Years Eve, my uncles and elder cousins would set off firecrackers on the street, while the younger kids would be content lighting sparklers. The next morning, we would see pictures of victims of the firecrackers explosion, holding up their mangled hands as they cried and awaited treatment in the hospitals.
During the late 1950s, we were living on the second floor of our printing press on Platerias Street, in Quiapo, Manila. I was about eleven-years-old then when my elder brother and I went downstairs and opened a window to set off firecrackers. We spread out firecrackers on a chair outside. I held a lit candle as my brother lit one firecracker at a time and threw it out of the window. Then we would wait with anticipation for the explosion. On one occasion, a firecracker that a neighbor threw exploded near us. I was startled and dropped the lit candle on the firecrackers below. We danced like watusi warriors when the firecrackers exploded one after another around us.
In 1960, we moved to our new house on Matutum Street, Sta. Mesa Heights, Quezon City. My grandmother, uncle and an aunt occupied the houses nearby. Every New Years Eve, we celebrated by setting off firecrackers with our cousins. One year, a housemaid of ours took part in the celebration. She used her cigarette to light the firecrackers one by one and then threw them out of the window before they exploded. She continued for a while without incident, but at some point lost her concentration. She lit the firecracker with the cigarette, but threw the cigarette out of the window instead of the firecracker. She covered her ear with one hand, while the other still held the burning firecracker. As a result of the explosion, she lost her hearing for a week.
In 1980, we did not celebrate the coming of the New Year. A day before New Years Eve, my cousin was shot dead. He was about to go to bed when he heard somebody calling his name at the gate of his home in Lagro, Novaliches, Quezon City. When he opened the door, a man handed him a wrapped Christmas box and then shot him. The bullet hit him in the heart and killed him instantly.
New Years Eve of 1980 was hardly a cause for celebration as my cousin lay in state at the funeral parlor. We walked around like zombies as our neighbors set off firecrackers and celebrated New Years in our midst.
In 1982, I celebrated, or rather I observed, New Years in the United States. I had just migrated to America. As every Filipino American knows, observing New Years in the U.S. is nothing compared to the celebration in the Philippines. In my new home in the U.S., we waited for midnight to strike as we watched Dick Clark and “the ball drop in Time Square in New York City on television. My mother-in-law would sometimes join us, if she was not on duty at the Naval Hospital. She urged us to eat grapes, which she believed would bring us good luck.
In 1992, I had the opportunity to celebrate New Year with my family in the Philippines. My parents were going to celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary on the second of January the next year. All of their children abroad, along with their families, were required to go to the Philippines and participate in the celebration. My daughters were seven- to twelve-years-old, and for the first time in their lives, they experienced New Years Eve in the Philippines. The celebration was complete with their cousins, fireworks, sparklers, and firecrackers in our Quezon City neighborhood. It was an experience they could not forget.
Tired of the relatively dull New Years Eve celebrations in San Diego, in 1989 we decided to travel to Las Vegas to observe the holiday. It turned out to be a very unpleasant experience for us. All we could do in the city of light was walk back and forth along the Strip together with the other revelers, many of whom were rowdy college students. An hour before midnight, we were not allowed to enter the casinos forcing us to hold out on bathroom breaks.
When we tried to go back to our hotel, we were trapped in the throng of people. We were packed on a narrow bridge leading from the New York, New York Casino to Excalibur Hotel and Casino. I was horrified. I felt like we were in a death trap. We were pinned alongside the walls of the bridge and pushed along with the waves of people. Sensing the grave danger, I decided to lift my daughters above the walkway walls and into the street. The police, however, would not allow people to do so. I ignored the police and brought each member of my family to safety. In the street, we waited for thirty long minutes, with the cold wind blowing our faces, until midnight when people would be allowed back to the hotels. Since I am not a gambler or keen on playing in the casinos, I vowed never to go back to Las Vegas, that is unless I have to bring visitors from out of the country.
We were supposed to stay in Las Vegas for two more days. Yet the next day, I looked at a map for a place where we could spend the rest of our vacation quietly. We decided to go to Lake Havasu in Arizona where I was assured there would be no snow or cold weather. We made the right decision. It was not only beautiful, but we also got to see the world famous London Bridge. An American entrepreneur had brought it over piece by piece, stone by stone, from England and had it rebuilt along the Colorado river.
New Years of 1999 was memorable for us and for most people around the world because of the Y2K threat. It was the turn of the century, and many people feared that computer systems all over the world would crash, resulting in catastrophic damages to life and property. Some even predicted the end of the world. I was worried that the accounting system of my business might malfunction and erase important data. I made sure that I had printed copy of each account so that my business may be able to continue, even if the predicted disaster occurred.
Like millions of people all over, we sat glued in front of television sets early in the evening to see if the predictions would hold true. Despite warnings that airplanes might crash because of computer glitches, many brave souls dared the odds and went on with their travels, with plenty of room to spare inside the almost empty planes.
We watched with anxiety the television coverage of the turn of the century in each country one after another, from Europe, to Asia and later to America. To every ones relief, the predictions of computer malfunctions did not occur but there was no blaming of the pessimists. Without their warnings, albeit unreasonable they might have been, the authorities, private individuals and institutions concerned would not put up the necessary precautions and infrastructures that might have possibly saved the world.
My next memorable New Year celebration was in 2003 in Malaga, Spain. My family and I took the Iberian tour that brought us to Spain, Portugal, Morocco and back to Spain. It was mid afternoon of December 31, 2003 when our tour bus entered Malaga, after spending the previous night in Sevilla. The outskirts of the city were unimpressive, as tall tenement houses and modern day buildings greeted us. But when we reached the area where our hotel was located, the beautiful, old but well maintained buildings appeared.
Across the street of our hotel, we visited what was left of the Christmas Fair. The immigrant shopkeepers were about to close shop in preparation for the evenings revelry. At around seven, we went back to the hotel to dine at its penthouse restaurant. Although we did not make any reservations, we got the last table available. Our fellow tour members had to eat their last supper of the year inside their hotel rooms with whatever sandwiches they could get hold of.
At eleven oclock in the evening, we met with all the members of our tour group at the hotel lobby. We had been together for the past eight days and we were already like old friends. Some of the teenagers in our group and their parents wore jester hats, while my daughters put on the colorful wigs they bought in Madrid. The young ones made the walk to the plaza enjoyable as they blew their horns and shouted greetings to everyone. The locals were amused, if not appreciative. Everyone in the city seemed to be at the town square that evening. There was a rock band on the stage, and an announcer was in the crowd interviewing people. A loud music was playing as we took turns drinking from a single bottle of champagne.
Our tour guide, Monica, said that like my mother-in-law, the Spaniards believe that eating a dozen of grapes at midnight would bring good luck. In fact, there were canned dozen of grapes available in Spain precisely for this occasion. As expected, everyone hugged and kissed each other when the appointed time came, but not after consuming the dozen of grapes each of us had. After thirty minutes of more dancing and revelry, we retired to our hotel.
The next day. New Years Day, we moved on to Granada.
The following year was another memorable New Year celebration for us. This time, my family and I took the Bavarian Tour that brought us to Munich, Germany; Prague, Czechoslovakia; Budapest, Hungary; and Vienna, Austria.
It was again December 31st when we arrived in Vienna, and the weather, just like during the entire tour was very cold. We saw snow on the tips of the Bavarian Alps and the roadside. However, I did not expect the cold weather. When we went to Spain during the same time of the year, the weather was quite manageable for a tropical native like me. I thought I could handle the cold weather on the eastern part of Europe, but I was wrong. I felt miserable.
I had to wear six layers of clothing: my undershirt, my thermals, my shirt, my sweater, my jacket and finally my overcoat. In addition, I wore a bonnet and scarf around my neck and sometimes across my face as well as gloves in my hands. I was annoyed that I had to remove my overcoat, jacket, sweater, bonnet and scarf and carry them under my arm whenever we entered a museum, store or restaurant. The heaters indoors were always on high. Upon stepping outside, I had to dawn the layers again. It confirmed my belief that I am not a cold-weather person. I am forever grateful that I live in sunny San Diego, dubbed as “Americas Finest City.
In spite of these cold weather travails, I must admit that we had fun in Vienna. We saw the exhibits in the music museums, the old buildings, the boutiques and the Christmas fairs. But you cannot force me to go back there during the winter season.
However, we almost missed out on this rare opportunity. Our tour officially ended December 31st, when everyone was supposed to fly back home. But why waste the rare opportunity of spending New Years Eve and Day in Vienna when we were already in the area? So, I asked the hotel where we were booked for a two-day extension of our stay. Even if the tour was supposed to end on the 31st, I wanted us to stay till January 2nd before we fly back home. Unfortunately, the hotel said that they are fully booked that season.
Since it was six months before the tour, I was able to get accommodations for two rooms at another hotel through the Internet website of Expedia. I got all the necessary confirmation numbers and letters needed. To my horror, however, the hotel refused to acknowledge our reservation when I checked on them as soon as we arrived in Vienna. It turned out that the hotel was sold and the former owners were not able to transfer my reservation to the new management. I was so mad that I raised my voice as I talked to the manager of the erring hotel over the phone. The thought of my family spending New Years Eve in the snowy and cold streets of Vienna horrified me. Seeing that I was visibly upset, the Austrian concierge at the hotel where we were staying called up the other hotels in the area for vacancies. Fortunately, she found two rooms for us at a nearby hotel, after almost two hours of suspense. I was determined to file a complaint at Expedia and ask for damages, but eventually, my ire faded away as the evenings revelry became intense. “Alls well that ends well, as Shakespeare would say.
That early evening of December 31st, 2004, we braved the cold weather and walked back to the center of celebration just a few blocks away from our hotel. We were determined to stay and witness the turn of the year together with the thousands of locals and tourists in the area. There were makeshift stages for rock bands playing in strategic places of the entire ten-block area. However, despite the festive atmosphere, I found myself not in a celebratory mood. I felt sleepy especially after we ate a sumptuous Austrian dinner and drank a glass of Bavarian wine. Added to this was the fact that a slight drizzle of rain poured down. The thought of spending New Year in a wet and cold weather past my bedtime prompted me to call it a day (or a year). But my daughters were determined to enjoy the occasion, rain or shine, so they asked to stay. My wife and I walked back to our hotel and eventually slept through the passage of a New Year. The year 2005 ushered in without our knowledge.
Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision by skipping the once-in-lifetime experience of celebrating the New Year with tourists and Austrians in the squares of Vienna. But to this day, I have no regrets. I feel that nothing can beat lying in a warm bed, with my wife, the love of my life, beside me. Even if we were fast asleep! – AJ