New Year’s Eve is a time for celebrating all over the world, but few places have as many traditions and superstitions surrounding this holiday as the Philippines. For Filipinos, this time of year is more extravagant and elaborate than Christmas Eve.
Throughout generations, Filipinos passed down cultural superstitions and norms between families. While other parts of the world are busy making New Year’s resolutions, Filipinos are enjoying round foods, scattering coins, and repaying old debts.
Why are Filipinos so superstitious? Before the conquistadors that brought Catholicism, the Philippines was primarily pagan. These ancestors believed in deities who ruled all aspects of life, and people went to great lengths to keep the gods happy.
Additionally, Filipinos had a lot of interactions with China before the Spanish influence. The Chinese greatly influenced the culture of the Philippines, leading to a unique blend of traditions and superstitions. In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the specific customs surrounding New Year’s Eve in the Philippines.
1. Paying Debts
One of the most unique traditions in the Philippines is the focus on settling your debts. While nobody wants to ring in the new year with even more debt, this is a big focus of the holiday in the Philippines.
It’s believed that any financial habits you have in the previous year will continue in the New Year. Having debts to your name means you’ll only bring another year of debts, and nobody wants that. It’s common to see people scrambling to get through their debt payoff journey as the year comes to a close.
2. Making Noise
New Year’s Eve in the Philippines isn’t a quiet event! This is a time to be as loud as possible. Pots and pans are banged together, kids use homemade instruments, and everyone just turns up the volume.
Why so loud? In the Philippines, it’s believed that loud noises drive away evil spirits. Everyone’s on a mission to drive away those spirits before the new year, so that means things get a little (or a lot) loud!
3. Firework Displays
Speaking of loud, this is also a time for some of the most extravagant fireworks displays. Colors and lights are a big part of how Filipinos celebrate, so it’s no surprise fireworks are so popular. This tradition was adapted from the Chinese custom of using fireworks to scare away evil spirits, but it’s also a symbol for the brightness of the New Year.
4. Cleaning the Home
By cleaning, the family attracts harmony and order for the upcoming year. Simply put, this is a way to bring luck. Who doesn’t love a clean home? It’s the perfect way to start a new chapter.
5. Wearing Polka Dots
Round things are a symbol of luck in many parts of Asia, including the Philippines. Circles and round things are a way to bring wealth to the family in the new year.
Stores sell polka dot everything leading up to the new year, and you’ll see lots of people wearing their best polka dot fashion.
6. Displaying Coins
Coins are a sign of abundance and wealth. They’re quite literally a form of currency, so it’s not a big surprise that Filipinos use coins in their New Year’s Eve traditions. Placing coins throughout the home on this special day attracts money and abundance in the New Year.
Where do people place their coins? The more places, the better! You’ll see them in drawers, suitcases, tables, shelves, and even in the kitchen. Some even carry coins around in their pocket all day for extra luck!
7. Number 12
A lot of people have a special number they think is luckier than others. There are a lot of lucky numbers in the Philippines, and these are evoked on New Year’s Eve to bring even more luck to families. The most common lucky number associated with the New Year is number 12. It’s a symbol for the 12 months of the year.
Most families display things in 12 around the home. What do they display? Most people choose round fruits. This combines the luckiness of round fruits with a special number.
8. Family Feasts
Families come together during the New Year to reconnect and remember a family member who passed in the previous year. This is a time for reflection and growth as a family with some of the most beloved Filipino foods.
Favorites like kare-kare, lechon, and congee are on the menu. Each family has its own unique twist on what’s served, and this is a meal worth waiting all year for.
Looking for more food traditions? Read our guide on New Year's Eve food traditions from around the world.
9. Eating Sticky Foods
Speaking of delicacies, there are specific foods that are always enjoyed on New Year’s Eve. Aside from the famous family feast, Filipinos eat sticky foods like rice cakes and noodles. These are all from the Chinese tradition, and they’re said to represent good luck in the new year.
While most families cook their own sticky foods, there are also a lot of take-out and catering options from local restaurants. This is their busiest time of the year, and they usually create special menus to honor the holiday.
10. Avoid Chicken and Fish
Chicken and fish are a big part of Filipino culture, but not during the New Year. While some foods bring luck (like sticky rice), others have the opposite effect. In the Philippines, chicken and fish dishes aren’t to be enjoyed on New Year’s Eve.
Because these dishes are symbols of food scarcity, people steer clear of chicken and fish to avoid the added bad luck. While not followed by everyone, this shows the importance of food in the Philippines.
11. Full Containers
As you can see, there’s a focus on abundance and fulfillment in the Philippines New Year’s Eve tradition. One way to bring even more luck and wealth is with full containers. People fill rice and water containers in preparation for their New Year celebration. This brings a year of prosperity, according to superstition.
12. Open Doors and Windows
Finally, another Filipino tradition is to open all the doors and windows in the home. Some families also open drawers and cabinets. This is a way to welcome positive energy into the home.
While cleaning and loud noises scare away evil spirits, the openness of the home is a warm welcome to the positive spirits. Some of these spirits could be from deceased ancestors. This is one of the many ways to explore death in different cultures.
Welcome the New Year with Tradition
The more we learn about folk beliefs around the world, the closer we come as a global community. Every culture has its own way of welcoming the new. For the Philippines, that means remembering the customs and superstitions of the past.
While it’s not proven whether the number 12 or round fruits really leads to different results come January 1st, we can all agree these are fun ways to celebrate a special time of year. Anything that brings people together is worth being excited about. How do you make New Year’s Eve a unique time? What are your own family’s traditions?
If you're looking for more on new year celebrations around the world, read our guide on the Tibetan New Year, Losar.
- Makalintal, Bettina. “With a Show of Hands, Filipino-American Chefs Rekindle Kamayan Feasts.” WOSU Radio. 20 January 2018. WOSU.org.
- “New Years Belief and Traditions in the Philippines.” Expatch: Manila Expat’s Patch of the Web.” 3 January 2018. Expatch.org.
- “Why Are Filipinos so Superstitious?” Flying Ketchup. 8 June 2018. FlyingKetchup.com.