Binondo, Manila: Welcoming The Year Of The Water Snake

Chinatown Binondo Manila Chinese New Year 2013

Binondo reigns as the oldest Chinatown on  the face of the planet. Since it was established in 1594, the district has been home to our fellow Chinese Filipino brothers and sisters. Until today, the community still practices the ancient customs, and celebrates traditional festivities like the most important Chinese holiday, the Chinese New Year. This was my visit to the epicenter of the celebration to join the party as we welcome the Year of the Water Snake.

Chinatown Binondo Manila Chinese New Year 2013Everyone has their own way of celebrating the occasion.

Ongpin Street was jam-packed with locals and tourist, kids and adults, families and friends, Chinese and non-Chinese, many clad in red. Each one, including me, was driven to Binondo by the sole purpose of taking part in celebrating the first day of the Chinese calendar. Everyone looking forward to a prosperous year ahead.

Good luck charms Chinatown Binondo Manila Chinese New Year 2013Charms, bracelets, and a feng shui gong believed to bring good fortune.

Puppet lion Chinatown Binondo Manila Chinese New Year 2013
A Chinese Lion string marionette (string puppet).

Makeshift stalls selling lucky charms lined up along the busy streets of Chinatown. These fascinating items such as colorful bracelets, pendants, animal figurines, and feng shui gongs are believed to bring fortune, longevity, and good luck to its bearer. Boxes of Niángāo, or what we locally call as, Tikoy, are best-sellers in Binondo during this time of the year. According to feng shui, eating the New Year Cake on Chinese New Year strengthens family ties due to the delicacy’s sticky quality.

Man roasting chestnuts in Binondo ChinatownMan roasting chestnuts in Ongpin Street.

The ensemble of loud drum beats and clashing cymbals lead me to a narrow side street where I found a cluster of spectators flocked around a Lion Dance. Binondo’s visitors were spellbound by the music bouncing on the walls, and were enthralled with graceful movements of the “lion”. My adrenalin instantly pumped as I squeezed myself to get a front row seat to watch a heart-pounding display of coordination, agility, and motion, which reminded me of the movie, “Once Upon A Time in China III”.

Lion Dance in Chinatown Binondo Manila 2013Lion dance in Chinatown.

Gongs and drums in Lion Dance Binondo ChinatownDrum and cymbal ensemble accompanying the Lion Dance.

During the Chinese New Year, Lion Dances are performed to fend off bad spirits and misfortunes for the coming year. A two-man team dressed in a lion costume, one on the head, the other on the tail, mimics the movements of a lion in sync to the sound of the drum and cymbal. Steps in the traditional movements derived from kung fu which requires agile movements and superior balance.

Red Lion Costume in Binondo Chinatown ManilaRed lions representing courage smiles for the camera.

Kids at Binondo Chinatown Chinese New YearA kid watching the movement of the orange or golden lions which symbolize liveliness.

Leaders of the Chinese Filipino community, Manila’s government officials spearheaded by Mayor Alfred Lim, representatives from schools in the Binondo district, and locals gather at Plaza San Ruiz, right in front of Binondo Church, to commence the Chinese New Year parade with a public address. At the end of the speech, local and visiting spectators forced themselves towards the stage to get a free box of Tikoy given by event organizers.

 Mayor Lim giving tikoy Chinese New Year Binondo Manila ChinatownA lady gave up on the free tikoy’s given by Mayor Lim and Chinese Filipino community leaders.

 Shortly after,  the parade began with a Dragon Dance performed by members of the Ming Sheng Wushu Association on the lead. Dragons, in traditional Chinese culture, display power, dignity, and wisdom. Just like the Lion Dance, a group of performers give life to symbolic creature through fluidity in movement.

Dragon Dance by the Ming Sheng Wushu Association Chinatown BinondoDragon Dance performed by the Ming Sheng Wushu Association.

Dragon in Chinatown Binondo ManilaYield! Dragon crossing.

Lion dancers in ChinatownThe lions trail behind the dragon.

The parade started and ended at Plaza San Ruiz. Also participating on the festive march were high school students from St. Stephen and Philippine Cultural College, lovely representatives of Miss Chinatown Philippines, and a full-marching band wearing yellow shirts. During the parade, street side watchers scrambled to get candies thrown by event officials and political leaders.

Miss Chinatown Binondo New YearAnother legit reason to visit Binondo during Chinese New Year.

Binondo Chinatown Chinese New YearManila Mayor Alfredo Lim and supporters showering Ongpin Street with sweets.

This 2013 Year of the Snake marks the first time I joined the activity-filled celebration in Binondo (I didn’t consider my former visit to Binondo because it was almost the end of the celebration). The whole district came alive with the colorful tradition clearly evident in every corner, wall, shop, street, store, and houses of the oldest Chinatown. Let us all look forward to a lucky, prosperous, and progressive  new year for ourselves, for the country, and for the world.

Gong Xi Fa Cai, Gong Hey Fat Choy, 恭禧发财, 恭禧發財 to all Chinese Filipinos and the Chinese community all over the world. Welcome YEAR OF THE SNAKE.


Here are some fast facts that may help you on your trip:

1. I took the LRT-LRT route going to Binondo. LRT-2 to Recto Station and transferred to LRT-1 from Doroteo Jose until the next stop, Carriedo Station. From there, it’s a short 5-minute walk towards Sta. Cruz Church. You could see Ongpin Street’s Arch of Good Will.

2. Similarly, if you’re coming from EDSA, you may take MRT bound for Pasay-Taft Station, and then transfer to LRT 1 to Carriedo.

3. P15.00 is the maximum fare in LRT.

4. Difference between a dragon dance and a lion dance. Lion dancers are composed of two persons, while dragon dancers have many performers.

5. More Singapore destinations in Biyaheng Manila

6. Like Biyaherong Barat on Facebook.

7. Follow @BiyaherongBarat on Twitter

8. Happy travels everyone.

9. Happy Chinese New Year.

Lion Dances in Binondo

6 thoughts on “Binondo, Manila: Welcoming The Year Of The Water Snake

    • Kung Hei Fat Choi Sir Jay,

      Maraming salamat po. Sunday po yata ako pumunta dito. Saya ng celebration at the same time sarap din mag-shoot.

      I saw your blog. You have great shots also, Sir Jay. More power po.

  1. Thanks for writing about the Chinese New Year at Manila Chinatown. It was well written, the color and excitement of this annual event. Thanks for featuring our association, Ming Sheng Wushu Association, it makes us proud to be part of the parade. Again thank you. See you again next year.

    • Hi Arnold,

      Thank you very much. I’m so glad you like my post about the event. It was a great festival, certainly I’d be back next year. Hope to see your group again. Congratulations. =)

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