The silencing of New Year’s eve | Inquirer Opinion
Second Opinion

The silencing of New Year’s eve

/ 05:12 AM December 29, 2023

The New Year’s Eve of my childhood was a noisy, smoke-filled affair. From dusk throughout the festive night, there would be explosions in and around my grandparents’ house in San Pablo City, culminating in an hour-long, nonstop explosion of firecrackers from all the corners of the city to welcome the arrival of a new year.

I was an active participant of those celebrations. My cousins and I would spend our allowances to buy various firecrackers, which could be bought in practically every street corner, and had colorful, evocative names. There were the triangular ones, and I could still recall their names according to increasing size: “two star,” “three star,” “five star,” “thunder lolo,” “super lolo,” “pla-pla.” There was also “bawang” wrapped in some kind of fiber, the snaking “sawa” with hundreds of rounds, and our usual “finale” before midnight: a giant “whistle bomb.” Of course, there were also the fireworks: the handheld “luces,” the silver and gold “fountains,” the rotating “trompillos,” the skyrocketing “kwitis.”

Today, New Year is literally a toned-down affair in growing parts of the country. Even without statistics from the Department of Health (DOH) that reveal declining firecracker-related incidents, the silence speaks volumes; what used to be a weeks-long season of “paputok” has now been reduced to just a few days, if at all, and at least where I live in Laguna, it is only during the final hours of the year that you will hear the sound of firecrackers.

What can explain the “silencing” of the New Year?


First, the government and various sectors deserve credit for all their anti-firecracker campaigns, which has run for decades and intensified in the past several years. Known for his firecrackers ban as mayor of Davao City, former president Rodrigo Duterte passed Executive Order No. 28 s. 2017 which restricted firecracker use, and today there are renewed calls for a total nationwide ban.

But even without such laws, firecracker use has been declining for sociological reasons; just like “patintero” and “siatô,” firecrackers have given way to indoor, virtual forms of entertainment from mobile games to TikTok, especially in urban areas but increasingly elsewhere. Surely, the pandemic only hastened this decades-long trend, just as surely, economic considerations has also played a role in many families’ decisions (not) to buy firecrackers and fireworks.

Third, the centralization and mass-mediatization of New Year celebrations have diminished the family- and community-based pyrotechnics, as more people participate in New Year’s Eve countdowns in urban areas and through television. With a myriad of celebrities, ever-grander display of fireworks (and nowadays drones, too), alongside other forms of entertainment, these spectacular countdowns offer everyone a kind of revelry that is difficult to match by one’s own means.

Can changing weather patterns also be partly responsible for the dampened enthusiasm for firecrackers and fireworks? It may well just be my hazy memory but the Decembers of my childhood seemed drier and colder, and the DOH has also noted the rainy weather in the past, welcoming how it can discourage people to use firecrackers.


The tradition of New Year firecrackers comes from the Chinese, who invented gunpowder; the fireworks are intended to drive away evil spirits and bad luck, and thus usher in a prosperous new year. But as traditions go, people who participate in them do not necessarily think of the practice itself in that way; and do it for their own reasons. When we were kids, we just thought it was a fun and exciting activity.

Looking back, I can say that firecrackers created a lot of shared memories for our family. My cousins and I will always remember the New Year’s Eve when all the car alarms went off because of a giant whistle bomb; the five-star that our Tito Lorenz nearly stepped on; as well as the pla-pla we made ourselves and that our grandfather, after seeing how big it was, sheepishly suggested that we light it ourselves.


Of course, there were other traditions—like the irreplaceable “sotanghon” for our “media noche”—that will remain wit us, alongside newer (and safer) activities; novel ways of sharing, of sociality; a gathering together of families, communities, and peers to strengthen their bonds and help them make sense of the passing of time, in what anthropologist Victor Turner called “communitas.”

As a medical doctor who was on duty at the Philippine General Hospital on the New Year’s Eve of our internship, I welcome this development. It is not only the decrease in firecracker-related injuries that is good for public health, but also the reduction of asthma-inducing fumes, of panic attack-triggering explosions, and fires that may well deal more damage and injury that the firecrackers that caused them (thank God those stray bullets—one of which nearly hit our Lola Tarcila as she was brushing her teeth—have also largely disappeared).

On the other hand, as an anthropologist, I see this decline as a reminder that traditions are never “traditional” nor “static”; they evolve alongside technology, society, and the environment. Evanescent as the “baby rockets” shooting into the night are our instruments and devices, and as we enter a new year, it is worth remembering that in culture as in life, the only thing that is constant is change.


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TAGS: fireworks ban, New Year 2024, Second Opinion

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