Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Eve was serious business, back then.

A few hours ago I fought off sleep in the middle of Mall of Asia's Seaside Boulevard, hoping to get my retinas burned with dazzling colors of fireworks against the night sky. Yes, watching the fireworks in the midnight sky was fun (the highest point being the presence of the Hare Krishnas, but that's another story), but it was a highly commercialized, watered-down, good-for-all-ages kind of fun. The whole 2009 countdown event even bordered on slightly disappointing, despite the purty colors.

What happened to New Year's Eve? Several years ago, the holiday was most vividly defined with loud explosions and the rashness (and stupidity) of both the youth and the drunken elders. This particular celebration, for my younger self, was mainly a test of utter endurance: I would cover both my ears with my hands immediately upon nightfall, and not take them off until media noche. My elbows would be slightly numb by then.

The New Year's Eves of my youth were no laughing matter, especially for young men. It was a rite of passage of male teenagers when contests of who can hold lit up rebintadors for the longest length of time ensue, usually with bloody results and free media mileage courtesy of Noli de Castro and the New Year's special of Magandang Gabi, Bayan. The graphic images of firecracker casualties aired in free television was a non-verbal statement that the government back then condoned such acts of sheer stupid, yet macho, bravado.

The turn of the year back then was serious business. Serious, visceral business. The actual festivities and midnight meals were only second to the then-honored ritual of lighting powerful firecrackers with bare hands, playing dangerous Filipino street versions of Russian roulette where kids get a rebintador instead of a gun, and a handful of seconds to serve as odds between getting their fingers blown off or have them intact for another day (or hour).

The practice seemed like natural selection done half-assedly, but it sure did deliver some permanent lessons swiftly and surely; lessons like the fact that there's really no reason to hold the goddamn firecracker for more than two seconds after lighting the fuse.

But those days are long gone. Thanks to coddling by the media and the authorities, most of the today's kids are left with lighting a few sticks of roman candles, fountains, and lusis. Firecracker explosions are not as noisy as before; people don't light as much firecrackers as before. Filipinos have gradually taken to adapting a safer, yet boring and non-committal way of ushering in the New Year, usually by watching elaborate and colorful lights in the sky for free courtesy of a certain big mall chain. Wonderful, yes, but nothing that quickens the blood or invites the spirit of schadenfreude.

Tl;dr, New Years Eve celebrations aren't as hot-blooded as before. Now excuse me while I tend to my burnt finger.