Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A tall tale: Jumping at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve to make you grow taller

A girl jumps on New Year's Eve 2015 in Puerto Princesa, Philippines
(Gideon Lasco, 2015)
by Gideon Lasco, MD

One of the New Year traditions that are unique to the Philippines is children being made to jump up and down at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve - as high as they can - in the belief that doing so would make the kids become taller. Romulo (2013) adds: "The higher you jump, the taller you'll grow. Even the smallest children are pulled out of their bed so that they, too, can jump and grow taller."

Rod Nepumoceno, a Philippine Star columnist, writes in a January 2014 piece:

I also remember my uncles and aunties telling us gullible kids, "Hey, don't forget, at the stroke of midnight, jump as high as you can repeatedly so you'll be taller" And like a bunch of idiots, we'd jump up and down at the stroke of midnight. I didn't grow up to be as tall as Yao Ming, as I had hoped (that guy probably jumped a whole lot during Chinese New Year). But luckily, I did grow up to be reasonably tall. Well, at least tall enough to have the confidence to go out on dates without feeling too insecure about my height. My brothers and sisters were fortunate, too. But oddly, I have some cousins I jumped with who are still, er, "vertically challenged." Some of them are in their 40s now  and they're still jumping every New Year. I don't know. I'm beginning to think that this whole "jump as high as you can at midnight on New Year's Eve" routine has nothing to do with how tall you eventually become. Could it be possible that maybe, just maybe, genetics has something to do with it? Hmm…

Obviously, the idea that children can grow tall(er) just by jumping up and down on New Year's Eve is a 'tall tale'. But where did that tradition come fom? When and how did it begin? Unfortunately, this is a question that would require archival research, looking at chronicles of New Year celebrations in the past. The most that I was able to ascertain was its existence in the 1940s, as my own grandmother recounted her doing it with her brother. She recalls that "we would be asked to jump up and down by the grownups, telling us that we should do it so we would grow and become taller." My other grandmother said she has no recollection of such a practice, but my uncles and aunts do.

Regardless of the origins and history of this practice, we can learn a lot from its very existence. For instance, implicit in this tradition is the desire to grow tall, which in turn is premised on the premium that our society places on height, or tall stature. This premium is evidenced by many other things we can observe in everyday life, such as height requirements for various jobs, and the proliferation of growth supplements that glorify height (i.e. "Height is Might") and reify the importance of height in society through imagery that invokes basketball, the "tall man's game" that also happens to be the Philippines' national sport (Antolihao, 2010).

Genetics, nutrition, quality of life, and the presence/absence of childhood diseases: these are the factors that have been shown to affect final, adult height. But just like health itself, these things have social determinants, making height itself a function of economics, both on the macro-scale and the micro-scale - though of course there are exceptions: not all rich people are tall, and not all poor people are short. Still, height, by representing these things, acquires a symbolic value that makes tall people "may dating" (with impact) - furthering the social value of both height and its bearer. This is a theme that I am pursuing in my research and I will have more to say about this in the coming months and years.

Going back to the children jumping during the New Year, I wonder if it is height itself that grows taller in the tradition; that is, it the notion of height as an important attribute of the body that gets highlighted, reinforced, and reified by the process of its pursuit. On the other hand, the young people themselves, when I talk to them, do not seem convinced that the jumping will make themselves grow tall. Perhaps they do it because "wala namang mawawala" (there is nothing to lose). Indeed, for children whose heights and fortunes are not yet final, there is nothing to lose and much -- a few more inches -- to gain.

REFERENCES

Antolihao, L. (2010). Rooting for the Underdog Spectatorship and Subalternity in Philippine Basketball. Philippine Studies, 449-480.

Romulo, L. (2013). Filipino Celebrations: A Treasury of Feasts and Festivals. 

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