Did You Know?: 10 Bizarre Chinese New Year Superstitions
Each culture has its own set of taboos and superstitions. In the West, it is considered unlucky to walk under a ladder, and Friday the 13th is a dreaded date. As the Year of the Snake approaches, let us take a look at some crazy Chinese New Year superstitions that will boggle your mind.
1. No cleaning
Spring cleaning should occur before New Year’s Day but never on it. Cleaning sweeps away back luck from the past year and evil spirits hovering in the house. So prior to the New Year, we should get rid of the mountains of last year’s notes to pave the way for a good semester. However, any sweeping done on New Year’s Day would sweep our good fortune away with it, so dust and rubbish should be swept into corners instead! Also, beware: if you sweep dirt out of the threshold, you will sweep one of your family members away. Instead, sweep inwards and carry dirt out (through the back door of course!) and no harm will be done.
2. No swearing
According to beliefs, what happens on New Year’s Eve sets precedence for the rest of the year. Foul language, unlucky words (especially the use of the number ‘4’ or its derivatives) and things pertaining to death should not be mentioned. So if you’ve lost all your ang pao money gambling with your relatives, remember to hold your tongue! You wouldn’t want to invite even more bad luck, would you?
3. No crying
Related to the above, it is believed that if you cry on New Year’s Day, you will cry throughout the year. This means that your bratty cousins can do whatever they want and get away with. Who would want their child to cry for an entire year? Be forewarned: you do not want to be caught making a kid cry no matter what wrong they’ve done. Your relatives would not be pleased to be saddled with a screaming child for a year, and your ang pao from them may mysteriously disappear next year!
4. No books
In Mandarin, books are a homophone to “lose”, as such books are banned during the New Year. There is no ban on reading though, so if you want to use the time otherwise spent eating goodies, gossiping and watching Hong Kong movies on TV by catching up on your school work, feel free to do so! Though if I were you, I would steer clear from the mah-jong and blackjack tables while doing so. You wouldn’t want to be accused for causing your relatives to lose!
5. Pay all debts
Speaking of debts, all debts must be paid by the first day of the New Year. Also, nothing should be lent on this day, or you will be lending for the rest of the year. So remember to spring clean your bedroom! You’d be surprised at the amount of stuff you unearth that isn’t yours.
6. No sitting in bedrooms
Some would argue: why bother cleaning your bedroom if no one is going to see it anyway? According to superstition, it is unlucky to meet anyone in their bedroom, so everyone (including babies and the sick) are made to dress up and sit in the living room. As such, hiding out from pesky relatives in your bedroom is a big no-no. Suck it up and hustle to the living room with everyone
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else! At least you’ll have your notes to hide behind.
7. Do stay up late
The Chinese believe that children must stay up late on New Year’s Eve to “guard the years” for their parents. This practice, called shou shui, states that the later the child sleeps, the longer their parents will live. Luckily for our parents, we university students have had lots of practise while preparing for our projects and finals.
8. No washing hair
Yes you read right! It is bad luck to wash your hair on the first day of the New Year! Washing your hair would also wash away your good fortune. However, having to choose between clean hair and good luck, I would definitely choose the former. If you feel differently, feel free to channel your inner Professor Snape in the Year of the Snake!
9. Even Steven
Gifts of candies, oranges and money should be in even numbers, and preferably incorporating the number 8 (which sounds like prosperity in Mandarin). However, do remember to avoid the number 4 and its derivatives (see point 2)!
10. Protect yourself
Legend has it that there are 12 generals appointed by the heavens that take turns governing the mortal world each year. Those whose astrological sign matches the appointed general of the year may offend the Taisui of the current year. For example, if you’re a snake and this is a snake year, you should be extra cautious. You’ve been warned: remember to stay safe!
By: Charlotte Lim
Edited by: Nitya Chawla