Traditions and Taboos during Chinese New Years

As a foreigner, it might be bewildering to see all the complicated “dos and don’ts” in Chinese New Year. Here is a good help!

chinese-near-year

 

Chinese New Year, or say Spring Festival, is the most important festival in Chinese culture countries, like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, China and Singapore. If you happen to be there or even stay with a Chinese family at that time, this is a great help for you to “correctly” celebrate this festival and avoid many taboos.

New Year Eve
(除夕)
chú xī
1st
CNY Day
(初一)
chū yī
2nd
CNY Day
(初二)
chū èr
3rd
CNY Day
(初三)
chū sān
4th
CNY Day
(初四)
chū sì
5th
CNY Day
(初五)
chū wǔ
Family Reunion Dinner
(年夜飯)
nián yè fàn
Visit temples
(拜拜)
bài bài
Married Daughters Back
(回娘家)
huí niáng jiā
Rats’ Wedding
(老鼠娶親)
lǎo shǔ qǔ qīn
Welcome Gods home
(接神)
jiē shén
Worship God of Fortune
(迎財神)
yíng cái shén
Staying Up Late
(守歲)
shǒu suì
Grand Family Reunion Go to bed early Dump trash out
No washing hair
No taking nap
No porridge or meat as breakfast
No traveling faraway No waking up late
No laundry
No cooking
No sweeping
No dumping the trash
No using scissors and needles
No lending or borrowing money
No quarreling and cursing
No visiting hospital
No scolding children
No unlucky words
No cutting hair

As the legend said, an ancient monster called Nian (年, nián), which means “year” literally, used to eat humans, espeacially the kids, on the New Year Eve. Then a wise old man found ways to expel Nian by making loud noises, sparkling light and red decorations. Those ways of protection led to how Chinese New Year is celebrated nowadays.

Preparation


Chinese New Year (CNY) marks the beginning of a new year which everyone for sure wish it to be a good one. So it is very important to make a good preparation for it, inclusive of buying new clothes, new shoes, having a haircut, washing cars and scooters, thoroughly cleaning the house. Those tasks could take up 2-3 weeks of time. Then you can start enjoy the joyful Chinese New Year.

New Year’s Eve – Reunion Dinner


The first CNY event is the Family Reunion Dinner (年夜飯, pinyin: nián yè fàn). Everyone in the family, no matter how far away home he or she lives, must come back for this dinner. It is even the only family gathering for the whole year for some families. Every member of the family starts the CNY off right with new clothes. From head to toe, all clothes and accessories worn on CNY’s days should be brand new. After the Family Reunion Dinner, all the entertainments are out to light up the “whole” night. Staying up late on the New Year Eve is a custom called Shou-shui (守歲, shǒu suì), which is believed to increase the longevity of life. Young teens have also got a good excuse of bringing longevity for their parents by playing video games, cards, board games or chatting all night long. Many opt to wear lucky red underwear especially when battling on the Mahjong table.

1st CNY Day – Temple Visit


1st CNY day is the good timing to visit temples to venerate Gods for good luck throughout the coming year. A popular activity in Taiwan is to compete to be the first one to plant the incense in the incense burner, which they believe to be the most blessed if they make it. Temples are the best recommended places for you to enjoy the atmosphere on this day.

Taboos on 1st CNY Day:

  • Avoid eating porridge and keeping vegetarian diet in the 1st CNY day’s morning are believed to bringing the good luck for the coming year.
  • No washing your hair or you may wash away the good luck by offending the God of Water.

2nd CNY Day – Married Daughters Back


The 2nd CNY day (回娘家, pinyin: huí niáng jiā) is for the married daughters to visit their birth parents and relatives. Traditionally, married women are not allowed to go back to their birth families frequently. This day is also the rare noisy and boisterous day in many quiet village because all the married daughters return home with their own families.

 

3rd CNY Day – Rats’ Wedding


3rd CNY day is called “Rats’ Wedding” (老鼠娶親, pinyin: lǎo shǔ qǔ qīn) that all the rats leave some rice and salt everywhere in the house, symbolizing abundant food for the year, when holding the wedding. People are suggested not to go out to travel or visit friend and should sleep early in order not to disturb the wedding of house rats. Although this tradition sounds like a fairy tale, it is indeed helpful because everyone must be very tired so far after preparing and running the Chinese New Year.

Taboos on 3rd CNY Day:

  • No traveling faraway and should sleep early for the rats to bring the salt and rice, symbols of wealth, home.

4th CNY Day – Welcome Gods Home


4th CNY day is for welcoming Gods home on this day after those Gods bring the year evaluation of the family back to heaven 5 days before the New Year’s Eve and enjoy their vacation until the 4 CNY day. People lit fireworks and prepare food, like candies and fruit, to make the atmosphere happy for ushering Gods back home.

Taboos on 4th CNY Day:

  • No going to bed late.

5th CNY Day – God of Wealth’s Birthday


This day is the God of Wealth’s birthday and also the first day of working for the most people. Most stores, restaurants and shops worships the God of Wealth and lit firecrackers to mark the brilliant first business day. This day is also the to clear out all the trash of the last 4 CNY days, which is believed as dumping the poverty out.

General Taboos


  • No having a haircut = signs of cutting the longevity of life
  • No more cleaning or sweeping = signs of sweeping out the good fortune
  • No quarreling, swearing and cursing = signs of ruining the lucky atmosphere
  • No scolding children = crying children scare away good luck
  • No unluck words (Esp, death or poverty) = signs of bringing bad luck
  • No visiting hospital = avoid the atmosphere of illness
  • No using sharp objects like scissors and needles = avoid dangerousness
  • Any debts owed to anybody should be paid off before Chinese New Year. Besides, lending or borrowing money should also be avoided. Debts during Chinese New Year is inauspicious to both the debtors and creditors.
  • No cooking during the CNY because the god of fire is also out for celebrating this festival. It is a favorable omen to eat the leftovers of the reunion dinner on the New Year’s Eve as breakfast, which forebodes that people always have more than they need.