surrounding the Chinese New Year
innumerable superstitions and practices surrounding the
Chinese New Year. Some of them have been passed down the
centuries from one generation to the other where as some
are recent additions. Although most of them symbolically
signify bringing in the new year and expelling the old,
many have relevant practical implications as well
In the New Year and Expelling the Old
off firecrackers on New Year's Eve is the Chinese way of
sending out the old year and welcoming in the New Year.
On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, every door
in the house, and even windows, have to be open to allow
the old year to go out.
the build up to Chinese New Year Door Gods are placed on
the external doors of houses. This is an age of
tradition dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907
AD). The Emperor Taizong is said to have fallen ill, and
had a dream in which ghosts came to the palace in search
for him. He recounted this tale to his officials the
next day, and the story quickly spread through the
Imperial Court - such matters were not taken lightly.
The emperors top two generals, Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong,
both of whom had fought to establish the Tang dynasty
stood guard outside the emperor's bedroom door.
emperor slept soundly in the knowledge that he was
protected by these two generals, and had no further
dreams of the ghosts. However, after a few nights the
emperor became concerned for the generals. He ordered
that two paintings be
made, one of each general. Once completed, the emperor
had these hung on the door to his room, and relieved the
tale soon became widely known, and in their eagerness to
share the protection of these "Door Gods" the
common people made their own paintings and placed them
on their doors. the tradition has continued ever since.
The entire house
should be cleaned before New Year's Day. On New Year's
Eve, all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and other
cleaning equipment are put away. Sweeping or dusting
should not be done on New Year's Day for fear that good
fortune will be swept away. After New Year's Day, the
floors may be swept. Beginning at the door, the dust and
rubbish are swept to the middle of the parlor, then
placed in the corners and not taken or thrown out until
the fifth day. At no time should the rubbish in the
corners be trampled upon. In sweeping, there is a
superstition that if you sweep the dirt out over the
threshold, you will sweep one of the family away. Also,
to sweep the dust and dirt out of your house by the
front entrance is to sweep away the good fortune of the
family; it must always be swept inwards and then carried
out, then no harm will follow. All dirt and rubbish must
be taken out the back door.
Appearance and Cleanliness
On New Year's
Day, we are not suppose to wash our hair because it
would mean we would have washed away good luck for the
New Year. Red clothing is preferred during this festive
occasion. Red is considered a bright, happy color, sure
to bring the wearer a sunny and bright future. It is
believed that appearance and attitude during New Year's
sets the tone for the rest of the year. Children and
unmarried friends, as well as close relatives are given
lai see, little red envelopes with crisp one dollar
bills inserted, for good fortune.
Year Activities Set Precendent
All debts had to
paid by this time. Nothing should be lent on this day,
as anyone who does so will be lending
all the year. Back when tinder and flint were used, no
one would lend them on this day or give a light to
refrain from using foul language and bad or unlucky
words. Negative terms and the word "four" (Ssu),
which sounds like the word for death, are not to be
uttered. Death and dying are never mentioned and ghost
stories are totally taboo. References to the past year
are also avoided as everything should be turned toward
the New Year and a new beginning.
If you cry on New
Year's day, you will cry all through the year.
Therefore, children are tolerated and are not spanked,
even though they are mischievous.
New Year Superstitions
For those most
superstitious, before leaving the house to call on
others, the Almanac should be consulted to find the best
time to leave the home and the direction which is most
auspicious to head out.
The first person
one meets and the first words heard are significant as
to what the fortunes would be for the entire year. It is
a lucky sign to see or hear songbirds or red-colored
birds or swallows.
It is considered
unlucky to greet anyone in their bedroom so that is why
everyone, even the sick, should get dressed and sit in
the living room.
Do not use knives
or scissors on New Year's Day as this may cut off
Chinese people today may not believe in these do's and
don'ts, these traditions and customs are still
practiced. These traditions and customs are kept because
most families realize that it is these very traditions,
whether believed or not, that provide continuity with
the past and provide the family with an identity.