Superstitions surrounding the Chinese New Year

There are 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

Bringing In the New Year and Expelling the Old

Shooting 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.

Door Gods

During 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.

The 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 generals.

This 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.

House Cleaning

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.

Personal 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.

New 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 others.

Everyone should 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.

More 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 fortune.

While many 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.



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