These insights into Chinese folk taboos at Chinese New Year are provided by our Confucius Institute teacher Wang Qixia
It is well known that the Spring Festival is the most important festival in China. At the beginning of the lunar year, Chinese people consider the things that happen during the Spring Festival to be good or bad signs for the entire coming year. Therefore, people are extremely cautious about their words and deeds to avoid bringing bad luck. Most people are aware that such folk taboos and superstitions are not scientific. However, they carry the wishes of Chinese people to pray for good and avoid evil. Below are some folk taboos during the Spring Festival. Some are pervasive throughout the festival, others are just for a certain day.
The pervasive taboos:
- Don’t say unlucky words like “death”, “illness” or “loss” because if you use these words during the festival, they will follow you the whole year.
- Don’t break porcelain or glass.
- Don’t scold children. If you scold your kids during the Spring Festival, they will become naughty and will need to be scolded for the whole year.
- Don’t grieve or you will be sad all the time.
- Do not get your hair cut. It is considered a curse on your uncle.
- Don’t press for payment of debt.
On New Year’s eve:
- Do not eat fish head or tail. “Fish” has the same pronunciation as “abundance” in Chinese, so if you leave some fish on New Year’s Eve till the next day, it means you will always have enough wealth to spend for the next year. Similarly, your rice jar should not be empty on New Year’s Eve. It should be full to ensure that you will not encounter any hunger next year.
- You are not supposed to go to bed early on New Year’s Eve. On the contrary, you should stay up late and alert in order to keep the “Sui” monster away.
On the first day of the lunar year:
Chinese people consider New Year’s Day a very important day. There are many taboos on this day.
- No washing clothes or hair or bathing. The first and second day of the lunar year is the birthday of the “Water God”, so you are not supposed to use water to show respect for the Water God.
- No sweeping the floor or taking out rubbish. If you do so, you are carrying your fortune out.
- No eating porridge. In old times, only poor families would eat porridge, so in order to gather wealth in the coming year, do not eat porridge.
- Do not urge someone to get out of bed. If you are urged out of bed on the first morning, it means that you will be rushed the whole year.
- Do not give New Year’s greetings to someone still in the bed. Doing so might lead to that person lying in bed sick for the whole year.
- Avoid using needles, knives or scissors on the first day. These items may cause bleeding. Blood is considered unlucky.
- Do not take an afternoon nap. Napping on New Year’s Day indicates laziness for the next year.
- Married women are not supposed to visit their parents’ home. They can only go there on the second or the third day.
- When giving lucky money as a gift, the amount should be an even number rather than an odd number. Even numbers are supposed to be lucky numbers.
- Younger people should bow to older people, and when they do so, the posture of their hands is very important. The left hand should cover the right fist as “left” was supposed to be more respectful in ancient China. The opposite posture is used to show respect to the dead.
On the fourth day of the lunar year:
The fourth day is the day when the Kitchen God returns to one’s house. People are not supposed to go out on that day. They should stay at home to prepare sacrificial offerings to welcome the Kitchen God back. See our story on the Kitchen God at:https://www.confuciusinstitute.ac.uk/fortune-god-kitchen-god-door-god/
On the fifth day of the lunar year:
Only from the fifth day of the New Year are people finally allowed to take out rubbish and sweep the floors. On this day, the rubbish and dust turn into “symbols of poverty”, so cleaning the house means to expel “poverty”. On this day, people are also supposed to receive the God of Fortune, so traders worship the God of Fortune and reopen their businesses.