With Chinese New Year beckoning, we thought it would be helpful to share some long-standing superstitions and taboos - funnelled down through generations of Chinese wisdom - so that you can set the right tone for the Year of the Rat! Many believe it is important to ‘get things right’ on the first day of the New Year because it is said to define the entire year ahead. Take it how you like - whether as folklore or advice, and let’s dive right in!
1. Wear something colourful
If you happen to wear white on New Year’s day, be prepared to find elders giving you an odd look - there is a good reason for that. In traditional Chinese culture, wearing all-white (or all-black) is often reserved for funerals so many believe it is a bad omen - a symbol of loss and mourning, if white is worn on New Year’s day. Yikes!
2. Wash your clothes or hair on another day!
Did you know the first two days of the Chinese lunar year are celebrated as the birthday of the ‘God of water’ (水神)? Little known as a sign of respect and worship, people tend to avoid washing their clothes until the third day of the New Year.
Then there’s another story behind why elders often warn us not to wash our hair on the first day of the New Year. ‘Hair’ in Chinese (髮, ‘fa’) is pronounced the same way as ‘wealth’ (發, also ‘fa’) - hence ‘washing hair’ would naturally sound like ‘washing away your wealth’ - symbolising a depletion of wealth in the entire year ahead. Not. Ideal.
Words and phrases with a negative meaning tend to be avoided by most in the first four days of the New Year. After all, nobody would want to start the year talking about loss, sickness or suffering - this reflects bad luck for the coming year.
If children happen to use these words by accident, as an adult, take the time to say ‘童言無忌’ (‘tung yin mo gei’) - this means “pardon the child - he does not mean any ill will”.
4. Break it!
In some parts of China, you’ll find those that are ill breaking clay pots containing medicinal herbs or ointments when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s day. A tradition thought to drive out ill health for the year ahead, don’t be alarmed if you hear the sound of pots and pans breaking in the middle of the night!
It is also a taboo to brew herbal medicine or take medicine in the new year - believed to mean one will have to take medicine or be ill for the coming year.
5. Be good today, children
Children cry all the time - whether they want food, want to play or want to go to bed. The cries of children in the New Year, however, mean so much more than just that - many believe this goes as far as to mean misfortune and bad luck for the entire family in the New Year!
Which is why parents tend to do everything in their power to keep their children happy on New Year’s day - red packets, fancy toys, sweets and all that jazz. Sound familiar?
These are just a few of the sheer variety of slightly peculiar Chinese traditions. The list goes on and on - ultimately, we only hope that everyone has an enjoyable, safe and happy Chinese New Year with your loved ones. Warmest wishes and blessings to you for the Year of the Rat!