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Chinese New Year Customs and Taboos

Updated on March 13, 2013

Gong Xi Fa Cai or Happy Chinese New Year

It is in Singapore that I learned Gong Xi Fa Cai is wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year, literally Wishing You a Happy New Year. I also came to know about the various traditions, customs, and taboos associated with celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year, while in Singapore. It is the most important festival in the Chinese calendar. In 2012 it begins on January 23 and the next 12 month period is known as the Year of the Dragon. Chinese New Year is celebrated in places where there are considerable Chinese populations, especially China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Tibet, Thailand, Philippines, and also in Chinatowns in other parts of the world.

Traditional red Hongbao envelopes, in which gifts of money is given to the young by the elders
Traditional red Hongbao envelopes, in which gifts of money is given to the young by the elders

Chinese New Year Taboos and Customs

Custom may be defined as a cluster of practices common to a particular group or class, or a country of people. Long established and time-honored practices and convention are considered as unwritten laws to regulate social life. Taboo, on the other hand, is outright prohibition of social act or behavior and defying taboo is usually considered objectionable or even abhorrent by society. Customs and taboos are continually evolving and thus keep changing and also vary from one society or country to another. The Chinese, as a nation value customs and taboos and these are particularly practiced during New Year celebrations.

These days for many young people, Chinese New Year is just about visiting relatives, collecting hongbao (gifts of money from elders) and eating a lot. Many of my friends admit that they are clueless when asked about the customs and traditions associated with the holiday. Some of them have helped me in compiling this list.

How much of the following are you aware of and practice?

Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in China Town, Singapore
Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in China Town, Singapore

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Chinese New Year 2012 Songs For You

Chinese New Year Traditions

  • Before the birth of the New Year, the house has to be completely cleaned. But all cleaning implements like brooms, brushes, dusters etc should be stored away. No cleaning activity is to be undertaken on New Year day as the belief is all good fortune will be swept away.
  • After the New Year Day, the floors may be swept clean in the prescribed manner. All dirt and filth must be taken out through the rear door. The Chinese believe in bursting of crackers as an auspicious way of greeting the dawn of the New Year. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, every door and all windows, have to be kept open to facilitate the exit of the old year.
  • All debts will have to be settled by the time the New Year is born. No lending activity is permitted on New Year day. Everyone should desist from using foul language and uttering inauspicious words. No reference should be made to death or matters of sorrow and narration of ghost stories is strictly forbidden.
  • None is allowed to weep on New Year day and in fact, parents will be exhorted not to beat their children for bad behavior lest they cry. Furthermore, on New Year's Day, none should wash their hair as that would imply washing away all good fortune in the coming year.
  • People are encouraged to wear red color clothing as red is a bright color and symbolizes happiness and cheer. Children and unmarried friends and relatives are gifted with red envelopes containing crisp one dollar bills.
  • Black and white colors are scrupulously avoided as these colors signify death, misfortune and ill-luck. In fact, many houses are splashed with crimson and red color is widely used in decorations, flowers and all articles of general use.
  • Use of all sharp instruments including knives and scissors is strictly prohibited on New Year Day as they will cut off good fortune. All fragile items like cups, crockery, glasses and mirrors must be handled with utmost care as any broken utensils could mean separation or death in the family. Moreover, articles like clocks, green hats, pears, handkerchiefs, umbrellas, scissors or any sharp objects are not to be given as gifts on New Year day.
  • The first meal on Chinese New Year has to be vegetarian food. Consuming meat is forbidden as slaughtering animals on this day is considered evil. Besides, it said that the Gods generally arrive in the morning of the New Year festival and most of them are vegetarians.
  • Consuming frugal meal like rice porridge on the New Year morning is not permitted as it is believed that only poor people eat rice porridge. Eating cheap food will be an invitation to poverty. The food to be served on New Year's Day is prepared in abundant quantities the day before. Consuming the excess food cooked on the eve of New Year, in the following days mean uninterrupted flow of material wealth.

We are living in the age of computers, internet and mobile phones and the youth of the present generation may be disinclined to observe these New Year customs and taboos. But, the fact remains that there is an element of fear and superstition even in most advanced societies and nobody wants to risk defying customs or disregarding taboos.

Wishing You All A Very Happy and Prosperous Chinese Lunar New Year 2012 - Gong Xi Fa Cai and don't forget to check out your 2012 Chinese Horoscope Predictions for the Year of the Dragon

Which of the above traditions do you follow?

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    • profile image

      amylia wong 

      6 years ago

      There are also taboos on the days of chinese new year whereby we are only allow to go out at certain time. Where can I find out the unlucky hours.

    • profile image

      Tgayle 

      6 years ago

      I'm trying to remember something someone told me regarding paying debts, that you write a check, before the New Year starts, to yourself indicating paid in full (can't remember what you put in for the amount)and save it for the year...it's supposed to be good luck. Have you ever heard about this?

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      6 years ago from Wales

      A great hub and thanks for sharing.

      Take care and enjoy your day.

      Eddy.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Thank you, SunSeven, for saring these Chinese New Year customs and taboos. Gee, I wish I had read this before I washed my hair this morning, New Year's Day. Hopefully, I didn't wash away ALL good fortune for the year.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for getting me in the mood for CNY. I was originally from Singapore and I really miss the festivity that comes this time of the year. Great information and rated up.

    • jeyaramd profile image

      jeyaramd 

      6 years ago from Mississauga, Ontario

      Sunseven,

      Thank you for sharing this wonderful hub on new year. It is true that we should not defy taboos. However, sometimes I wonder how many people would follow these rules meticulously. For instance, I would imagine that meat eaters may find it hard to not celebrate with meat. I would imagine that elders may ensure that these traditions are upheld. However, will future generations be so careful. Sometimes, being aware of these traditions, we may feel that if something unfortunate were to happen, that it was because of not following these traditions and taboos carefully. I know that its something that is often said in Hinduism. We have traditions for almost any event in life from the birth of a baby, to buying a new house.... the list is quite extensive. Thank you for this enlightening hub. Thankfully, we don't have any rules against hubbing on New Years Day. So, away I go. Thanks again.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Hi Sunseven,

      This is a wonderful hub. It reminds me of the customs & traditions we associate with Diwali here. A lot of them appear as superstitions in current times but when it's festival time we forget all that and stictly adhere to them.

      This is the first New year that my daughter will be celebrating in China, as she got married some months back & lives in China. I will forward a link of this hub to her.

      Thanks for sharing this info.

      Wish you too- Gong Xi Fa Cai.

      Voted up & interesting.

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