Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chinese New Year Customs and Taboos

Chinese Lunar New Year 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

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 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:)

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