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6 Surprising Taboos for Chinese New Year

Feb. 11, 2015
Chinese taboos for Spring Festival

The Spring Festival is fast approaching and Chinese people are looking forward to enjoying themselves. However, the Spring Festival is not just a festive, carefree time, there are also many superstitions, or taboos, which you should pay attention to. As a significant part of Chinese traditional culture, these taboos show people’s hope of fending off disasters and misfortunes while bringing in good luck in the coming year. So, how much do you know about these taboos?

1. Don’t break any bowls or plates.
Bear in mind that you should be rather careful and avoid breaking fragile items like cups, glasses, plates, bowls, etc. Otherwise, it is believed that your luck will be “broken” in the coming year. If it does happen, people around have to remedy the situation by immediately saying several auspicious phrases, such as “碎碎平安(suìsuì píng’ān) safe and sound every year” and “落地开花, 富贵荣华(luòdì kāihuā, fùguì rónghuá) a broken thing is like a blooming flower, symbolizing wealth, honor and splendor.” In Chinese, “碎(suì) broken” and “岁(suì) year” are homophones. Also, “花(huā) flower” rhymes with “华(huá) splendor.”

2. Pass on the porridge.
In the past, only the poor ate porridge, so nowadays it is believed that eating porridge is a symbol of poverty. This means if you eat porridge on the first day of the Spring Festival, you may live a poor life in the future. Thus, Chinese people will have rice for breakfast on the first day, which is believed to bring them a rich life.

3. Don’t wash your hair or do the laundry.
The first and second days of the Spring Festival are reserved for the birthday of the Water God, so you can’t wash clothes these two days. What’s more, it is considered that washing hair or clothes will wash away your fortune and luck in making money.

4. Don’t use scissors or do needlework.
The reason for this is that the scissors would cut off the road to fortune, making it bad luck to do needlework on the first day of Spring Festival.

5. Don’t utter inauspicious words.
Words like “死() die,” “输(shū) lose,” and “穷(qióng) poor,” to name a few, are taboo. Should a child absentmindedly utter one of these unlucky words, adults around him or her should say “童言无忌(tóngyán wújì),” meaning “Please take no offense to a child’s babbling” or “Children just say what they like.”

6. Save the Spring cleaning for later.
Chinese people don’t do the cleaning during the Spring Festival since they think that it would clean their fortunes or luck away. People also believe that it is easy to pour out dirty things onto the gods, which would certainly annoy them and lead to disaster or bad fortune. If you really need to sweep the floor, you should start from the door and sweep toward the inside, avoiding sweeping luck away.

Examples1

Lín Míng: Ā! Wǎn diào dìshàng le!
林    明:  啊!碗      掉    地上      了!
Lin Ming: Oops, the bowl is broken!

Nǎinai: Méishì méishì, suìsuì píng’ān, suìsuì píng’ān.
奶奶:   没事     没事,  碎碎    平安,      碎碎    平安。
Grandma: Oh, that’s fine. Safe and sound every year, safe and sound every year.

Example2

Zhāng Lín: Māma, wǒ jīntiān zǎoshang xiǎng hēzhōu.
张         琳: 妈妈, 我  今天       早上            想        喝粥。
Zhang Lin: Mom, I want to eat porridge this morning.

Māma: Jīntiān shì dàniánchūyī, zǎoshang bùnéng hēzhōu.
妈妈:   今天    是    大年初一,     早上           不能         喝粥。
Mum: It is the first day of the Spring Festival. You can’t eat porridge.

Zhāng Lín: Wèishénme ne?
张         琳:  为什么           呢?
Zhang Lin: Why?

Māma: Guòqù qióngrén cái hēzhōu, suǒyǐ dàniánchūyì zǎoshang hēzhōu bùjílì  o.
妈妈:   过去      穷人         才    喝粥,     所以     大年初一      早上           喝粥   不吉利 哦
Mum: In the past, only the poor ate porridge, so it is unlucky to eat it on the first day.

Example3

Zhāng Míng: Lǎopo, wǒ yīfu shàng de kòuzi diào le, nǐ gěi wǒ féngyíxià ba?
张         明:     老婆,  我 衣服   上       的   扣子   掉   了,你 给  我   缝一下    吧?
Zhang Ming: Honey, a button has come off my coat. Can you sew it on for me?

Lǐ Yù: Jīntiān niánchūyì bùnéng yòng jiǎndāo hé zhēnxiàn, huì bǎ cáiyùn jiǎnduàn de. Guòliǎngtiān
李玉:今天      年初一        不能          用      剪刀     和   针线,      会    把   财运     剪断         的。   过两天
wǒ zài bǔ ba.
我  再  补 吧。
Li Yu: Today is the first day of  Spring Festival, so I can’t do needlework. It will cut off our luck in making money. I will do it in a few days.

Example2

Wáng Dān: Mā, nǐ bǎ sàozhou fàng nǎér le? Wǒ yào sǎoyíxià fángjiān.
王        丹:   妈,你 把   扫帚         放     哪儿 了?我  要       扫一下   房间。
Wang Dan: Mom, where did you put the broom? I want to clean my room.

Māma: Jīntiān bùnéng sǎodì de, suǒyǐ wǒ bǎ sàozhou cángqǐlái le.
妈妈:  今天      不能       扫地  的,  所以  我  把    扫帚          藏起来  了。
Mum: We can’t sweep the floor today, so I hid it away.

Wáng Dān: Zěnmele?
王         丹:   怎么了?
Wang Dan: Why?

Māma: Dàniánchūyī sǎodì huì bǎ cáiyùn sǎozǒu de.
妈妈:  大年初一         扫地    会  把   财运      扫走      的。
Mum: Sweeping the floor on the first day of the Spring Festival will sweep away our luck in making money.

One more interesting thing is that you will find everything is red during the Spring Festival, such as red lanterns, red couplets around doorways, red clothes, and so on. Black and white are taboos because they stand for funerals and bad luck. There are actually many more Chinese New Year’s Day taboos than what have been mentioned above, but no matter what, they all show Chinese people’s hope for a wealthy, healthy and promising year!

Quiz

1. Which is not a taboo on the first day of Spring Festival?

A. Clean the house.

B. Do the laundry.

C. Go shopping.

2. If a kid carelessly says “它死了(tā sǐ le) It is dead” during the Spring Festival, what should people around him say?

A. “碎碎平安(suìsuì píng’ān).”

B. “童言无忌(tóngyán wújì).”

C. “落地开花, 富贵荣华(luòdì kāihuā, fùguì rónghuá).”

3. Why do Chinese people have rice for breakfast on the first day of the Spring Festival?

A. Because it symbolizes wealth.

B. Because it symbolizes health.

C. Because it symbolizes progress.

See Answers

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