Chinese New Year may be a time for friends, family, and fun, but it is also a time for foreboding as the festival is riddled with superstitions. Innocent tasks like sweeping the floor or using scissors during the Lunar New Year celebrations may bring about a year of bad luck, so you should protect yourself against malign spirits and misfortune. Even if you aren't a superstitious person, it's best to be familiar with the most popular customs before celebrating Chinese New Year to avoid any cultural faux pas.
Don't Touch Your Cleaning Supplies
If you planned to use the holiday as a chance to catch up on long-delayed tidying up, think again. Cleaning out the house, sweeping away dirt, and taking out the garbage are strictly forbidden on the day of the Lunar New Year, as are washing your clothes and even your hair. Chinese folklore says that cleaning out the house is tantamount to cleaning out your fortune and potential wealth for the year. So take a day off from cleaning and put your feet up, relax, and simply enjoy the celebrations.
While cleaning is prohibited on the day of the Lunar New Year, ideally you've already done all your tidying up before that happens. A thorough sweeping, mopping, polishing, dusting, scrubbing, and whatever else needs to be done around the house should be done before the celebrations start, so you can rid your home of bad energy and begin the new year in a purified space. Just remember to stash away all of your cleaning supplies until the New Year is over.
Balance the Books
If you're in debt, it's time to dip into your pockets and pay up. Many of the superstitions around Chinese New Year are aimed at ensuring prosperity for the 12 months ahead and the Chinese believe that if you start the new year in the red, you'll finish it the same way. In addition to paying off old debts, it's frowned upon to lend or borrow any money during the entire Lunar New Year celebrations. Even if you're out with friends and need someone to spot you for a small purchase, you're better off making sure you can pay for it yourself.
No Scary Stories
Tales of death, dying, and ghosts are considered supremely inauspicious throughout the year, but even more so during Chinese New Year. In fact, it's considered unlucky just to say the word "death" in Chinese on Lunar New Year, because it could bring death into your life at some point during the upcoming year. In the same vein, avoid watching horror movies during this time as well.
Red, Red, Red
Chinese New Year is packed with colors and while any bright color is said to bring luck, it is red that really sets hearts racing. You'll find everything from belts and wallets to shoes and hair colored red throughout Chinese New Year. Don't be surprised if your friends have their favorite lucky red underwear on.
This lucky color also shows up in the ubiquitous red envelopes, or hóng bāo, that are exchanged as gifts during Lunar New Year. People gift these ruby-colored packets filled with cash to friends and family, and while the money is nice, the real gift is the year of prosperity that the envelope represents.
Let in Some Fresh Air
Out with the old and in with the new is a common refrain at New Year's around the world and in China, it's no different. Opening your windows to welcome in a blast of fresh air is said to let in good luck for the year ahead. Tradition says that families should open their front doors at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, so all of the spirits and energy of the previous year can escape and make room for everything to come.
Put Away Sharp Objects
Sharp objects are said to be harbingers of bad luck, as their sharp points cut out your good luck. So put away all of your scissors, knives, needles, and anything else of the sort. Avoid any activities that use these tools as well, which means no sewing, no carving meats, and no visits to the hairdresser.
Avoid Odd Numbers
Odd numbers are considered inauspicious, especially when gifting money to someone else. Always make sure that if you're giving cash to someone, the total equals an even number. Certain even numbers are considered extra prosperous, such as the number eight.
Not only are certain words taboo to utter during Chinese New Year, but even homonyms of unlucky words are considered to bring bad fortune. For example, the Cantonese word for "book" sounds like the word for "lose," so bookstores are closed in China on New Year's.
Even typical dishes served during Lunar New Year have to do with similar-sounding words. Fish, or yú, sounds like the word for "abundance." Oysters are another typical dish, and the word háo sounds like "good events." A popular type of dried seaweed that accompanies many dishes is called zǐcài, which is a homonym for "fortune." Conversely, avoid eating or gifting pears during Chinese New Year; lí sounds like the word for "leaving" or "parting."
If you have a sweet tooth, then prepare yourself for all of the traditional treats that pop up throughout the New Year celebrations. Eating sweets during Chinese New Year isn't just about overindulging, but also to make your upcoming year even sweeter than the last. Glutinous rice balls are one of the most popular snacks and are filled with peanut, sesame, or red bean paste. Candy boxes are often given as gifts, especially to children, and contain candied fruits, deep-fried sesame balls, and chocolates.