Remembering Chinese New Year Traditions

Hello everyone! Happy Chinese New year 2011! Having celebrated CNY for 22 years now, I am always extremely excited prior and during the festive period itself. However, it is my concern that our age-old traditions is on the verge of being eroded into mere routines. The children these days don’t understand the Chinese New Year traditions and the story behind these traditions. It may also be due to the parent’s due negligence for not passing down these rich traditions. Here are 8 (发 which also mean Get rich, haha) traditions that many of us practice and the meaning behind them.

1. Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning is the time whereby the Chinese would clean up the entire house (dust every corner, clean all windows, wash all rooms) to welcome Spring time (春) and the New Year. The Chinese believe that the customary action gets rid of diseases from the household. The Chinese also believe that 旧的不去新的不来, which means getting rid of the old (stuff) to welcome new (blessings and prosperity). I remember my mother would always nag at me to clean up my room and clear the clutter. She continues to do so till this day. Haha.

Superstition or not, I think it is definitely a good habit to clean up the house and, prevent pesky pests and insects from spawning in your house. Also, this will make your house presentable and clean when your relatives visit. In time, I would nag at my children to clean up their room. Lol.

2. Bai Nian (拜年)

拜年 or Chinese New Year visitation is a time when the Chinese would visit their friends and relatives. Bringing two oranges along with you before you visit somebody’s home is a must. Oranges represents gold ingots which in turn represents wealth. Back in the old days, because the Chinese were poor and cannot afford to buy the gold ingots, the Chinese would replace oranges as gold ingots. Presenting oranges to the host of the family would mean wishing wealth and prosperity to come to the family. One should also say some CNY greetings to wish the other party, be it whether is it good luck, more wealth, brisking business, more offsprings, better health, etc.

Some of the more common greetings are:

新年快乐 – Happy New Year
恭喜发财 – Wishing You Great Prosperity
兔年吉祥 – Good Luck in the Year of the Rabbit
岁岁平安 – Peace to come to You
年年有馀 – Prosperity, Surplus and Plentiful Harvest Every Year
早生贵子 – Give Birth Early (to the Married Ladies with no child)
心想事成 – May Everything Come Your Way
生意兴隆 – May your Business Prosper
万事如意 – May Everything Happen as You have Desire
财源广进 – Wealth to Come to You in Every Direction
学业有成 – Achieve Success in School

The host would in turn give two oranges back to the visitor to wish him or her wealth and prosperity as well.

Tentatively, the 1st day better know as 初一 is reserved for family visitations. Friends and colleagues’ visitation takes place more frequently after the 1st day.

3. Receiving / Giving Red Packets

During the visitation comes receiving red packets. Receiving red packets (红包 or 压岁钱) is all that every kid thinks about during CNY. But the implications behind goes beyond the monetary value. When an adult gives red packets to a kid, the adult is really giving his blessings to the kid, wishing him/her good luck and also warding off all spirits. However, when the adult rejects giving red packets, he or she will be out of luck in the new year. The money in the red packet is just a token sum and adults should give according to financial abilities. Thankfully, only adults that are married for more than a year need to give red packets, if not I need to give it too!

4. Availing for Reunion Dinner

The Chinese continue to observe the significant event called the Reunion Dinner. Reunion Dinner is a family event that takes place on the eve of Chinese New Year. It is as significant (if not much more) as the Americans rushing home for Thanksgiving dinner. No matter you stay near or far, the whole entire extended family (Father’s or mother’s side) would come to the grandparents’ place (or the eldest son’s place if grandparents have passed away) for Reunion Dinner. This is the time when your stomach undergoes a massive expansion. Why? The Chinese believe that there should be chicken, duck, pork, prawns and fish as cooking many of such (meat) dishes would mean that one would prosper in the year to come. During Reunion dinners, one would also eat  (sweet glutinous balls made by sweet rice, flavored in red bean paste, creamy peanut or sesame paste, and served with hot sugar-water). It is believed that one adds a year to his or her age when they eat this delicacy.  Now that this fact is known, I can fathom that the girls wouldn’t wanna touch this food anymore. Haha.

Lou hei, an act whereby the family/friends would come together to stir the yu sheng (鱼生) high up into the air, saying prosperous idioms whilst doing so is a tradition created in Singapore and Malaysia.

5.  Staying up

It is said that the longer the children stay up during CNY eve, the longer the parents will live. Once the clock strikes midnight, the child is supposed to wish his/her parents Happy Chinese New Year and the parents will in turn give him a red packet to bless the child. Whether is it true or not, I feel that it is only polite to stay up to wish our parents Happy New Year.

6. Only Say Auspicious Words

The Chinese believe that during the Lunar New Year, it is inauspicious to use any foul language or say things like 完了 (Finished) or anything related to 死 (death) as it will bring bad luck  to the family. The elders will usually scold any ignorant children when they say the wrong things. I’ve got firsthand experience. Hahaha.

7. Getting a haircut before Chinese New Year

The Chinese believe that if one was to get a haircut, it must be before the Chinese New Year period. Getting a haircut during the festive season is highly prohibited and discouraged because cutting your hair is akin to cutting away your ‘prosperity’. Similarly, in the past the Chinese even believe in not washing your hair on the first day of the Lunar New Year because it means washing away one’s luck. Thank God we don’t really believe in the latter, if not flies would be residing on the hairs of some! Yet I feel that it is only good to cut one’s hair before Chinese New Year so that one will look presentable when he or she goes for visitations.

8. Wearing Bright Colored Clothes

It’s a no brainer to say that Red is the popular color when it comes to the choice of clothes. In the past, the elders would reprimand children or even adults who wear inauspicious colors during the festive season because Black means Bad luck and the Chinese only want to 旺 (prosper) during the New Year. White is also not the preferred color of choice because white in Chinese tradition is a color donned by the Chinese mourning for the loss of a loved one at a funeral. Thank God this tradition is fading away because both my new tops are black and white…! But still, it’s good to wear bright-colored clothes during this season. Why? C’mon this is Chinese New Year we are talking about! Don’t dress like you’re heading to a funeral!

Alright, that sums up this blog post. Putting the superstitions aside, I think it is fun to keep these traditions. I hope this post would serve to enlighten the younger generation and also refresh the memories of our current generation to keep these meaningful traditions and culture!  For the non-Chinese readers, I hope you’ve learnt something about our unique Chinese Culture.

Happy Lunar New Year!

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