Chinese New Year taboos
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Chinese New Year celebrations have specific rites and rituals with strict prohibitions and taboos.
Mind Your Language
The Chinese refrain from using foul language or unlucky words such as "die" or "bad luck". Before the New Year, children would be warned not to quarrel, fight or speak rudely. Some Chinese believe that if children are beaten by their elders for bad behaviour during the celebrations, then they would be inclined to be boisterous and rebellious throughout the year.
The home is swept and cleaned by New Year's Eve. Sweeping on New Year's Day is an absolute taboo as good luck could be swept out of the house.
Black is Bad
Black is avoided as it is associated with bad luck and death. Red is regarded as an auspicious colour, which is why red is worn by many women on New Year's Day. Homes are splashed with crimson, with red appearing in the decorations, flowers, food containers, cushion covers and calligraphy scrolls.
Handle with Care
Special care is taken when handling fragile items such as cups, glasses and mirrors. Broken utensils could mean a broken family or a death in the family.
No Sharp Ends
Knives, scissors and any other sharp instruments are kept away. Using them on New Year's Day is believed to bring bad luck. However, many housewives still quietly use the knives for cutting food. Also, no one would think of serving food in chipped crockery.
The first meal on Chinese New Year for most traditional Chinese families is vegetarian food. Consuming meat and slaughtering animals on this day is considered bad. Often, the food to be served on New Year's Day is prepared in abundance the day before. Since the food is cooked on the eve of New Year, thus prepared in the previous year, taking the surplus amount in the following days symbolises material wealth being brought over from the previous year. Some Chinese also maintain that the pair of chopsticks used should be of equal length. If not, they could "miss the boat" whenever they travel.
Taboos to keep bad luck away and bring good luck [Microfilm: NL 16891]. (1990, January 24). The Straits Times, p. 21.
The information in this article is valid as at 1997 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.