Chinese New Year Taboos
Rites and rituals
For many people, Chinese New Year is a religious festival as well as a lot of fun.
It began long ago when there was only one religion which has many gods and spirits. Nowadays, New Year is also celebrated in the temples of newer faiths.
The ancient Chinese religion had many Door Gods in the house to watch over the family. One story about a Door God guard takes us back a thousand years.
Emperor Taizong had fallen ill, and one night he lay tossing and turning in his bed. He had a really bad dream. Ghosts howled and screamed in his head all night. The next day, he told his two best soldiers, Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong, about the dream.
The next night, these good soldiers stood outside the emperor’s bedroom door. One held a club and the other, an iron rod. In the morning, the emperor said that he had slept like a log. But the soldiers could not spend every night guarding his room.
So the emperor told an artist to paint pictures of the two soldiers. These were hung as guards on the palace gates.
Word soon got round that the paintings were guarding the palace against evil spirits. People started to stick pictures of the two soldiers outside their homes, too.
Nowadays, at New Year, millions of Door God pictures flutter in the winter wind.
A festival Diary
Long ago, the fun lasted for 15 days. Now, most people only celebrate the first three days of the festival.
There is plenty of work to be done before the New Year fun begins. First everyone helps to clean the house from top to toe. During Chinese New year, when it comes to sweeping, shopkeepers are careful not to sweep toward the door, in case good fortune is swept out the front door. Lots of food is prepared for New Year’s Day. Lucky red decorations are hung over doors and around rooms. Flower fairs and gift stalls are set up.
Black and white colors are carefully kept away as these colors signify death, misfortune and ill-luck.
All debts have to be paid back too. This is not so important at it uses to be. Long ago, people had to hide if they owed money to someone. Flowers are a symbol of plenty at New Year.
New Year’s Eve
Not many people go to bed on New Year’s Eve. The streets buzz with happy people, young and old alike. Temples are full of worshippers. Families gather from far and wide to eat a special meal together. Some families still follow the old New Year traditions. They stay in the house and shut the doors and windows tight to stop evil spirits getting in. The doors are sealed – nothing bad can get in now, and the good luck stays inside. Tree branches are burnt and firecrackers set off to drive the spirits away.
On New Year’s morning the doors and windows are unlocked and good wishes are spoken. Now the New Year celebrations can really begin! On New Year’s Day, you can shout “Happy New Year!” and hope for wealth for everyone. Children hope to get little red parcels with ‘lucky money” inside them! Families gather together – everyone wearing their new clothes.
At the crowded dinner table, you won’t see much meat. Many people do not eat meat on New Year’s Day.
But on New Year’s Day, you can’t wash! At least, people didn’t in days gone by. They did take a long bath on New Year’s Eve, tough. You mustn’t clean the house, either. If you do, all the wealth that the gods have brought for the New Year will be swept away. Try not to break anything as this will bring bad luck. So will falling over or using bad language. And do not use any knives or scissors, will you?
On the second day, people visit family and friends. Some go gambling. New Year is the only time when gambling is not frowned upon. On the third day, don’t go visiting people – it is bound to end up in an argument! But you could visit a temple and find out your future with fortune sticks. The way the sticks fall shows the kind of luck the person will have. On the fourth day, nowadays most people start returning to the normal. But teams of dancers dress up and dance in the streets.
From the fifth to the fifteenth day, you can clean the house and go back to work now or go to the sales to look for bargains. All the gods in Heaven gather together on the eighth day. Some people ask for their blessings. And on the ninth day, you could burn some incense for the birthday of the Jade Emperor, the king of the gods.
Finally, between the tenth and the fifteenth days, you can buy lanterns with good wishes written on them. The Lantern Festival ends the New Year celebrations.