The colorful celebrations of Chinese New Year bring families together to welcome the Lunar New Year. But beneath the festive parades, fireworks and feasts lie some peculiar traditions and taboos. From superstitions about hair washing to the significance of red underwear, Chinese New Year customs can seem downright bizarre to outsiders. Yet these unusual practices give insight into Chinese culture and folklore.
As the Year of the Rabbit approaches, here are 7 of the most curious and quirky Chinese New Year customs to ring in the Lunar New Year.
Wearing Red Underwear Ushers In Good Luck
On Chinese New Year, donning red underwear is said to bring good fortune and prosperity. Red is considered the luckiest color in Chinese culture, symbolizing happiness and vitality. According to folklore, wearing red underwear scares off bad luck and evil spirits, while attracting luck and positive energy. The tradition is traced back centuries to the Han Dynasty, when people wore red garments during big celebrations. Today, red underwear is donned by millions during the New Year. The bolder, the better – lingerie stores even sell flashy red undergarments before the holiday.
Getting a Haircut Before New Year Is Bad Luck
New Year’s Day is a terrible time to get a trim in China. An old superstition says cutting hair on the first day of the year will wash your good fortune away. Hair salons close for the first two weeks of the New Year. Some avoid haircuts for a month or more into the new year. The roots of this belief come from ancient Chinese lore that hair contains one’s fortune. Cutting it off signifies cutting away your luck. People schedule haircuts well before New Year’s Eve to avoid bad omens.
Noodles Must Be Eaten Uncut for Long Life
Slurping long noodles on New Year’s Eve is one of the most famous Chinese New Year customs. Their length symbolizes a long life. But there’s a catch – the noodles must remain uncut while eating them. Breaking the noodles is said to cut short your lifespan and fortunes. This tricky feat takes some dexterity and coordination. In northern China, dumplings resembling gold nuggets are eaten for prosperity. Their crescent shape evokes the moon and families coming together.
Opening Windows and Doors Lets Out Good Luck
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, all doors and windows are shut tight after midnight. Opening them is taboo, as it’s believed to let out the good luck for the coming year. Offenders are jokingly called “fortune leakers.” Doors and windows are kept closed the first day of the New Year. The second day, windows are opened a crack to allow in luck and fresh air. On the third day, the windows can be fully opened to usher in spring. This custom stems from the desire to keep one’s hopes and dreams from escaping.
Sweeping Floors Risks Sweeping Away Good Fortune
Vigorous house cleaning happens before Chinese New Year, including scrubbing floors and walls. But oddly, sweeping on the holiday itself is forbidden. There’s a Chinese saying “washing away the good luck.” Using brooms or dustpans could sweep away prosperity and blessings for the new year. On New Year’s Day, brooms are hidden to avoid the temptation to clean. After midnight, symbolic sweeps with a new broom usher in luck. The next day, gentle sweeping can begin anew. A quick tidy up maintains order without sweeping away fortune.
Giving Clocks Is Taboo – They Resemble Attending Funerals
Gifting clocks and watches for Chinese New Year is a definite no-no. In Chinese, saying “give a clock” sounds like the phrase for “attending a funeral ritual.” So Chinese New Year gifts of timepieces insinuate that death is around the corner, which is obviously very poor form. Conversely, giving shoes for the New Year is good luck – it hints that the recipient will move forward in life and career. Shoes are placed facing the right way, aligned towards success and positive motion.
Tossing Food Draws Good Fortune for the Year Ahead
A noisy Chinese New Year tradition is the tossing of niangao, sticky rice cakes. Called “doing the Prosperity Toss”, families gather to throw these lucky cakes at walls and kitchens. The higher it sticks, the better fortune for the coming year. Eating niangao also brings luck, as “niangao” sounds similar to “getting higher every year.” Additionally, the cakes’ sticky texture represents family sticking together. Food is central to Chinese New Year celebrations. Tangyuan sticky rice balls in soup and fritter-like youtiao also bring luck.
The Timeless Traditions of Chinese New Year
For centuries, these eccentric traditions have shaped Chinese New Year festivities. The underlying superstitions offer insight into Chinese culture and attitudes. These customs demonstrate the importance of family, longevity, fortune, new beginnings and honoring the past. Red underwear and lucky noodle slurping may seem odd today, but these practices reflect enduring Chinese values passed through generations. As the Year of the Rabbit commences, these mythic rituals keep the spirit of the Lunar New Year alive. The sounds of firecrackers still drive away evil; red lanterns still glow with hope. With origins in Chinese folklore, philosophy and history, these colorful traditions promise sweet tidings in the months ahead.