The meanings of 8 Chinese New Year traditions

Image credit: iStock

Chinese New Year is just over a week away and you’re probably going through familiar motions like spring cleaning, hanging festive ornaments around your home and buying new clothes, but have you thought about why you do them? Let this guide demystify some traditions for you and at the same time, teach your children about the meanings behind them.

Spring cleaning your home
The start of the year symbolises a new beginning, and spring cleaning drives out bad luck accumulated over the previous year to make way for good fortune in the new year. If you have old newspapers, clothes and furniture cluttering up your home, now is the time to get rid of them. Sell them to the karung guni man or drop them off at the Salvation Army. Ask your children if they have any toys or books they’ve outgrown and donate them to charity instead where they’ll be put to better use.

Buying new clothes and wearing bright colours
In the lead-up to Chinese New Year, most people will be shopping for new clothes. Red is a popular colour as it symbolises luck and it’s not uncommon to see people decked out in red from head-to-toe. Other auspicious colours include orange, pink, yellow and green as these are associated with spring. These days, attitudes are more relaxed and it’s acceptable to wear darker colours such as navy, brown, grey and black.

CNY traditionsImage credit: iStock

Decorating the house with festive ornaments
The Chinese character “chun” means “spring”, and it’s common to hang couplets featuring this character around the house for prosperity and good luck. Many people also buy plants that are only available during this time of the year, such as pussy willows, kumquats and small bamboo plants. Other popular plants include cherry blossom bonsais, chrysanthemums and orchids. Aside from adding a festive touch, they help to brighten your home with their colours.

Stowing away cleaning equipment and sharp objects
It’s considered bad luck to clean or sweep on the first day as it symbolises sweeping away luck. Use this last week to give your home a good cleaning, then put away the broom and mop. Ditto for sharp objects like scissors and knives as handling them may lead to good fortune being cut off.

No washing hair on the first day
Need more reason not to wash on your hair on the first day? It’s believed that it’s akin to washing away your luck for the whole year. If your children complain about feeling grimy, explain the belief to them and remind them that it’s just for one day.

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Exchanging mandarin oranges and red packets
During visiting, it is customary to exchange mandarin oranges as a gesture of goodwill. Your kids will definitely love receiving red packets or hong bao, which are generally given by seniors and married people to youngsters and singles. Do ensure you exchange your old notes at the bank early so your recipients will receive new and crisp notes. Need an extra pair of hands to help with stuffing the hong bao? Rope in the kids and you’ll be done in no time!

Staying up late on the eve of Chinese New Year
Here’s one practice your kids will surely approve of. Children are encouraged to stay up late on the eve of Chinese of New Year as it’s believed that this will bring their parents longevity. Use this time to bond with them; break out the card and board games, watch movies or simply talk and share your thoughts and wishes for the New Year.

CNY traditionsImage credit: iStock

Gathering for the reunion dinner on the eve
Chinese New Year is a time for family and family members traditionally gather on the eve for the reunion dinner. First is the lo hei or yusheng, a raw fish salad that signifies abundance, prosperity and vigour. While adding the ingredients, which consist of raw fish, pomelo, carrots, shredded radish, oil, pepper, crushed peanuts, flour crackers and plum sauce, it is customary to say auspicious phrases for each ingredient aloud. Then the fun begins as the ingredients are tossed as high as possible (the higher you toss, the more luck you’ll receive) while shouting “Huat ah!” (Hokkien for “to prosper”). After that, everyone tucks into a hearty home-cooked meal at home or a sumptuous feast at a restaurant.

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