Top 10 customs and taboos to observe when visiting at Chinese New Year
It can be easy to offend someone without knowing, so be prepared!
Chinese New Year is an exciting time with loads of food, fireworks and fun to mark the festival. If you’re not originally from a Chinese background, then you might not be aware of all the Chinese New Year customs and taboos. This can be especially tricky when you visit other people’s houses and do or say something seemingly innocent, just to offend your host! Avoid the awkward silences with these 10 Chinese New Year customs to follow.
10 Chinese New Year customs to observe
1. Red envelopes
You’ll definitely have seen red envelopes around this time of year. They’re normally passed from adults to children, or from married couples to single younger family members. The amount given varies, but just be aware of this custom!
If you want to bring gifts, then make sure you don’t bring certain items no matter how practical they might seem! Clocks are a no-no – it’s considered bad luck. And if you’re thinking of bringing fruit, take oranges. Definitely don’t give pears, as they’re symbolic of separation at Chinese New Year.
2. Eat dumplings
Whether you love or hate these little parcels of meaty goodness, eating dumplings is part and parcel of Chinese New Year customs. In fact, they are possibly the most important food during the festival. The shape is similar to money in the olden days, so eating it is symbolic of wealth to come in the new year.
3. Sending New Year’s greetings via text
Some people prefer the old-school method of sending cards. But the sentiment is all the same. Using popular communication apps like WeChat and WhatsApp, people’s phones will be pinging non-stop at midnight. You’re welcome to forward some of your own greetings to friends and family as well!
4. Family reunion dinner
Chinese families will gather on New Year’s Eve. And to remember this special occasion, there’ll be a huge feast. There’ll always be a fish dish present because it represents a surplus of fortune for the new year. And unique to Singapore and Malaysia, they eat a special dish called Yee Sang. Many shredded ingredients and raw fish is tossed by everyone present. The higher they toss the dish, the greater growth of fortune they will experience!
5. Visit friends and family
Chinese New Year wouldn’t be complete without visiting your friends and family. Opening your house is a staple of Chinese New Year customs. Hosts will have snacks for their guests to enjoy, and it’s not uncommon to have hundreds of people pass through your doors over the few days!
During Chinese New Year, make sure not to let slip any words with negative connotations. This includes death, illness, pain and so on. Furthermore, avoid fighting and conflict as best as possible.
6. Clean the house
Preparing the house before Chinese New Year is also one of the important Chinese New Year customs to observe. This is symbolic of clearing out the old troubles and worries and making space for new opportunities and blessings.
During the short time of Chinese New Year, don’t sweep or clean – especially in someone else’s home! You might think you’re doing a kind thing, but it’s seen as sweeping away good luck.
7. Wear new clothing
Welcoming the new year by preparing new items is customary during Chinese New Year. A lot of adults don’t practise this, but children are often seen to be dressed in head to toe in a new outfit.
8. Light fireworks
The noisiest of the Chinese New Year customs, you’ll see (and hear!) people setting off fireworks. That’s because it’s believed they scare off bad spirits.
9. Decorate the house
Chinese New Year is a wonderful time to spruce up the house with a touch of red. People post up characters that mean good luck and blessings on their entrances, as well as hang up lanterns. You can even make your own DIY Chinese New Year decorations using old red packets!
However, it’s frowned upon to use scissors and sharp objects when the festival is ongoing. It’s believed the sharp edges will cut away your stream of fortune.
10. Lion dance
The iconic lion dance is believed to represent joy and happinness. Performing the dance accompanied by loud cymbals and drumming scares away bad spirits.