In modern times many superstitious believes and traditions have been discarded. Most of China’s modern urban population and the younger generation have stopped believing and following the old ways. However, most rural areas in China and the older generations still have a strong believe.
Traditionally the Chinese New Year is associated with many superstitious believes. My Chinese mother-in-law is a strong believer in the old ways and enforces the old traditions every year.
Following are 10 Don’ts that are still strictly observed by my Chinese mother-in-law.
5 Don’ts On New Year’s Day (1st of the lunar month)
1. No hair washing
On the first day of the lunar year no one is allowed to wash their hair. My mother-in-law observes this tradition like a hawk. The word ‘hair’ 头发 toufa in Chinese has the same character as ‘to get rich’ 发财 facai. Thus, washing your hair on New Year’s Day would wash away the fortune of our family. That’s the last thing my mother-in-law wants to happen.
2. No sweeping
The days leading up to Chinese New Year, everyone is busy cleaning the house. On the New Year’s Day itself my mother-in-law puts away every broom and dustpan. Two years ago my mother-in-law caught me cleaning our bedroom floor. (It had snowed that day and people came in with their dirty shoes!) Like a good mother-in-law as she is, she allowed me to actually finish cleaning, but I think she still blames me for the bad income they had that year for their harvest. I cleaned all their wealth away that cold New Year’s Day. I will not do it again. Ever.
3. No washing clothes
I have heard of a lot of Don’ts during Chinese New Year, but the ‘no washing clothes’ rule was new to me. I remember when I tried to wash our clothes on New Year’s Day and my mother-in-law came running in, unplugging the washing machine. Apparently by washing my dirty socks I had upset the Water God 水神. The first day of Chinese New Year is his birthday and it seems he doesn’t like people washing clothes that day (actually his birthday extents to the second day of Chinese New Year, meaning two days of dirty socks lying in our room).
4. No porridge
We have porridge every day for breakfast at my Chinese in-laws; every day, except the first day of the New Year. Porridge is considered poor people food, and no one wants to start a new year like this. Traditionally it is said you should eat cooked rice and don’t eat meat for the breakfast in the New Year out of respect for the Buddhist gods who are believed to be against killing of animals. My mother-in-law, even though advocate of most superstitious traditions, serves a hearty breakfast, with everything (including meat), but porridge.
5. Married daughter is not allowed to visit her parents
I wouldn’t be able to break this rule even if I would want to. My parents are a 12 hours flight away (not counting the train ride from here to the international airport). But this rule explains why I never see my husband’s sisters on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. The visit of the married daughter is believed to bring bad luck and hardship to the parents. Personally, I think it only brings sorrow to my mother-in-law and her daughters, because I am sure they would love to spend New Year’s Eve and Day together. But old believes and customs are hard to break.
5 Don’ts During the Whole Spring Festival Season (from the 1st to the 15th of the first lunar month)
1. No crying
Crying should be avoided whenever possible (if it’s not out of joy). My mother-in-law still firmly believes that the cry of a child will bring bad luck to the family. So, in order to make all her four grandchildren happy, and avoid them to start crying, she uses all means possible! In the end the kids are allowed to do whatever they want without any adult stopping them. This leads to me having a huge headache and locking myself in my room every time those four little devils come to visit. They know. They are smart. They love the ‘no crying’ rule.
2. No black or white clothes
White clothes are traditionally worn on funerals in China, so should be avoided during the New Year’s season. Also black clothes are associated with morning. Actually those two colors should be avoided during any holidays, or celebration (except for funerals, of course). I wasn’t even allowed to wear black boots during our three days wedding (But everyone else was allowed to wear their pajamas to our wedding, but this is a topic for another post).
3. No lending or borrowing money
Lending and borrowing money from friends and relatives is very common in China. We get phone calls from all kinds of close and distant relatives the whole year through asking to borrow a bit of money. Usually, if it is a very close relative we are obliged to borrow the money. However, during the whole Spring Festival period we are off the hook. Lending or borrowing money during that time brings bad luck!
4. No hospital visits
A few years ago my father-in-law’s older sister had to spend the New Year in the hospital. The whole two weeks only her son came to visit her once. Everyone believed going to the hospital during that time would bring illness to them.
5. No needle work or use of scissors
Personally, one custom I have the hardest time to follow. I love working on my cross-stitch, which obviously involves the use of a needle and a pair of scissors, both of which are believed to deplete wealth if used in the first two weeks of the New Year. I have to be honest, I keep on doing my stitching work during that time, but in order to not upset my mother-in-law I keep my work hidden away from her.
Additional: No cutting the hair during the first month in the New Year
It is believed that if a person has a haircut during the first month of the lunar year, his/her maternal uncle will die. This belief is still very much alive in my Chinese parents-in-law’s village. Every hairdresser doubles their prices the last month of the lunar year. However, the rule of cutting ones hair is bent where we live. Apparently, it just applies to children and young adults. As soon as they turn 18 the rule doesn’t apply anymore and they can cut their hair whenever they want. I think it is just a convenient loophole.
There are many more taboos during Chinese New Year. They vary from region to region. I have heard things like don’t brew medicine on New Year’s Day, or don’t break dishes, or don’t carry around an odd amount of money in your pocket (or give an odd amount of money in a ‘hongbao’ 红包 (red envelope).
Personally, I am not sure if I believe in those superstitious traditions, but that is not the point. They are a part of China’s culture, and as long as they don’t harm anyone, I have no reason to reject them. After all, I respect my Chinese parents-in-law, and if my mother-in-law don’t want me to wash my clothes on New Year’s Day than that is fine for me.
What about you? Would you ignore those superstitious believes or follow them out of respect to the local people? What customs or believes do they have where you live?
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