Remember these customs? Many beliefs and rituals – from prayers to superstitious habits – have gone from rampant to rare over the years. We take a look at some of them, which concern the home.

It is that time of the year once more when practically everything you do is associated with luck and prosperity. But let’s face it. Do we really know the reasons behind all the Chinese New Year superstitions our parents or grandparents warned us about? Or are we just blindly following traditions?

Here’s a quick guide to the lesser known reasons behind some common Chinese New Year superstitions we know about.

After all, it is always good to have a better idea of why we do the things we do this festive season right?

1. Chinese New Year is also ‘Spring Festival’

Did you know that the Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival? According to the lunar calendar, this day marks the beginning of spring.

Back in the day, the Chinese would look forward to begin this season as it marked the end of the coldest part of winter – giving them a reason to rejoice and celebrate!

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2. Chinese New Year Eve

CNY Eve night is the link between two years

We probably know by now that staying up late on the eve of Chinese New Year is to increase the chances of our parents living to a ripe old age. Yet few of us really know the reason why this is so.

In ancient folklore, the night of Chinese New Year’s Eve was viewed as a special night that provides the magical link between two years. It is no wonder that prolonging the connection between the two years has been believed to extend life.

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3. Pay all your debts before Chinese New Year

Going into the New Year with debts carries a curse

It has been believed that if you carry a debt into Chinese New Year, you will be cursed with owing people money for the rest of your life. Definitely not a superstition to be taken lightly if that is the case!

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4. Chinese New Year represents new beginnings

You should only wear all things new on CNY

Chinese New Year has always been synonymous with new things. New clothes, new shoes, new bags, new bed sheets, what have you. But why the obsession?

Ancient Chinese believed that marking a new year with all things new was the best way to signify new beginnings and also properly depose of bad experiences in the previous year. It can be said to be a metaphor for a brighter future without any baggage of the past.

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5. 福 到 (“Fu Dao”)

Hang the word 福 (“Fu” or prosperity) 倒 (“Dao” or upside down/ arrive) invites prosperity into the house.

The Chinese word 福 (“Fu”) means prosperity. When the word is hung upside down, there is a Chinese saying called 福到来 (“Fu Dao Lai”) which basically means that prosperity will arrive.

This probably explains why so many of our relatives like to hang the word upside down in their homes. This particular superstition is quite contentious and frequently results in many friendly debates during Chinese New Year visitations.

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6. No visitations on 3rd day of Chinese New Year

Inauspicious to do visitations on the third day of Chinese New Year

Bai nian (translate: paying respects) is a major activity during Chinese New Year. It means to go around visiting friends and relatives and bringing along some gifts for them. In the Chinese community, it is especially important for the younger generation to have “bai nian” to their elders as a sign of respect.

However, few know about this superstition and the reasons behind it, but it has been believed that the third day of Chinese New Year is an ominous one.

Scarlet/Red Dog Day (or Chi Gou Day)

According to traditional folklore, it is a day when socialising should be kept at a bare minimum as disagreements and resentments can easily fester. It is also customarily known as a “Red Dog Day”.

The Red Dog is said to be an irate god set out to punish anyone it meets. This is why older folks prefer to stay home on this day. The next time you wonder why your grandparents insist that you visit them on either the first or second day of Chinese New Year, you have an answer.

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7. Lo Hei

Toss Yu Sheng high up in the air to symbolise good fortune

Ever wonder why people make such a mess while eating 鱼生 (“Yu Sheng”)? This is because traditional Chinese believed that the higher you toss the fish, the more successful you will become in life.

It is synonymous with a Chinese idiom 步步高升 (“Bu Bu Gao Sheng”) which literally translates to rising higher with every step you take. Doesn’t this give you more incentive to be the one who tosses the fish the highest at your next Lo Hei session?

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8. Cannot wear black during Chinese New Year

Wearing black is an ill omen for mourning and death

There are reasons behind why our parents insist that we do not wear black during Chinese New Year visiting. It is not just because the elderly dislike that colour, but rather, it is due to the symbolism of it.

Chinese New Year is an auspicious period, while black symbolises mourning. It is not difficult to see why traditional folk disapprove of the colour.

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9. No cleaning during Chinese New Year

No personal grooming or housekeeping allowed!

Do not wash your hair, cut your nails, use the scissors or sweep the floor on the first day of Chinese New Year. We have probably heard this every year and they all have one thing in common, that is to prevent luck from “escaping”.

It has been believed that washing anything means luck will be washed away, cutting anything means luck will be cut off and sweeping the floor can only be done inwards to ensure that luck remains in our homes.

Whether we believe in these superstitions or not, perhaps it is always better to be safe than sorry!

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Chinese New Year Traditions & Superstitions: 20 Things you should know

10. No brooms during Chinese New Year

Hide all brooms and mops during Chinese New Year.

Obsessive-compulsive cleaners and Quidditch players would freak out if they knew that it is considered unlucky to use a broom on the first few days of the Spring Festival.

Depending on how superstitious you are, this no-broom policy could last two to five days.

Sweeping the floor, taking out the trash and splashing water outside during this period all signify tossing out incoming good luck and wealth from the new year.

That’s probably why most Chinese families get their spring cleaning out of the way before the new year, and someone might go ballistic if you brush a broom or mop against their feet.

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Chinese New Year Traditions & Superstitions: 20 Things you should know

11. No knives during Chinese New Year

Hide all sharp items such as knives, scissors, needles.

Hanging out in the taboo closet with brooms are sharp utensils like knives, scissors and needles.

These objects were deemed ominous and inauspicious as they could lead to squabbles with others. Given the sometimes flared tempers at Chinese New Year, that was probably a wise idea.

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12. No laundry during Chinese New Year

If you hate doing your laundry, good news.

The Chinese avoid washing their clothes on the first two days of the Spring Festival – considered the birthday of the Water God, who gets offended at even a little rinse and spin.

There is also no need to wash your tresses on the first day. The Mandarin word for hair is “Fa”, which also means “to prosper”. So lathering on some shampoo and conditioner would give you smooth and silky hair, but you would also be the poorer for it.

There was also a belief that cutting your hair during the first lunar month would somehow cause the death of your maternal uncle.

So yes, leave it long and prosper.

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13. Chinese New Year Kitchen God

Welcome the kitchen god on the 4th day of Chinese New Year

Arguably the most important deity during the new year, the Kitchen Stove God would swing by each household and report what each has done in the past year to the Jade Emperor.

Hence, many Chinese families would display couplets at their kitchen entrance and offer him sweet delicacies such as sugar cakes, deep-fried pancakes and beancurd soup during the 12th month of the lunar year.

The hope was that the god would say only sweet things about them during the appraisal meeting.

On the fourth day of the Spring Festival, households would then welcome him back from heaven with incense, paper money, meat, fruits and even firecrackers.

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14. Every Chinese New Year has a zodiac animal

Many might not know that there is a legend that involves the 12 animal signs.

As the tale goes, there was a day where the 12 animals argued as to who was to head the yearly cycle and as a result, a contest was held: whoever was the first to cross the river would be the first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish.

While all animals jumped into the river and started to race, the rat jumped on the back of the ox instead and jumped off just when the ox was about to climb ashore. The rat won and that is why the rat is the first in the animal cycle, the ox second and so on.

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Chinese New Year Traditions & Superstitions: 20 Things you should know

15. Chinese New Year ‘Nian’ Monster Story

Lunar New Year originated from the legend of the ‘Nian’ monster

Legend has it that thousands of years ago, there was a monster called Nian and every first day of the year, the beast would awaken and terrorize the people in a village causing the villagers to live in fear.

They started using loud noises, red colours and bright lights to scare the monster away as the beast hated these things.  As a result the Nian never returned to the village again.

Therefore, the people of China continue this tradition of making loud noises and decorating their homes in red during the New Year – a tradition which has spread to other parts of the world as well and stayed till this very day.

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16. Many countries celebrate Lunar New Year

1 out of 6 people celebrates Lunar New Year

Chinese New Year is not only celebrated in China, but is also observed in many places around the world, including Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and other Asian countries as well.

Over time, the festive celebrations have expanded and spread to the Western side of the world – New York, London, Sydney, Vancouver (to name a few), making Chinese New Year one of the world’s most celebrated festivals!

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17. Red packets date back to Qin Dynasty

The ang bao (translate: red packet) practice dates back to the Qin Dynasty where the elderly would thread coins with a red string to gift the younger generation as ya sui qian, translated to mean “money to ward off evil spirits.”

‘Ya Sui Qian’ under pillow

This was believed to protect the recipient from sickness and death. The ya sui qian was later on replaced by red envelopes when printing presses became more common.

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Chinese New Year Traditions & Superstitions: 20 Things you should know

18. Chinese New Year dates changes every year

The date for Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar, which is based on the time the moon takes to go around the Earth, 29.5 days.

And in order to “catch up” with the solar calendar, the Chinese add an extra month once every few years (the same as how an extra day is added on a leap year), which explains why the new year falls on a different date every year according to the Western calendar.

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19. Lunar Chinese Calendar has no start

No one used to know what year it was.

According to legend, the lunar-solar Chinese calendar is dated back to 2637 B.C. when it was invented by Emperor Huangdi during his ruling.

Prior to that, the Chinese never took the initiative with numbering sequentially.

In fact, till today, there is no one universally accepted starting point of time. But it has generally been agreed that Year 1 corresponds to the supposed first year of Huangdi’s rule in 2698 B.C.

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Chinese New Year Traditions & Superstitions: 20 Things you should know

20. Chinese New Year is the World’s Largest Exodus

The Chinese New Year period is also known to be the season of the largest human migration in the world. The annual epic travel rush happens during this time of the year where no matter where they are, people try their best to return home for a family reunion.

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21. Chinese New Year Cai Shen Ye

Receive the God of Wealth at an auspicious hour.

Many Chinese families worship the God of Wealth, or Cai Shen Ye. Each Chinese New Year, they set up altars and practice rituals to welcome or receive Cai Shen at auspicious hours.

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22. Chinese New Year Li Chun

Visit the bank to deposit money on Li Chun day.

The beginning of spring is known to the Chinese as Li Chun. It marks the first out of the 24 terms in the Chinese solar calendar and falls between the 3rd or 4th of February every year, when the sun is at the celestial longitude of 315°.

Something unique is known to happen every year on this day – it is said that it’s much easier to balance an egg on its end. One explanation for this strange phenomenon is that the sun is crossing the equator, making night and day equal on all parts of the earth.

Traditionally, Li Chun is an important day to the ancient Chinese farmers. They would often celebrate the beginning of Li Chun with ceremonies and worship for a prosperous harvest year.

This practice is carried on till today with the belief that if you deposit money (since harvest is a symbol of prosperity) on this day, it will bring you a good start and welcome luck for the upcoming year.

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Part of this article first appeared on ShopBack, The Straits Times.