Chinese New Year Taboos

As the start of a whole year round, the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) weighs a lot in Chinese people's minds. People regard their daily practice as an omen of luck prediction for the coming year. Not only observing the festival by adhering to ancient and interesting traditions, they would also try to avoid violating various taboos. Some of those taboos will only sustain for first few days of the New Year, while others may be kept till the 15th of the lunar January (Lantern Festival) or even for a whole month.

Taboo Words during Chinese New Year

Taboo Words:

Words with negative meaning should be avoided in daily conversation, such as breaking, running out, death, ghost, killing, sickness, pain, losing, and poverty. All these words should be replaced by euphemisms during the whole of Spring Festival.

Taking Medicine or Going to Hospital

Taking Medicine or Going to Hospital:

If not in severely ill, people should not to take medicine, or see the doctor till Lantern Festival; otherwise they may suffer from disease all the year round, and barely gain recovery.



Breaking Something

Breaking:

Never break a bowl, plate, glass, vase, or mirror, because breaking may result in money loss and family split in the future. If shattering one unheedingly, the fragments should be collected and wrapped by a red paper or cloth, and then littered on the fifth day of the New Year. Another remedy is to say, “Sui Sui Ping An,” which means safe and sound every year. The pronunciation of Chinese character Year (岁 Sui) and Broken (碎 Sui) are the same, so people use the homophones to expel bad luck.


Washing Clothes

Washing Clothes:

The first two days of the Chinese New Year are considered the birthday of the Water God. So, if you wash clothes during these two days, the god will be offended.


Sweeping

Sweeping and Dumping:

On the first day of the New Year, it is a taboo to sweep the house or dump the trash. Otherwise, all the savings and valuables will be swept away. If it is really necessary, the house owner should start the sweeping from outside to inside of the house, which intimates collecting money. Besides, pouring water outside should also be avoided, as flowing water indicates movement of money; in this case, money leaving the home.


Crying

Crying:

It is believed that the cry of children forebodes disease and misfortune, which may bring bad luck to the whole family. Therefore, to avoid children’s crying during the festival, parents should not punish their kids, even if they make mistakes or are naughty.


Lending and Borrowing

Lending and Borrowing:

Do not lend or borrow anything on the first day of lunar January, especially money. Lending money is an unlucky omen, which means economical loss, so people should not offend friends or neighbors by borrowing something from them. Asking for return of debts owed is also a taboo.


Married Daughter Returning Home

Married Daughter Returning Home:

If a woman gets married and lives apart with her husband's parents, she cannot visit her own parents on the first day of the New Year. Daughters are viewed as outsiders after they get married. If they return home on the first day, their parents would be stricken by poverty. Sometimes, parents live together with sons, and therefore the bad luck would also goes to women's brothers.


Needle Work

Needle Work:

According to the Spring Festival superstition, women are not expected to do needle work during the festival, which may give rise to unnecessary squabbles and quarrels with family members or neighbors. Making shoes is also a definite don't, for that may bring evil home.


Using Scissors

Using Scissors:

Just like doing needlework, using scissors is also an omen for possible quarrels with others. If people want to go through the year peacefully, it is a big ‘NO’ to use that tool during the first lunar month.


Getting a Haircut

Getting a Haircut:

People should not get their hair cut during the first lunar month, for it indicates the death of their uncle (mother's brother). Although it sounds absurd, people are glad to abide by this tradition.


Porridge

Porridge or Meat as Breakfast:

Porridge and meat should not be served at breakfast on the first day’s morning. In the past, poor people could only afford rice porridge, so porridge reflects a down and out life. It is a favorable omen to eat the leftovers of the reunion dinner on the New Year’s Eve as breakfast, which forebodes that people always have more than they need. Well, meat is also a taboo on the first morning’s breakfast table. It is said that, ‘Gods’ Fair comes in that morning when all gods come out to celebrate the festival.” Meaning, people should show respect to the Buddhist gods by avoiding killing and eating meat, because Buddha are vegetarian.


Empty Rice Barrel

Empty Rice Barrel:

The rice jar indicates people’s living standards. If it gets empty, there may be some days of starvation waiting for them in the near future. So filling the rice jar to the brim before the New Year’s Eve, is a means to attract a healthy financial situation.


Wakening Up Call

Wakening Up Call:

People should not awaken others who are asleep on the first day of Spring Festival; otherwise, the one wakened up would be urged to do their work all the year around, exhausted and nervous.


Taking Afternoon Nap

Taking Afternoon Nap:

It is believed that people would become lazy all the year around if they take an afternoon nap on the first day of the Spring Festival. Besides, if they have visitors on that day, it is considered impolite behavior.

Dressing in Black

Dressing in Rags or Wearing in Black and White:

Wearing new clothes means a brand new start, so ragged or dirty dressing symbolizes poverty and misfortune, and should be avoided. Besides, dressing in black and white is only applicable to woefully dour occasions like funerals and mourning ceremonies. Therefore, it is inappropriate to wear black or white clothes during the festival.

Want to know taboos on gift-giving during the New Year, see Ten Gifts to be Avoided in China.

 Further Reading:
Gifts Ideas
Festivities Schedule
Festival Food
Chinese New Year Facts
10 Chinese New Year Traditions You Don't Know

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