(TL;DR) It is not too late to learn new things for the coming CNY.
Chinese New Year is almost here, and with that comes great responsibilities. Yes, the Chinese are crazy superstitious and with so many cultures, dialect groups, and many of us being serious potato-eaters (you know what I’m talking about), its time to educate yourself about the Dos and Don’ts of Chinese New Year.
Remember, not everyone follows all of these rules, and the best bet is to ask your grandparents or parents what your family follows.
Clean, Clean, Clean
This is probably the most stressful and annoying thing about Chinese New Year — cleaning your house. This isn’t just the sweeping and mopping of the house, but its also the time to make sure that your home is up to par with your vision for the next year. That means getting rid of anything broken (plates, cutlery, clothes etc), buying loads of fresh potted plants, getting all your laundry done, throw out your garbage, and filling your rice bucket to the brim.
Once you’re done, keep all cleaning appliances, like brooms and brushes, out of sight.
And of course, decorate with red everything. The classics are pussy willow, red paper, pineapples, oranges, and (fake) firecrackers.
Bonus tip: The fengshui-friendly way to sweep the floor is to sweep inwardly, collect all the dirt and dust into the centre of your home, then physically carry it out of the house. This keeps the good luck in the house, instead of sweeping it out.
Take Care of Yourself
You know the drill — get new clothes, new shoes, and get that haircut. Also get any other types of personal grooming out of the way, especially those fingernails. You won’t be able to deal with those once Chinese New Year starts, so get those out of the way.
Also, amp up on those vitamins, because it’s bad luck to be sick on the first day of Chinese New Year. It’s a bad omen that predicts that you will be sick for the whole year, and no one likes that.
Pay all your Debts
It’s bad luck to have any debts left unpaid when going into the new year, so be sure to return anything you still owe people. This doesn’t just mean money — any appliances, books, clothes, and so on should also be returned. If you have any unresolved grudges, this is also the time to clear the air.
Start the year on a clean slate!
When CNY Begins…
Of course, the first day of CNY is the day Singaporeans tend to visit family to “bai nian” (拜年).
Surprisingly, older traditions state that you’re not supposed to leave the home on the first day, other than to visit the temple. Married daughters are not allowed to visit their maiden home, and women aren’t allowed to leave at all! Safe to say we don’t follow that one anymore (Phew!)
Here’s a list of the more reasonable rules to follow:
Food: Porridge, Meat, and Sweets
Porridge is seen as a poor man’s dish, so unless you want to be poor for the rest of the new year, avoid eating that. Going vegetarian is also common, and is usually associated to a sign of respect to the Gods. This may seem annoying, but at least this is one day when you’re encourage to eat as many sweets as possible, because you want your new year to be as sweet as possible.
Also, leave loads of leftovers. Having leftovers mean that you will live in excess for the rest of the year, so be sure to have tons of food prepared. If you’re inviting 10 people over, cook for 15.
Household: Don’t Clean, Break, Wash, Throw, or Kill?
Be prepared for a messy home, because you won’t be allowed to do any of the above for the first week of Chinese New Year. That means no sweeping, washing of clothes, or throwing out the trash.
Also, try avoiding breaking anything, or killing anything. The killing thing sounds strange, but it probably stems from how the Chinese used to kill their own livestock for feasts — that cow should be dead before the new year came. For us, just try not to step on any ants.
(Pro Tip: if you drop a flower vase, yell out luo di kai hua 落地开花. That’s supposed to negate the bad luck, so keep that in your back pocket for if you have a flower-related accident.)
Personal: Grooming and Health
As mentioned previously, your hair and nails should be perfect before the new year comes, because you won’t be allowed to do anything to them until at least after the first day of the new year. Some say the first week, but let’s face it, no one can get through Singapore weather without having to wash their hair after one day.
Also, avoid wearing black and white — those are colours of mourning, which is the last thing you want to associate with Chinese New Year. Colours are the way to go.
Shopping: Don’t Buy These Things
If you’re planning to hit Orchard road, then avoid buying clocks, scissors, shoes, books, and pears. Scissors because they’re sharp, and the other three because they sound similar to Chinese characters relating to bad things.
Social: Be Nice, Greet Smart
Pretty much anything you do on the first day is said to pre-empt the rest of your year, so be on your best behaviour. That means no arguing, crying, asking for debts to be repaid, borrowing or lending money. Also keep conversation light, and avoid talking about ghosts and death at all cost.
You’re also not supposed to greet anyone in their bedroom, so everyone should be out in the living room and dressed on New Year’s Day. Also don’t greet anyone who’s in mourning — they’re not allowed to celebrate CNY and greeting them will bring bad luck to yourself.
Here’s a list of interesting Chinese New Year greetings you can use to impress your elders:
猴年大吉 (Hóunián dàjí): Good luck for the Monkey Year
吉祥如意 (jíxiáng rúyì): Good fortune to your wishes
年年有余 (Niánnián yǒuyú): Surplus every year
吉星高照 (Jíxīng gāozhào): Fortune smiles on you
心想事成 (Xīnxiǎng shì chéng): May all your wishes come true.
大吉大利 (Dàjí dàlì): Lots of luck and profits
龙马精神 (Lóng mǎ jīngshén): The spirit of the dragon and horse
财源广进 (Cáiyuán guǎngjìn): ‘Enter broadly wealth’s source’
事业有成 (Shìyè yǒuchéng): Success in your career
平步青云 (Píngbù qīngyún): A great rise (aka. luck for job promotion)
步步高升 (Bùbù gāoshēng): Promotions at every step
升官发财 (Shēngguān fācái): Win promotion and get rich
生意兴隆 (Shēngyì xīnglóng): Booming business
阖家欢乐 (Héjiā huānlè): Happiness for the whole family
Wishing you all the lucky things above, and Gong Xi Fa Cai!