Dos and Don’ts of Chinese New Year
As the Lunar New Year nears, we are making sure our house is squeaky clean and putting on our best behaviors. Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to make sure you rake in the good luck for the new year.
It’s almost Chinese New Year and I can’t wait! I love decorating the house…but I do not enjoy the intensive deep cleaning we have to do for it (imagine spring cleaning but deep, deep spring cleaning).
We prep the house to be sparkling clean because we actually are not allowed to do a lot of house chores on New Year’s Day! But besides not cleaning on New Year’s Day, there’s a few other dos and don’ts to make sure good luck is coming our way.
Dos and don’ts for Chinese New Year vary for each household, but here are the ones that Mama Chen ingrained in us.
1. Don’t: Sweep the floor or take out the garbage on New Year’s Day
On New Year’s Day, put the broom and dust pan away! You’ll sweep away all the good fortune that is arriving and that will warrant a boot out of the door by Mama Chen.
2. Don’t: Wash your hair on New Year’s Day
Growing up, this was a hard one to follow but we made sure to follow it. Similar to the no sweeping floor rule, washing your hair is like washing away the good fortune.
3. Do: Cut your hair BEFORE the new year.
Thinking about cutting your hair for the new year? Do it before New Year’s Day hits. There are a few sayings and beliefs that go along with this one:
1）正月不剃头(zhēng yuè bù tìtóu)
In China, the New Year celebration can last up to one month and it is frowned upon to cut your hair during this time. The Chinese word for hair is 头发 (tóufǎ), which is the same 发（fǎ） as the Chinese word for prosperity 发财(fā cái). Some believed that if you cut your hair during the this month, you are cutting off your wealth.
Rumor has it, barbers are extremely busy right before the new year (and then, super duper quiet during the month celebration).
2) 有钱没钱，剃头过年(yǒu qián méi qián, tìtóu guònián)
Some folks also believe even if you have no money, you still have to cut your hair before the new year.
3) 从头开始 (Cóngtóu kāish)
I call this the “new year, new me” Chinese edition. This saying is another variation of 从新开始 (cóngxīn kāishǐ), which means start anew. Papa Chen said we cut off our hair because we want to get rid of the old and start anew, and where else to start anew but from the top.
4. Don’t: Say the number four 四 (sì)
In Chinese, the pronunciation of the number four 四 (sì) sounds like the Chinese word for death 死(sǐ). On New Year’s Day, we make sure not to say it.
Chinese people do have their favorite numbers and they are:
6 六(liù): Six sounds like the Chinese word for smooth 流利(liúlì). In China, my classmates would write 666 for good luck, but my Western friends and I would be like…is that the devil’s number?
8 八(bā): Eight pronounced in Cantonese and Taishanese sounds like the word 发(fā). The Chinese word for wealth and prosperity is 发财(fā cái) so we love dropping the number eight in practically everything.
9 九(jiǔ): The number nine sounds like the Chinese word for longevity or long 久(jiǔ).
5. Don’t: Drop chopsticks (or anything really)!
Dropping chopsticks or breaking anything on New Year’s Day is like the equivalent of dropping a mirror in Western culture. Bad luck may come your way!
6. Don’t argue, yell or cry
Chinese New Year is the most festive holiday of the year and we only want good things! Here are a bunch of Chinese sayings that we love to say to each other during the holiday:
1. 新年快乐，身体健康 (xīnnián kuàilè, shēntǐ jiànkāng)
English translation: Happy New Year and wishing you a healthy life!
2. 万事如意(wànshì rúyì)
English translation: May all your wishes come true!
3. 恭喜发财(gōngxǐ fācái)
English translation: Wishing you good fortune!
4. 大吉大利(dàjí dàlì)
English translation: Good fortune and prosperity!
5. 祝你学习进步 (zhù nǐxuéxí jìnbù)
English translation: Hope you make great strides in your studies. (We heard this A LOT growing up.)
6. 祝你工作顺利 (zhù nǐ gōngzuò shùnlì)
English translation: Hope your work goes smoothly!
7. 心想事成 (xīn xiǎng shì chéng )
English translation: May all your wishes come true!
8. 年年有余 (nián nián yǒuyú)
English translation: Wishing you abundance each year.
7. Don’t: Use scissors or sharp objects like knives.
It’s bad luck to use these items on New Year’s Day because it is thought to cut off your wealth. Instead, it is advised to do all your prep work the day before to avoid using these items.
But my family hasn’t really followed this one ever because…we do not prep well.
8. Do: Wear red
Wear new red clothing. No ifs, ands, or buts, just do it! Blend in with the rest of us. And don’t wear white or black because those colors are normally associated with funerals.
9. Don’t: Gift shoes or clocks
It’s custom to bring some presents for Chinese New Year but if you’re going to gift things, avoid shoes and clocks (true for every holiday and birthday). The Chinese word for shoe 鞋(xié) sounds like the Chinese word for evil 邪(xié). Similarly, gifting clocks 送钟(sòng zhōng) sounds like the Chinese saying for sending someone off in a funeral 送终(sòngzhōng).
10. Do: Pack Hóng Bāo with crisp, new bills
When packing red packets 红包(hóngbāo), make sure the bills are crisp and new. It’s a new year and even money has to be “new.” Most banks in Asian communities know the drill during this time of year and will honor your request.
Our family likes to give two packets to each receiver with various amounts, as long as the sum doesn’t contain the number four. When we were kids, our grandma also used to pack ours with a bill and a coin.
And if you are on the receiving end, use two hands to take the packet and remember to say thank you 谢谢 (xiè xiè)!
Wanly Chen is a Taishanese-American who studied in China over the last three years.