Chinese New Year Taboos

Traditionally many taboos are associated with the New Year Festival, but in recent years some of them have been discarded, especially among the modern urban populations in larger cities and the younger generation.

Chinese red knotsHanging Chinese red knots is believed to bring good luck to the families.

Chinese New Year's Day Taboos

On the first day of the New Year the following taboos apply:

  • Medicine: It is a taboo for a person to brew herbal medicine or take medicine on the first day of the lunar year, otherwise it is believed he or she will get ill for a whole year. In some places, after the bell announcing the New Year at midnight New Year's Day, sickly people break their gallipots (medicine pots) in the belief that this custom will drive the illness away in the coming year.
  • Re. New Year's breakfast: Porridge should not be eaten, because it is considered that only poor people have porridge for breakfast, and people don't want to start the year “poor” as this is a bad omen. Therefore people must have cooked rice for the first meal of the year, in the hope that the family will be rich for the whole coming year. Besides, meat should not be eaten at this breakfast out of respect for the (Buddhist) gods (who are believed to be against killing of animals), as all gods are expected to be out meeting and wishing a happy New Year to each other.
  • People do not wash clothes on the first and second day, because these two days are celebrated as the birthday of Shuishen (水神, the Water God).
  • Needle work should not be done. The use of knives and scissors is to be avoided for any accident, whether harming a person or tool, is thought to lead to inauspicious things and the depletion of wealth in the coming year.
  • A woman may not leave her house; otherwise she will be plagued with bad luck for the entire coming year.
  • A married daughter is not allowed to visit the house of her parents, as this is believed to bring bad luck to the parents, causing economic hardship for the family.
  • The act of sweeping on this day is associated with sweeping wealth away.

Spring Festival Season Taboos

Chinese New Year red decorations "Red" color symbolizes luck and is believed to ward off devil evil. So people wear red clothes and hang red lanterns at the Chinese Spring Festival.

During the New Year Festival season (from the 1st to 15th of the Lunar New Year) the following taboos apply:

  • The cry of a child is believed to bring bad luck to the family, so parents do their best to keep children from crying by whatever means possible.
  • Breaking tools or other equipment during this period is associated with a loss of wealth for the coming year; therefore tradesmen and business people in general take great precautions to prevent it.
  • A visit to the hospital during this period is believed to bring illness to the person in question for the duration of coming year; therefore visits to the hospital are avoided, except in cases of extreme emergency.
  • Theft: Do not let other people take objects, including money, from your pocket during the Spring Festival, and take care not to have your pocket picked, as this is believed to portend your whole wealth in the coming year being stolen.
  • Debt: Money should not be lent on New Year’s Day, and all debts have to be paid by New Year’s Eve, and, if someone who owes you money, do not go to his or her home to demand it. Anyone who does so it is said will be unlucky all the year.
  • The rice jar should not be allowed to become empty. This causes grave anxiety, as the cessation of cooking during the New Year period is an ill omen.
  • Damaged clothes: Do not wear new clothes that are damaged. If kids especially wear such clothes in the first lunar month, it is said to bring bad luck.
  • No killing. Killing in the Spring Festival should be avoided as blood is considered an ill omen, which will cause misfortunes such as a knife wound, or a bloody disaster.  
  • Do not wear white or black clothes as these two colors are associated with mourning traditionally.
  • Welcoming the New Year: According to tradition, people must stay up late on New Year’s Eve to welcome the New Year, and then to let off fire crackers and fireworks to scare off inauspicious spirits and Nian, the New Year monster.
  • Hair must not be washed on the first day of the lunar year. In Chinese language, hair (发) has the same pronunciation (and indeed is the same character) as fa in facai (发财), which means ’to become wealthy’. Therefore, it is seen as not a good thing to “wash one’s fortune away” at the beginning of the New Year.

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Hi, I'm Gavin Van Hinsbergh
I updated this article on April 10, 2014
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Questions and Answers About Chinese New Year Taboos

Helen 2014-02-20
Show Answer
My friends who are Chinese and live in Singapore have sent a New Years greeting card and enclosed several empty red envelopes. Are they asking for money to be sent?
Hi Helen, I don't think so. But you can ask your friend for the exact meaning. Whitney Liao replied on 2014-02-21
kelly 2012-10-28
Show Answer
Hello, I am planning to go to Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year Period, can anyone tell me what will be open? what can i do there?

Hi Kelly, most shopping malls and attractions may still be open.

Whitney Liao replied on 2012-10-29
alice 2012-01-24
Show Answer
are these taboos really real
Hi. Those taboos are real, some of them still apply, and some of them don't. Also in different areas the taboos also vary. But there is one thing we can be sure of, is that during the Chinese New Year, people try to do good things for bringing good luck to them in the coming year, and it is also believed that they can cast away the evil spirits by avoiding doing bad things. Mia Yang replied on 2012-01-31
Maryne 2012-01-18
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What is an appropriate hostess gift to bring to a Lunar New Years Eve celebration? I have read that oranges are seen as gift of good luck and flowers such as peonies or crysanthemums may also be appropriate. What about wine? Our new neighbors are orginally from Singapore. She is Tiwanese and he is from Brussels.
I think if you bring peonies and wine as gifts, they will be very happy. Iris Zhong replied on 2012-01-21
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