When the clock strikes midnight on February 5th, wishes of good fortune will be expressed, fireworks will explode into the sky and red envelopes filled with money will be exchanged as millions of people around the world ring in the Lunar New Year.
In other words, it’s basically one big overnight party. But unlike the manner in which much of the world celebrates on December 31st, Lunar New Year is a long holiday marathon filled with traditions and rituals that last well beyond the actual Lunar New Year day.
Many people already know that red is associated with luck and prosperity, hence all the fiery hues you see on Lunar New Year decorations and clothing. Here are a few other key do’s and don’ts that many Chinese follow before and after the Lunar New Year.
Set Off Fireworks
The more fireworks or firecrackers you set off the better. Not only do you light up the night sky with a symphony of color, but the loud banging sounds are thought to scare off evil spirits. In many parts of China, you’ll hear a constant, nightly barrage of loud bangs during the first 15 days of the Lunar New Year celebration, which is known as the Spring Festival — even though it happens in the middle of winter. Some people are so enthused they’ll even set them off during the day.
Eating dumplings around the holidays is a popular tradition in northern China and there are three reasons for it. A) They’re delicious. B) The Chinese word for them, “jiao zi,” is similar to the ancient word for new replacing the old. C) The shape of a Chinese-style dumpling resembles the pieces of gold that were used as money in ancient times. A plate full of dumplings looks like a big pile of gold, symbolizing wealth in the coming year.
Clean Your Home
Sweep, mop, scrub, dust, vacuum, steam — do anything and everything to make sure your home is spick and span BEFORE the stroke of midnight on Lunar New Year eve, February 4th. (See below for more on this.) The aim here is to rid your home of any bad luck that’s accumulated over the past year. It’s also advised to settle debts ahead of the New Year, credit card bills included. The superstition is that if you start the year in the red, you’ll likely end it that way too.
Wash or Cut Your Hair
Leave your hair as it is on the first day of the New Year. The Chinese character for hair is the same first character in the word for prosper. This means washing or cutting it off is seen as washing your fortune away and dramatically reduces chances of prosperity in the year ahead. Actually, LNY fundamentalists will tell you taking a shower is also off-limits on the first day for the same reason. Dry shampoo and dusting powder will come in handy.
Clean post-New Year
If you’ve had a big New Year’s Eve party, make sure you clean up and throw out the trash BEFORE midnight. Otherwise you’re going to have to wait until the second day of the new lunar year. Cleaning of any kind on the first day is strictly forbidden. Don’t even wash the dishes. You cleaned your home to rid it of any bad luck before the New Year — now you want to be sure not to wipe, sweep or wash away any of the good luck that arrived at the stroke of midnight.
Avid readers will want to stock up on their books and magazines before the Lunar New Year, because it’s bad luck to buy them during the 15-day Spring Festival. The Chinese word for “book” (shū) sounds exactly the same as the word for “lose” — so buying a book right after ringing in the New Year is considered an invitation for bad luck. Also, avoid giving books as gifts to anyone, because it’d be like wishing bad luck upon them.