Everyone knows the basics to Chinese New Year like having a reunion dinner, going house visiting to see your relatives and friends, and engaging in general festivities. But did you know, the traditional 15 days of Chinese New Year that ends with the Lantern Festival each have their own customs and practises?
I guarantee most, if not all, of our Chinese readers know this. Here’s the meaning, and what you’re supposed to do according to tradition below, so you can go and show off your newfound knowledge of Chinese New Year to your friends.
初一 is the first day of Chinese New Year. This is the first day after our reunion dinners, and usually the first day most families go out and visit friends and relatives. That is pretty much what most people know of the first day, but actually there are some ‘don’ts’ on this day as well.
For example, being the first day of the new year means we are not supposed to sweep the floor, or throw away trash, or even pour away water, as those actions symbolise throwing away good fortune. Also, we have to be careful not to break anything, as that symbolises bankruptcy! So basically, spend the whole day out and you’ll be pretty safe from all these bad luck dangers.
There are even some customs for house visiting on this day. It is said we should visit the more senior members of our extended families first, to wish them good fortune (in exchange for ang pows!).
On the second day of Chinese New Year, 初二, there is the tradition of welcoming sons-in-law. In Chinese culture, the wife is married to the husband’s family, and on this day the wife will bring her husband back to her parental home. According to customs, the couple must have lunch in their parents’ home, but return before dinner.
This provides a chance for sisters to get together, and for the younger generations of the family to receive gifts. Families usually take photos together on this day.
Some will also pray to the God of Fortune on this day, to wish for good luck and prosperity throughout the year.
初三 is known as 赤口/赤狗, which means the day of red mouths, or red dogs. Traditionally, people will not leave their homes, as the red mouths mean that it will be very easy to get into fights and quarrels with others. The red dogs refer to the God of Blazing Wrath (this is less cool than it sounds), which means the day is entirely inauspicious and therefore not suitable for house visiting.
Some would also take the opportunity to clear their homes of trash collected from the past couple of days, as a ritual to throw away the bad luck. This is also related to staying home, as people didn’t want to be confused with the spirits of bad luck if they leave their homes.
Presumably, the ang pows are not worth the year-long misfortune that can befall you if you go for house visiting on this day.
初四 is the official day of praying to the God of Fortune, as it is his birthday. People will set up feasts and offerings to welcome the God to their homes. Traditional offerings include abundant fruits, goat’s heads, and carp. It is also the day to give thanks to the Kitchen God, and wish for this new year to be better than the last.
初五 is yet another day of throwing away the bad luck and misfortune from the house. The day is also known as 破五, which means ‘break five’, or to remove 5 main misfortunes. The misfortunes are: misfortune of wisdom, misfortune of education, misfortune of literary ability, misfortune of fate and misfortune of relationships.
Firecrackers are also used to chase these misfortunes away.
初六! Today is the day of freedom, and it is especially auspicious to travel around. It is another day of throwing away the trash and therefore misfortune, and many visit temples, friends and relatives on this day.
初七 is the traditional birthday of Man, as created by 女娲 the goddess from mud. It is celebrated by eating noodles for longevity, or a thick soup made of a variety of vegetables. Many also travel and go for an outing on this day.
Some prepare a special porridge for good grades in the new year, so students take note!
初八 is traditionally the day of prayers to the God of Heaven, for good harvest this new year. It is said that if the day is clear, harvest will be good. However, if the day is cloudy or rainy, there will be poor harvest the whole year.
It is also said that this is the day the various deities of the stars descend from heaven, and the sky would be the clearest for stargazing. Very romantic!
初九 is the birthday of the Jade Emperor, the lord of the Chinese deities. Rituals and feasts are traditionally held in his honour, and today is the day to pray to him for good fortune, prosperity and good health. Notice a pattern here? Lots of the days are spent on praying for good fortune, just like how we wish good fortune to our relatives and friends during house visiting.
初十 is the traditional birthday of stones, and it is the day people stop using stone tools and worship the gods of stones. This is not very relevant to us, considering that we don’t actually use any stone tools here (unless your smartphone is made out of stone??). However, the day is also not auspicious for construction, due to its relation to stones.
On 正月十一, the eleventh day of Chinese New Year, the Father-in-law will treat the son-in-law to a meal, traditionally with the abundant leftovers from the feasts in the last couple of days. This is less stingy than you think, as the leftovers are from the feasts held to honour the Jade Emperor. If you’re married, you get to eat his food!
正月十二 is the official first day of preparations for the Lantern Festival held on 正月十五. People begin to build lanterns and the festival equipment on this day, and hearty meals are continued from the past few days. One can never have enough good food!
正月十三 is the continuation of the previous day’s preparations for the Lantern Festival. People start to put up the lanterns along the streets as well. Light meals and diets begin today, to cleanse the body of all the rich and greasy food from the past few days of celebration.
正月十四 is the last day of preparations before the Lantern Festival. Performances are rehearsed, and lanterns are lit for testing. People also buy lanterns, and prepare traditional riceballs for the next day’s celebrations.
正月十五 is here! To end off the Chinese New Year celebrations with a bang, the Lantern Festival is held on the last day. This is the first night of the new year to see a full moon, and people hang colourful lanterns in celebration. Many performances like lion dances are also held in the streets. At night is also the best time to enjoy the lanterns, and many of them contain riddles to solve. Families also eat glutinous riceballs as another reunion dinner.
This is probably the last day you can reasonably house visit, if you really need to get that last ang pow.
Traditional Chinese New Year is actually the longest festival around, if you think about it, with things to do on every day for fifteen days straight. Which makes for an excellent excuse to binge on all the good food, and go for lots of house visiting! Also, if you spent fifteen straight days praying for good fortune, chances are it’s going to be quite difficult to get any bad luck for the rest of the year.
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This article was first published on goodyfeed.com in January 2017 and revised on 12 January 2018.