“On Chinese New Year, you’re not supposed to use scissors or knives cause you’re cutting away your good luck on Chinese New Years. Also, on Chinese New Year, little kids are supposed to wear new clothes because, supposedly, there’s a monster that takes the little kids away, so if you wear the new clothes it’s like the monster can’t recognize you.”
My informant learned these beliefs from her parents when she was little, when once she got curious and asked why there were special rules that her and her sisters had to follow on Chinese New Year. Her family continues to practice these rules today, even though her siblings are all grown. When asked why the clothes rule is practiced, in particular because the belief states it only applies to children, my informant replies, “I dunno…Really, it’s an excuse to wear new clothes”.
My frame of reference for New Years’ folk beliefs is limited to American ideas of the New Year celebration, including champaign, and kissing a loved one. Both of these beliefs act as forms of homeopathic magic, drinking champaign representing wealth that will be found in the New Year, and kissing a loved one representing a romance that will continue or grow in the New Year. The scissor prohibition found in my informant’s Chinese New Year beliefs is similar, though has an opposite mindset: instead of doing something that will inspire good luck in the New Year, one must avoid doing something that will bring misfortune in the New Year. Both sets of beliefs rely on actions of symbolic significance, for these actions do not enact their effects in a literal sense (one cannot literally cut luck away, for example, for even luck is an abstraction that cannot be recognized in the physical world). Nevertheless, traditions such as these stick with people because they provide hope and stability for the future, and there is comfort in knowing that tangible actions one can take in the present will have some effect (even imaginary) on the future.
As for the monster that steals little kids away, the belief intrigues me because often belief in monsters is instilled in children in order to enforce some kind of discipline (scaring children into behaving). This monster, however, seems to have no obvious ties to discipline, only a justification for wearing new clothes on this specific day. Perhaps this could be a way for parents to get their children they did not necessarily want to wear, in which case the monster does become a disciplining threat, though my informant’s approving tone did not suggest that happened with her family. Maybe it is just an excuse to wear new clothes in the new year, like my informant suggested.