Tag Archives: chinese new year

No Cleaning After Chinese New Year

Background: My informant, CL, grew up in Taiwan, and speaks Mandarin, Hakka, English, Japanese, and Cantonese. Interview conducted in English over FaceTime.

Me: “Do you have any Chinese New Year traditions?”

CL: “We don’t clean after Chinese New Year. You have to clean before. It’s bad luck if you clean after, and you’re also very busy during celebrations so you don’t have time anyway.”

Me: “Do you know why it’s bad luck?”

CL: “You need to start the New Year with a clean house. If you already have to clean after the start of New Year, it’s unlucky.”

Analysis: The performance element of this custom is apparent, but I’ve also been surprised by how many customs appear to stem from logic in conjunction with belief as well. Yes, cleaning after Chinese New Year may appear unlucky, but it also may have just been too difficult logistically as well, given the volume of celebrations, feasts, and festivals taking place during the same time period as well. So it’s interesting to see it attributed to luck when it may just as easily be attributed simply to time management as well.

Sweeping Out the Good Luck (Chinese New Year)

Transcript (the folk practice):

Me: Do you do anything on Chinese New Year?

Informant: Like don’t sweep on Chinese New Year?

Me: Wait that’s a thing?

Informant: You don’t know that?

Me: I’ve never heard this!

Informant: Wait this is like famous, hang on. It’s like you’re not supposed to sweep during Chinese New Year if you don’t want to sweep the luck out of the house cleaning out the house symbolizes wait wait wait yeah sweeping out the house should be avoided during the first 3 days because good luck would be swept out.

Context:

Context of Performance: collected from an in-person conversation.

Informant: so it’s like a fun thing for Chinese New Year that I understand and don’t have to speak Chinese for it AND I get to like do it.

The informant also commented that she learned about it from her mom. Her family has been not sweeping during Chinese New Year since she was a kid (at least 10 years).

Personal Thoughts:

There’s a lot of traditions done during Chinese New Year that are associated with fortune and wealth. However, most that I’ve heard are things to do to scare off bad luck (such as lighting fireworks) as opposed to things not to do to keep good luck. This tradition is particularly interesting to me because I’ve associated Chinese New Year with Spring Cleaning time and/or a reset.

Yuán Xiāo Jié (Chinese Lantern Festival)

Background: The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in China but immigrated to the US after receiving her undergraduate degree. She grew up on a small island off the coast of China.

A: yuán xiāo jié is for tuan yuan – which means that um…family gets together for this celebration

We make round rice cakes called yuán xiāo filled with sweet black sesame and we eat them, and different colorful cute animals or flower shaped lights using wood or bamboo or paper and drawings on them, sometimes we make characters even. The…government, or community…would hang these very big lanterns in the streets, for a lantern festival we go to where riddles are written and hang under the lantern, and when you solved the riddle you could keep the light. People could buy these lanterns or make it themselves, and they had a candle inside of them so they could be lit.

Me: When is yuán xiāo jié celebrated?

A: It’s on….I think it’s on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, it’s the day when the moon is the roundest. The shape of the yuánxiāo is modeled after the shape of the round white moon. 

Me: How did you learn about this festival?

A: No one needs to tell you about it exactly, everyone just knows. It was just something that everybody did since I was very young. All the kids had lights, and the kids always competed over who had the prettiest lantern. Once when I was young I got a lotus flower lantern and I thought it was so beautiful…I was very proud. I would happily walk around with the adults and look at the beautiful lights.

Me: What does it celebrate?

A: It’s about spending time and enjoying time with your family. Families walk around the streets with the lanterns and can all enjoy their time together as well as when they get together and eat the rice ball. We celebrate togetherness and the happiness of the family. It’s part of the new year traditions.

Context: This was told to me over a recorded call.

Chinese New Year Superstition

Context: My informant is a 26 year-old woman who is of Chinese descent. She grew up in Hong Kong and lived there until she moved to Pasadena at the age of 7. Listed below is an account of a Chinese holiday called “Harvest Festival”. She detailed her experience of Chinese New Year and specific beliefs and practices her family had. She knows and loves these stories from personal experience. She knows and loves these stories from personal experience.

Informant:

“On Chinese new year, you are not supposed to wash your hair or your clothes because it is thought to be washing off the good luck. You are also only supposed to wear red, even your underwear. The elders also give the younger people money in red envelopes as a sign of good luck and prosperity. On the first day of the year you only eat dumplings, second day you eat fish and vegetables, and on the third day you eat ‘longevity noodles’ because it’s supposed to give you a long life.” 

Thoughts:

The superstitious aspect of “washing good luck off” was one thing that I found particularly interesting. It is believed that one possesses a high amount of good luck on Chinese new year and you will wash it off if you wash any of your things. The connection to red in Chinese culture is present in many stories that this informant told me and I am curious to know where red ties into their history and how it came to be such a symbolic color. I love the way that food ties into this holiday over the span of several days. It almost seems as though one is preparing the two days before in order to eat the “longevity noodles”, noodles that promote a long life. 

Chinese New year

Context: XZ is a 25 year old from Wuhan China. She is a graduate, international student at USC studying marketing and communications. She is also my friend and coworker. I decided to call her and ask her how she and her family celebrate New years. 

YM: Tell me about your new years

XZ: Our new year is lunar New Years

YM: What do you guys do for new years? How do you guys celebrate ? 

XZ: The “year” in Chinese is actually a monster, so on New year eve, the family will gather around, the elder will give children a red envelope with money because that money is called “ya sui qian” meaning: suppress evil; and when the new year come, every family will shoot off firecrackers to scare the “year” monster away

YM: that’s interesting.. Where did this monster come from ? 

XZ: So some say it came from deep sea and the others say it lives inside the mountain

YM: when do you guys celebrate again?

XZ: our official celebration starts from Lunar new year eve and will last until Lunar year’s January 15th

YM: Do you believe in this monster, what are your personal thoughts? 

XZ: Personally I don’t believe it, and most of Chinese don’t believe it. Maybe little kids will…like western kids believe in Santa. But all the traditions are around the story, and I love the family getting together and applying those customs makes me feel a sense of the sacred to mark closure and restart. Although the government  has banned firecracker because it causes to much air pollution and sound pollution, which I actually agree with it… and I believe receiving red envelope is all kids favourite part, friends sometimes compete with each other to see who received the most of money

YM: aww that’s really nice, thank you for sharing 

Background info: XZ has celebrated Chinese New Years since she was a child, and even now that she’s been far away from home she still celebrates. She’s from Yiyang in Hunan Province, China. 

Analysis: XZ’s new year seems to be based on a Chinese legend about a monster named Nian who would terrify the villagers and eat children at the end of the lunar year. The new year’s celebration seems to be about defeating this monster and starting a new year free of a ferocious monster. This legend seems to bring a symbolic meaning for chinese new year, like XZ mentioned for her its a “sense of the sacred to mark closure and restart.” From my research in the story when an old man got rid of the monster, red papers, firecrackers, and candles were found. This is why new years are celebrated with red envelopes and the firecrackers. I find it really interesting how in Chinese culture new year one celebrates the defeat of something that was bringing calamity to the land, whereas American new year one celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. One is based on a legend and the other is based on a religious myth.