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 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).
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.
(above image is taken from the informant’s Instagram with their consent. It was posted February 4, 2018)
Note: The tradition was performed by the 18 year old informant (notated I), while the further explanation was supplied by her mother (notated M).
Performance: This tradition was performed on February 4, 2022 by the 18 year old informant. Further information was collected over a phone call March 4, 2022.
Transcript of the informant explaining the performance:
[Note: the informant didn’t really explain the tradition in detail because it was something I already knew about. In essence it’s the balancing of eggs on the 4th or 5th day of Chinese New Year, however the informant does it every February 4th for convenience. Further detail can be found in the transcript from my conversation with the informant’s mother.]
I: um like, and I only like, we never like did it every year until a couple years ago, but like it was a long time ago since we were still living in that old house, um it’s like a fun good luck thing, and I get to do a fun thing for Chinese New Year that I understand and don’t have to speak Chinese for it AND I get to, it’s always been like a fun thing to include other people on. Because, like, I post on Instagram and half the people are like oh my god it’s f***ing egg day and the other half are like what is happening, what is egg day, why is everybody in on this?
And then, y’know, when I came here [Australia], two people were like what the f*** are you doing? and I was like balancing eggs do you want to balance eggs? and they were like kind of. So, I don’t know, it’s also something you can use to connect with people. And be like “this is a fun culture thing.” I don’t know, I just enjoy it. It’s a fun way to connect with my culture. But like, in a very, un-serious way.
And it’s not like a *super important cultural practice*, y’know? So, it really is like anybody can do it.
Transcript of the informant’s mother explaining additional information about the tradition:
Me: What is the name of the tradition, and what’s its origin?
M: Origin, Chinese. The name is call 立春 (Lìchūn)
M: Spring time (春Chūn) is in the middle. Li (Lì立) is like you stand straight. that’s called li.
[FROM LATER IN THE TRANSCRIPT]
M: I don’t think this is from like, from China. I think China people don’t do that though I don’t know why. This is more like Taiwan people do that, Hong Kong, of course Malaysia, right. Singapore. I don’t know, I kind of shocked when I asked my neighbor, she’s from Shanghai. She said she never did it. Maybe is not from China, I don’t know, but Hainam, the Hainamese do that.
What is the origin or meaning behind this tradition?
W: So we do that on…the the the meaning behind doing this is just to start, it means that the new, the spring day is coming. Is a new day, so for a new year, so that’s why Chinese doing it on the Lunar calendar New Year, um usually count it like fifth days, fourth or 5th days after the Chinese New Year, count it, start from the first day. And, lichun leans that in the old time, all the farmer right? So when it’s time to plant, that is when they do this, is called lichun. Lichun is just to like, to tell that it’s time to plant and that it’s spring time.
so this standing the eggs thing is just a…they believe the Earth is tilted on that particular day, that is straight. straight down like this that means it balance on both sides right. And somehow, I don’t know when it started, that they tested it… you can actually balance, because egg is the only thing that is not, you know, that is impossible to stand an egg. but on that day, actually they tried it, it worked, so it’s proof that the Earth is actually really straight and with the strong gravity. So we do that, then of course why they say do that is because to bring good luck in, into your house, prosperities. so that’s why Chinese do that during Chinese New Year, and then during Chinese New Year you want to bring good luck, you want to bring money into your house, so doing that means that, so you stand an egg, means that if it happens, if you’re successfully, you can do it, means that you have good luck. Then you let it stand in your house. I always let it stand for 15 days because Chinese New Year is 15 days so-
I: It means I have great luck.
M: So Chinese New year is always 15 days, right? And so a lot of celebration going on the 7 day, the 15 days, it depends on what you origin from. So like you’re Hawkin you do it differently, if you are Hainamese you do it differently, so all of it if you are different province you have different belief.
This tradition is particularly fascinating to me, because it displays an awareness that the Earth is not perfectly upright. While this tradition fulfills typical traits of many Chinese New Year traditions – an association with good fortune, it also differs greatly by balancing eggs. While the informant’s mother said that they balance eggs on this particular day because eggs are not perfectly round (and are difficult to balance), I also wonder if it’s because eggs are supposed to be a potential reflection of the world balancing on this particular day. Many ideas of world eggs are discussed in Venetia Newall’s Easter Eggs. While none of them particularly match Egg Day, they share an idea of an egg as something greater than just an egg.
Additional Notes: For additional discussions of Eggs and their significance to folklore, go to: Newall, Venetia. “Easter Eggs.” In The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 80, No. 315. (Jan. – Mar., 1967), pp. 3-32.
D: On the first day of New Year, you don’t sweep the floor. They believe that you’re gonna sweep away all of the good things– they don’t talk about luck, they talk about wealth, money. So you just keep it inside the house, or maybe you can gather it in one spot and leave it there. Until…maybe– because they celebrate on the first, second, and third [days]– those are the three main, then on the third day, you can take away the trash. Or, if you swept it outside, you can sweep it back in.
My informant is my father, who was born and raised in Vietnam. Vietnamese New Year is often a large celebration, which goes according to the Lunar calendar. In Vietnamese, New Year is called Tết, and is full of superstitions and traditional practices to ensure the following year will be filled with good luck and fortune. My father’s grandfather and mother thus performed this practice every New Year, however, my father does not believe in it as much. Since immigrating to the United States in the 1990s and having his own family, we have not performed this practice.
This is a transcription of a live conversation between my father and me. He often tells me stories about his life and past and was reminded of this story when I asked him about folk magic.
Though I was born in the United States, being the first generation of American-born children in my family, I was raised with many customs and traditions from Vietnam. Since I was young, Vietnamese New Year has always been a large celebration. Many other customs of the New Year have been continued after my parents’ generation immigrated, while others have not. It’s interesting to see which customs continued and which customs they stopped performing. It seems my grandmother and her generation hold onto certain superstitions much more than my parents and their generation. My father has always been one to not be very superstitious. Thinking of when he was a child, Vietnam was in the midst of war, and after, had to rebuild the country. During this time, financial insecurity was common. I can understand then, why this practice may have been performed more and the superstition believed more during that time when there was much uncertainty. Folk magic is often employed in such times of uncertainty. Specifically, this folk magic practice is homeopathic magic, where the act of sweeping mimics sweeping wealth out of your home (and your possession). Now that my family is not as worried about financial instability, the practice has not been continued.
This is a
conversation with my friend, identified as C, about Vietnamese New Year. I am
identified as IC in this transcription.
IC: When is vietnamese new year? What is it called—is there a vietnamese
name for it?
C: It’s called Tết and takes place on the first
day of the first month of the lunar year, so usually late Jan or early February
IC: What kind of foods do you eat?
C: My family doesn’t celebrate super traditionally.
We usually eat potluck style with a mix of foods. Someone usually will bring a
pig, and there’s Gỏi cuốn, which is spring roll with peanut sauce. Also, there’s
Chả giò, which is basically an egg roll, Bánh cuốn, rice flour with meat and Chả
lụa, which is pork sausage. Most of them are eaten with Nước mam, a diluted
fish sauce. We usually have that with a mix of maybe duck, vegetables like
green beans or Brussel sprouts or a casserole, sometimes potatoes, a fried rice
dish, fried chicken wings.
IC: Is there a reason for eating certain foods?
C: No, not that I know of. There might be but
my family isn’t super traditional so I’m not sure.
IC: Are there any activities that you do?
C: Yeah, the older people give the red
envelopes with money to younger ones. We call it lì xì. I think there are also
other activities that people traditionally do, but we don’t do them so I’m not
IC: That’s cool, Korea has a similar tradition
where elders give money to younger ones.
C: Yeah, it’s probably a similar tradition in
IC: Are there traditional Vietnamese clothes
that you wear?
C: My grandma wears the Vietnamese dress called áo dài and
people like the colour red, which represents good luck.
My informant is a
22-year-old half-Vietnamese and half-American who was my roommate last year.
Although she doesn’t celebrate it very traditionally as she mentioned, she
agreed to answer a few questions when I mentioned this project and asked her
This was collected
over a casual conversation on FaceTime, as I couldn’t meet with her in person since
she went back home to the Bay Area amidst the current pandemic situation.
I didn’t know
anything about Vietnamese New Year and hearing about the foods they eat and
traditional clothing they wear was interesting to hear. I found the similarity of
the money envelope in Korean New Year celebration fascinating. It shows that while
traditions are different around the world, some of them have similar roots.
In China, there is a superstition where you cannot start a [Chinese] new year without new clothes and a clean house. Whatever you do on the first day of the year will be an indication of how your fortunes would be for the rest of the year. So people would try to look their best on the first day. They would make sure they get haircuts before the year ends because they don’t want to cut anything at the start of the year.
The practices the informant mentioned are traditional customs that are practiced every year during the Chinese New Year festival (which some may argue is a misnomer, because several places celebrate the same holiday). Having grown up in China, the informant practices this every year.