Chinese New Year Rituals

By Margaret Lau
Margaret Lau
Margaret Lau
January 25, 2006 Updated: January 25, 2006

Like many traditional Chinese festivities, Chinese New Year is rich in customs and rituals. Among the different Chinese dialect groups, there are many similar and different rituals for Chinese New Year celebrations, though much of these rich traditional culture, rituals and customs have been diluted in mainland China since the Cultural Revolution.

However, in many countries and regions such as Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Taiwan, overseas Chinese have preserved and kept intact many of these rituals and customs.

Most rituals focus on the central themes of New Year celebrations and to affirm family unity, prosperity, good fortune and good health for the rest of the year. Chinese elders often tell that “A whole year's plan begins in spring, and a whole day's plan commences at dawn.” Hence it is important for the Chinese to do all the correct things on New Year's Day. For instance, it is considered bad luck if you break crockery on the first day. This signifies that your endeavors for the year could break or be unsuccessful.

Likewise, nobody is supposed to cry, be angry or sad or you will experience these negative emotions throughout the year. Children are encouraged to be obedient and docile on New Year's Day. Everyone is reminded to be nice to each other and be on one's best behavior.

There are numerous interesting rituals around prosperity and good fortune. On New Year's eve, all houselights must be switched on to ensure Cai Shen (God of Fortune) can see your house in the dark and does not miss your family home when he bestows his blessings.

To “sweep in” the goodness of the year, families perform the ritual of doing three inward sweeps with a clean broom at the front door when the New Year begins. On the next day, no one is allowed to sweep the floor or do his laundry; otherwise the family's good fortune will be swept or washed away.

Traditionally, fire crackers are used to frighten the Nian monster. Nowadays, the ritual is performed to welcome the New Year and to dispel evil and negativity.

On the first day of New Year, married women go with their husbands and children to visit their parents-in-laws to pay respects. On the second day, they take their families to pay respects to their own parents. For children, Chinese New Year is a great event. They get new clothes, new shoes, and of course, brand new money in little red packets, known as hong bao , from their parents, older relatives, and married friends of the family. Unlike the Western custom of giving presents, Chinese people give hong bao on New Year's Day, birthdays, weddings, and other family occasions

Margaret Lau