AGELESS TRADITIONS: The Lunar New Year is around the corner and during this festival, many families abide by a set of beliefs and superstitions to start off the year on the right foot. Tan Choe Choe shares 10 enduring ones that are still observed.
1. Giving “Ang Pow”
In the old days, the elders would thread together coins using a red string. This string of money is called yasui qian, which means “money to ward off evil spirits”, and would be placed under the pillows of their young to protect them from sickness and misfortune.
Over time, as paper money replaced coins and the printing industry took off, the red strings were replaced with red envelopes and the coins replaced with notes. Gradually, yasui qian became known as ang pow or hong bao (red packets) or lai see (good luck). Today, it is given by elders and the married to children and those who are single, and is regarded as a blessing.
2. Cleaning the House:
In the weeks before the Lunar New Year, many Chinese folk would spring-clean their houses to wash away remaining bad luck from the previous year and have the houses ready to receive the good fortune that the new year will bring in. For those who might “forget” to do so, there is a rhyming Cantonese saying often bandied about to remind them to clean the house: Ninyabaat, sai lad tad (On the 28th of the last month of the year, wash away the dirt). This does not mean that the cleaning up is only to be done on that particular day, but rather, it is a reminder to do so, with the big day just a couple of sunsets away.
Then, on New Year’s Eve, all brooms, dusters and brushes would have to be put away, as there must be no sweeping or dusting done on the dawn of the New Year. This is to prevent good fortune from being swept away.
After the first day of the New Year, the floors may be swept, but sweeping must be done with inward strokes, where dust and rubbish are swept from the periphery of the house to its centre, before being carried out through the back door in dustpans.
3. Setting a Precedent for the rest of the year on the first day.
All debts have to be repaid before the first day of the Lunar New Year. And when the big day arrives, nothing should be lent on the day itself. This is to ensure that the year starts off on the right note and remains that way throughout the year.