Chinese New Year is here, along with a host of superstitions that will apparently dictate how the next twelve months will play out.
Cleaning clothes, using scissors and sweeping floors are some of the easier omens to sidestep, however parents might find it difficult to dodge crying children and – on the more extreme end of the scale – women might find it difficult to avoid leaving the house all day.
According to Chinese superstition, doing any of these today, February 16, will lead to bad luck for the entire coming year. However it isn’t all doom and gloom: 2018 is the Year of the Dog, an animal which symbolises luck.
In the Chinese zodiac, the dog is a symbol of loyalty, responsibility, courage, sincerity, strength, trustworthiness, determination, perseverance, friendship, tenderheartedness, valiancy and heroism.
Dogs symbolise luck to the Chinese: if a stray dog approaches a house, it is said to show the fortune is coming to the family. The animal is incredibly loyal to its owner, whether or not the owner is wealthy. Plus, dogs bark to warn people if an intruder is nearby; centuries ago, the Chinese would predict good or bad luck according to the amount of times a dog barked.
The dog is seen often in Chinese mythology: Erlang, a popular supernatural stock character, has a dog in the novel Journey to the West. Over the course of the story, Erlang’s dog rescues him on several occasions, including by biting his master’s adversary Sun Wukong on the leg and attacking a nine-headed insect demon.
A dog is also integral to the legend of Panhu. The Chinese sovereign Di Ku’s dog Panhu killed an enemy army general in the tale, helping him win the war. The dog was then rewarded with marriage to the emperor’s daughter, whom he carried to the south of the country. Panhu has since been worshipped by the Southern Yao and She minorites – often referred to as King Pan – and is the reason the eating of dog meat is forbidden in their communities.
There are many superstitions surrounding Chinese New Year. These are to be avoided on the first day of the festival:
Medicine: Taking medicine on the first day of the lunar year means one will get ill for a whole year.
New Year’s breakfast: Porridge should not be eaten because it is considered that only poor people have porridge for breakfast – and people don’t want to start the year “poor”.
Laundry: People do not wash clothes on the first and second day because these two days are celebrated as the birthday of Shuishen (水神, the Water God).
Washing hair: Hair must not be washed on the first day of the lunar year. In the Chinese language, hair (发) has the same pronunciation and character as ‘fa’ in facai (发财), which means ’to become wealthy’. Therefore, it is seen as not a good thing to “wash one’s fortune away” at the beginning of the New Year.
Sharp objects: The use of knives and scissors is to be avoided as any accident is thought to lead to inauspicious things and the depletion of wealth.
Going out: A woman may not leave her house otherwise she will be plagued with bad luck for the entire coming year. A married daughter is not allowed to visit the house of her parents as this is believed to bring bad luck to the parents, causing economic hardship for the family.
The broom: If you sweep on this day then your wealth will be swept away too.
Crying children: The cry of a child is believed to bring bad luck to the family so parents do their best to keep children as happy as possible.
Theft: Having your pocket picked is believed to portend your whole wealth in the coming year being stolen.
Debt: Money should not be lent on New Year’s Day and all debts have to be paid by New Year’s Eve. If someone owes you money, do not go to their home to demand it. Anyone who does so will be unlucky all year.
An empty rice jar: A depleted receptacle may cause grave anxiety as the cessation of cooking during the New Year period is considered to be an ill omen.
Damaged clothes: Wearing threadbare garments can cause more bad luck for the year.
Killing things: Blood is considered an ill omen, which will cause misfortunes such as a knife wound or a bloody disaster.
Monochrome fashion: White or black clothes are barred as these two colours are traditionally associated with mourning.
Giving of certain gifts: Clocks, scissors, and pears all have a bad meaning in Chinese culture.
Decorations are typically red because in the Chinese culture, the color can bring happiness, wealth and prosperity by warding off evil spirits and bad luck. The tradition may have come from the story of the Nian. This fierce and cruel creature eats livestock and children, but it is scared of the color red, along with fire and noise. People celebrate with red decorations and fireworks to drive away the Nian.