8 famous CNY taboos we never understood as a kid explained

Remember to settle your mamak supper debt before Chor Yat.

When you were a child, have you ever wondered why your parents would lecture or scold you for no reason during Chinese New Year? Even when you’re trying to help keep the house clean by doing certain chores they’d go “NOOOOOOO CANNOT DO THAT!”

While most young people find this annoying and troublesome, there’s actually a lot of traditions and beliefs being tied to these CNY taboos.

Here, we’ll break down 8 of them and explain why our Asian parents would go bananas whenever they’re broken.

1. Don’t wash/cut your hair, even if it means turning into a lion

8 famous cny taboos we never understood as a kid explained
Photo from Buckhead Dermatology

The first day of CNY (Chor Yat) is the day where everyone would be dressed in their best outfits and pose for thousands of pictures.

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However, some are told to leave their hair unwashed and unkempt throughout the day, which may be a tall task for those who are particular about their hygiene.

The reason? In Mandarin, hair is called “fa”(发) and it shares the same intonation as “fa cai” (发财), which refers to an increase of wealth and fortune. Thus, washing one’s hair would be equal to “washing away” all the good luck.

2. Keep the floor dusty

If you don’t want to suffer an earful from your mum, remember not to sweep the floor although your feet is coated with a layer of dust.

8 famous cny taboos we never understood as a kid explained
Dust pan and broom with wall background

This is not to give our mums a day off but rather it’s to keep all the luck and wealth as the Chinese believe that sweeping the floor during Chor Yat would deprive the household of much needed blessings and fortune for the year.

Now you know why your mum (and you) worked so hard to keep the house squeaky clean on the eve of CNY!

3. No buying of shoes

Like “fa”(发), this taboo is related to the Chinese language and pronunciation of a certain word.

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In Cantonese, shoes are called “hai”, where it sounds similar to the very Malaysian expression “haih” or a sigh.

Sighing at the start of a new year implies that you’re already stressed about something, which isn’t exactly auspicious, right?

4. Let sleeping people lie

Finally, a taboo that favours all the youngsters and nightowls.

8 famous cny taboos we never understood as a kid explained
Photo from freepik

In Chinese culture, it is believed that waking someone up by calling their name would cause him/her to always be in a hurry and be doomed to work till the point of exhaustion for the rest of the year. So does this mean we can sleep until 12pm on Chor Yat? 👉👈

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5. Porridge = BIG NO NO

In the olden days, porridge was usually reserved for times of extreme poverty and scarcity of food among the poor.

Chicken rice porridge - roti n rice
Photo from rotinrice

As such, it is believed that eating porridge on the first day of CNY would bring poverty for the entire year.

But c’mon. With so much good food throughout CNY, who would fancy a bowl of porridge?

6. Lend not, borrow not

With CNY often touted at the season of plenty and prosperity, it’s highly encouraged that you clear your debts before the auspicious occasion as the Chinese believe that failing to do so will cause you to suffer from continuous debts for the rest of your life.

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Additionally, you’re not allowed to chase your debtors during CNY. Instead, chase them before the big day itself! #UNOreverse


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On the other hand, you’re also strongly advised against lending people money on Chor Yat as this will attract more borrowers to your door. At least now you have an excuse to not lend money to that “kiam siap” friend of yours anymore!

7. Time to put that Goth personality aside

Unless you’re attending a funeral, be sure to rid yourself of any black or white clothing.

These two colours are often associated with death and mourning in Chinese culture, thus it’s deeply frowned upon whenever one wears them to festive occasions like CNY.

Instead, wear red clothing when you visit your relatives as it signifies prosperity and good fortune. Who knows, you may net a big fat angpau by doing so!

8. Feeling sleepy? Staple your eyelids! (just kidding)

We get it. It’s super satisfying to fall into a deep sleep after feasting on several CNY dishes, but did you know that those who nap during CNY celebrations and house visits will be deemed to be lazy and unproductive for the entire year?

Plus, it’s also very rude to sleep while the guests are present.

So be sure to get enough rest so that you’re all charged up and ready to enjoy CNY to the fullest!

Cover images via kampungsembawang

Editor: Sarah Yeoh