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A week of dos, don’ts and symbolism
By Zhang Qian

Chinese New Year’s Eve

The day is busy. Families clean the house, put spring couplets on either side of the door, hang red lanterns and prepare a big dinners with many auspicious courses. Some families worship ancestors before dinner.

On New Year’s Eve, only positive and lucky words are permitted. Negative words such as “no,” “empty,” “lost” and “broken” are strictly forbidden. People should say “you le,” meaning “I have had enough,” rather than “bu yao,” or “no,” to decline more food. A broken dumpling is described as “zheng le” (earning) rather than “po le” (broken).

Right at the midnight (12am), firecrackers are set off.

Chinese New Year’s Day

Many people get up early and set off more firecrackers to welcome the new year. They put on new clothes and make courtesy calls on senior relatives. They make phone calls in the morning to show courtesy and respect.

There are many taboos on the first day of the year. Don’t sweep, lest good luck is swept away. Don’t throw out water or garbage, lest fortune is poured out. Don’t use any sharp-edged tools, lest they hurt the gods. Don’t criticize people, lest you will fight with others for the whole year. Don’t wash anything or take a bath, lest it will wash away the good luck.

Breaking anything is a bad sign. If it happens, people should say “sui sui ping an” (safe every year), since the pronunciation is the same as “break.”

Second day

Married couples should visit the wife’s parents where they should eat lunch, returning home for dinner. Gifts such as fruit, snacks and rice cakes are prepared.

In some places, it’s traditional to buy fish and set them free in rivers and ponds to make merit.

Third day

It is time to get rid of rubbish and waste accumulated since New Year’s Eve. This symbolizes sweeping away the spirit of poverty.

This is not a good day to pay visits, as it is the day of chi gou or red dog that governs/causes quarrels. Some elderly people observe tradition by staying indoor all day to avoid having words with anyone. The tradition is no longer observed in most places.

Fourth day

This is the day to invite the God of Wealth into the home where he will celebrate his birthday on the fifth day.

In the afternoon every household and shop prepares offerings, including carp and sheep’s head, to welcome the god in a midnight ceremony. Candles and incense are burned.

Firecrackers are set off at doorways at midnight (12am) and windows are opened, to welcome the God of Wealth.

Fifth day

This is called po wu ri, meaning breaking five day.

Firecrackers are set off in the morning to drive the five bad things — evil, monsters, disaster, sickness and poverty — from the house. They should be lighted indoors and taken outdoors, to drive bad things outside.

Then a thorough house cleaning is required to ensure bad things don’t return.

Many families prepare jiaozi. Pinching the dough closed around the stuffing symbolizes pinching of mouths of people who gossip and speak ill.

Sixth day

Most private shops and restaurants reopen. Twelve-year-olds are especially welcome, since 12 is double six, suggesting the proverb liu liu da shun (double six signifies all goes smoothly).

Seventh day

This is the day of the Ren Ri or Human Day.

The goddess Nu Wa created creatures in seven days as the world began. She created chickens on the first day, dogs on the second, pigs on the third, sheep on the fourth, cattle on the fifth, horses on the sixth and human on the seventh.

Eating qi bao geng (seven-treasure congee) made of seven vegetables or fruits on the day is said to rid the body of pathogenic energies. The ingredients differ in different regions.

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