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January 21 2020

7 Customs and Taboos You Should Know About Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year is just around the corner! With ¼ of the world’s population who follow the lunar calendar and celebrate Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, it would be great fun to participate in the celebrations to experience a culture that you may not be familiar with. However, do you know the traditions of Lunar New Year? No? We have hand-picked 7 customs and taboos you should be aware of to enjoy the New Year with your students!

Happy Chinese New Year - The year of the Rat

Happy New Year: 新年快乐 (Mandarin: xīn nián kuài lè / Cantonese: Sun Nin Fai Lok)


This forthcoming weekend marks the Year of the Rat. Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year Celebration will commence on Saturday 25 January 2020 and for some Chinese students, they may find this time of year particularly difficult to be away from their families and friends. It may also be the first time that the students have been away from home during a special celebration.

If you are hosting a student from China or Hong Kong this weekend then please try to celebrate with them, it can be something really simple from wishing them a Happy New Year on Saturday, to talking with them about how they would usually celebrate this special occasion with their family or you could try and help them to cook a Chinese meal for your family.

In the past, some pupils have enjoyed writing New Year’s messages on red paper (Man: chūn lián / Can: Fai Chun) for their host families, to bring them good luck.  If you have some red paper at home, then this may be a fun activity for you to take part in with your pupil.

Below are some tips and taboos we have put together to help you celebrate with your student and to avoid accidentally offending them during this time of year, however, each student is different and celebrations vary from region to region in China.


1. Only use positive words on Chinese New Year

All words with negative connotations are forbidden during Chinese New Year. These include: death, sick, empty, pain, ghost, poor, break, kill and more, this is due to people not wanting to bring bad luck onto their relatives and loved ones.


2. Try not to break any objects

It is thought that breaking glass or ceramics will break your connection to a good fortune and a prosperous life. If a plate or bowl is dropped, then it should be wrapped in red paper.


3. Try not clean or sweep out the good luck

Before the Spring Festival, there is a day of cleaning to sweep away the bad luck but during the actual celebration cleaning or throwing out rubbish may sweep away good luck instead.  You can clean and sweep, only you must remember to not ‘sweep out’ instead you must ‘sweep in’ so that you don’t throw away any good luck.

Similarly, some people do not take a shower on Chinese New Year’s Day and some people have a long shower the night before the Chinese New Year to wash away any bad luck from the previous year.


4. Do not use scissors, knives or other sharp objects

It is thought that Sharp objects will cut your stream of wealth and success. This is why almost all hairdressers are closed during the holidays in China and Hong Kong. Hair cutting is taboo and forbidden until Lunar February 2, when all festivities are over.


5. Students may avoid taking medicine

Chinese nationals may try not to take medicine during the Spring Festival or visit the doctor or a hospital to avoid being sick the entire year. Of course, if you are chronically ill or contract a sudden serious disease, immediate health should still come first.


6. Do not give New Year blessings to someone still in bed

You are supposed to give New Year blessings but let the recipient get up first. Otherwise, it is said they will be bed-ridden for the entire year. You also shouldn’t tell someone to wake up on Chinese New Year as it is said they will be rushed and bossed around for the year. Take advantage of this and sleep in!


7. Chinese gift-giving

Students may give you gifts as it is tradition to bring gifts when paying visits.  Some gifts are forbidden, Clocks are the worst gifts as gifting clock in Chinese has the same pronunciation as ‘going to your funeral’.  Umbrellas, shoes and anything involving the number 4 should also not be given as gifts.

If you would like to give your student a gift then usually children are given sweets or chocolates in a red, round box or tub, named Complete Box (Man: cuán hé / Can: cyun hap).

Chinese sweet box and envelope 

For the Spring Festival, these rules may seem excessive especially when you add in the cultural norms, customs, and manners but they have been formed over thousands of years embodying the beliefs, wishes, and worries of the Chinese people.


Nicole Chan

Course Manager
Living Learning English
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