6 Chinese New Year Customs and Facts You Never Knew

Chinese New Year is fast approaching and over a billion Chinese worldwide are preparing to celebrate. Chinese New Year has become more and more visible to Western cultures, with many people across Europe and America joining in on the celebrations.

Such customs like the Lion Dance, Firecrackers, and Red Envelopes have become highly visible symbols of this festive occasion. However, here are some less visible ones that are still celebrated amongst many Chinese communities around the world.

1. Your Year, Not a Good Year

A lot of European friends seem to get very excited when the approaching Chinese zodiac animal is their year, under some belief that it is special or lucky for them. In Chinese astrology, the opposite is actually the case.

For the superstitious, those born on the Year of the Snake should be careful in 2013. Being the Year of the Snake, those born on the year are more susceptible to bad luck and should be very careful. Family members will often light incense and say prayers and those born on the year in question will often wear protective charms, or fast on a vegetarian diet for two weeks following Chinese New Year.

2. Laba zhou

Chinese New Year is full of all sorts of culinary delights, many of which are only eaten at certain times preceding and following on from Chinese New Year for various superstitious reasons. Laba zhou, a sweet rice porridge, should be consumed on the eighth day of the last lunar month.

Chinese dumplings should be eaten at midnight on Chinese New Year Eve for good fortune. Nian Gao, or “Year Cake,” a pre-steamed gluttonous rice cake, should be consumed on the holiday for good luck. Finally, no Chinese New Year feast is without a whole fish dish, as the Chinese word for “fish” sounds similar to the word for “plenty.”

3. House cleaning

A thorough deep-cleaning of the house is required before Chinese New Year. Not just because the relatives are coming, but to cleanse the home of all the previous year’s negative energy. For the especially superstitious, a temple priest or monk can visit the house and further cleanse the home with salt, incense and a few sutra prayers.

4. Haircut and New Wardrobe

Similarly to house cleaning, a self-cleaning is also required. All individuals are required to have a haircut, and a new outfit should be worn on Chinese New Year so as to trick the lingering negative energy of the previous year into not recognizing itself. As a result, you begin the new year with a clean slate. Time to go shopping!!

5. Bribing the Kitchen God

Throughout the year, many Chinese households will hang a picture of the Kitchen God over the kitchen fireplace. The kitchen is believed to be the heart of the home in Chinese culture and it is the Kitchen Gods job to report to heaven on the 28th day of the 12th lunar month on whether or not a family has been good in the previous year.

If good, good fortune and blessing will be bestowed upon the family, bad luck and misfortune if they have been bad. Unwilling to leave it to chance on this day, many Chinese households will burn incense and leave offerings for the Kitchen God. A sweet rice cake is then smeared on the lips of the Kitchen God in hopes that it will “sweeten” their family report. The image is then taken down and burned outside. The higher the ashes rise, the better the report.

6. Someone Gets Fired For Good Luck

Just like how Western companies have a staff Christmas party, many Chinese companies host a Chinese New Year banquet. They hold it on Weiya, the 16th day of the 12th lunar month.

The central piece of the banquet will include a whole cooked chicken with its head. The chicken is spun at the centre of the table and whoever the beak points to gets fired. Yes, they get fired! Or more specifically, they will “quit of their own volition.” It is believed that with this person's exit from the company, all the previous year’s problems and negative energy will leave with them. Traditionally a sizeable severance is given and assistance in finding a new job is provided, not to mention a reference for taking one for the team.