If You Love Your Uncle, Avoid These Chinese New Year Taboos!
You have probably heard enough of Spring Festival traditions and customs, but what about taboos? People do not usually tell you of such things until you break a cultural taboo or step on someone's toes. For example, if someone has their hair cut anytime during the first lunar month, bad luck is supposed to fall upon their maternal uncles.
Believe it or not, it’s better to show some respect to these taboos; for Chinese people, it's how we try to keep the tradition alive. On the other hand, if you are an uncle living in China you may want to send the message to your nieces and nephews, too.
Taboo No. 1: No Cursing
There should be no cursing or inauspicious words spoken during the CNY celebration. Also, you should not mention anything associated with death or "termination." So, I guess in case you finish your food on your plate prematurely you should not loudly announce, “I’m done!”
Taboo No. 2: No Medicine
Nobody is supposed to take medicine on the first day of the lunar New Year. Chinese people believe that whatever is done on the first day of the year will then continue to last for the remainder of the year. It is also a taboo to greet people in bed; even sick people should attempt to get out of bed and talk to guests in the living room as an alternative. Lucky them.
Taboo No. 3: No Work
Similar to medicine, if you do any kind of work on the first day of the new year, you will be exhausted thereafter for the rest of the year.
Taboo No. 4: Do Not Finish a Fish
There is a Chinese idiom 年年有余 (nián nián yǒuyú) which means “having more than enough each and every year.” The character 余 (yú, meaning "surplus") has the exact same pronunciation to 鱼(yú, meaning "fish"); for this reason, preparing a fish dish for every new year's dinner and also leaving behind some of it on the plate after the meal symbolizes prosperity and abundance in the year ahead.
Taboo No. 5: No Haircuts
Absolutely no haircuts are allowed during the first lunar month (the month of Spring Festival)! It is believed that having your hair cut during the first month will bring bad luck to your maternal uncles. We are not sure whether it works but Chinese people do take it very seriously. Ask the barbers!
Oh, and one more thing. In case you break anything, like a plate, make sure you say 岁岁平安 (suì suì píng'ān) out aloud, meaning “peace all year round”; this is because the character 岁 (suì, meaning "year") sounds the same as 碎 (suì, break). By saying these words, an unpleasant situation can be turned into a blessing.
This article originally appeared on our blog in January 2014.