Culture & Religion

Traditions and Taboos: 5 Must-Dos for CNY

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Festivities are never-ending in Malaysia! Seems like just yesterday we were celebrating Christmas and ushering in the New Year, and now Malaysians are promptly prepping for the next big festival in the country — Chinese New Year. Falling on February 16 this year, the CNY celebrations mark the beginning of a long weekend (perfect for getaways!) for those who aren’t celebrating but for those who are, its a time for family, food and traditions.

If you aren’t familiar with Chinese New Year, it starts on the second new moon after the winter solstice and officially ends in 15 days. The Chinese follow the lunar calendar, which means that it is based on the moon. This also means that CNY falls on a different day every year, as it does not coincide with the normal calendar we follow everyday. CNY also marks a new zodiac year and 2018 is the Year of the Dog.

Prepping for CNY

The celebration revolves around taboos and traditions that have been passed down from centuries, which include specific things that need to be done in preparation for the new year. One of the main and more important preparations is to clean and decorate the house. CNY has always been associated with the colour red as it symbolises good fortune and joy. But before the decor can go up, cleaning needs to be done.

1. Cleaning

Cleaning the house is an act believed to rid of any bad luck in the house that may have been present from the year before, and also to usher in good luck once the new year arrives. It’s also a good habit because it would also mean that the home is prepped to receive any guests during the 15-day CNY period.

However, it is also a taboo to sweep the house during CNY. It is believed that good luck brought in during the new year would be swept away. While most observe this taboo for the first three to four days of the new year, some would abstain from sweeping for the whole 15 days. There’s also a taboo when it comes to washing hair as it is also believed that you’re flushing your fortune down the drain if you wash your hair (but this can be skipped too!)

2. Decorating

Most households are fully decorated in the colour red —  from curtains to furniture, and even animal cut-outs of the zodiac year! Some even opt to use colours that have been deemed auspicious to their specific Zodiac animals, including purple and blue. Some of the more common decorating items are with lanterns, which is believed to drive off bad luck, paper cuttings of Chinese characters, animal, or plant, which is believed to bring about luck and happiness, and blooming flowers, symbolising spring-time.

3.  Reunion Dinner


This is pretty much the most important tradition for CNY celebrations in Malaysia, where family members from near and far come home on the eve of CNY for a big dinner, just for the family. For married couples, the reunion will often be at the husband’s side of the family, and then visits to the wife’s side on the second day. Some families choose to start their dinners with an offering to the ancestors, including the offering of food, fruits, flowers, and tea.

4. Tea Ceremony

Image credit: Flickr (Andy Nguyen)

On the first day of the Chinese New Year, the children in the family anticipate the visiting of elders and relatives to collect “ang pows” or red packet, but it’s not just handed to them. Typically, the eldest generation sits on chairs in the living room while the younger generations take turns offering them sweet tea. Grandparents, parents, and even uncles and aunts are to receive the tea. The one presenting the tea has to face the elder and bow a little while reciting their CNY wishes. The elder would take a sip and then, gives the children a red packet filled with money.

5. Lion Dance and Fire Crackers

I’m pretty sure you’ll see lion dancers driving around in neighbourhoods at the back of a lorry, with several lion heads peeping out at the back. Houses and businesses, especially newly opened ones, hire lion dancers to perform during CNY. While it is fun to watch, it is believed the dance will chase away ghosts, evil spirits, and bad luck. If you notice, at some point within the dance routine, fire crackers will be lit as well, as the loud noises are believed to scare off the “nian”, a beast that lives under the sea or in the mountains which comes out during the new year. This is also why loud instruments like gongs, cymbals, and drums are used as well.

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