Feature: Demystifying Lunar New Year – No, Not The Lantern Festival In Domain

A collaboration by Helen Yeung, Daphne Zheng and Chris Wong of shared traditions, rituals and symbols experienced during Lunar New Year. 

Red Underwear: Yes you read that correctly, the belief is that if it is your zodiac coincides with the zodiac of the year, the dog in this instance, this will bring bad luck, so wearing red underwear will help you ward this off. In case you haven’t noticed already that everything for this festive season is red, the colour is also a symbolically lucky colour signifying happiness, loyalty and success.

Don’t Clean Anything!: Literally, don’t even pick up that one hair on the floor after midnight strikes. Make sure you clean everything during New Year’s Eve and stop once the clock hits 12, anymore sweeping or dusting signifies that you are getting rid of all your luck and prosperity. Keep all these good things in your house for the year folks. 

Showering Before Midnight: This is literally the same concept as not cleaning your house after New Years. Make sure you don’t wash your hair on the first day of Lunar New Year either as the Chinese character for hair “fa” also has the same pronunciation as the character for wealth. If you want to get that 50 cent pay rise better not wash away your fortunes for the year.

Steaming Fish: Steam a fish on New Year’s Eve and leave it overnight. Yes, this is wordplay again, the Chinese character for fish “yu” has the same pronunciation as the Chinese character for surplus, meaning you’ll have surplus and prosper for the new year.

Eating Yee Sang: This one’s more of a Southeast Asian Lunar New Year tradition. “Yee sang”, which directly translates in Cantonese to raw fish, consists of salmon along with shredded cucumber, carrot, jicama, daikon and crunchy tofu skin where all of which are drizzled with a sweet plum sauce. Here comes the exciting part, all participants gather around the dinner table in a joint effort to toss the ingredients while shouting “loh hey”. Following the belief that the higher the toss the higher your fortunes will grow for the year.

Red Packet: If you’re white you’ll probably know this one, the fascinating red envelopes that usually contain $20 notes, you may have discovered this while eating dinner at your Chinese friend’s house. As long as you’re a child in your household, your parents will grant you a small fortune in “hong bao” or “lai see” and place it under your pillow. It’s like the tooth fairy, but better. When you get married then it will be your turn to start giving this small fortune to the younger generation. It’s a full cycle really.

Ancestor Worship: Most of the ancestor worship practices which take place during this time of the year are either of Taoist or Buddhist origins. Ancestor worshipping is a religious practice that is based on deceased members who continue to exist, with their spirits protecting the family, taking an interest in world affairs, and having an ability to influence the fortunes of the living. So it’s important to worship ancestors before a reunion dinner and invite them to join in family celebrations with food, fruit, flowers and tea.

No Goths, No Minimalism: This is no joke. Want to wear an entirely black outfit to reflect your soul or a follow a fresh #hypebeast #streetstyle all-white look with your Adidas Stan Smiths? Well don’t. We’re 99% certain you’ll be yelled at by a distant relative as these colours are both a symbol of death and mourning. So take this as a warning from us.

Blessings: If you don’t usually celebrate Lunar New Year, don’t try and butcher these please. When you greet people on the first day of New Year, you’ll hear them say “gong xi fa cai” in Mandarin, or “gong hei fat choi” in Cantonese. Not only does it act as a blessing and congratulations for the new year, it also wishes the person to have a great and prosperous year. Along with this, older people are usually blessed with things related to health, longevity, wealth and their careers, whereas younger people are blessed things related to education, beauty, their love life and general good luck.

Zodiacs: There are twelve animal signs which represent each year, they work similarly to horoscopes but in a yearly cycle. There’s tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, mouse and ox with each one occurring once every 12 years.

Firecrackers: FYI the red firecrackers mentioned here are banned in New Zealand, but you can get plastic ones from your local Asian groceries. These iconic red paper crackers which hang on a string are used to welcome the year as the loud bangs are believed to scare off any evil spirits. As legend has it, on New Year’s Eve each year, the Nian monster would come out to eat villagers and destroy their houses. The villagers discovered that burning bamboo and making explosive noises would scare away the monster, this was then adopted as a yearly tradition for all.