Lower East Side Community

Chinese New Year


Legend has it that a Ming dynasty emperor went sightseeing during the Feast of Lanterns.  He saw, posted on a number of doors, an offensive painting of a barefooted woman with a lemon pressed to her bosom.  Feeling that the poster ridiculed the large feet of the empress, the furious emperor had the character fu distributed only to households that did not display the poster.  An edict was then issued to massacre all families without the fu.  From that time onward, the people deemed it a good omen to display the mark of the fu.

    Today those who hope for an extra bit of luck display the Chinese character fu on the wall or the door.  This character is deliberately placed upside down because fu dao , "luck upside down" is a pun on fu dao   , "Luck arrives."

Red Envelope

No New Year celebration is complete without the traditional gift of money, wrapped up in a red packet, called hong bao     This is because of the proverbial power of money:  "Money gives a bold front; it doesn't talk - it screams."  Hence the loud red packet, symbolizing luck and prosperity - for the giver as well as the recipient.  The red packet is freely given by parents and elderly persons to their children and friends' children and relatives during the New Year calls.  Married persons may give red packets to their unmarried friends.  Token sums are extended to the poor and aged as a goodwill gesture.  The amount in a red packet should be an even number to be lucky and auspicious.  If the red packets are given in pairs the total amount should be an even number.  Odd numbers are considered unlucky.  To reflect good upbringing, the recipient should accept the red packet graciously with the customary good wishes.  It is bad manners to open red packets in the presence of the giver or other people.  It is a common practice for musicians, singers, snake-charmers and dancers to cash in on the season and perform for red packets of money.

Red Color

New Year's Day is a red-letter day for the Chinese.  To the westerner red spells danger but to the Chinese red signifies joy and luck.  So red is an auspicious colour for all festive occasions.  Red is believed to exorcise evil.   It is the colour dreaded by a legendary monster which preyed on innocent victims and destroyed their properties on New Year's Eve.   The New Year season is the time to adorn the house with red flowers, crimson decorations, scarlet cushion covers and fiery calligraphy scrolls.   It is also a time to offer food in red containers, gifts wrapped in red paper and money in red packets.

No Foul Languages

During the Chinese New Year festive season, one must not only look clean, one must also "sound clean".  No foul language is uttered, no unlucky words like "die" or "bad luck" spoken lest misfortune comes to the family.   Solding or cursing is definetely not allowed.  Children are warned on New Year's Eve not to quarrel, fight or speak rudely.  The Chinese believe that if children are thrashed for bad behaviour on New Year's Day, then they would be inclined to be rebellious throughout the year.

No Sharp Ends

During the season, all sorts of instruments with sharp ends or edges like knives, scissors and needles are kept away.  Avoid needlework if you don't want your fingers to be pricked for the rest of the year.  Don't give presents with pointed or sharp ends like pens, pencils, knives or tools.  All sharp instruments that may "sever" good fortune from the family are hidden away. Take special care when handling fragile items like crockery, cups, glases and mirrors.  If anything breaks the family will break up, or seven years of bad luck or a death will occur.


Fire Crackers

Besides warding off evil, fire crackers symbolize prosperity and good luck.   Noise is a sign of life and noise making is a work of merit.  They are also set off, presumably to ward off and frighten off evil spirits.

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