How you spend Chinese New Year can set you up for an auspicious 12 months. Ray Robertson reveals some ancient practices worth following, and gets the lowdown on lai see giving.
In our quest for wellness in 2018, we’d be foolish not to hope for a little luck, and there’s no better time than Chinese New Year (CNY) to start bringing it home. Tradition dictates that there are certain things you can do over Lunar New Year, and certain things you absolutely cannot do, if you are to enjoy a happy, healthy and prosperous year ahead.
If you want to breathe some magic into your life as you head into the Year of the Dog, try these easy-to follow, tried-and-tested observances.
On the day before Lunar New Year’s Eve, you need to set to and clean house. This will clear out any bad vibes picked up overthe past year and allow good luck to come in. Once through, put away your brooms and brushes – you can’t touch them again until February 16, lest you sweep out all the luck that you’ve just made room for.
You want to start the Lunar New Year ‘clean’ in more ways than one, so pay off all your debts and scratch off everything on your to- do list. You’re about to enter a new chapter and you don’t want to carry old baggage with you – try to resolve any differences you may have with friends, relatives or work colleagues.
Lunar New Year is a public holiday (February 16 to 19 this year) because it’s unlucky to work at this time. You need to avoid work of all kinds, housework too, so prepare meals for Lunar New Year’s Eve and Lunar New Year’s Day in advance.
February 14 is also the day to decorate your home for CNY – even this is considered work, and therefore needs to be done before Lunar New Year’s Eve. It’s traditional to hang firecrackers on your front door to frighten away evil spirits, and to fill your home with flowering plants, which symbolise growth and new beginnings. Live potted plants are preferable to fresh cut flowers but if any flower blooms on Lunar New Year’s Day, you can expect to prosper in the months ahead.
On Lunar New Year’s Eve, the trick is not to do too much. If you meditate, use the time to say goodbye to things that no longer serve you, and give thanks for everything that’s good in your life. Burn a little sage to free your home of negative energy, and pay your respects to your ancestors. What’s important is that you get together with family and friends for a celebratory (pre-prepared) meal to welcome in a new, prosperous year.
If you are celebrating at home, arrange bowls of oranges (for good health and long life), tangerines (for fruitful, lasting relationships) and persimmons (for happiness and wealth). Offer your guests eight varieties of dried fruit to ensure they start CNY sweetly.
Come midnight, open every door and window to let go of Rooster Year and any bad vibes associated with it. It’s traditional to set off firecrackers to blast out the old and welcome in the new but, since these are illegal in Hong Kong, head to the fireworks display in Victoria Harbour on February 17 instead.
Everything that happens on Lunar New Year’s Day impacts on the year ahead, so be careful with your words, your deeds, what you eat and whom you greet. The first interaction you have sets the tone for your relationships throughout the Year of the Dog – so make sure it’s a positive one.
What you experience on February 16 will keep recurring over the next 12 months. Make sure your day is filled with love and laughter – don’t cry, and don’t lend or borrow money. Greet your relatives, neighbours and friends and wish them well.
CNY is a celebration of change. It’s important to speak positively about the coming year, and avoid talking about the year gone by, or things in the past. Wear new clothes, remembering that red is the colour of joy and happiness. Avoid wearing white or black, as these are the colours of mourning. Avoid all mention of death – don’t say 四 (the number four in Chinese) because it sounds like 死亡 (the Chinese word for death), and don’t tell ghost stories.
You already know not to work, cook or clean over the holidays. Be mindful not to wash your hair on Lunar New Year’s Day, as this will wash away your luck, and don’t use knives or scissors, as this cuts your luck.
Through March 2
To get CNY off to the right start, you need to give lai see, and you have 15 days to do so. This year’s celebrations run from February 16 to March 2, and this is the time to hand out those little red packets.
When giving lai see, the first thing to bear in mind is that it’s not a tip or a year-end bonus. It’s a blessing. “In Chinese, lai see can be written 利是, 利事 or 利市, with each pronounced the same way. The character 利 means ‘good for’ or ‘smooth,’ 是/事 refers to ‘things’ or ‘matters,’ and 市 refers to ‘the market’ or ‘business.’ So together, lai see is a wish of good luck, for everything to go smoothly or for one’s business to be good,” explains Kate Zhou director of Yifan Mandarin.
“The Chinese believe that luck is a two-way street,” Kate adds. ”So the more luck you give to others, the more luck you will receive. The quantity inside each lai see packet is irrelevant. Bigger amounts do not equal to bigger luck.”
It’s also important to give lai see personally. “In some buildings management has a lai see fund to which tenants and owners contribute, but this turns the luck-giving into a materialistic exercise. The giving of lai see is meant to be a joyous act of spreading good cheer and best wishes, and you do it yourself,” Kate explains. “It’s like sending Christmas cards or throwing confetti at a wedding.”
Importantly, children should not give lai see, they receive only. “More egregious than over giving is having your children hand out lai see, especially when giving to service staff,” says Kate. “It isn’t cute – it is inappropriate and insulting.
“There is an order to lai see giving: older to younger, married to non-married, or between people of the same generation,” Kate adds. Kung Hei Fat Choy!
Kate Zhou is founder and director of Yifan Mandarin, which offers Mandarin and Cantonese classes for both children and adults in DB North Plaza. Visit www.yifan-mandarin.com.hk.
Images: www.wikimedia.orgTags: Chinese New Year practices, year of the dog 2018, Chinese traditions, lai see guidelines