All about Chinese New Year: taboos, wishes and magic words

Chinese New Year is a little early this year, I just can’t wait for this lovely holiday! If you’re curious what people do for this important festival, I have some things on my list that I can share with you. Here are some:

  1. Get a 红包hóng bāo (Red envelop with money) from my parents.
  2. Have a big family reunion and prepare for those annoying questions such as: 你怎么还是单身?nǐ zěn me hái shìdān shēn(why are you still single?)
  3. Play 麻将Mahjong with my cousins.
  4. Watch and ridicule 春晚chūn wǎn (annual show on Chinese New Year’s Eve)
  5. Play with and watch fireworks.
  6. Eat a lot of food.

It’s kind of boring, but one thing that’s even more boring is having to repeat some formula words all the time to family or friends. If you have a Chinese neighbor or friend, you can try these phrases with them and at least you can make them happy.. Let’s check these words.

恭喜发财(gōngxǐ fācái) May you come into a good fortune!
大吉大利(dàjí dàlì) Good Luck!
万事如意(wànshì rúyì) All the best!
健康长寿(jiànkāng chángshòu) Live long and prosper!

cny1

I think these Chinese New Year phrases are enough to meet your social needs during the holiday. However, you may already know that Chinese culture is a little superstitious. So we have a lot of taboos for New Year that you should be aware of. Here are some examples:

  1. Don’t say anything unlucky, for example: the Chinese word ‘death’, ‘unfortunate’, ‘lose’ and so on.
  2. Don’t break anything.
  3. Don’t sweep your house and throw trash away.
  4. Don’t finish your fish dish.

Some of these taboos we can avoid but others may be out of your control. So you may wonder, how about when a kid breaks a cup? Don’t worry you can still fix it with a simple phrase. Read after me:

岁岁平安(suì suì píng ān) Peace all year round

Since the first two character “岁(suì)岁(suì) year around” sounds like the word “碎(suì)(broken)”, we have changed the unlucky accident into a good wish. Or how about if someone says one of the unlucky words? You can say this phrase right away:

童言无忌(tóng wú wú jì) It literally means “children say everything but take no offense”. It’s kind like “knock on woods”.

With this saying, no matter what you say, it won’t come true. These are a few things that you can take with you to wish people well and bring luck and fortune to them even if taboos are broken.

Now you know what Chinese families do, what they try to avoid and those magic words you can use them to bless others for the holiday. Also, you are ready to save the blessings of others when they may do one of the many taboos. Well I am ready for a long break with the upcoming holiday and I wish you all:

新春快乐(xīn chūn kuài lè)!
Happy Spring Festival!

Vera Zhang

After graduating from East China Normal University in 2005, Vera Zhang (张晓丽) started her career in teaching Chinese as a second language. Her first teaching job was teaching high school Chinese in Philippines and realized how much she loved this job. In 2007, she came back Shanghai and spent 7 years in ChinesePod. During that, she also went to America to learn language learning knowledge and curriculum editing by teaching in a high school. Now she works in a start-up company and has developed a new Chinese learning app-HelloChinese. She hopes she can share her knowledge in Chinese and make Chinese learning easy and fun.