Streamers hung from the ceiling
Colourful and attractive decorated board
Have a Rabbitlicious New Year!
Lion Dance and fire crackers are integral part of the CNY celebration
TAB YOUR TABOOS
Do you know some superstitions and taboos of Chinese New Year customs? I proudly can say I do! I used to be surrounded by Chinese neighbours and friends when I was growing up. The fact that I had a lot of Chinese and Indian friends when I was schooling also had helped me to understand the Chinese and Indian culture more.
I know for sure that my Chinese friends can't sweep their house clean on the eve of CNY. It's like sweeping all your luck away for the new year. After New Year's Day, the floors may be swept. Dust and rubbish are swept to the middle of the hall. Caution is taken not to step on the rubbish. My neighbours would never sweep the dust out of their front entrance. You would be cursed by the elders and probably hit by the broom on your head if you are caught doing so for it meant you have just swept away all the good fortune of the family. Your sweeping strokes must be inward for harm not to stay with you. One final step to be observed is that all dirt and rubbbish must be taken out from the back door.
You can't give knives away or use knives to cut food or fruits on the first day. You are being anti-social if you do so because it means you want to severe blood ties or friendship. The use of scissors is also avoided for the same reason. Care must also be taken not to break things on the first day. So that explained why when my gang visited my neighbours on CNY, we clumsy kids, were always served with plastic cups and plates while all the fine bone china crockery was hidden from sight.
I stopped short of giving my Chinese neighbour white flowers for a floral arrangement gift on one new year day. White means death and you do not definitely want to wish your good neighbours with immediate death on a very auspicious day like Chinese New Year unless you want to be clobbered to death by him!
During my kampung days at Jalan Kasturi, my Chinese neighbours would fire crackers at the stroke of twelve on New Year Eve to send out the old year and ring the new year with a loud sound. They said it's a way of welcoming the gods from heaven too. All their windows and doors were flung open to allow all the bad luck of old year to flow away on the eve. I shut mine closed incase the bad luck flow through my windows.
The explosive sound of the crackers would last continuously long for almost half and hour. Everyone would fire their crackers at the same time. The kampung became a war zone every midnight of new year eve. We would wait for that moment to see the sparks and smoke of the crackers filling the air. If my neighbours were from a higher income strata, then they would hang their crackers on bamboo poles to lit up. The richer you are, the longer your string of crackers should be.
In the morning, we kids would rummage through the red strewn burnt paper and sieve for any unexploded crackers for our turn to make the pop sound. You should see the joy on our faces when we managed to salvage a few pieces of that cylindrical-shaped fire cracker. Simple joy but enormous fun for tight-budget children like me!
I also learnt that my Chinese neighbours must cook their rice and leave it overnight till the first day of new year. This means that they would have enough food to last them for the whole year. And to ensure that the young have sufficient money for the year, the adults practice giving hongbao to them. There must be a certain amount shoved into the angpow, like $1.00. I am talking about the amount given in the 1960's where $1.00 was preciously treasured.
Anything to do with number '4' pronounced as 'Si' or 'Death' is strictly avoided. You also need to clear your debt before the new year comes knocking at your door. Ill luck would befall on you and the family if you do not settle the I.O.U payment. It is a no-no to borrow money on that day too.
To get a headstart for the new year, my Chinese neighbour would only move house before the new year and never during the festive season. Renovation work should also end before the festivity starts. This is to give the family a brand new lease of luck for the coming year in a new environment.
My kampung friend Wan Ching was once chided by her mum for washing her hair on New Year day. The reason - she was actually washing away all her good fortune for the new year. Nor was she allowed to wear black on the first day of new year. Wearing anything black is frowned upon unless you want a gloomy and doomed year ahead.
Wan Ching's family would go visiting in bright colours. Red is the top choice. Wan Ching would be dressed in a red dress, carry a red bag and walk with a pair of red shoes. Her pony-tailed hair would be tied with a piece of red ribbon. Try asking any youngsters nowadays to wear all red from head to toe 'You xiao or what?'. They will snort and snarl at you with dagger-sharp eyes!
Red is the favourite colour for one to be dressed in if you go visiting. Red is a happy, bright and vibrant colour. It is supposed to bring luck and many happy moments to the wearer. The right tone would set the right luck for the wearer all year round.
My kampung neighbours would also hang a new piece of red cloth at their doorway to signify good wealth for the new year. They would set a table of food in front of their doorway. Chicken, duck, pork, fruits and sweet meat would be offered to the gods. It was a must for all of my neighbours to do so for they believe that before they eat the food, it had to be blessed by the gods.
Understanding the culture, traditions and festivals of others was a rich learning for me during my kampung days. I didn't have to surf the net back then to find out about these traditions. Which kampung lad would have ever heard of a computer in the 60's? No textbook could also have transfered the learning and the experience I went through effectively. It was only through living, playing, eating, celebrating festivals together and immersing your heart and soul with the other races that had enriched me in understanding and accepting how others lead their lives. I believe no culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.
Jawaharlal Nehru was totally right when he said, “Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit."