Treasure trove of tradition

Treasure trove of tradition

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Lunar New Year is full of wonderful practices passed on down the years, Zoe Mak reports.

It might seem like a pain to follow the traditions of the Lunar New Year when all you want to do is hang out with your friends. But they are not all superstitious and uncool. They're a great way to understand Chinese history and culture.

There are many local traditional practices that your parents have followed for years but you may be completely clueless about, for example, hanging the character fok, or luck, upside down, buying trousers, and not washing your hair on the first day of Lunar New Year.

Chinese wedding etiquette consultant Lo Kan-fong says everything, including the time, season, people and places, have affected these practices from ancient China to the present.

'We reflect our culture and feelings through objects, shapes and numbers,' she says.

'For example, parents will put lotus seeds [which symbolise fertility] on the bed of their newly married children. Blessings are given through certain objects, based on their shape, pronunciation, taste, colour and numbers.'

Lo says the shape and sound of sweet dumplings, tong yuen, represent fullness. Because they are sweet, they are a favourite festive food used to celebrate big holidays like Lunar New Year and the Mid Autumn Festival.

'The dragon fruit has become a popular festive fruit, because it's red,' she says, adding that people also like things that go in pairs, such as couplets.

Lo says practices vary from region to region. For example, Shanghainese like to eat duck during Lunar New Year but Taiwanese don't. It is inauspicious because the pronunciation of duck in Taiwanese is the same as for pawning something.

Many people like to hang the character for luck upside down in their homes. The character means luck, or fortune, in English. The act of turning something upside down is called doe in Cantonese. Another meaning for the syllable is 'arriving'. So by turning the character for luck upside down, it means good fortune will come to you.

But fung shui master Cheung Tze-chun says there are too many interpretations for this tradition. 'Chinese characters should be straight and aligned properly in terms of fung shui, so it should be hanging the right way up. Some fung shui masters would interpret hanging the character upside down as emptying out your wealth.'

She says the character is made up of several parts, including a small character tin, which means 'fields' in English and represents wealth in Chinese. By turning fok upside down, tin is also turned upside down. The act can symbolise your wealth draining away.

Lo and Cheung explain that another popular practice, buying trousers, also relates to pronunciation. Fu sounds the same as the word for wealth. Some believe buying trousers on Lunar New Year day would bring wealth in the coming year.

Cheung adds that most people do not wash their hair or sweep the floor on the first day of the new year.

'This is because the first day is always a lucky day, and people do not want to wash or sweep the luck away,' she says.

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