TAIPEI, Taiwan - While ringing in Chinese New Year this year, a litany of traditions is respected - as well as taboos - during the Spring Festival. There is a particular emphasis on the most important days of New Year's Eve (Feb. 18) through the first five days of the New Year, until Feb. 23.
According to folklore, one's actions during the New Year set the tone for the year as a whole, so breaking these taboos in attitude, dress, behaviour or customs is believed to bear negative consequences on yourself and others - and continue haunting you until the next Spring Festival.
With regard to the five days of rest at the very beginning of the New Year, each day requires accompanying behaviour and customs, for example:
No one should wear clothing representing negativity (black) or death (white), or anything at all out of place with the festive atmosphere.
Likewise, negative words, topics or stories should not be brought up. Ghost stories and the word "four," or any other words in the Chinese language sounding similar to the word "death" should be avoided.
Mentioning the past year should likewise be avoided, instead turning attention and discussion toward the New Year ahead.
New Year's Eve, Feb. 18
All brooms, brushes, dusters and dustpans must be put away.
Everything must be cleaned by this day, including the entire household, animals, the elderly, young etc. This represents a fresh start, to usher in good luck. All debts must be paid.
The New Year's feast must not run out of food. Bedrooms must be brightly lit. If you happen to break any bowls, glasses or anything, utter the words "Suisui Ping'an" ("Peace visit you through the ages. In order to fully let the old out and the new in, all windows and doors should be opened before the stroke of midnight.
Chu-yi (Day One), Feb. 19
One should never wash their hair on this or the next day, out of respect for the Water God. To prevent laziness, no one should be allowed to take a nap during the day.
When visiting and making offerings at the temples of local deities, avoid giving meat or killing animals. No one should eat gruel or congee, which are seen as constituting a pauper's diet and mean you will be poor throughout the year.
Chu-er (Day Two), Feb. 20
When giving presents to relatives during the customary visit to the maternal parents' household, visitors shouldn't give gifts such as: clocks (which signify that you are escorting them to the grave by giving them a countdown); green hats (signifying infidelity); shoes (Hsieh, which sounds like a sigh in Mandarin); pears (Li, as it sounds like "separation" or "leaving"); handkerchiefs (used at funerals); umbrellas (San, sounds like "closing"); or sharp-bladed objects (symbolizes cutting ties between friends and relatives).
Presents given must be in even numbers - or even better, in pairs.
Chu-san (Day Three), Feb. 21
It's best to sleep earlier on this day, as people should make an effort not to turn on lights.
From this day till the last day (Chu-wu) of the five-day rest period, everyone should avoid going out to call on other households. This is because Chu-san is the time the "new year beast" Nianshou emerges, bringing bad luck to those who cross its path.
Chu-si (Day Four), Feb. 22
Going out should be avoided on this day.
Chu-wu (Day Five), Feb. 23
The last day of rest should be one of getting all the piled up garbage out of the house. Anything with relation to dirt should be avoided, such as digging or construction.