The Stories Behind Chinese New Year Superstitions

Join CHARLENE TAN as she talks about common Chinese New Year superstitions, explores their origins, and finds out more about the stories behind them.



Charlene Tan
Events Manager

Hype Issue #58

Published on
February 7, 2023
Chinese New Year

People often adhere to superstitions especially during the Chinese New Year for a more auspicious year. Photo taken from Refinery29.

Growing up, did your parents tell you to avoid cutting your nails or whistling at night? While mine did, I never understood why. These superstitions are already prevalent in our daily lives, but even more so during Chinese New Year. If you celebrate Chinese New Year, I’m sure you’d have heard enough superstitions to adhere to during the festive season so as to avoid bad luck and bring good fortune to the year. So, let’s explore the origins behind each of the different Chinese New Year superstitions. What are the stories behind them?

inauspicious colours

People will avoid wearing black or white clothing during Chinese New Year as these are considered inauspicious colours. Photo taken from Pinterest.

1. Avoid wearing black or white clothing

Starting off with the most common practice during Chinese New Year – to avoid wearing black or white clothing. In Chinese culture, colours play a prominent role as they represent different meanings – with some colours being more lucky than others. Black and white are considered inauspicious as they are often associated with evil and grief, hence people generally would advise against wearing them to avoid bad luck. It’s a common sight to see those celebrating Chinese New Year draped in red instead, which is an auspicious colour in Chinese culture as it symbolises good luck and prosperity.

Red is also believed to ward off evil spirits. According to legends, there was once a monster in China called Nian, that would appear on the eve of Chinese New Year to eat the villagers and livestock. On this day, the villagers would flee to remote mountains to avoid it, until an old man visited the village. The story goes that the villagers discovered the next day that the village had not been destroyed as the old man had pasted red papers on doors, burnt bamboo to make a loud sound, lit candles in the houses, and had worn red clothing. The villagers thusly believed that Nian was afraid of loud sounds, bright lights, and the colour red. And so, over time, the celebration of Chinese New Year has featured these three things in abundance!


In the past, it was believed that only the less fortunate would eat porridge for breakfast. Photo taken from Wokandkin.

2. Avoid eating porridge for breakfast

Although porridge is a dish loved by many and is often eaten for breakfast, this is something you should avoid on the first day of Chinese New Year if you don’t wish to struggle with money. According to Chinese belief, porridge symbolises poverty as it’s often associated with famine, with some even going as far as viewing it as “poor people food”. Being unable to afford other staple dishes, the less fortunate in the olden days would resort to eating porridge as it stretches the rice ration, expanding one portion of rice to at least four. Hence, people will avoid eating porridge during the first day of Chinese New Year, to avoid “starting off the year poor”.

3. Avoid washing your hair

Washing your hair may seem like a normal part of your daily routine, however you may want to avoid doing so on the first day of Chinese New Year. In Chinese language, “hair” and “fortune” share the same character, “发”. Since some Chinese superstitions come about due to homonyms, washing your hair on the first day of Chinese New Year could mean that you’re washing away your wealth and luck for the year, which is definitely not something you’d want!

4. Avoid sweeping the floor

To prepare for Chinese New Year, your parents will definitely nag at you to clean the house to ‘get rid of the bad luck from the previous year’ and to bring more fortune to the New Year. However, you might want to do your spring cleaning before the first day of Chinese New Year, as doing so may “sweep” away your fortune for the new year. It is believed that new fortune for the year arrives once the clock strikes midnight of the first day of Chinese New Year.

5. Avoid using negative words

You should avoid using negative words associated with poverty, death, or sickness in your conversations during Chinese New Year. This superstition is pretty self-explanatory as some people may already avoid doing so in daily life. Using negative words may result in you jinxing yourself, or tempting fate.


Superstitions come about from associations, as humans often create links with things around us. Photo taken from Behance.

These superstitions stem from the distant past with different interpretations and stories behind them. Other than homonyms, word associations and symbolisms, there’s still no proper explanations to their origins. However, these superstitions still hold true for many who celebrate Chinese New Year, and even during their daily lives.