Chinese superstitions in Malaysia

Whether it’s buying a new house or trying your luck at a jackpot, the Chinese community in Malaysia can be a superstitious bunch when it comes to daily activities. Careful unspoken rules and traditional customs reign supreme – especially during auspicious times like the Chinese New Year. 

The validity of these superstitions might be up for debate, but one thing’s for sure – they ring true to a whole lot of us. To help you usher in the new year with extra huat, we’ve compiled a list of 10 common Chinese New Year superstitions in Malaysia to know.

1. Don’t cut your hair on CNY

Chinese superstitions - cutting hair

It’s a common belief that a visit to a hair salon on the eve of Chinese New Year is a huge no-no. Why, you may ask. According to a widely-held belief among the Chinese, the wielding of scissors and a snip close to CNY is akin to cutting off your good fortune.

In the spirit of keeping fortunes intact, Malaysians embrace the idea of avoiding a trim during CNY by getting a new ‘do in the weeks leading up to the new year. That way, flaunting that trendy coif or new auspicious hair colour throughout the festive season is still possible. 

2. Skip the number 4 at all cost 

Chinese superstitions - number 4
Image credit: Jia Kopitiam via Facebook

Chinese or not, most locals have likely heard about the negative connotations on a particular numeral – the notorious 4. Folks believe that this digit summons misfortune, as its pronunciation in Chinese sounds close to the word for ‘death’.

This timeless superstition continues to carry a badge of honour among locals, so much so that you’ll notice the absence of this number in lifts – it is often replaced with 3A instead. Some strong believers even have their traditional calendars labelling the year 2024 as 2023A – like this kopitiam in Malaysia that launched a 2023A calendar.

3. Avoid eating porridge for breakfast on CNY

Chinese superstitions - porridge
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

While the festivities ring in a buffet of food, you’d be surprised to know that even breakfast becomes a culinary adventure when it comes to superstitions.  One belief warns against indulging in porridge for breakfast on CNY as it is akin to inviting bad omens into one’s life.

As the morning sun peeks out on CNY, locals swap their spoons for chopsticks, opting for a breakfast that won’t stir up a pot of bad luck. Whether it’s a plate of wantan mee or chicken rice, Malaysians are cautious to steer clear of porridge, so they won’t be plagued with misfortunes.

4. Avoid gifting clocks and mirrors during CNY

Chinese superstitions - gift giving
Image credit: Leeloo The First via Pexels

While gift-giving is a staple during CNY, locals are careful about their selection of presents to avoid ruffling any superstitious feathers. Enter the taboo on gifting clocks and mirrors, both of which symbolise a reflection on one’s mortality. It is also because the Chinese words for clock and funeral share a similar pronunciation.

The belief suggests that presenting these items might inadvertently tick-tock towards a short lifespan for the recipient, accompanied by an unwelcome visit from the spirits of bad fortune. So, if you’re planning on gifting your Chinese friends, be sure to steer clear of clocks and mirrors.

5. Don’t wash your hair on CNY

Chinese superstitions - washing hair

Avoiding haircuts on CNY aside, brace yourself for another hair-y tradition – not washing your hair. Rumour has it that reaching for your scented shampoos on the auspicious day would be akin to bidding farewell to good fortune.

It goes to prove that sometimes a bad hair day is a small price to pay for abundant luck.

6. Do not wear dull colours during CNY

Chinese superstitions - colourful clothes
Image credit: Deybson Mallony via Pexels

To usher in an abundant CNY, a fashion police superstition takes centre stage with a quirky decree – banishing dull colours from the wardrobe. It is said that wearing lacklustre hues is like sending out a distress signal for bad luck to swoop in.

In hopes of averting misfortunes, locals instead embrace the kaleidoscope of reds, golds, and vibrant hues. One particular colour that must be avoided at all costs is black, as it is rumoured to attract bad omens and dangers into one’s life.

7. Don’t sweep your floors on CNY

Chinese superstitions - sweeping floor
Image credit: Ron Lach via Pexels

While spring cleaning is a must leading up to the new year, there should be absolutely no sweeping of floors during the festive season. Apparently, you might end up not just sweeping away dust and dirt, but bid farewell to your ong as well – out goes the auspicious energy that brings prosperity.

Locals ensure that their brooms take a break and stay put on CNY, embracing messy floors. It goes to show that the accumulation of dirt can actually be the secret ingredient to a home overflowing with prosperity.

8. Avoid taking medicine during CNY

Chinese superstitions - taking medication
Image credit: Polina Tankilevitch via Pexels

As far as superstitions go, even the medicine cabinet isn’t spared. To some, popping pills or downing cough syrup during CNY is like sending a memo to misfortune, inviting illness to linger for the entire year.

It is believed that consuming medications during the festivities is like opening a Pandora’s box of perpetual sniffles and sneezes that may well continue till the end of the year. Hence, locals strategically steer clear of all pills or potions on CNY in order to stay in tip-top condition.

9. Avoid breaking things during CNY

Chinese superstitions - breaking items
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While accidentally breaking an object at home can be frustrating, the rumours surrounding household items during CNY is that breaking anything – be it a plate or a teacup – shatters not just the object but also your financial luck.

So, clumsy folks will want to stay alert come the festive season – especially in the kitchen, where pots and pans become fragile treasures that cannot be broken at any cost. Additionally, many Malaysians take extra caution by ensuring that little ones are far away from the kitchen to avoid breaking a fortune.

10. A married daughter should not visit her parents house on CNY 

Chinese superstitions - visitation
Image credit: Angela Roma via Pexels

CNY is all about reunions with loved ones. But even family visits come with their own set of choreographed steps in the superstitious realm. One tradition in particular revolves around visits from married daughters. It is said that they should save their visit for the second day of CNY instead of gracing their parents’ doorstep on the first day. 

It is believed that a daughter visiting her parents on the first day could mean a cha-cha with bad luck, bringing in money troubles for the family. In fear of this happening, daughters often schedule their visits on the 2nd day instead, ensuring that prosperity and joy pirouette through the door.

Chinese superstitions that Malaysians believe in

Whether it’s avoiding the ominous number 4 or steering clear of porridge, the Malaysian Chinese community’s colourful superstitions have a long-standing history. 

Whether or not you believe in the legitimacy of the above superstitions, Chinese New Year will continue to be a much-loved celebration for locals, where shared moments and boundless joy are wrapped up in gatherings with friends and family. 

So here’s a toast to a huat-filled year, and Gong Xi Fa Cai!

You might also enjoy this guide to local brands to shop for your CNY outfits and this list of less-basic CNY greetings to know.

Cover image adapted from: Jia Kopitiam via Facebook, Angela Roma via Pexels, Leeloo The First via Pexels

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