I have something to admit to everyone. Whenever I attend a Chinese banquet—which happens several times a year (weddings, birthdays, retirements, New Year’s) I almost always whisper to unsuspecting folks around the table that my grandma told me that it’s really good luck to suck on a lobster head. Just get in there, grab that decorative crustacean shell covered in garlic and chilis—and give it a REAL good slurp. Enjoy it! Not only is it a delicacy, but it’ll bring extra luck and knowledge to the person who is so honored to be sucking on a lobster head in the middle of a big fancy banquet.
The truth? It’s not lucky. However, it’s also not unlucky. Actually it means nothing... except that it is hilarious to watch someone attempt to jam a lobster head into their mouth. (OKAY maybe it’s a little mean, but try it—you can always stop them before the antennae go in.)
No one ever questions it because superstitions are a thing. For everyone. Whether you’re Chinese or American, Irish, Ghanian, Indian or any culture in between, every background has both long lasting traditions, as well as superstitions. In Chinese culture, superstition reigns supreme, and somewhere you probably have (or wished for) a grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, auntie or uncle—or even a neighbor’s grandparents—on your shoulder to make sure you’re not going to ruin your life by committing an easy cultural faux pas. One of our favorite books for Chinese American celebrations, Good Luck Life by Rosemary Gong, even has a name for this person: Auntie Lao.
The following list isn’t remotely comprehensive, but maybe a good starting point for some superstitions to get you ready for Chinese New Year:
- Clothing. Wardrobe check: are you wearing red? Red is lucky and auspicious. Wearing black or white? Auntie says no to your New Yorker head-to-toe black wardrobe. While it’s usually classy and timeless, hold off your funeral-wear for any other day.
- Hair. Long hair, don’t care? Well at least get it trimmed BEFORE New Year’s. Shortening anything on New Year’s Day may result in finding yourself “short on luck” for the entire year.
- Knives. Speaking of cuts, there are people who hide their knives on New Year’s, believing that using a knife to cut anything can cut your prosperity and luck as well. It definitely makes food preparation a little harder!
- A clean house. Sweeping away or taking out the trash on New Year’s Day could mean tossing out your fortune for the year. It could also be a secret bribe that moms use to get you to clean your room? But you may as well not risk it and clean up beforehand. Enter the new year with a tidy house!
- A clean you. Consistent with a clean house, many people also consider it bad luck to throw out bathwater (or shower water, as the case might be for most of us) for fear of washing away your luck. Shower up and wash your hair the day before CNY!
- Numbers. We mentioned this before but it also generally applies to how you approach things during New Year’s, whether it’s regarding gifts, decorations, and arranging or serving things. To recap: 4 is really bad luck, 8 is incredibly auspicious and lucky things come in pairs.
Does your family have any superstitions heading into Chinese New Year? Let’s hear them!
Top image: Lobster and Two Shrimps by Utagawa Hiroshige, source: Wikimedia Commons