January 30, 2014, by khyx2lyn

Superstitions & Rituals

It’s that time of the year once again where jovial Chinese tunes are played on the radio and in the malls, mandarin oranges are sold in almost all departmental stores, and the colour red sweeps across the nation. These are just a few signs that Chinese New Year is once again upon us. Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or Chinese Spring Festival is one of the grandest and most important festivals in the Chinese culture. It is a time for family members to get together, similar to that of Christmas Day in the Western culture. This year, the festival falls on the 31st January, ushering in the Year of the Horse according to the Chinese zodiac.

As traditions continue, every crook and cranny of the house would be cleaned before the New Year, families would be out and about before the New Year shopping for new clothes (mostly in red or in bright colours as these colours symbolise good fortune and joy), and the list goes on. As for superstitions surrounding the first day of Chinese New Year, there should be no cleaning of the house because it is believed that cleaning sweeps away the good fortune, and people are encouraged not to wash their hair on the first day to ensure that good luck is not washed away, just to name a few. Since the number 8 is considered as a lucky number, the set meals offered in restaurants often consists of eight courses, while the number 4 is considered to bring bad luck. This is similar to that of the Western societies where the number 13 is seen as a bad omen.

So, why do we even bother with all these superstitions and rituals? According to Ropeik’s article on Psychology Today, psychologists believe that superstitions provide us a sense of control when there is a lack of, and they are simply a form of irrational belief towards fear. Hence, in situations when we feel as if there is no control over a situation or our own destinies, we search for patterns “to regain some sense of organization” (Samuel, 2013). So, by looking for signs or omens, we then reassure ourselves that we still have some kind of control over our fate.

The same applies to why we have/follow rituals, not only does rituals give us a sense of comfort and meaning, but it also gives us a sense of control and helps build meaningful connection to others (Campbell, 2013). Rituals can also make people feel good and calm (Campbell, 2013).

It is also speculated that the illusion of control from superstitions and rituals helps improve one’s performance and/or confidence, be it for a competition or for a better and more fortunate year, however, more research still needs to be done to shed more light as to why we follow or have these rituals and superstitions.

And with that, I wish you all a Happy Chinese New Year, and here’s to the Year of the Horse!


  • Campbell, P. (2013, March 19). How a Simple Ritual Can Make You Feel Better. Psychology Today.com. Retrieved January 21, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com.
  • Ropeik, D. (2012, December 11). How Risky Is It, Really? Psychology Today.com. Retrieved January 21, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com.
  • Samuel, L. (2013, June 9). Why People Believe Weird Things. Psychology Today.com. Retrieved January 21, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com.


Yvonne Teoh
(PhD Student, School of Psychology, UNMC)

Posted in blogpsychobabblepsychologyresearchunmc