SINGAPORE (Feb 19): The Cultural Revolution is infamous for its attack on the Four Olds — old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas. Despite extensive destruction of people and artefacts, the Red Guard rampage only forced longstanding traditions underground. Many of these traditions never disappeared and we still see them in operation when we try to get a haircut in the week before Chinese New Year. The barber shops are overflowing, as people usually avoid cutting their hair or fingernails during Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is another hardy survivor of the Cultural Revolution purges. Starting the New Year on the right foot is crucial because it sets the potential for the next 12 months. Luck, health and prosperity need to know that they are welcome to hang around in the upcoming year. Columns of Chinese calligraphy, or chunlian, adorn each side of the main entrance of homes. Red packets, or hongbao, are prepared for distribution.

Another pre-Chinese New Year tradition that remains strongly in place is a house clean. This is literally a new broom and a clean sweep in preparation for the New Year. The custom is the origin of the English expression “spring clean”.

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