THE 15 COMMANDMENTS OF CHINESE NEW YEAR!

Heard the song ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’? Well, we just learned that there’s a Chinese equivalent! Though true to stereotype, it’s not about your true love giving you lords a-leaping or geese a-laying or anything, but rather, it lists all the stuff you have to do over the 15 Days of Chinese New Year!!!

The song/chant is called 正月调 (zhēng yuè diào) and we learned about it from Ching Yi, our super-talented Taiwanese colleague who designed all our lovely eCards. We thought it was so cute that we got her to make a video of it, featuring the voice of 1o-year-old Chen Hua, who does some of the voices on our Dim Sum Warriors app.

It’s a traditional 念谣 (niàn yáo) chant that’s normally recited in the Hokkien dialect which we’ve translated for you here, along with pronunciation in 汉语拼音 Hànyǔ Pīnyīn and also 臺羅拼音 Tái luó pīnyīn, Taiwan’s official Romanization system for Hokkien words.

Note: Tái luó pīnyīn is often abbreviated as “Tailo”, and is derived from 白話字 Pe̍h-ōe-jī , which Western missionaries working in Southeast Asia in the 19th century developed to transliterate Hokkien—specifically the Hokkien from the Amoy region, where a lot of the Hokkiens in Singapore and Malaysia hail from. Both Tailo and Pe̍h-ōe-jī do not follow the same Romanization patterns or tones as hanyu pinyin (which was only introduced in 1958).  You can find how to pronounce Tailo here and learn more about the fascinating history of Pe̍h-ōe-jī here.

So each line is presented as follows:

繁體字 Traditional Chinese Text
English Translation  

Hokkien transliteration in Tailo pinyin | 简体字 Simplified Chinese with Hànyǔ Pīnyīn pronunciation

Notes & Comments

 

正月調
Tune for the 1st Month of the Lunar New Year

tsiann ge̍h tiāu正月调 zhēng yuè diào

调 diào can mean either ‘tune’ or ‘adjustment’.

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初一早
Day 1: Wake up early!

tshe it tsá初一早 chū yī zǎo

Wake up early to pay your respects to your elders, ancestors and gods.

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初二早
Day 2: Wake up early!

tshe jī tsá | 初二早 chū èr zǎo

Wake up early so you can visit your mother’s side of the family to pay your respects.

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初三睏甲飽
Day 3: Sleep till you’re satisfied!

tshe sam khùn kàu pá |  初三困到饱 Chū sān kùn dào bǎo

Phew! After 2 days of waking up early, it’s nice to be able to have a lie-in.

Traditionally, the 3rd day of Chinese New Year is  赤狗日 (chì gǒu rì literally: Red Dog Day), on which it is considered unlucky to go visiting or entertain guests. Some legends describe the Red Dog as a 熛怒之神 biāo nù zhī shén (God of Wrath). Talk about let sleeping dogs lie!

The 3rd day is also supposed to be 老鼠娶亲 lǎoshǔ qǔqīn, or the Rats’ Wedding Day. It’s considered good form to go to bed early and sleep in, so as not to disrupt the rats’ celebrations. 

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初四接神
Day 4: Welcome the Gods!

tshe sì tsiap sîn | 初四接神 chū sì jiē shén

On the 4th Day, the Gods return to Earth from reporting to the Jade Emperor up in Heaven. So celebrate their return with a feast!

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初五隔開
Day 5: Reopen for Business!

tshe gōo keh khui | 初五隔开 chū wǔ gé kāi

Shops and businesses may prepare to reopen for business! 

隔开 Gé kāi could loosely be translated as ‘cut it out!’, so in other words, time to get back to earth from all the partying! 

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初六挹肥
Day 6: Clean the toilets!

tshe lio̍k ip puî初六挹肥 chū liù yì féi

Clean the toilets! Especially because tomorrow is a big festive day and there might be guests!

Seriously, though, people used to believe that one should not clean the house in the first few days of the New Year festivities, as it would risk “sweeping away good fortune”. So the sixth day was when you could finally get around to it. Celebrating doesn’t mean you can stay dirty!

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初七七元
Day 7: Celebrate everybody’s birthday!

tshe tshit tshit guân初七七元 chū qīqī yuán

Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us!

The 7th day of Chinese New Year is 人日 rén rì or the Day of the Humans, as legend has it that humans were created on the 7th day. It is now commonly celebrated as “Everybody’s Birthday”. In China,  dishes like “seven vegetable soup” (七菜羹 qī cài gēng) and “seven vegetable porridge” (七菜粥 qī cài zhōu) are specially prepared for the 7th Day. Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese celebrate with “Seven-coloured raw fish” salad (七彩魚生 qīcǎi yú shēng), while in Taiwan, people like to eat noodles to symbolize long life.

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初八完全
Day 8: Party’s over, back to work!

tshe pueh uân tsuân初八完全 chū bā wánquán

Get back to work—we really mean it this time!

完全 wánquán means “completed” and the 8th day of Chinese New Year marks when the “official” festivities are over, so everyone has to get back to work as usual. 

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初九天公生

Day 9: Celebrate the Jade Emperor’s birthday!

tshe káu thinn kong senn初九天公生 chū jiǔ tiāngōng shēng

Celebrate the birthday of the boss of all the gods!

It’s the birthday of the Jade Emperor (known as 玉皇 yù huáng or 玉帝 yù dì), who is the ruler of all the deities in Heaven. Prepare lots of food as offerings!

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初十食食

Day 10: Have a big feast!

tshe si̍p tsia̍h si̍t 初十食食 chū shí shí shí

Feast on the food you prepared for yesterday’s birthday of the Jade Emperor!

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十一請子婿

Day 11: Invite your sons-in-law for dinner!

tsa̍p it tshiánn kiánn sài 十一请子婿 shí yī qǐng zǐxù

Invite your sons-in-law over for dinner! (So you can get to spend time with your own daughters.)

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十二請查某子轉來吃糜配芥菜

Day 12: Invite your daughters back for porridge and veggies!

tsa̍p jī tshiánn tsa bóo kiánn tńg lâi tsia̍h muê phuè kuà tshài |
十二请查某子转来吃糜配芥菜 shí’èr qǐng chá mǒu zǐ zhuàn lái chī mí pèi jiècài

Invite your daughters for a simple, healthy meal of rice porridge and mustard greens.

Day 11 and 12 are contingencies, because daughters may be so busy with entertaining their husbands’ relatives that they can’t get back in time to celebrate with their own families.

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十三關老爺生

Day 13: Celebrate Guan Gong’s birthday!

tsa̍p sam kuan lāu iâ senn 十三关老爷生 shísān guān lǎoyé shēng

Pay your respects to 關公 (Guān Gōng: “Lord Guan”), the God of War… and other things!

Originally a general during the Eastern Han Dynasty, 关羽  Guān Yǔ was so respected for his achievements that he was made a god over three hundred years later during the Sui dynasty (AD581-618). But what made him really famous was his portrayal in the 14th-Century historical novel ‘The Romance of the Three Kingdoms’.  Guān Gōng goes by many names, and is often portrayed in statues with a red face, heavy beard and carrying a green sword. Although called a god of war, he is also worshipped as a promoter of righteousness and peace and people pray to him for wealth, luck, fertility, marriage, health and many, many other things. You can read more about him here.

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十四月光

Day 14: Admire the moon! 

tsa̍p sì gue̍h kng 十四月光 shí sì yuè guāng

The moon begins to grow full!

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十五元宵暝

Day 15: Celebrate the last day of Chinese New Year!

tsa̍p gōo guân siau mî 十五元宵暝 shí wǔ yuán xiāo míng

One last party before we turn off the lights!

The final day of the Chinese New Year celebrations is officially called 元宵節 yuánxiāo jié, and many parts of mainland China, such as Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shanghai, as well as Taiwan, celebrate it with the lighting of lanterns and eating special glutinous rice dumplings called…what else? 元宵 yuánxiāo! (Yuanxiaon are a bit like 汤圆  tāngyuán, glutinous rice balls eaten during the Winter Solstice Festival, but not exactly. Learn about the differences here.)

In Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, 元宵節  yuánxiāo jié is often referred to by its Hokkien name “Chap Goh Meh” (Tailo: Tsa̍p-gōo-mê |十五冥  shí wǔ míng) and festivities don’t specifically involve lanterns.

So is 正月調 the Chinese version of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’? It might not involve receiving gifts from your true love, but who really needs pipers piping or drummers drumming or all those birds and a partridge in a pear tree? That would mean a whole lot more to clean than just toilets!

正月調 is also very much more family- and community-oriented, and there’s a lot of celebrating involved.

Follow our video and try reciting it for yourself in Hokkien—especially if you have grandparents and older relatives who understand it! Dialects are actually a great way to connect with Mandarin itself… they deepen our personal connection with wider Chinese history and culture, and also add colour and nuance.

恭喜发财!Gōngxǐ fācái—and also kiong-hí-huat-tsâi!


Wu Ching Yi is Yumcha Studios’ in-house translator, animator and illustrator. She provided the inspiration for this post, and to show our gratitude, we made her put together a video of it! You’re welcome, Ching Yi!

Colin Goh, who illustrates all the Dim Sum Warriors books, was made to research and write the post, because as Yumcha Studios’ in-house banana (yellow on the outside only), he really ought to learn more about his Chinese roots! His Chinese reading ability was taxed to the max because all of the sources were in 繁体字, the super-complicated traditional script that Singaporeans aren’t taught. He would like to acknowledge the help of Google Translate.

Questions about the Dim Sum Warriors Club or anything related to our work? Email us at: hello@dimsumwarriors.com