Pantang Larang From Our Childhood

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Racial, religious and cultural harmony are often synonymous with living in Singapore and Malaysia. While we share a similar cuisine inspired by our forefathers, way of life that we are familiar with and of course languages that speak to our hearts, many of us remember a few taboos that we live by, even into our adult years.

Here’s 12 of the more common superstitiuous beliefs you probably heard growing up, and the logical reasons behind them. Perhaps you still observe some of these yourself?

1. Finishing the food on your plate

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How it goes: (A variation of) that your future spouse will not be attractive if you don’t clean your plate at mealtimes. One popular version of this superstition warns that every grain of rice left on your plate = one pimple on your future spouse’s face.

Explanation: I guess you could say it was Mum’s trick to ensure you finished your vegetables.

2. Never cut your nails at night

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How it goes: You should never cut their nails at night (or as long as it’s dark outside) as the nail cuttings would then seep into the floor, allowing spirits to take your place. Observe this, or your life will be cut short.

Explanation: Cutting your nails in the dark will (almost) always lead to accidents. No one likes a bloody finger – even cutting your nails too short will hurt sometimes. Though now that most of our homes would have proper lighting even at three in the morning, you’re forgiven for rolling your eyes if this superstition is ever run by you again.

3. Singing in the kitchen whilst cooking

How it goes: Unleash your inner American Idol while cooking up a storm in the kitchen and you’ll have an unattractive/old spouse later on in your life.

(Excuse me?)

Explanation: We get that singing is your passion and that you aspire to be the next star of the Sound of Music, but please watch that you don’t burn dinner or slice any fingers off. Either that or the others just want you to stop singing (a more humble and polite way of requesting as such than to tell you you’re tone-deaf).

4. Around, not under the ladder

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How it goes: Walking under a ladder = asking for bad luck to befall you.

Explanation: Ladders, as with anything man-made, are flimsy (though useful) pieces of equipment. Accidents do occur, and the person using it would not appreciate you knocking them right off (a fall, even from a few feet, hurts a lot). Besides, you wouldn’t really want to have a frame of metal or paint from a bucket dropping on your head, would you?

5. Shatter a mirror and you’ll have years of bad luck

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How it goes: Break a mirror and you’ll not look forward to the next few years of your life.

Explanation: A mirror is made of glass. Glass is sharp and cleaning up after a mess is a tedious and rather dangerous task, one that is sure to have your mum staring daggers at you. If that isn’t unpleasant, I don’t know what is.

6. Sitting on a pillow

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How it goes: One should never sit on a pillow or it will result in a big swelling on their bottom.

Explanation: Strangely enough, this superstition does not specify as to whether cushions are included. Still, pillows are mostly meant for your head for when you sleep, so would you really want to share the pillow with your bottom?

7. “Touch wood!”

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How it goes: Make a tongue-in-cheek joke and if it sounds terrifying enough, hands will momentarily and the room will echo a perfectly unison “TOUCH WOOD!”

Explanation: Perhaps this originated from an old German folklore that believed wood has spirits in them that protects them from bad luck. On the other hand, it could be considered a way to deter the ones we love from being so negative in their thinking.

8.  Children should not go out after dark

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How it goes: When I was younger, I was never allowed to leave the house after 7pm, at least until after the evening prayers. When asked for an explanation, my parents always told me that there was a pontianak (vampire) in the trees outside. This kept me inside even on family cookout nights.

Explanation: Back in the kampung days, inadequate lighting and the party of bugs that were synonymous with night would mean that being outside wasn’t exactly safe for the young ones. These days though, kids are indoors rain or shine, so it’s more of a challenge to get them to go outside.

9.  Washing your feet and hands when you come home

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How it goes: It was believed that if you did not do so, it was akin to you inviting spirits into your house with you.

Explanation: Germs, bacteria and sweat. Just take a shower and all will be fine. Spirits or not, you’ll just want to feel fresh before diving into bed.

10. Is it raining indoors?

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How it goes: Opening an umbrella indoors will bring you bad luck. In some cultures, it is believed that such an act would attract snakes too.

Explanation: It doesn’t rain indoors, and an umbrella has many sharp bits to it. Open one indoors and you could, as Hermione Granger would say, ‘take someone’s eye out’.  Otherwise, you’ll create a mini swimming pool after walking when it was raining cats and dogs.

11. Don’t let a plate dry.

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How it goes: Pour water on a plate after a meal. If you don’t, you won’t be wealthy.

Explanation: Ever tried to wash dried gravy off a plate? Is it harder than calculus? Maybe not, but it’s still difficult to do. For the kids, just a way to keep them from putting their chores off.

12. Eating rice from a pot

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How it goes: Eating rice straight from a pot (or serving dish) is a sure-fire way to make one extremely ill, or give one the runs.

Explanation: It’s unhygienic and bad table manners, in addition to making you look greedy.

Old Wives’ Tale, Or Fact?

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Many superstitions we grew up with originated from old wives’ tales, but a few if not all of them are generally just told to ensure our safety and well-being. Believe it or not, there are still many superstitious people around today and the best way to get around them is just not to do anything that would cause alarm – respect the superstitions, no matter how crazy they may sound.

What superstitions did you grow up with? Do share with us in the comments section below!

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