The younger generation doesn't really experience hearing this as much as those of us growing up with people from the older generations. Most of it is as much as a deterrent to stop us from doing certain stuff like “If you swallow the seeds of a fruit, the tree will grow out of your belly button.” to discourage us from swallowing seeds instead of spitting them out.
Even I don't share this much old wives tales to my children. Except for certain tales that just makes my children do certain things better. I'll let you take a guess which one I uses most of the time. After all, Old wives’ tales are one of the ways used to get children to behave well. Using superstition to get the message across seems more effective than explaining to a child the logic behind certain actions.
There are many old wives’ tales that Malaysians are familiar with and here are some of the more popular ones.
1. Don’t sleep with wet hairThe saying goes that if you take a shower just before bed and do not dry your hair properly, you will either wake up with a bad headache or fall sick. The belief was that sleeping with wet hair in a cold environment will leave on susceptible to catching a cold. Scientific articles point out that this is highly unlikely as colds are caused by viruses. However, sleeping with wet hair will still give you a wet and uncomfortable pillow!
2. Don’t cut fingernails at nightIn many Asian communities, one version of the saying goes, “Cutting your nails at night will shorten your life.” However, a more likely explanation would be that in the past, lighting in homes was too dim at night and people would be more likely to injure themselves while cutting their nails.
3. Don’t open umbrellas indoorsThis superstition is common not just in Asia but in Western countries too. The saying goes that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck, attracts evil spirits, or attracts snakes; depending on where it is said. But logically, people have no reason to open an umbrella indoors and the act could potentially hurt someone standing nearby.
4. Don't sweep the floor or throw rubbish out of the house on New Year's DayThis happens only on Chinese New Year and it has been so ingrained in the Chinese community that it became a normal practice. The reasoning for this is that the 1st Day of Chinese New Year is when we ushered in the wealth of the New Year and if we were to sweep or throw things out of the house, we are signifying that we are sweeping the wealth away or throwing the wealth away. So you will tend to see most Chinese homes will try to get their homes clean on the night before and avoid throwing anything or sweeping on the 1st Day of CNY.
5. Don't whistle at nightPlaying musical instruments or whistling at night is said to attract malevolent spirits which could end up following you. A more logical explanation would be that making noises at night will disturb the neighbours and interrupt their sleep
6. Don't go to bed hungryI don't really hear this much anymore but my grandma used to say it to me a lot as I was quite thin growing up so she always try to fatten me up. And the story goes that if we go to bed hungry, our spirit might leave the body to go hunt for food and if it gets trapped in the pots/pans, it will not be able to get back into our body when day breaks and we will die. Yes, it's bloody grim but that's what I was told, and talking to other friends about it, they shared stories about how their parents and grandparents telling them that as well. I don't do that to my son as I'm trying to get him to loose weight!
7. Don't sit on pillowsThe saying goes that sitting on your pillow will give you blisters on your bottom. This one is commonly heard among Malay families. It is widely followed by other races too. We think it is more for hygiene reasons than anything else.
8. Don’t take photos of a sleeping personThis mainly Chinese superstition works on the belief that taking a photo of a sleeping person captures their soul and prevents it from returning to its body. A more likely explanation is that this mischievous act is rude and likely to upset the sleeping person.
9. Don’t leave grains of rice on your plateTwo common version of this old wives’ tale say that the number of grains of rice left behind on your plate determine the number of pimple scars that either you or your future spouse will have.
Chinese families are quite familiar with this superstition. However, this was likely something that parents said to teach their children not to waste food.
10. Asking for permission when peeing in the woods/bushes/by road side.Heck, I still do this too up to this day when I need to pee and there is no toilet in sight. The reasons why we do this is because there's a local deity that guards the area or wandering spirits that roams around. By asking permission to let you pee there, you are alerting them to avoid that area when you pee. And if you did not do it, the spirits/deity/"dirty things" will jinx you and/or attack you. So why take chances? Might as well just say that simple sentence and release rather than get into "trouble.
Some of the other honorary mention would include the likes of 11. Don't put your bag/purse on the floor, you'll lose money. The Grimmer ones are 12. Don't let stray cats near dead bodies or it might awaken the bodies to become vampires. and 13. If someone calls your name during the Hungry Ghost month outside your house, do not acknowledge it. They will either haunt you or possess you.
So what do you think? Do you have any familiar superstitions or Old Wives Tales that your grandparents and parents passed down to you? Let me know at the comment below. Definitely love to know what are the other common stories or explanations that is given to other people by their elders.