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What’s the Deal With Red Underwear

0215_WTDWWhen the time comes to wear red underwear, it usually signifies the coming of a fun evening. But in China, they’re meant to ward off an entire year of bad times. The Chinese zodiac cycles through 12 animal signs every 12 years with lots of meanings, but should it happen to be your animal sign this year, they call that a běnmìng nián, or self-fate year, and it is not a good thing.

According to tradition, this is considered an ominous and unsettling time. In order to avoid ill fate, the self-fated are advised to wear something red the whole year so to eliminate bad luck. Red underwear is the covert choice.

In order to avoid ill fate, the self-fated are advised to wear something red the whole year so to eliminate bad luck.

Wearing something red to drive away bad luck is nothing new here. The color red has been widely adopted during all kinds of festivals, important days and rituals. It stands for festive spirit, success, royalty, courage, justice and is especially known for driving out evil spirits. Aside from underwear, one can also wear red socks, a waistband or bracelet.

Red underwear is well-known to be worn during the benming year. However, some people have argued that it’s not so accurate to judge one’s yearly fortune based on a zodiac sign. In Chinese fortune-telling theory, one’s fate should be decided by at least four factors: the year, month, date and time of birth. The earthly branches and heavenly stems of one’s birth time, date and month also play crucial parts in the prediction. As it’s all about psychology, people who believe in the tradition won’t mind that it is theoretically imprecise.

Before the new Chinese Year starts (Feb. 19), those who were born in 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991 and 2003 should get something red. Red underwear is best when given by a friend, a partner or a spouse. For foreigners, giving red underwear to Chinese friends or other halves shows off knowledge of Chinese culture, plus, it expresses a deep concern for those important in their life.

The typical benming nian underpants are often printed with the golden character fú (福) , meaning good fortune, or, other auspicious patterns including dragons and blessings.