The Year MonsterPosted: 4 February 2011
Chinese New Year is more commonly known as Chūn Jié [春节] or ‘Spring Festival’ in China. As in other cultures, the festival celebrates the declining of winter and the coming of Spring’s warmer weather. In China’s more remote places and especially in ancient times, the winter weather was very harsh and villages could be cut off for weeks from the rest of the country.
There was once a village in ancient China which was ravaged by a great beast, called the Nian. On the first day of every new year it would come to the village, destroying houses and devouring livestock, crops and even people; especially children.
The villagers were so afraid of the Nian that they would hide inside their homes when it came; leaving food on their doorsteps in an attempt to appease it. When the villagers had left food for the nian it would not hurt them; but as the new year was so long after the harvest time, leaving food for the beast meant that they had to go without.
The nian was so powerful that the villagers had no hope of killing it, and so despaired. Year after year passed and the villagers grew poorer and poorer. One year, a little girl woke up early in the morning, feeling very hungry. There was no food in the house for her to eat, as all the family had had been put outside for the Nian. She was scared of the Nian, but her stomach rumbled horribly and she couldn’t sleep.
After lying there a while, she had an idea. She would sneak out before the Nian came and take some of the food for herself. She had just picked up some food when she saw the Nian coming! Quickly, she hid out of sight. But the Nian knew it had been cheated and came to find her. She shut her eyes, fearing the Nian would gobble her up; but to her surprise, when saw her it screamed and ran away! It had been scared away by her bright red clothes.
Another version of this story mentions a wise old man who lived in the village. He saw how scared the villagers were by the coming of the Nian and realised that it was their screams that made the beast so furious. Instead of hiding, he told them to make as much noise as they could by beating gongs, burning bamboo and lighting fireworks. When the Nian came it was so scared by the frightening noises coming from each of the houses that it ran around until it fell down, exhausted.
Since then, the Chinese have always worn red clothes and lit firecrackers and fireworks on the day the Nian comes. Strangely enough, the Nian has never been seen since! It is however still remembered by its name, Nian [年], which means ‘year’.
Photo credit: Eiji