Written by Jackie RichardsThe Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, will soon be upon us. We thought we would share with you how this ancient holiday tradition came to be.
Once, there was a vicious horned beast that had horns, named Nian, with sharp teeth that kept itself sheltered in the ocean for almost the whole year. But every year, at the end of the lunar year, the beast would come on shore to terrorize the village. He would hunt the livestock, and even the villagers, especially children, destroying all in his path. Therefore, the villagers would board up their home, and escape into the nearby mountains before Nian’s yearly visit.
One particular New Year, an old beggar came to to the village. This beggar looked unique. He had beautiful silver crane hair, brilliant eyes, and showed his great spirit. He asked an old woman for food and if he could stay in the village, she gave him the food, and she was shocked. She told him of Nian and asked him to come into the mountains with her. But he said to her if he was allowed to stay, he could beat Nian. Skeptical, the old woman again pleaded with the man to go into the mountains with her, but he refused. She gave him some food but felt she had no choice but to flee the village.
At the stroke of midnight, the terrible Nian came into the village, ready to wreak havoc, and hungry for the livestock and people. But he quickly realized this night was different. Upon the old woman’s door was red paper, and lights were glowing within the home. Nian let out a terrible scream. He decided he would rush the door, but as he did so, the old man opened it, and stood there in a red robe, laughing. He let fireworks go off in the yard. Nian was terrified and fled the village and back into the sea.
The next day, the villagers came back into the village, and were stunned to find nothing harmed! How was it possible? The old woman remembered the old beggar and his promise. They flocked to the woman’s home and saw the red paper, firecrackers, and the lights burning in the house. They then realized that the old man used these things to scare Nian away, as Nian was afraid of the color red, loud noises, and bright lights. The beggar had given them the answers, so they no longer had to flee into the mountains. Word spread quickly throughout the other villages. To rejoice, the villagers put on new clothes and visited with neighbors. It was a grand celebration.
From that New Year’s day forward, it became a tradition to paste red couplets on the door, leave the lanterns glowing in the home, and stay up late to let off firecrackers.
Guo Nian translates to “Overcome Nian.”, which is precisely what the old man taught the villagers to do.