Does anyone know the history behind the Chinese New Year celebration? If you don’t, keep reading to find out!
Long time ago, the Chinese New Year celebration was to celebrate new year based on the Chinese calendar. It was celebrated every year in spring, when everyone was busy planting rice plants.
During fall, everyone would harvest their rice plants. It was then stored in the barn for their preparation to ‘fight’ winter. Every winter back then, they were afraid of the attacks from a weird monster called ‘Nian’ (means 年/year in Chinese). ‘Nian’ was very scary with three horns on its head, a pair of cold eyes, sharp teeth, and claws. It was very strong and cruel, having liked to destroy houses of the villagers, catch, and eat them.
‘Nian’ used to come out once a year, which was on the Chinese New Year’s Eve. Villagers would lock themselves inside the house and pray to avoid ‘Nian’. When the Chinese New Year came, they would then come out of the house. Those who escaped death would be very grateful and say, "Gong Xi! Gong Xi! Congratulations! Congratulations!” to each other. The villagers would then hold a celebration for fifteen days before working and growing rice plants again.
They wanted to drive ‘Nian’ out of their village forever. But how? Some proposed to kill ‘Nian’, but it was rejected by those who considered ‘Nian’ as a messenger of God. They feared that He would be angry if the creature was killed. The villagers were so confused, they couldn’t find a way out. Luckily, there was Master Zhao, a scholar in the village. Master Zhao emphasized that ‘Nian’ was an evil creature, not the messenger of God. He said, “God wouldn’t send a messenger to destroy human beings.”
That continued, until a beggar came to visit the village. His clothes were shabby and dirty, causing people to ignore him. But there was an old married couple who was willing to accept and feed him. When the lunar night arrived, all the villagers were busy hiding from the monster ‘Nian’. The old couple advised the beggar to leave the village and hide at the mountain top. But the beggar refused, saying: "Would you allow me to stay in your house this evening? I promise to chase away the monster.” Finally, the old couple approved the request of the beggar.
‘Nian’ was ready to ride to the mainland and seek for its prey to eat when the evening came. But when it entered the couple’s house, it was very surprised because things were very different from the previous years. The house was lit with lights of lanterns. ‘Nian’ was also scared of the sounds of firecrackers when it stepped into the house yard. It was at that moment, the beggar came out with a red cloth. ‘Nian’ freaked out and ran out of the village in fear.
The next day, the villagers were shocked and confused because the village’s condition remained the same as it was before. It was then that the old couple finally understood the beggar’s promise to drive ‘Nian’ away from their village. A young man then said, "I remember my friends telling me that they were doing the lion dance on one Chinese New Year's Eve. And when they saw ‘Nian’ coming, they beat the gongs and drums louder. It was terrified and fled into the jungle."
Another man added, “I think ‘Nian’ is afraid of anything that is red. Two years ago, I put up a red cloth and lanterns over the door of my house. ‘Nian’ didn’t attack my house, but destroyed my neighbors’ houses which were not protected by the red cloth and lanterns.” Master Zhao then said, "Now we know what ‘Nian’ is scared of. It is afraid of red objects, firecrackers, as well as the sounds of gongs and drums. So from now on, every one of us should install lanterns, red cloth, and also firecrackers to each of our houses during the Chinese New Year, while the young men focus on preparing the lion dance.”
The next Chinese New Year’s Eve, all the villagers were busy preparing their ‘equipment’. Mothers made red belts for all their family members. Fathers put up lanterns and red cloth over the door of their houses. Youths formed groups and practiced hitting gongs and drums.
The night had come, and all the villagers were very excited. They wore red headbands and belts. Children were carrying firecrackers, while fathers were carrying weapons such as swords, spears, bows, and arrows. They were all ready to drive ‘Nian’ away forever from their village. They were no longer afraid of ‘Nian’ then, and were determined to fight it.
Finally, the long-awaited moment! ‘Nian’ had come to their village, and the villagers immediately set off firecrackers. Everything exploded with a deafening sound. They hit gongs and drums continuously. ‘Nian’ was surprised to be attacked and stabbed by spears and swords. It groaned in pain and directly fled to where it belonged to. The villagers were very happy with their victory.
News spreaded out fast to other villages, which then followed the method, no longer scared of ‘Nian’. Since then, Chinese people will decorate their homes with lanterns and red cloth every Chinese New Year. They also celebrate it with lion dances and firecrackers.
This is also the origin of the phrase “过了年”, meaning passing ‘Nian’/(a) year.
Anyway Happy Chinese New Year, BNEC-ers!