Year– “Nian”, name of a strange beast
Passing of Nian– “Guo Nina”
Celebraing the Chinese New Year– Celebraing the Passing of the strange beast Nian
In ancient China there was a strange beast called “nian” with a long head and sharp horn and it was extremely fierce. “Nian” dwelled deep in the sea the whole year, but on every New Year’s Eve it would climb onto the shore to devour livestock and harm humans. Because of it, on every New Year’s Eve, all the villagers would take their old and young deep into the mountains to hide from harm from “nian.”
On New Year’s eve one year, as the people were all busy collecting their possessions in preparation for their retreat to the mountains, a grey haired man appeared in the village. He asked an old woman to allow him to stay in her home for just one night and assured her that he would certainly chase away the beast. No one believed him. The old woman urged him to go to the mountains with the other people to hide. The old man steadfastly refused. Seeing that he could not be persuaded, the villagers departed without him.
When the beast arrived at the village to wreck havoc as usual, it was met with a sudden sound of exploding firecrackers. “Nian” was shivering all over and dared not proceed any further as it was most frightened by red color, flames, and explosive sounds. At that moment the large door opened wide and the old man, wearing red clothes, laughed heartily. “Nian” was startled. It turned pale, turned tail and fled!
On the next day, as the people returned from deep in the mountains, they found the village intact and safe. They suddenly realized what had happened. The old man was a deity who had come to help the people drive away the beast “nian”. They also found the three precious items that the old man had brought to chase the beast away. From then on, on every New Year’s eve, every family would hang up red banners, set off fire crackers, and light their lamps the whole night through, awaiting the New Year. The custom spread far and wide and became a grand traditional celebration of the “passing of nian” (“nian” in Chinese means “year”) for the Chinese people.
Chinese people refer to the period of time from the twenty-third day to the thirtieth day of the twelfth lunar month right before the Chinese New Year as the “small nian”. Every family is supposed to clean their surroundings in preparation to receive the New Year.
Besides cleaning the surroundings, each Chinese family is also supposed to make the New Year’s purchases for the upcoming festival, including chickens, ducks, fish and meat, fruits, and sweets. Every family also prepares presents to bring along when they visit their friends and relatives. They also buy new clothes for the children.
In the evening of New Year’s Eve, the whole family gathers together. In Northern China, dumplings are eaten. The Chinese word for dumpling, “jiao” and the Chinese word for “together” are homophonic (same sounding), so the dumplings symbolize the family being all together and happy. At the same time, “jiao” also means the coming of the New Year. In Southern China, people eat the sweet New Year cake (made from glutinous rice flour), which symbolizes sweet life and making advancement during the New Year (in Chinese, the Chinese word for “cake” and “making advancement” have the same “gao” sound). At the stroke of twelve at midnight, every family starts lighting firecrackers!
On the first day of the New Year, people wear their new clothes and wish their elders a happy New Year. When the children wish the elders a happy New Year, they receive some money for the New Year. On the second and third days, people visit their friends and relatives to wish them a happy New Year.
The streets during the New Year period in China are generally thronged with people. At some places there are special events such as lion dances, dragon dances, flower markets, and temple fairs.
After the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, which is the day of the Lantern Festival, the Chinese New Year celebrations are considered to be over.