Behind the Red Firecrackers - The Legend of Nian

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Behind the FireCrackers

The Legend of Nian

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Red couplets, lanterns, firecrackers and packets. Red does sound like Christmas and yes, Santa does wear the colour, but we’re talking about the Spring Festival, also known as the Lunar New Year!

You probably know that there is a lot more to the festival than exchanging red packets and having a long holiday, in this article we’ll visit

The Legend of Nian.

Once upon a time

in ancient China...

There lived a ferocious monster named Nian (which also means year) who remained in the deep sea all year round and only climbed ashore during Chinese New Year’s Eve for food. It devoured any cattle and children in sight and caused a massive chaos in the village each year.

When New Year’s Eve was approaching, the villagers young and old would flee to the remote mountains to avoid the calamity caused by Nian. The villagers knew they were helpless in the face of Nian and that the only way to survive was to escape.

One day there came an old beggar from outside the village. He had a stick in his hand and a his beard glistened like silver. In their panic, the villagers were racing against time to pack and drive their cattle, and no one paid attention to him except a grandmother who lived on the east end of the village. She gave him food and advised him to escape to the mountains in order to avoid Nian. To her surprise, he stroked his beard and said, “If you allow me to stay at your home for the night, I will drive Nian away”. She was not convinced by the sight of his white hair and ruddy complexion, and told him again to run for his life. He shook his head. Feeling helpless, she continued with her escape to the mountains.

At midnight Nian stomped into the village. But something was different about the town this year. The grandmother’s house was illuminated with lights and bright red paper stuck on the door. Nian, furious with what he saw, howled angrily and pounced on the house with the intention to destroy it. As he approached the door, a sudden explosion scared him out of his wits and left him trembling. Stricken with fear, Nian retreated back into the sea and was never seen in the village again.

The next day was the 1st day of the lunar month. The villagers returned home and were shocked to find their houses and village intact.

The grandmother remembered the old beggar and told the village the story. The villagers swarmed the grandmother’s house and found the door was covered with red papers, the firecrackers exploded, and candles glowing in every room. It turned out that the red colour, flames and explosion were what Nian feared most.

This story became the talk of the village and they concluded that the old beggar must have been a celestial being who came to expel the calamities and bring its people to safety. The news soon spread to the neighbouring villages and everyone knew the way to drive Nian out. From then on, the villagers learnt to decorate their houses in red couplets, wear red outfits and light firecrackers as a way to commemorate their release from the crutches of the monster.

Fun Fact!

Guo Nian過年 which means the celebration of a new year also has the literal meaning of passing 過 Nian 年 which could be interpreted as overcoming the monster (calamity), signifying the arrival of safety, prosperity and good luck.

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Written by UniNi Childrens University

At UniNi Tianjin, we believe character building is fundamental to the success of an individual. We place the seven elements of character development at the heart of our curriculum: Passion, Gratitude, Optimism, Social awareness, Curiosity, Self-control, and Determination.

Find out more by scanning the above WeChat QR code

Editor and page design by Andy Lewis from GoExpats

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