Once upon a time in China there lived a terrifying dragon called Nian. His home was under the sea, but once a year, on New Year’s Eve, he came to a nearby village where he ate their grain, their livestock and any young children who happened to be outdoors.
Not surprisingly, the terrified villagers used to run and hide in the mountains on this date leaving their homes behind.
One year a wise old man visited the village just as the villagers were fleeing, and he asked them why they were leaving. “The terrible dragon is coming!” they said. “You must come and hide with us for he may eat you.”
The old man said he wasn’t afraid and that he knew how to deal with the dragon, and so he stayed behind in the village.
When the villagers returned there was no sign of Nian, and amazingly their grain and animals were untouched. The old man said that he couldn’t protect the village every year, but he could show them how to protect themselves. “The secret,” he said, “is that the Dragon is frightened of the colour red and of loud sounds and bright lights.”
Now every New Year, the Chinese dress up in red clothes, hang red decorations in their doors and windows, and they set off fire crackers so that the noise and the lights will scare away the Dragon.
It must work because the dragon Nian has never been seen again since this wise old man’s visit.
Related post: Chinese New Year
恭禧发财 – Happy Chinese New Year.
Today marks the start of the Chinese New Year celebrations of the Year or the Sheep (or the Goat if you prefer).
The Chinese year is based on lunar months (ie each month is 28 days because that’s how long it takes the moon to go round the earth) and so New Year’s Day in China falls on a different date each year. There are usually 12, but sometimes 13 months in a Chinese year. The first day of Chinese New Year will always be between 21st January and 21st February, and it coincides with the new moon.
New Year celebrations begin a couple of days beforehand, when people clean their houses from top to bottom to sweep away the old year. They never clear during the first two days of the New Year as this may sweep away the good luck that the New Year brings.
Family and food are both important in China, and on New Year’s Eve families get together for a special meal which includes fish and Chinese dumplings, both of which represent wealth.
Families decorate their houses in red (for luck) and gold (for wealth). Some popular decorations are lanterns, firecrackers and spring couplets. Firecrackers are also let off outside because the banging noise is believed to scare away the dragon Nian. Spring couplets are decorations which are placed either side of doorways. They are made of red paper, and have good wishes for the new year written in black ink. Each one usually has 4 Chinese characters on so that the couplet has 8 characters – 8 being a lucky number in China.
Children are given money in red envelopes, and tradition says that this will keep them healthy and give them a long life.
The public holiday lasts for the first three days, but the celebrations actually end 15 days later (coinciding with the full moon) with the Lantern Festival.
Related posts: The Chinese Zodiac The Story of the Dragon Nian The Lantern Festival