The Story of the Dragon Nian

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

Who was Babushka?

Before the revolution in Russia, all the children had heard of Babushka, who left them presents on Christmas Eve. These days not all Russians know the story as New Year is a more important celebration to Russians, but the story of Babushka is slowly making a comeback. It is very similar to the story of La Befana in Italy. The word Babushka means “Grandmother” in Russian, and this is her story:

Long ago in a small village in Russia, far from the nearest city, lived Babushka. She was very house-proud, and she worked all day long scrubbing and sweeping and cleaning to keep her house nice.

One evening there was a knock at her door, and when she opened it she found three kings. They told her that they were on a long journey and that they were looking for a place to stay for the night. They had been told that she had the nicest, cleanest house in the village.

Babushka invited them in and prepared a meal for them. As they ate they told her that they were following a star which would lead them to a special baby. They asked her to accompany them but she protested that she didn’t have time – after all she had a house to keep clean, and who would dust and sweep if she went off travelling?

The three kings tried hard to persuade her, but she continued to protest – she couldn’t possible, she was too busy she had too much to do – and she waved them off as they continued their journey.

Later, she looked around. Her house was clean, the floors were swept, everything was dusted…. Perhaps she had time to go and look for this special baby after all. Quickly she packed some food and small gifts to offer him, and left the house. But where was the star? She had left it too late and the star could no longer be seen. She set off, asking everyone she passed whether the three kings had come this way, but nobody was able to help her.

Legend says that she is still looking, and that each time she passes a house where small children live, she leaves small gifts for them in honour of the special baby she seeks.

Related posts: Who was St Nicholas?  Who was La Befana?    Who was Good King Wenceslaus?

Getting to Know a New Class

Getting to know a new class is always hard with all those names to learn, but usually a class teacher has time on their side. Time to carry out various “getting-to-know-you” activities with a class they will be seeing every day. When your main role is as a PPA teacher you have only a couple of hours to learn the names of 30 children that you won’t see again for another week, so you need one activity that will fix those names firmly in your mind.

My way is to tell a story in French. This immediately holds the attention of the children: in many primary schools languages are not taught and so for children this is a real novelty; in some schools languages are taught, but even so children are likely to have learned only words and phrases, and so the idea of a whole story in a foreign language is still a novelty.
Before I begin I promise the children that they will understand the story, and with the help of props and plenty of actions, I tell the story of a hat that was so small it got stuck on my head. The format of the story is the same as The Enormous Turnip, and I call the children out one by one to help me pull the hat off. Those who have been called out love swaying backwards and forwards as they try to pull the hat off. Those who are still waiting enjoy joining in with “We pulled…and we pulled….and we pulled….but the hat still wouldn’t come off.”

Each time I call another child up, I list the names of the ones already in line. By the time I get to the end of the story I have repeated the names so many times I know I won’t forget them.

The children always enjoy the activity so much that for the rest of the year whenever they see me they ask “Are we going to do French today?” and “Will you tell us that story again?” If you want to give it a try, you’ll find the transcript for the story on my website, – just click on the link at look at the free resources page.

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