Legend of 'Nian'

Legend goes that in ancient China there lived a monster named Year who, with a horn on the head, was extremely ferocious. Year lived deep at the bottom of the sea all year round and climbed up the shore only on New Year's Eve to devour the cattle and kill people's lives.

 

Thereupon on the day of every New Year's Eve people from all villages and stockaded villages would flee, bringing along the old and the young,to the remote mountains so as to avoid the calamity caused by the monster of Year.

On the day of that New Year's Eve the people of Peach Blossom village were bringing along the old and the young to take fight when there came from outside the village an old beggar. With a stick in his hand and a bag hanging upon his arm, he had eyes twinkling like stars and a graceful beard as white as silver.

Seized with a panic, the villagers were in a great hurry to run away. Some were closing the windows and locking the doors, some were packing and others were urging the cattle and driving the sheep. At a time when the people were shouting and the horses were neighing no one was in the mood to care for the beggar.

Only a grandmother living in the east end of the village gave the old man some food and advised him to hurry up the mountins to avoid the Year monster. But the old man stroked his beard and said with a smile,"If you allow me to stay at your home for the night, I'm sure to drive away the monster of Year."

 

The old woman was surprised to hear this. She looked at him scrutinizingly only to find that, with white hair and ruddy complexion, the old man had a bearing out of the ordinary. She went on to persuade him to take fight. But he only smiled without reply. Thereupon the grandmother could not help but leave her home to go up the mountains.

Around midnight the monster of Year rushed in the villages. He found the atmosphere was quite different from that of the previous year. The house of the grandmother in the east end of the village was brilliantly illuminated, with bright red paper stuck on the door. Greatly shocked, the monster gave a strange loud cry.

The monster of Year stared angrily at the house for a moment. And then howling furiously, he made a pounce on it. As he approached the door, there came all of a sudden the exploding sounds of bang-bong. Trembling all over, the monster dared not make a step forward.

 

It turned out that the red color, flame and exploding were what Year feared the most. And when the door of the grandmother's house was thrown open and an old man in a red robe burst out laughing in the courtyard, the monster of Year was scared our of his wits and fled helter-skelter.

The next day was the 1st lunar month. When people came back from their escape and found everything safe and sound, they were quite surprised. The old woman suddenly realized what had happened and told the villagers about the old begger's promise.

The villagers swarmed into grandmother's house and only to find that the door was struck with red paper, the ember fo a pile of bamboo were still giving out exploding sound of bang-bong in the courtyard, and a few candles were still glowing in the room....

Everybody was talking about the matter and they concluded in the end that the old begger was surely the celestial being who came to expel the calamities and bless the people, and that red paper, red cloth, red candles and the exploding firecracker were certainly the magic weapons to drive out the monster fo Year.

 

To celebrate the arrival of the auspiciousness, the excited villagers put on their clothes and new hats and went one after another to their relatives and friends to send their regards and congratulations. This was soon spread to the surrounding villages, and people all got to know the way to drive away the monster of Year.

 

From then on, on each New Year's Eve, people from every family stuck antithetical couplets written on red paper on their doors, blew up firecrackers, kept their houses brilliantly illuminated and stayed up late into the night. Early in the morning of the 1st of the 1st lunar month they went to their relatives and friends to send their regards and congratulations. These customs were spreading far and wide and the day thus became the most ceremonious traditional festival among the Chinese people.

[source:ebeijing.gov.cn]