There is a legend as to why during the Chinese New Year Festival doors are decorated with Chinese couplets on red paper, people wear red clothing, firecrackers are set off, and families make dumplings.
The legend started about 4,000 years ago, when there was a vicious monster known as Nian 年兽 (pronounced nián shòu) that ate people, crops, and livestock on the last day of every year.
People tried to fight the monster, but couldn’t succeed. The only way people could survive was to leave the village and hide in the mountains.
It is said that one New Year’s Eve when most people had already left the village, an old lady whose husband was too ill to move decided to stay.
As she was preparing food for her husband, a beggar knocked on the door and asked for food. The old lady felt sorry for him, so she invited him in, and gave him some of the food she had just prepared.
After eating, the beggar asked: “Why is there no one else in the village?” The old lady told him about Nian. “Don’t worry!” he said. “I can help you expel the monster.”
He borrowed some red paper and red cloth from her. He pasted the paper on the door, put the red cloth on himself, and sat outside the front door, waiting for the monster.
When Nian appeared, the hungry, grumpy monster approached the house, preparing to swallow the beggar.
The beggar started to burn the bamboo cane in his hand, and the cracking sound frightened Nian and made the monster so dizzy and scared that it fell against the door.
When Nian opened its eyes, it saw the bright red paper pasted on it, which made his eyes hurt like crazy.
At that moment, the old lady was chopping dumpling meat loudly in the kitchen. The sound gave Nian a huge headache.
Nian couldn’t stand it anymore and finally ran away. Suddenly, the beggar disappeared, and the surprised old lady realized he was actually a god.
When the villagers returned, they were shocked to see the old lady and her husband still alive. After she told them about her miraculous experience, they adopted the same methods to protect themselves from Nian every Chinese New Year’s Eve, and Nian has never returned.
Watch the video Nian – A Lunar New Year Story: