Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Taiwanese Traditions: Chinese New Year: The Legend of Nian

Photo Credit:  http://hubpages.com/hub/the-story-of-the-nian-monster
I’ve talked before about Chinese New Year traditions. I’ve written about red banners, I’ve written about the monster. I’ve written about saying Gongxi. I’ve even compared Passover to the Chinese New Year Tradition. But I’ve never written about the legend that led to these traditions.

Last week I was talking to a Taiwanese friend about the legend and the why people practice the traditions that they do and she told me that most Taiwanese people do those things, but they don’t know why and don’t know about the legend itself.

The traditions of Chinese New Year date back more than three thousand years. In fact 2011 is the year 4708 by the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In the interest of education I will share the legend of Nian, which is the reason for the Traditions of Chinese New Year:

The Legend of Nian:

In the distant past, the people of Peach Blossom village lived in fear of the monster. Every year on the eve of the New Year, the monster, Nian, would emerge from the sea and kill people and livestock and tear the village up. The people, who were terribly afraid of the monster, would flee the village and head for the mountains. After the monster had passed the people would come down to the village clean up the mess and get on with life. But the affect on the village was devastating.

Photo Credit:  http://traditions.cultural-china.com/en/13Traditions474.html

One New Year’s Eve a beggar came to the village. An old woman gave him a meal and urged him to flee with them to the mountains. The old beggar told the woman that he could rid them of the monster if he was allowed to stay in the old woman’s home for the night. She continued to try to convince him to leave with the rest of them for the mountains. When she saw that the beggar wouldn’t leave, she left him in her home and fled with the others. Then the beggar began to prepare for the arrival of Nian.

He put red banners on the doors of the homes. The monster was frightened by the color red and wouldn’t go near it. He made firecrackers and placed them throughout the village. Then he waited for the emergence of the monster.

When the monster came up out of the sea he was immediately confronted by the red banners, then the firecrackers were ignited and the noise and color drove him back into the sea.

When the villagers returned they saw that village was left intact; that the beggar had protected the village. From that time on the villagers prepared every New Year’s Eve by placing red banners over their doors and lighting firecrackers.

Unfortunately, as in many other nations, people have forgotten the reasons behind their traditions. But every year, in Taiwan, people hang red banners alongside and over their doors and light fireworks. Every year the greet each other by saying “gong xi,” which means congratulations, the meaning is that the person has survived another year without the monster getting them. Finally, the word Nian, in Mandarin, is translated as year.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  Ghost Month
Taiwanese Traditions:  Chinese Valentines Day
Taiwanese Tradititons:  Xin Nian Kuai le
Random Asianess:  Walking the god
Random Asianess:  Oh Sure, Now We Decorate

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