The Chinese New Year: In the Past and Present
The Chinese New Year is typically characterized by exuberant Chinese music, vibrant lion dances as well as the meeting up of kin from all parts of the family. However, few people concern this holiday with the original myth behind the red garments and raucous songs that indicate the coming of the Chinese New Year.
The story of the Nian Monster
This traditional Chinese legend is set in the ancient times in a tiny village in China. Back then, there was a ferocious monster named the ‘Nian’. On the first day of every year, the Nian monster would awaken and terrorize this small village by wreaking havoc and hunting both livestock and people. Over the years, the people of this village learned to fear the Nian, and remained indoors, cowering in fear, waiting for the night to be over.
One year, when people were hurriedly packing up their belongings and boarding up their doors, a lone traveller arrived in the village looking for food and a place to stay. Luckily for him, an old woman was kind enough to offer him food and a bed in her home for the night. Touched by the generosity of this stranger, the traveller shared with the old lady the method to defeating the Nian monster.
Just as expected, the Nian monster approached the old lady’s house that night, however just as it entered, the Nian monster was frightened by the deafening noise from exploding firecrackers as well as the red paper that hung all over the old lady’s house. Scared, it ran back to the ocean to seek refuge.
The next day, the rest of the villagers asked the old lady how it was possible that she had survived an attack by the Nian monster and she shared the method of using loud firecrackers and red paper to scare off the Nian monster. From every year on, the villagers decorated their homes with red paper and lit fireworks and happily, they never encountered the Nian monster again.
Our Modern Context: Preparations
Nowadays, Chinese New Year is focused on bringing together family in the Reunion Dinner (团圆饭) as well as ushering in the Lunar New Year. Prior to the holiday, most Chinese families usually do a round of cleaning in the house, locally termed Spring Cleaning. The rationale for the Spring Cleaning is to metaphorically rid the house of any unwanted bad luck for the new year, as well as physically cleanse the house, in preparation of receiving visitors. During the Chinese New Year period itself, the house however will not be cleaned. This is in accordance with a superstition that sweeping the house during the new year but sweep away the good luck that accumulates in the house for the new year ahead. While this is only superstition, many Chinese families still do follow this yearly Chinese tradition.
Apart from cleaning the house, many families also do put up special Chinese decorative items usually made of paper or cloth, in various shades of red and gold. These decorative items may have Chinese words or symbols imprinted on them, representing different auspicious blessings.
The ‘Fu’ (福) character used in an inverted way shown above is a highly popular Chinese new year decoration that is a wordplay on the Chinese phrase ‘Fu Dao’ (福到), meaning that good fortune has arrived. In the past, this Chinese character would typically be handwritten but nowadays, people can purchase printed versions in shopping malls or supermarkets.
These Chinese New Year couplets are also an important piece of decoration in many Chinese households. The original form of modern day couplets were to ward off evil on this very auspicious period for the Chinese but has changed in the modern context, to include well-wishes as well as blessings that the family would wish for in the coming new year.
These Chinese knots are normally used as embellishments in more traditional Chinese households. Traditionally used to string jade pendants onto clothes, these eye-catching Chinese knots evolved to become a form of ornamentation on their own, and have been then popularized by modern-day Chinese families.
Stay tuned for our upcoming blog series on Chinese New Year!
Do you know?
Youle Mandarin is also conducting a complimentary Art & Craft workshop suitable for all kiddos aged 1-3 years old. Parents can attend this workshop with the little ones to learn more about Chinese New Year and make chinese new year decorations at the same time!