Thursday, February 4, 2010

Guo Nian

Look around town and you'll see red and gold, everywhere - lamps, clothes, signs, couplets, flowers, etc. Shops are well stocked and busy.  Children are excited to have a break from school.  Travel plans have been arranged for families to visit one another. Chinese New Year is almost upon us.

I've done a little research on the story behind Chinese New Year, and this is what I've gathered from a few different sources. (Anyone have anything to correct or add... please leave a comment!)

Depiction of the Nian from here

Legend tells of a terrible beast called Nian (or Nien) who would come to villages to satisfy his appetite, eating the people, as well as their livestock and crops.  One year, an old man offered to help them with their problem. He said to Nian: "I hear that you are very capable, but can you swallow the other beasts instead of people who are by no means your worthy opponents?"  Nian took the challenge and ate many of the beasts that hurt people, livestock and pets and thus these beasts were frightened back to the forests. This old man turned out to be an immortal god and before flying back to heaven he told the villagers that they should put up red decorations each new year to scare away Nian in case he decided to come back (in other versions of the story the villagers discovered that the Nian was scared of loud noise and red so they chased him away without the help of a god). The villagers enjoyed their peaceful lives, each year hanging red lanterns and red scrolls on their doors and in their windows to keep away the Nian and also lighting firecrackers to frighten him if he tried to come back.

 A very different depiction from here

Since then, the term "guo nian" has the meaning of "pass-over" or "survive" the nian (the word for "year") and is sononomous with New Year.

1 comment:

  1. Allison~ Thank you so much for the information! You make learning history more fun than any of my high school teachers! Hope you are having fun! I know you will enjoy Leslie and Bryce visiting! xxoo