Folks celebrated Chinese New Year earlier this week, so I thought it would be appropriate to share the Legend of Nian.

In ancient China there lived a ferocious monster, Nian (Year), who rose out of the sea each New Year’s Eve to eat livestock, crops and villagers. Accordingly, each New Year’s Eve all the people would flee to the remote mountains, taking the old and the young, to avoid the monster.

One New Year’s Eve day, a beggar entered the village of Peach Blossom. The villagers were too busy packing, locking doors, getting ready to head to the mountains to take any notice of the beggar. Only one older woman gave him a bite of food and warned him to leave the town. The beggar told her that if she would allow him to stay in her house for the night, he would force the monster to leave. The woman had doubts, but had no choice but to run for the mountains herself, leaving the beggar alone in town.

That night, when Nian arrived in the village, he saw one house was lit and had red paper covering the door. The monster howled and started toward it. As he approached, he heard exploding sounds and stood still. You see, the color red, explosions and fire were what the monster was afraid of. The man, wearing a red robe, came out of the door and laughed at Nian, who ran away.

When the villagers returned the next day, they were surprise to see that nothing had been destroyed, but from the remnants that were left, they figured out what had happened.

Everybody was talking about the matter and they concluded in the end that the old beggar 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 of Year.

The next day, the villagers went to visit their relatives and the news spread of how to scare away Nian. From then on, each New Year’s Eve, people decorated with red, stayed up late, and set off firecrackers, and went to visit friends and relatives the following day, customs that can still be seen now in the festivities surrounding the holiday.

The Nian still exists, but stays hidden away from people.

I love holiday tales, how they explain why we hold the traditions we do. This story can be read several places, including here.

This story reminds me of a couple others I’ve read recently, with the monster, or trolls, or elves showing up on a holiday night as usual, but being scared away once and for all. See “The Elves Dance on New Year’s Eve” and “The Cat on the Doverfell”

Image thanks to

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


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