The Nian monster is coming! If you’re a cow, I hope you’re wearing red underwear, for your sake.
Here’s a translated excerpt from part of a lecture by our language school’s headmaster given in simple Mandarin to a bunch of students about the Nian monster (年兽) that’s associated with many Chinese New Year traditions.
“Everyone knows that New Year’s Eve, the 30th day of the twelfth lunar month to the first day of the first lunar month, midnight is the time for eating jiǎozi (饺子). Some of you have passed New Years in Tianjin, right? At that time you can’t hear anything. What sound is outside? The sound of firecrackers. Why do they light firecrackers? ‘Cause it’s fun! Actually, lighting firecrackers has a legend. Of course this legend isn’t real, so we call it a ‘legend’; it’s actually not a real historical thing. Maybe you’ve heard this legend. “Nián” is an animal, a really ferocious animal. But this animal eats everything from extremely small bugs to really big animals. But the Nian, this animal is lazy. Every 365 days it only comes out once, so not very often. And when does it come out? Definitely at night. So, because the Nian monster would be coming out, so in old times (can you guess) what they said the Nian feared? It’s afraid of noise, loud noise, and fire, red fire, light — it’s afraid of these things. So in the past, at New Year’s people had lots of traditions, for example everyone eats together, and the eat the best and richest food. For one night they don’t go to bed, New Year’s Eve they don’t do to bed. Why? Because they think, ‘Fine. We’re all together eating the best food because it’s likely that after we finish eating we’ll be eaten up by the Nian!’ Also, there’s one more reason for not being able to sleep: we can run, right? But this is all just a legend, so the firecrackers are just in order to drive the Nian away and not let him come.”
“Aside from lighting firecrackers, what else do they do? On the outside of the door, the red paper, the purpose in the past was actually in order to make the Nian scared when it saw it. The paper stuck on the entrance, what’s it called? It’s called “Spring Couplets”… On top of the doorframe there’s a horizontal one, and the left and right sides have vertical ones. It uses red paper… so hanging Spring Couplets like this, lighting firecrackers, these both are related to the Nian legend.”
“Concerning wearing red clothes, however actually not everybody wears red clothes. We know Chinese people have 12 categories… This year at New Year’s, cow-category people will what? Wear red clothes. These red clothes include underwear, belts, even socks are red. This we call, “avoid evil spirits”…”