Episode 9: Myth of Year

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Happy new year everyone! It’s 2018! It sounds like we are living in the future. Today we are going to talk about the myth and traditions of Chinese new year. Chinese New Year is the first day in the lunar calendar, which is in either January or February. Nianmeans year in Chinese. In the book Erya尔雅, it says the character Nian was first used by the meaning “ year” during the Zhoudynasty, which is between 1046BC ~256BC. The book ShuoWenJieZi说文解字explains the character as ripeness of grains.

Nian is also the name of a horrible monster in folktale. Not really because the year makes you old and slowly kills you though. Since this is not recorded in any books, there are a lot of versions of the story. I don’t know where it is from while it is one of the most well-known story. Some people say Nian lives under the sea and some people believe Nian lives in the mountains. Every 365 days, he would go to villages and eat crops, livestocks and even people especially kids. People lived in the fear and stayed at home on the night to hide from Nian. One year, an old man visited the village, and saw people preparing for the night by blocking windows, locking doors and packing stuff. Everyone looked terrified. An old lady from the village saw him and said “go and hide somewhere because the monster Nian would come this night!” The old man was surprisingly calm and said, “ If you allow me to stay at your home for a night, I can help you.” The lady was skeptical but she took the old man home. At midnight, Niancame as usual. He came to the lady’s yard and got scared by the red paper on the door and bright lights in rooms. Nian shook a little and tried to attack. Approaching the gate, Nian heard a loud sound and it kept going. It was fireworks. It turned out Nian feared red color, fire and loud sounds so he ran away. Since then, everyone started to put fireworks and red decorations and stay up whole night to scare away Nian. So Nian comes every year like the evil Santa in Futurama. Although this story about Nian is a folktale, it correlates with ancient legends of using firecrackers to drive off beasts in the mountains called ShanXiao 山魈 .




尔雅 Erya

周朝Zhou Dynasty

说文解字 ShuoWenJieZi

山魈 ShanXiao


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