The Story of Nian – a Chinese New Year Folk Tale

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The Story of Nian – a Chinese New Year’s Tale
A long time ago, there was a monster called “nián”. The monster was big and violent. He looked like a lion but he had a single-horn on his head. Once a year, the monster would run into the village, destroying the crops and eating the livestock. Everyone was afraid of the monster and they would escape to a mountain to be safe. One year, the villagers were packing up to escape as the monster was about to come. And there was an old man holding a broken bow, walking slowly on the street and asking for food. A nice granny saw the old man, she offered him some steamed bread and asked him to follow the crowd to the mountain. But the old man said: “if you let me stay at your home for one night, I can assure that the monster will never come back again.” While the granny was hesitating, the old man said: “don’t worry, I have three secret weapons to handle the monster.” The granny agreed to let him stay and then she left. After midnight, the monster came. When he was about to enter the granny’s home, he saw a red banner. The monster began to feel afraid but he still insisted on approaching. Then he saw fire, and heard a scary noise caused by firecrackers. It was the old man holding a candle and lilting up firecrackers [noise].The monster was scared and ran away. He never returned on that night or ever again. All of this took place on New Year’s Eve. The next day when all the villagers came back from the mountain, the old man said to everyone, “the monster is scared of three things, the color red, light/fire and firecrackers. When he finished talking, he rode on a cloud and flew back into the sky. The old man was god coming to help the people. And ever after, Chinese people began to paste red spring couplets and light up firecrackers to celebrate Spring Festival, also called Chinese New Year.

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Phrases in the Story of Nian

English Meaning Pinyin Chinese Characters
monster nian nián shòu 年兽
village nóng cūn 农村
granny nǎi nai 奶奶
old man lǎo rén 老人
secret mì mì 秘密
weapon wǔ qì 武器
scare hài pà 害怕
New Year’s Eve dà nián sān shí 大年三十
spring couplets chūn lián 春联
firecracker biān pào 鞭炮
Spring Festival chūn jié 春节