Shortly before the New Year in a traditional Chinese home, members arm themselves with brooms and dust rags in order to sweep and clean the house of last year’s bad luck and make room for this year’s good luck which will begin to arrive as the celebration begins. Some families even put a fresh coat of red paint on the wood frames around doors and windows. There are many different variations on what happens over the remaining days of the old year, but the culminating event is the big family meal where some type of fish is prepared, and dishes symbolizing prosperity and wealth, such as dumplings, are served.
There is a myth which states that many, many, many years ago during the New Year, villagers worked hard to fight off a monster known as Nian that would swoop down and eat livestock, crops, and even children. To appease this beast, they would prepare meals and leave them on the doorstep. The theory was that if Nian ate the food, he would not eat people or animals. One year it was noticed that a little child wearing red scared Nian away. The villagers started displaying red everywhere and using firecrackers to scare him away. Since that time to today, this ancient creature’s fear of noise and the color red has not allowed him to enter the towns and cities and wreak havoc on the Chinese population.
The next time you go to a Chinese New Year Celebration, take the time to look around at the displays of red, listen to the firecrackers, watch the children delight in getting lucky coins, and realize that you are in the midst of ancient tradition.
Happy New Year!