Every year on the eve of the Chinese New Year, the nian monster (年獸; nián shòu) comes out from hiding and eats people. I was told as a child to behave, or the nian monster would catch you and eat you. It has the head of a lion but the body of an ox. After all the chaos it causes, the people find out that the nian monster is afraid of loud noises and the color red. That is why we set off firecrackers every new year, because the firecrackers are red and the explosions scare the monster away. For the same reason, we wear red too, and give out red envelopes of money. If we put the red envelopes under our pillows, then we would avoid the nian monster and we would have good fortune for the rest of the year.
The practices the informant mentioned are traditional customs that are practiced every year during the Chinese New Year festival (which some may argue is a misnomer, because several places celebrate the same holiday). It is interesting to note that the nian monster is named after the Chinese term for “year”, as if the coming of a new year could be something symbolically destructive or at least menacing.
“For Chinese New Year we would visit every member of our family and go to their houses and tell them merry…I mean happy Chinese New Year, and wish them a happy one and give the children of the families red envelopes with money inside them. This is based on Chinese tradition of New Year and it was kind of like wishing them good luck in the upcoming year. Also fifteen days later we would celebrate the lantern festival in which it is tradition to eat a dessert called Tang Yuan – this is glutinous rice flour – and this symbolizes the family togetherness. I liked all of these events because I guess I just related them to seeing my whole family come together and just good family times.”
Many families have these tradition in which they share money or give it to the children in order to make them more excited about the New Year or such family gatherings. Being able to be with family and share such special this is very important for many cultures.