Chinese New Year

Context: This is the story behind the Chinese New Year and the traditions that surround it. This story was taught to the informant in an academic setting, but it’s a story that everyone grows up hearing and gives context to why they do what they do on New Years.


Informant: “So basically this is one of those stories to do with Chinese New Year and it kind of explains why we do some of the traditions that we do. So, this was the one I remember the most. There’s a monster who lives in the mountains all year round called Nian, which is also the same letter as year actually, and so the supposed story is that Nian would come and terrorize the villagers every year during Chinese New Year and this is when they would escape to the mountains to hide, which is funny considering he was from the mountains. And then years and years like always the same thing terrorizes a village and then they I guess regroup and rebuild until one year there was like a strange old man like silver hair that they welcomed into the village and basically he looked sus[pcious] is the main thing he was supposed to like almost look like a beggar with like a walking stick and stuff and no one like really cared about him. But he was actually the one who found a way to keep the monster away which is what translated into nowadays traditions. These traditions included setting off firecrackers because a loud cracking noise would like scare the monster away which is why we set off firecrackers every year during Chinese New Year. And then there were other smaller traditions linked to it: for example, painting fortune, the letter, and putting it on doors and then I think they would put it upside down as a way of being like there’s nothing that you want here, if it even got to the doors. But the main one was the firecracker and it was the red light and the loud booming noises that scared the monster away and that is one of the main stories of Chinese New Year.”

Collector: “Who told you this story and when and where? Is this a story that typically parents tell their children?”

Informant: “I actually learned about these stories at school but I do know that some of my friends learned about them at home but it’s not like a we sit together on Chinese New Year to learn about it. It’s more just a story that we grew up with and i think because of asian culture being quite realist in a way, the storytelling culture is not as strong as it is say with Santa Claus and American families like kids don’t believe that Nian existed. We definitely have folklore that exists and we honor the tales but it’s more of like we are very much aware that it is folklore.”

Collector: “Then why would you say the story keeps getting passed down and re-told even though many do not believe it happened and acknowledges it as folklore?”

Informant: “I think because a lot of these stories explain why we do certain things on these festive days so i think it is necessary for it to be passed down even though we probably have come to the realization that it probably wasn’t fully real and i think it’s an interactive way of keeping the culture alive and it makes festivals fun too because for kids it’s like when these festivals come around there are so many instructions like you have to eat this or that and you can’t do this or that and it’s like well why so it makes it a lot more digestible with the story and it makes it a lot more interesting so i think it’s a good way of preserving culture.”


I think the informant’s own perspective on the importance of the story and it being passed down is very insightful. Because this story is one that focuses on the creation of an event and some traditions, it’s important that everyone is given some sort of explanation or backstory of why they do the things they do today. Also, the idea of it is preserving culture is very good one in my opinion and to add to it, I think re-telling that story and passing it down only strengthens a shared Chinese identity and builds a nation in which they know and take pride from where they come from and the stories that have led them to where they are now. One last thought I had was that since these folklore stories are taught in schools, it only shows how fundamental the folklore is to Chinese culture in general and how it can be used as a basis of education and identity and influences much of society today and even people’s beliefs and actions.