This friend of mine heard I was finding people to collect folklore and decided to help. He came up with several origins of traditional Chinese festivals. For this particular festival, he said he read it somewhere in the book.
Huang: So, Nian was a monster that would visit villages to villages on the first day of the year. This brutal animal would kill and eat people in the villages, even those little kids. Every year, people would fled to the bamboo forest to hide from Nian. One year, Nian was so hungry that he followed the trial and found the bamboo forest, but for some reasons, as soon as he saw the bamboo he ran off. People realized he was afraid of the bamboo, so the next year they became bold and test the theory. The next year, Nian came to a village, but he was first terrified by a red clothing hanging in front of one house and fled; He went to the other village, but soon was scared off by the cracking sounds of burning bamboo. People confirmed that these were what Nian was afraid of, and ever since, on the New Year, people would dress in red, hang the red scrolls on their house, and set firecrackers to scare off Nian. Every time they succeeded, they would visit their family and friends to say congrats, and have a big meal in celebration. As the time goes on, Nian stopped coming out of fear, but these activities remained for precautions and became traditions for New Year.
Huang: Also, do you know where does the tradition of giving kids red pocket money [called Ya Sui Qian in Chinese, meaning “Repress Sui Money”] come from? There was a monster called Sui that would come to little kids’ dream and feed on their scare. Sounds a lot like the Monster Inc, right? Anyway, kids that met Sui would have a fever and become dumb. So parents would put some money in a red envelope and place it under their children’s pillow to exorcise Sui [Red color is believed to have the ability of repress evil spirit in China, so do the bronze coins in ancient times]. As time passes, this also became a New Year tradition.
The name Nian and Sui both mean “year” in Chinese. This folklore explained pretty well that where the traditions of the Chinese New Year came from. I would say Nian’s story is not as often told as some of the other traditional folklore but still, now I could recall some uses of Nian in modern days. For one, I remembered Coca Cola or Pepsi in China once used Nian element in their TV ad during the Chinese New Year. On the other hand, this is the first time I heard of Sui’s story.