New Years Ghost: Nian Guay

“So there was this monster called Nien. Every year he would go into the village and eat all the people. This is for Chinese New Years and basically the customs such as wearing red, lighting firecrackers, and candles I guess. So every year on Chinese New Years eve, a monster would come out and eat people and animals, and so in order to avoid the monster the people would flee behind the hills of the village to hide out. And they called this day Nian Guan (the passing of the monster) But one year this old beggar came into the village but didn’t know the whole story with the Nian monster, but this old lady gave him food and told him, “You have to run into the hills if you don’t want to be eaten.” The beggar told her he will get rid of the monster if you let me stay in your house tonight. So the lady houses him for the night, but that night the Nian monster came out and saw that there was red on the door of the old ladies house, which was also brightly lit. So when the monster reached the entrance of the house the man came out in a red robe, and the monster was scared away, and the village was saved. From then on Chinese people have a lot of red on display for the New Year, and they have firecrackers to scare the Nian Guay, and a lot of other traditions come from this story.”

This is a myth that explains of where the Chinese New Year holiday came from, and why some of the traditions that take place exist. I’m not sure whether this story came first or if the new year existed before it, but Nian Guan also means “the end of the year,” which would give clues to the origin of Chinese New Year. Or perhaps the monster just happened to appear at the liminal time of the New Year, and the man scaring it away was the impetus of the New Year celebration.

Also, this story explains to modern cultures why they practice some of the traditions in place. Firecrackers, the color red, and candles are all things that would scare the monster, and thus these are things celebrated today and symbolize the time for celebration. I have also heard that the idea of red envelopes was developed because the monster would steal money from people, and the red kept it away. These are all derivative from this story, and give meaning to some of the actions that correspond to the holiday.