The Color Red and Fireworks – Chinese Myth

Context: I went over to my friend, JK’s, place in Santa Barbara, and we went out for lunch and talked about what we did over Chinese New Year. I asked him if he knew why people wear red and make so much noise over Chinese New Year, and he told me a myth explaining the reasoning behind these things. 


MW: “Is there a specific reason people wear red and are supposed to make a lot of noise on Chinese New Year?”

JK: “A long time ago there used to be a monster called Nian, which also means “year” in Mandarin. The monster would come to town every year to eat people, and so the people feared the monster. One year, an old man was passing by the village and noticed everyone evacuating. He was curious, so he asked why everyone was in such a hurry. The people responded by telling him that they always evacuated the village every year around this time because they were afraid that the Nian was going to eat them. The old man thought about what to do for a while and told the villagers to stay because he had a plan. The old man advised the villagers to decorate all the houses in the village with red. When the Nian came to the village, the old man and the villagers made noise using fireworks and drums. The Nian was scared and surprised and started to run away. The villagers continued to make noise and chased the monster until it was too tired to run. The villagers killed the monster and ever since, it has been a practice every year to wear red and have fireworks.”

Background: My friend first heard about this story at his elementary school when his teacher who was an Asian American told the class why Chinese New Year was celebrated and the reasons behind the practices done on the New Year. JK said that there were many reasons why people wear red on Chinese New Year, and this myth only explained one of the reasons. He states that people wear red because people believe it represents good luck and joy after the color red helped scare away the monster. People also typically wear red undergarments and underwear for good luck. The money that children receive on Chinese New Year also comes in red envelopes. 

Thoughts: Although I always knew that people were supposed to wear red on Chinese New Year, I never really knew the reasons behind wearing red. After hearing about the myth, I did some research on my own and went back home to ask my parents if they knew why people wore red on Chinese New Year. My parents said that some people believe that red scares away ghosts and evil spirits, while others say that it’s best to wear red and gold to go with the festive mood of the celebrations. The death of the Nian monster also signified a new beginning for the villagers, so it is also customary for people who celebrate the new year to wear new clothes, get a haircut, wash and change clothes and the sheets, and clean the house to signify a fresh new beginning.