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Chinese New Year - The story of Nian and Good Luck Couplets

The Story of Nian

There is a legend about the origin of "year". In ancient times, our ancestors were subject to the threat of a most ferocious animal called 'Nian' (year), which lived on various kinds of animals. In winter where food was scarce in the mountains, 'Nian' would intrude the villages to eat human beings and beasts of burden. People were frightened and on tenterhooks. People fought against Nian for many years, and they found Nian was afraid of three things: red color, fire and sound. Therefore, in winter people hung a piece of red peach wood at the door, lighted a pile of fire at the gate, beat gongs and drums heavily to make a loud sound, without sleeping throughout the night. One night Nian intruded into the village again and saw the red color and fire at every door and heard a thunderous sound. It was frightened and retreated to the mountains. From then on it dare not come out again. After the night was over, people gave congratulations to each other. They put up red lanterns and drank liquor and wine at feasts to celebrate their victory.

To celebrate the great victory people of every family would paste red paper couplets on the door panels, light red lanterns, beat gongs and drums, let off fireworks and firecrackers all through the night. Early next morning they would greet each other happily. Generation after generation, the day of Spring Festival came into being.

Good Luck Couplets

Decorations are an important feature of the celebrations for the Chinese New Year. One of the main forms of decoration are the 'Red Couplets', which are Chinese good luck sayings written on red paper, often with gold trimmings and usually made up of four Chinese characters which ask for luck in terms of long life, wealth etc.

Red is not only a lucky colour for the Chinese, but also frightens off the monster 'Nian' who arrives at this time of year and destroys crops and homes.

Some New Year couplets are intended to be pasted or pinned in special places such as the kitchen or doors, while some can be placed anywhere. The couplets are usually taken down after the New Year celebrations, though some people keep them up all year long in the hope of keeping good luck.

From: China Festivals

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