Mythic Origins

Posted by Pete DeMola on 24. Jan 2009

There once was a seaside town called Peach Blossom Village. In the sea lived a monster named Nian (“Year”) who would emerge every New Year’s Eve to make a feast of the local citizenry and their cattle. Over time, the townsfolk began to preemptively flee.

One year, while preparing to abscond to the mountains for their yearly retreat, the townspeople, caught in the throes of distress and panic, failed to notice the presence of an old beggar carrying a staff and bag.

An old woman noticed the lao tou’r and fed him. With a bellyful of food, he casually remarked that he could drive away the monster. 

The woman fled with the others in disbelief. He stayed.

At midnight, when Nian arrived in the village, he found the old woman’s house brightly-lit and the doors adorned with red paper.

Bellowing, he charged towards the door, but was held back by a series of explosions.

The old man—somehow aware that Nian was frightened by red objects and loud noises—then confronted the beast, driving him away by laughing and flailing about in his crimson robe.

The following day, the villagers returned home and were surprised to find that their village lay untouched. The woman, realizing that her guest was their savior, told the villagers, who subsequently swarmed her abode only to find the sputtering remnants of a fire and the red door ornaments still intact.

As time passed and as word spread, the old fellow took on a mysterious air as a celestial populist: his magical weapons being the red paper, cloth, candles and firecrackers.

The villagers donned their new clothes and traveled to their relatives in other locales in order to spread the word on how they too could rid themselves of the troublesome brute.

Along with the hanging of red lanterns, the doorways were—and continue to be—lined with couplets: the dueling sentences of traditional Chinese prose that express sentiments for cherished wishes. (Usually they’re hung upside down to assure that happiness will come in the new year. In the South, they are rotated to the right.)

Although we haven’t seen any old demon-slaying dudes flailing about on the streets lately (that doesn’t necessarily mean that those old beggars hanging out in front of the Wudaokou 7/11 don’t possess some funky powers), homes are still brightly illuminated, firecrackers continue to be detonated in excess and folks continue to stay up well into the midnight hour (Most of them to catch CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala.) And visiting relatives on the first day of the holiday is still practiced, too.

Happy holidays from the WLIB crew!

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mark Joseph Lopez.

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