I was asked to help out at a special gathering for parents and kids from the church supported kindergarten and play group to mark the approaching Chinese New Year which falls on the 23rd of January this year. The kids age from the youngest (6 month old) to the oldest (6 years old). The teachers and helpers went out of their way preparing activities, crafts and games as well as a sing-a-long session and a cute lion and dragon dance which was done by the kids themselves with scaled down lion and dragon dance costumes.
My role was to be the storyteller. I made the mistake of volunteering to be the storyteller for a group of older children a couple of Christmases ago and I guess parents talk. Anyway, I was pressed to help out again. It was a lot of fun, of course. Kids that age make a very receptive audience. A few funny faces and funny voices as you read the story and you are a star.
Anyway, I was asked to read the traditional folklore story about the origins of the Chinese New Year celebration and I thought that I would share it with you.
“A long, long time ago, there was a monstrous mystical creature called Nian which means year. This is because the Nian appears once a year on the eve of the New Year and causes all kinds of trouble and eating people. This caused the people to live in fear and always run to the mountains to hide whenever New Year’s eve came around.
Then one year, an old beggar comes into Peach Blossom Village and the villagers treated him kindly, giving him shelter and food. But when New Year’s Eve came round, the villagers fled to the mountains and warned the beggar to do the same. However, the beggar stayed, promising the villagers that he would get rid of Nian as a way of thanking the villagers for their hospitality to him. The villagers thought that he was mad and left him behind to face Nian alone.
But the old beggar had a plan. When Nian appeared, first the old beggar waved and twirled red banners. Nian was mesmerised by the twirling red banners until it got dizzy from watching the circular movement. In that way, Nian was unable to walk straight and kept stumbling around. In this way, Nian was no longer able to effectively chase anyone.
However, Nian was still able to bite and eat anyone which was too close to it. The old beggar then fed Nian some sticky cakes made from rice flour called Nian gao which means cakes for Nian. Nian ate the cakes but it made his mouth stick together so that it was not able to open it and bite anyone.
Although dizzy and unable to bite, Nian was so big that it could still do a lot of damage just stumbling around, So the old beggar took some fire crackers and thew it exploding on the back of Nian. Nian was so frightened by the exploding fire crackers that it ran away and was never heard from again.
That is why, even today, people celebrate New Year by placing red banners on either side of the front door, preparing sticky rice cakes and by setting off fire crackers.”