The ‘Nian’ (Yearly) Monster: The Legend Surrounding Chinese New Year

(A Video)

Chinese New Year Firecracker Decorations

I found it rather odd and ironic, but extremely exciting, when I was informed that Chinese New Year would be the main component of our teaching syllabus the week leading up to the major holiday.  Instead of resisting and complaining about knowing relatively nothing about Chinese New Year, I considered it a challenge that I was willing to accept. 

It was an opportunity for me to personally learn about the customs and traditions surrounding Chinese New Year as well as an opportunity to teach and present the aspects of the holiday in a fun and memorable way to my students.  In other words, I considered it a win-win situation. 

I proceeded to do some extensive internet research and I also tapped into the knowledge of my Taiwanese co-teachers.  It became rather clear and apparent that most of the decorations and traditions surrounding the Lunar New Year holiday centered around the ‘Nian’ (meaning yearly) Monster.

Little Red Lantern Ornaments
Another Lunar New Year Ornament

Legend has it that in ancient times, the Nian Monster would make its yearly appearance and terrify the town, harming animals and humans. People were extremely scared of this beast and would seek refuge in the mountains to avoid encountering it.

There are several variations to the next portion of the legend.  Some say a wise old man informed the villagers of the Nian Monster’s fears while in other versions, the villagers discovered the monster’s fears themselves.

Anyway, one year, when the Nian Monster arrived at the village, it immediately trembled with fear at the sight of the red banners hung around the village.  Then, it was greeted with the blasting sound of firecrackers and other noise makers which scared the monster immensely and made it run away.

The villagers then had a celebration feast to honor their good fortune. 

Spring Couplets at night
Chinese New Year Couplets around a traditional door in Taiwan

And that is why every Chinese New Year people hang red spring couplets around their doors, firecrackers are set off at midnight to welcome the New Lunar Year,  every family has a huge elaborate feast on Chinese New Year’s Eve, and red is considered the color of good luck and fortune. 

And I have always wondered why people say ‘Gongxi’ (meaning congratulations) upon receiving a ‘hong bao’ (meaning red envelope) and it became indirectly obvious that it may be linked to this story!!

So, in order to present this story in a fun and memorable way, I asked all the teachers at my school to perform a skit, a reenactment of the legend.  At first, I was met with some resistance but after some convincing, all teachers were on board. 

It ended up being a highly successful lesson where the students learned about the legend and all about the traditions and customs of Chinese New Year.  But my five-year old students didn’t believe for one second that it was the Nian Monster! (I guess I should have changed my shoes and taken out my earrings.)

 Have you ever heard the ‘Nian Monster’ story?  If so, is it the same variation talked about in this post?


Wanna know more about Chinese New Year and my personal Lunar New Year experiences?  Then, be sure to click on the links below!

Accommodating the Daughter-in-Laws: Preparing the Chinese New Year’s Eve Menu

Lucky Money: Receiving My First Chinese New Year Red Envelope

Painting the Town Red:  Chinese New Year Decorations (A PhotoBlog)


7 thoughts on “The ‘Nian’ (Yearly) Monster: The Legend Surrounding Chinese New Year

  1. I remember learning about this story as a kid! I was taught to always say gong xi gong xi hong bao nai li as a kid to get my red envelope! (sorry my pinying sucks but it’s like congratulations give me the red envelope) Too bad it still doesn’t work when you’re older ha ha..

  2. I’ve always wondered about the traditions surrounding Chinese New Year, but had never heard this story! Learn something knew everyday, right? Thanks for this!

  3. I had no idea what the story and traditions behind the Chinise NY were, it’s good to finally know it. I’ve never stop learning 😉


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