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Chinese New Year

BY HALLIE DONG (staff writer)



Shhhh, little one,

her grandmother whispers,

Be quiet,

and you will hear.


She leans close,

Hand softly clutching

Mr. Bear and her woolen

Quilt, eyes wide in

Wonder, all thoughts

Of sleep forgotten.


Be patient,

and you will understand.


Handmade lanterns sway on the porch,

Inside, the golden

Ambience of familiar love

Slowly wears away

At stubborn snow

That’s been trudged inside.


Be willing,

and you will know,

For to you am I

About to tell a tale.


Two pairs of eyes shine,

Cheeks red with youth.


Do tell, grandmother!

Do tell!


Grandmother smiles,

The old kind of

Smile that’s been carved

With years of practice.

Crow’s feet extend from

The corners of her eyes

As the words of a tale

Long-told flows from her mouth,

Sweeter than honey.


***


Long, long ago,

In the world of the

Lands of our ancestors—


Those lands, grandma?

With golden-haired maidens

And white-bearded spirits

Wafting through oceans on

Puffy white clouds—


No, my dear.

Things were not always so serene.

Perhaps, if the beginning of time

Began a little differently,

It would have been.

But no, for now,

There was a village.


A big village?

A rich village with trading ports

And boats made of solid gold

Smoothly sailing across the sea?


My dear, my dear.

Does it matter so?

This village thrived much like any other village.

But, my child, the kind of village

Is not what makes

This legend special.

You see,


There was a beast.


A bitter, brawling, savage beast.


She gasps,

Hands covering her mouth.


A beast! A beast, you say!


Indeed. Indeed, a monster.

And the beast has a name:

Nian.


She tastes the word,

Rolling it in her mouth.

Nian.

Nian.

[year].


In fact, so great a beast it was,

Every New Years’ Eve,

The villagers would

Flee into the mountains

To camp in the caves,

In fear of the Nian’s voracious appetite.

Of course, not much more voracious than

Yours, my dear.


Grandmother,

You overestimate my appetite!


Who are you to speak

When the last dumpling

Is always caught between your

Chubby fingers?


She laughs, swatting grandmother’s

Hand away.


Continue the story, grandmother.


On a final New Years’ Eve,

When the hearts of villagers

Had long become weary,

Sodden heavy with fear

And grief,

A strange, strange man appeared.


A strange man.

What did he look like?


Well, his hair was quite wispy with years,

Clothes old and fraying,

Almost like a beggar.

But you could tell he was a wise,

Wise man, as his eyes shone

With intelligence and with courage.

Brighter than the stars, can you imagine?


I know what you mean,

When you say his eyes are bright,

How you can almost feel the light shining

From them.


Yes, little one.

They are like yours.


She smiles, eyes scrunching

In happiness.


And soon, an old woman

Spotted him, and with great

Benevolence and kindness,

She risked her safety and her time

To tell him to flee.


Because of Nian.

Grandmother, would you have helped him,

If you had been the old woman?


Of course. Is not what we teach,

We practice?


She nods.


I would have been too scared

To help him. But if you were there,

Maybe I would.


Always help, my child.

Even when when it seems

It will do you harm.


She nods,

Taking the silence in.


Even more strangely,

More stranger than his appearance

(If that were yet possible),

The man refuses.

He simply smiles with understanding

And asks to stay at the woman’s house

For a night.

Only a night.


Grandmother,

Wasn’t that New Year’s Eve?

Would not Nian come?


Quite precisely.

Nian was in the underworld,

Licking his chops,

Waiting for the right moment to seize.

The woman,

Having reached the end of her patience,

Forewarned the man gravely one more time,

And left for the mountains.


Having heard it all,

The man simply settles into the woman’s house,

Lights the lanterns,

And waits as if he possesses

All the time in the world.


Run, man, run!


Not so fast.

Soon, Nian came for his yearly anniversary.

Being used to an empty, cold

Village void of people,

He was quite surprised to see

Smoke rising from the chimney of

A house near the east,

Bright lights almost blinding him.


Feeding off the audacity of whatever civilian

Had decided to challenge him,

Nian advanced upon that small, small house.


He must be afraid.


We are all afraid of things, dear.

But like the man,

If we are prepared,

If we trust in our preparation,

There is no need to be fearful.


The words sink into her,

And she sinks into her blankets.


As Nian edges closer and closer,

The man seemingly inches

Closer and closer to his doom.

But suddenly,

At the last instant,

A loud burst of sound and light

Erupted through the silence.

In great fear, Nian did not come closer.


Fireworks! Firecrackers! Lanterns and light!

Those are right on our front porch, grandmother!

Let’s go scare Nian away!


That’s the spirit! Nian would indeed have been afraid of you.

And just like that,

In grave fear, Nian left the village,

Still planning to return for the following years.


Keep lighting firecrackers, then!

That’ll keep him away forever.


Patience, dear.

The tale has not yet finished.

The next day,

As villagers began to trickle

Into town,

The now-famous man received much attention.

Having shared his wisdom,

He imparted his ways upon the people as he left.


And that, my dear,

Is why we light firecrackers,

Shoot fireworks up into the sky,

Light up our houses and sing

With joy.


It is love, little one.

It is love that scares all bad things away.

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