top of page

Scaring Nian

A 10-year-old girl's Chinese New Year


It was almost New Year, and I was so excited! However, I had yet to purchase my “new year goods.” Actually, doing special shopping for the new year itself is a kind of celebration, so I went to the open market with my grandma.

The market was so crowded that everyone was squished into each other. It was uncomfortable, but it was fun. I squeezed through people and managed to find the least crowded place. My eyes scanned the dazzling and colorful market: beautiful multicolored windmill toys, stuffed toys, some refined gold Chinese candy, and stringed sugar-coated berries. I was so tempted to try some of the foods.

I knew I was not allowed to buy too much stuff, so I only asked my grandma for a sugar painting (a painting made of sugar). She agreed.

I was so happy! However, there were too many types of sugar paintings to choose from: a fish-shaped candy; the Chinese character of happiness, (福); and a golden shoe-shaped ingot that represents money, jīn yuán bǎo (金元宝). I picked the Chinese character, , so that I would be showered with happiness all next year!

I tasted the sugar painting, which was dripping with rich, soft, and luscious honey. It smelled like the sophora flower in my hometown village, which reminded me of my hometown, and I sincerely wished to go back to visit.

We then bought some (福)characters to hang on our door and some fireworks to light. After I finished my “shopping celebration,” I felt I was ready to greet the New Year. I slept well that night.

The next morning I was so excited because I could announce that it was finally the New Year! I put on my red clothes, rushed through my room door, and ecstatically went to the family room.

“Happy New Year!” My family greeted me.

“Happy New Year to you, too!” I responded. Laughter and games filled the house.

We also had dumplings—warm, delicious, delectable, dumplings. Oh, Grandma’s cooking was amazing!

We have this tradition when eating dumplings: We wrap some coins into some dumplings. If you happen to bite a coin in your dumpling, it means you will become rich in the new year. The coins symbolize a different amount, sometimes ten yuan, sometimes one hundred, or just one. It really depends on luck.

I had much luck this year. Each time I ate a coin, I got one hundred. After I “ate” almost all the one-hundreds, my poor brothers and cousins were left with ones and tens.

At night, I was even more excited because it was time for fireworks, the beautiful and spectacular fireworks. I grabbed my red jacket, sprinted through the door, and skipped down the steps.

Outside I saw a man in a Nian costume. Nian’s eyes were projecting anger. His monstrous fangs seemed to be ready to bite a prey at any time. The red fur around Nian’s neck all stood up, intimidating every passerby. The colors were a bright red, lighting up like fire. Nian’s body was strong, with Green fur growing on his back, and a strike of yellow fur on the spine made Nian look even more fierce. The nails on Nian’s feet were sharp, and they were bleeding with an iron color. The green tail swung high, a sign to declare he was ready to attack any minute.

My blood rushed through my veins, drifted through time, and I thought of my Chinese ancestors. Suddenly, my heart was filled with empathy for my ancestors. A legend says that the ancient Chinese feared the mighty, fierce monster named Nian. At midnight of the New Year's Eve, Nian would come to attack the villagers. Every step outside their house meant a risk for them to be eaten by Nian. They couldn’t visit their families or celebrate the new year, but only sit in their houses.

Even so, the ancestors observed closely and found out Nian was actually afraid of the color red. When they lit bamboo, the bamboo would explode, which would scare Nian, too. So they invented fireworks.

That’s why at the midnight of Chinese New Year’s Eve, the time when Nian comes, we wear red, light fireworks, and stick the Chinese symbol of happiness, , to our door. My ancestors lit fireworks in their day, so now it’s my turn. I lit a firework and immediately ran away, so that I would not get burned. The firework dashed through the sky and sparkled with vibrant colors. In the dark black sky, the bright colors were extremely glittery, like a showy butterfly. After the sparks vanished into the darkness, someone else lit another firework.

Suddenly, my chest grew full. Is this how we inherit Chinese traditions? If my ancestors were here, would they feel safe and happy?

I slept to the crispy sound of the fireworks—a sound that reminds people of Chinese culture, the sound China celebrated, the sound to which Chinese people entrusted their hopes.

In the far distance, Nian had traveled to another magical place.

Sharing culturally diverse stories to educate, inspire, and empower others

bottom of page