There’s no Baby New Year associated with Chinese New Year. Looking into antiquity, Chinese Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival as it is called in China, is based upon a fierce monster, fireworks, and the color red.
Spring Festival has its roots in Chinese mythology. A fearsome creature, the Nian, would appear on the first day of the new year. It would eat crops, livestock, and if really hungry, the occasion stray child.
Villagers didn’t look forward to the yearly appearance of the Nian. Who would? It’s probably the same feeling North Americans get in April as the income tax deadline approaches. To ward off the evil Nian (from all accounts, a hideous creature that looked like a lion or unicorn) people began leaving food outside their doors. If the Nianster had something to eat perhaps it wouldn’t dine on their children.
This worked, temporarily. The Nian grew bold. A curious thing, the villagers discovered the Nian was frightened by a child dressed in red, and also loud noises. The people started to wear red, paint their window frames, and hang red greeting around their doors. They also hung red lanterns in an attempt to scare away the evil Nian. Villagers organized, to bang gongs and drums to scare away the creature. Fireworks were also used the frighten the beastie.
Did it work? Accounts differ. In one story, the Nian was so startled by the sensory overload caused by the villagers that it fled. The creature went from village to village, being scared away in each. Eventually it grew tired, and was attacked and killed by the people it had tormented for many years.
In another tale, the Nian stopped his raids, knowing that because of well-prepared villagers, his sessions of dining on children were over. It was eventually tamed by a famous Taoist, Hongjunlaozu, and became his mount.
There are some who believe (cue scary music) that the Nian is still alive, in the mountains, waiting for a spring festival without loud noises and red.
The Chinese word for year is Nian, a nod to the creature of yore. New Years is Guo Nian, translated: pass-over Nian, or overcame Nian.
China’s Spring Festival starts on a different date each year. The holiday is based on the lunar calendar, not the Gregorian calendar, and can take place between January 21 and February 20. Most years, the Chinese Lunar New Year takes place during the second new moon after the winter solstice, which the ancient Chinese believed was the start of spring.
Fireworks, lanterns and a ferocious beast: The tale of Chinese New Year. Perhaps, thousands of years from now there will be a similar tale in America about the IRS.