| The Chinese New Year is now popularly known as the Spring Festival because it starts from the Beginning of Spring, which is the most important festival in China. Chinese people observe Spring Festival in the same way that western people observe Christmas Day. Spring Festival is the time for family reunion. Children who stay far away from home will return home during the season, which lasts 15 days since the eve of lunar year until the lantern festival.
Chinese also call Spring Festival ¡°Guo Nian ¡±. The word "Guo" in Chinese has both the meaning of "pass-over" and "observe". The word Nian, which in modern Chinese solely means "year", was originally the name of a monster beast that started to prey on people the night before the beginning of a new year . There is a legend about ¡°Nian¡±.
¡°Nian¡± was a monster with antennae. It was very rude and lived at the bottom of the sea. It went ashore on lunar New Year¡¯s Eve to devour people and animals. People were scared of it. On every lunar New Year¡¯s Eve, in order to keep themselves safe, people fled to the mountains, bringing along the old and the young.
On one lunar New Year¡¯s Eve, an old man with long whiskers came into the village. He was begging for some food and a place to stay overnight. At that time, the villagers were in a hurry fleeing to the mountains to avoid being hurt by ¡°Nian¡±. The villagers were busy running for their lives, so no one noticed the old man except an old lady. ¡°Climb the mountain, or ¡®Nian¡¯ will devour you.¡± She said to the old man. The old man smiled, but he didn¡¯t say any word. ¡°Be quick, in less than several hours ¡®Nian¡¯ will come.¡± The old lady added. Still, the old man smiled. Then, he said, ¡° If you let me stay at your home for a night, I assure you of driving ¡®Nian¡¯ out.¡± ¡°But¡¡± At last, the old lady had no choice but to flee to the mountains, leaving the old man in her house.
At midnight, ¡°Nian¡± did come. It found there was something different in one house and so walked around the house to see whether there was anything unusual. There was a piece of Chinese red paper on the door, and a flame indoors. Seeing that, ¡°Nian¡± trembled all over and cried in a strange voice. It glared at the house, and then pounced on the house. As it was approaching the house, suddenly some loud sound of firecrackers came out of the house. Again ¡°Nian¡± trembled, and it had no courage to approach any more. At that time, the door opened. Indoors the old man who begged the old lady for her house to stay overnight smiled at ¡°Nian¡±. He was wearing a Chinese red coat. On seeing that, ¡°Nian¡± ran away. In fact, ¡°Nian¡± was afraid of red, flame and firecracker.
From then on, people living in the village knew how to drive ¡°Nian¡± off. It is the reason why we Chinese people like wearing red clothes and setting off firecracker on lunar New Year¡¯s Eve. It is an age-long custom. On lunar New Year¡¯s Eve: we wear new clothes and hats, especially red ones; we wish our relatives and friends a happy new year, we have red antithetical couplets on our doors, we set off firecracker, we light candles and wait for the new year to come.