As the new year begins, let us also start anew.
Of all the traditional Chinese festivals, the new Year was perhaps the most elaborate, colorful, and important. This was a time for the Chinese to congratulate each other and themselves on having passed through another year, a time to finish out the old, and to welcome in the new year. Common expressions heard at this time are: GUONIAN to have made it through the old year, and BAINIAN to congratulate the new year.
Like all Chinese festivals, the date of the New Year is determined by the lunar calendar rather than the Western calendar. Its origin is too old to be traced, but many believe the word Nian, which means "year", was the name of a beast that preyed on people on the eve of a new year.
In one legend, the beast, Nian, had the power to swallow up all the people in a village in one big bite. Village people were very scared of Nian. One day, an old man came to the villagers' rescue, offering to subdue Nian. The old man asked Nian, "I know you can swallow people, but can you swallow other beasts of prey instead of people who are by no means your worthy opponents?"Nian accepted the old man's challenge and swallowed the beasts that had harassed the villagers and their farm animals for years. At the end of the legend, the old man disappeared riding off on Nian. In this legend, the old man turned out to be an immortal god. In the end, Nian is gone and the other beasts of prey are scared into hiding in the forests. The villagers can once again enjoy their peaceful life.
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