The Legend of Chu Xi is a fantastical story that marks Chinese New Year’s Eve.
The legend goes that, in Ancient China, a monster called “Nian” terrorised a village every year on the darkest night of the year. Nian would come to the village and destroy crops, eat cattle and abduct children.
In order to protect the village, residents would board up their houses and hide, meaning the New Year was a miserable time. However, one year there was a wise man who came to the village and taught the villagers how to scare Nian away.
The wise man told the villagers that loud noises, fire and the colour red would drive the monster away. From that year on the villagers would wear red clothes and put up red paper decorations, burn firecrackers and fireworks, as well as make noise using drums and gongs. This drove Nian away forever and it has become a tradition to celebrate the start of the year as a happy time without the monster.
The Meaning of the Chu Xi
The name “Nian” is also the Chinese character for “year”, so to celebrate the New Year the phase “guo nian” (过年) is used, which means “passing over the New Year” or “surviving the New Year.”
“Chu” means to rid and “Xi” is an alternative name for “Nian”. Therefore Chinese New Year’s Eve’s name of “Chu Xi” translates literally to getting rid of the monster (Nian).
Modern Day Chu Xi Celebrations
Even in the 21st century, it is still very common for people to decorate with red paper cuttings, spring couplets or lanterns and dress in red to ward away any evil spirits or monsters that might be lurking in the dark. Often children stay up very late and all the lights in the house are left on overnight to prevent any hiding in the dark, with families gathering together and celebrating for the entire night.
Much like the rest of the world on New Year’s Eve, the Chinese Lunar Year is marked by huge firework displays at midnight which are bright, loud, and last for a long time. It’s thought that at midnight billions of fireworks are set off each year in China – more than any other time of the year!