"If you take myth and folklore, and these things that speak in symbols, they can be interpreted in so many ways that although the actual image is clear enough, the interpretation is infinitely blurred, a sort of enormous rainbow of every possible color you could imagine." ― Diana Wynne Jones
The stories we all hear growing up comes in many forms. Often, they may be passed down as an explanation for a peculiar phenomenon or tradition. In Chinese culture, many of the most famous folklore are surrounding holidays. From the monster called "Nian" to love stories between gods and mortals, these stories are commonly given during the various holidays celebrated in China. For any Chinese kid that grew up with these stories, they hold a deeper value than simply a fantasy tale; rather, they can become the morals and stories that are held close to their heritages. These holidays are oriented based on the lunar calendar, with large celebrations for fireworks, food, and activities for all. Artists have indulged in creating paintings for these festivities as well as poets, detailing the stories we know well today.
The Beast of Nian
According to Chinese mythology, there is an ancient monster by the name of "Nian" that lives in the deep sea, only to appear to attack the villagers at the end of the lunar new year. He was half dragon and half unicorn, scaring the villagers, with his favorite dish being children. Every year, the villagers escaped into remote mountains in avoidance, but this year, they had a visitor. A strange beggar man that carried a ominous vibe with striking eyes and silver hair entered the village. He was old and wise, his aura of power caught the attention of villagers. Despite the skeptic villagers, he promised to deter the beast away from the village. A woman allowed him to stay in her house during his visit.
That year, the village was covered with red papers from door to door. A bright flashing red light lit up the sky, with loud sounds of fireworks exploding from above. The blinding and dazzling lights and red decorations gave the monster a scare. The monster was immediately frightened and ran away back to the sea. The old man came out roaring with laughter and the village was finally at peace.
This story tells the journey behind the character "Nian", a character in Chinese meaning year. It also explains the traditions of red paper cutouts of luck and setting off fireworks in hopes to ward evil spirits away; it is a tradition that is continually celebrated even to this day. The spring festival is a seven day long celebration with food, fireworks, shows of all sorts, sparking the coming of a new year; it is considered one of the most important holidays celebrated in Chinese culture.
As the fireworks light up the sky, the noise signifies the coming of a new year. As the breeze of the spring brushes by, the Tusu wine fills one with warmth from the inside out. Thousands of homes replace their "fu" (luck) symbols with new ones. This seven word quatrain describes the lively, joyous and moving scene of citizens on New Year’s Day.
Mid Autumn Festival:
The Jade Rabbit
As the legend goes, this is no ordinary rabbit, but one which is mystified and filled with wonder. The rabbit is known for its enchanting power of creating immortality elixirs and keeping goddess Chang'e company.
The story goes something like this: the jade emperor impersonated himself as a poor old man and begged for food from the monkey, otter, jackal, and rabbit. They all went about their way, the monkey gathering fruits from trees, otter fish from water, jackal stealing lizard and a milk of curds. The rabbit could only gather grass and felt that it was not a proper offering. Instead, it made a sacrificial decision to offer himself.
Deeply touched by his commitment to help those in need, the Jade emperor sent him to the moon to become the immortal Jade rabbit.
One can see the outline of the fluffy Jade rabbit in the moon; its silhouette a constant reminder of the selflessness and piety it held. No matter where you view it from Earth, the sign of sacrifice and righteousness will be a constant reminder upon the moon.
Above the boundless sea rose a bright shimmering moon, and we admire the moon together as the whole world freezes for us.
Amorous people resent the long moonlit night and think of their loved ones without sleeping all night, and they yearn for each other across the distant moon.
As I extinguish the candles and love the moonlight in the house, I wandered in my cloak and feel the cold night against my body.
I can't give you the beautiful moonlight, but I just hope to see you in my dreamland.
Dragon Boat Festival:
Qu Yuan was an advisor back in the Warring States period in the early Han Dynasty during ancient China, working in the court of Emperor Chu. He was considered to be an extremely patriotic poet and effective advisor, but was cast out when attempting to form an alliance with the state of Qi against the threats of state of Qin. The emperor perceived his act of reform for the country as disloyalty, exiling him. Eventually, the Chu emperor was overtaken by the state of Qin, similar to how Qu Yuan predicted. After the emperor was captured and imprisoned under another King, Qu Yuan was devastated in the wilderness. He decided to commit suicide by way of drowning in the Milou River in Hunan Province in 278 BC.
People were so moved by his dedication and love to the country, they rushed to the river to find his body. As they were not able to find Qu Yuan's body, they threw rice wrapped in bamboo leaves to distract the fishes on feeding on Qu Yuan's spirit. They also splashed the water loudly to scare them away.
This tradition of eating zongzi (bamboo wrapped rice) is still continued today on this holiday, alongside dragon boat racing, during the Dragon Boat Festival in remembrance for a hero and poet in China.
During the Dragon Boat Festival, the emperor bestows me precious palace clothes with grace. The xiangluo robe is spun from fine kudzu, so soft that it floats when the wind blows, with its white color as fresh as snow. From the emperor, wet like the rain and dew where the writing sets, wearing them in the hot weather cools me. The length of the palace clothes is taken into close consideration, and for the entirety of life I carry the emperor's hospitality with me.
This describes the emperor's distribution of clothes to his court officials on this holiday.
Cowherd and the Weaver Girl
Cowherd and the Weaver Girl
The Story of Cowherd and the Weaver Girl is a classic Chinese love story celebrating the romance between Niulang and Zhinu, with many variations. Zhinu, the seventh daughter of the Goddess, comes down to a watering hole on the mortal earth to have fun with her sisters. Niulang, awakened by the girls, comes outside to see the commotion and instantly falls in love with Zhinu. They both fell in love with each other, got married without the consent of the Goddess of Heaven, and lived a happy life with two kids. When the Goddess found out she had married a mere mortal, she was furious, asking her to return to heaven.
On Earth, Niulang was devastated that his wife left. A prophecy came in the form of his ox, who could talk. The ox sacrificed himself and if Niulang put on his hide, he could go to heaven to find his wife.
In discovery of this, the Goddess used her hairpin to scratch a deep river, separating the lovers forever and forming the famous Milky Way between Altair and Vega.
Once a year, the magpies take pity on the two lovers, forming a bridge for the cowherd to fly to heaven on the seventh night of the seventh moon. They may be together for one night.
Qixi Festival is famously known as the Chinese Valentine's day and a good day to find a lover. As Niulang never gave up with his wife, many learn a story of patience and perseverance as well.
Autumn clouds are polychrome, meteors spread hatred, and the galaxy presents itself with no ends as the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl meet across the Tianhe River on Qixi Festival. Upon encountering each other in the gold wind and pure white dew, their love surpasses even the love and experience of countless people. They share a love that no one will understand, a love that runs deeper than water, with their good times distant like dreams. They can't bear to look back at the road at both ends of the river. If the relationship between the two parties is steadfast, why bother to stay together day and night?