New Fasting Moon
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Gung Hay Fat Choy! This week is the start of the Chinese New Year celebrated by millions of people around the world. There are many wonderful stories about this time of year and the traditions that mark the festivities. I wanted to tell you the funny story about the rat, the cat and the race to name the animals of the Chinese zodiac but this story seems more fitting for the moon that Annette Hinshaw calls the Fasting Moon. Maybe at the full moon I'll speak more about the energies of this month. Today, though, I present my retelling of the Chinese folktale about Nian The Dragon.
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A long, long time ago, when the world was still new and people were still learning how to live together there was a village that was tormented by a terrible dragon. Every month at the new moon and the full moon the dragon Nian came down out of the sky at sunset and ate everything it could find. Pigs and dogs were eaten, crops were burned or trampled, even people who were foolish enough to stay outside were swallowed up by the monster. The people learned that they simply had to lock everything they wanted to keep up in their own houses.
One day in late winter a wandering monk came into the village. The people were very friendly and invited him in, fed him and let him sleep by their fires. A couple days after he arrived was the full moon night when the monster dragon was due to descend upon the village. As night fell came the people he had been staying with changed drastically. They rushed around the village, collecting their belongings and herding up their animals. He watched one man knock a little boy down as he dragged his sheep into his shed. People rushed passed the crying boy, carrying their tools or chickens or bags of rice quickly into their own homes. The monk picked the boy up to comfort him but his mother snatched him away, a look of sheer terror on her face. He watched in wonder as these people, who had previously been so friendly and kind to each other, panicked and selfishly protected their own things.
As the first stars appeared in the clear winter sky the old man spotted a glow on the northern horizon. The family he had been staying with dragged him into their house and slammed the door. He peeked out the shuttered window and saw the dragon, gleaming gold and green and blue, as it tore through the town. It made a terrible noise and had terrible teeth that snatched up a wayward chicken leaving nothing behind but a loud ba-gwaaak and a whirlwind of feathers. The old man sat down on a bench across the hearth from the rest of the terrified, huddling family, a puzzled frown on his face.
The next morning the women and young men set out to survey the damages and glean what they could from the fields while the old man met with the leaders of the village. He asked them to tell him everything they knew about the monster. He learned that the only thing that had been successful at scaring the Nian were fire crackers and red lanterns, but that no one had been able to stay outside long enough to scare it off completely. The old man sat on a bench under a tree for the rest of the day, his puzzled frown still on his face.
Life went on in the village over the next two weeks. The chickens and children and dogs ran free in the yards and the young men took the sheep out to graze and the women went out to work in the fields as they always had. The day of the new moon, when the Nian was next due, the monk gathered the people of the village together.
"To scare the Nian away we must work together. All of us must stay outside in the evening waving red lanterns and setting off firecrackers. Together, all the noise and light will scare him away and he will never come back," said the monk.
"It won't work", said one man. "We aren't powerful enough."
"I am too afraid of the dragon," said another. "I don't think I could stay out long enough to be helpful."
"We've tried before and it didn't work," said a third. "What makes you think this time will be different?"
"Because we will all work together," replied the monk. "In the past only had one person with a lantern or firecrackers tried to scare the Nian. This time we will all stand at the edge of the village, together. Where one is weak, many together are strong. And we don't have to be afraid because we will all be there, together. Let us ready the firecrackers and make as many red lanterns as we can."
They spent the rest of the afternoon building lanterns and stringing paper packets of firecrackers together on long strings. The children helped paint lettering on the lantern papers, and a few older boys made a scene by setting off firecrackers before sunset. Everyone worked together cheerfully as the sun started to sink.
"Oh, no!" one man cried as he realized how late it was getting. "I haven't collected my sheep or my chickens. The Nian is sure to eat them."
"There is no time for you to collect your animals now," said the monk, pointing to the glow on the northern horizon. "Your only chance to save your animals is to stand together with all the rest of us, waving a lantern or setting off firecrackers."
Sure enough, just then the dragon came over the northern hills and flew down into the village. It was glowing and gleaming gold and green and blue. It made terrible noises and had terrible teeth that could easily eat one or all of the villagers gathered outside their homes. Just when the monk thought they were all going to bolt back into their homes one young man ran out in front of the group, lantern in his hand, and set off a large string of firecrackers. Soon, the whole village was running toward the dragon, firecrackers popping, lanterns swinging, children and women and men yelling. The dragon saw these terrifying things coming at him and immediately turned and flew away.
They had done it! The villagers had scared off the terrible Nian. The angry yelling turned to joyous shouts as the villagers started to celebrate their victory. They continued to set off firecrackers and everyone brought out food to share. Coins and oranges appeared and were passed around for luck. Some people started dancing like the dragon while others pretended to fight it off, everyone laughing. The party lasted for 15 days until the next full moon. The dragon didn't return and the people rejoiced. Ever since then the people have celebrated the new year on the anniversary of that special new moon night when the village stood together to scare off the Nian.
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New Fasting Moon 2010: Spring is Springing
This post is about Chinese New Year, which I mention in the Full Fasting Moon 2009 post.