The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

Stories that shaped my childhood: Lunar New Years

The story about the Chinese Zodiacs and Nian
Rebeca Hernandez
2024 is the ‘Year of the Dragon.’

My favorite holiday as a child was never Halloween, Christmas, or Thanksgiving — It was always the Lunar New Year.

I loved decorating the walls with red papers marked in golden lettering to wish for wealth and good fortune. The red sword lilies and kumquat trees added pops of color into the rooms. The smell of Bánh tét, pork wrapped in sticky rice and wrapped with banana leaves into a cylinder shape, being fried to a crisp would wake me up for breakfast in the morning.

Social work major Kenneth Nguyen also said that the food during the Lunar New Year is something he looks forward to.

“Lunar New Year has specific dishes that I can’t eat all year round,” Nguyen said. “When it comes to Tét [the Vietnamese New Year], I am able to indulge in foods like Bánh Chưng, which is this crispy rice and pork belly wrapped in a banana leaf.”

This is the year of the wooden dragon, which means that “industries with a strong wood presence – including culture, publishing and floristry – will be more likely to thrive than earth industries such as property development and mining,” according to a CNN article.

Every year, a new animal is chosen to represent the year. These animals rotate through the 12-animal calendar called the Chinese Zodiac. However, there’s a story behind the order, something taught to me when I was little.

“I know the general gist of the Chinese origin story of the zodiac,” Nguyen said. “A lot of it has to do with the Jade Emperor basically having all these animals race to the temple. The order in which the Chinese zodiac is is based on who placed on that race.”

The rat and the cat, who used to be good friends at the time, arrived early to the race. However, they were faced with a raging river, and neither were good swimmers. Luckily, the ox was nearby and let them ride on its back as it crossed over. 

While the ox was crossing, the rat chose to push the cat into the river. This is why there is no cat in the Chinese zodiac. As the ox was about to reach the emperor, the cunning rat scurried ahead and took first place. The ox came in second. 

The tiger came in third by pushing against the raging waters with brute strength. The rabbit came fourth by hopping across rocks in the river.

The dragon came in fifth because it went to help bring rain to farmers who were suffering from a drought nearby. The snake came in sixth by sneakily hiding on the horses hoofs, who ended up coming in seventh. 

The sheep, monkey, and rooster worked together to cross the river and came in eighth, ninth, and tenth. The dog came in eleventh because it got distracted playing in the water. Lastly, the pig came in twelfth as it had decided to eat and take a nap and barely made it in time to finish the race.

This story is a pretty common story to hear of when it comes to the Lunar New Year, but there is actually an origin story to the holiday as well. 

That is the story of Nian, which explains why red is considered a lucky color.

The legends say that there used to be a mythical monster named Nian, who would come and destroy nearby villages and eat humans during new years. So, every new years eve, the villagers would flee from the village to avoid Nian.

One year, a traveler is saved by an old lady from one of the villages. The lady warned the traveler about Nian, but instead of fleeing he told her that he could protect the village from Nian.

The old woman, not believing his words, fled the village without him. However, upon returning the following day, she saw that the village was unscathed and the traveler was perfectly fine.

The traveler had set up an elaborate trap for Nian. He had placed red paper and decorations across the house. The lights were lit brightly, and when Nian approached the home, he lit firecrackers to scare it away. He chased Nian out of the village while donned in red clothing.

The old woman and the villagers realized that the traveler had discovered Nian’s fears. That is why people wear red and light firecrackers on lunar new years – in order to scare away Nian.

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About the Contributors
Anne To
Anne To, Editor-In-Chief
Anne To is the Editor in Chief of the UT and also the co-Station manager of the Golden Eagle Radio. She loves working on audio production with radio, podcasting, and more! You may have seen some of her comics with the Life of Biffy series. During her free time she is either taking a nap, or playing video games.  
Rebeca Hernandez, Illustrator & Production Assistant
Rebeca Hernandez is the Illustrator and Production Assistant for the University Times (UT). She is a fourth-year graphic design major. She holds an interest in typography and print design. She has experience in branding, poster and flyer design, and illustration.

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