Monster Of The Year

Twenty-four hours later, I’ve still got a headache from the noise of the fireworks. At midnight, the whole city pretty much erupted. People were setting them off on the street outside our house, and thanks to our fourth floor location, a good percentage of them just exploded right in front of our window. 

Since today is actually the first day of the year, I might as well write out the story of the traditional beginning of this holiday. It’s a pretty amazing story, mostly because of its strange familiarity to Bible-believers. This is a story that apparently everyone knows and remembers around this time of year. The tradition says that thousands of years ago, there was a monster called “nian” which used to come once a year in the middle of the night and kill the citizens of this town. So naturally, this night every year was a time of terror for the people.  

Then one day, some old guy (I think there’s some different variations on the story – I’m not one hundred percent) comes into town and tells them that if they want to get rid of this monster, they should put strips of red paper on the sides of and over the tops of their doors (they’re lucky God doesn’t get them on a copyright violation). And that night the monster didn’t kill anyone.  

So Chun Jie, the Spring Festival, is when the Chinese people celebrate this story and their New Year. The strips of red paper on the top and sides of the door is still a common decoration (we’ve got it on our door). And the monster “nian”? This story is such a strong part of their tradition that the word “nian” today is the word for “year.”  The common greeting on New Year is “guo nian hao,” which is kinda “happy new year.” But some think it may have come from this story – that people would say this to each other after they lived through the night – “congratulations, you survived the nian.” The whole thing tends to remind you of this one time when a spirit passed through a place and killed someone in every house that didn’t have blood on the sides and top of their door and this event marks a nation’s New Year. 

Since the story is so reminiscent of Passover, that’s what I preached on Sunday. I have no idea what the similarity is all about between the two stories, but it makes a great connection to the Word of God. Which is about all we can ask from culture when it comes to teaching the Bible. I think it’d probably sound pretty dumb to proclaim with certainty that this was God preparing the way in the culture thousands of years ago for people to recognize Jesus, but maybe it’s what Paul would do. I don’t know that the “unknown god” was much better of an illustration, but he sure ran with it. 

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