This is the time of the year the terrible Nian comes out of the dark to feed, and roams the neighbourhood looking for vulnerable people it can snap up and crunch down.
The Nian was originally indigenous to rural China and was close to extinction in the 1800’s, but over the years has interbred with other species and much like the Tasmanian Tiger has started to reappear in the wild.
Nian have been sighted in Europe since the beginning of the new century, always at the time of the new year.
If you are caught alone by the Nian your chances of survival are not good, so remember its weaknesses: sensitivity to loud noises, fire, and a fear of the color red.
The traditions of firecrackers, red lanterns, and red robes found in many Lion Dance performances are used to startle the Nian and scare him back into hiding for another year.
Generally it is agreed that it takes the form of a fanged, horned quasi-lion. Modern Nian are relatively small, but can unhinge their jaw (again like the Tasmanian Tiger) in order to devour human prey.
Using his own image as a scarecrow gives the Nian the uncanny sensation of meeting his doppelgänger made noisy, red and covered with tiny mirrors to confuse him.
Things to DO and to NOT do when you are around a Dancing Lion:
Do NOT touch any mirror or horn on its head. They are used by him to reflect and fight evil.
Do NOT give it anything white to eat, as white is the unlucky death colour.
If you see a resting Lion, do NOT jump over it. This offends them.
DO dance with the Lion if it approaches you.
DO allow the Lion to spit lettuce over or on you. This is good luck!
DO offer the Lion money, but be sure to place it in a lucky red envelope first & avoid multiples of 4, as this is an unlucky number.
DO Beware Of The Nian.
At this time you can choose to increase your luck for the coming year according to the foods you choose.
Lucky New Year Foods
Dumplings for luck with money. The more you eat at Chinese New Year, the wealthier you will become! Click here for a recipe for hedgehog-shaped dumplings to make at home.
Spring rolls for luck with material possessions
Sweet rice balls for family luck
Glutinous rice cake for luck in your career
Long noodles for a long life and lucky health
Oranges and tangerines for lucky surroundings and luck in travel
Eat fish for wealth but be sure to leave a little at the end so that you will “always have a surplus” of money
For some New Years Dragon Luck, try making and drinking a Flaming Dragon Bomb Shot
… or go to a speakeasy like Opium in London’s Chinatown for a Zodiac cocktail designed to bring luck to the drinker according to their Chinese astrological sign.
The Dragon, with Smoked Bell Pepper Olmeca Altos Plata, Solemo Blood Orange, Ancho Reyes, lemon and Merchant’s Heart Hibiscus soda was a favourite, as was the Dog; Raisin-infused Chivas Regal, Noisette, Biscuit syrup, chocolate bitters and mead.
A Tea for Two came in a teapot spouting dry ice, and the place forms an oasis of charm and cheer far above the madding New Year crowds.
We wore red for luck and drank our way almost halfway through the Zodiac before emerging to face the crowds of Chinatown again.
Here’s to oodles and noodles of lucky luck for the Year of the Dog.