There once was a monster called Nian that came out once a year during the “most horrific” and “coldest time of winter” to prey on people living in the village. After many years and deaths, the villagers fought back: They lit fireworks to scare it off, and stayed up all night cooking and eating to accompany each other and to keep guard. Decorations in red were hung, believing the color helped scare off the monster.
Nian mean “year” in Chinese. This Saturday, the Chinese community in Santa Barbara will gather to ring in their new year — the year of the snake.
There will be two main events in Santa Barbara, one organized by Chinese residents, and one by students — following each other, but at different locations.
“[It] is the most important festival in China,” said Stella Shuai, a 22-year-old global studies major at UCSB. “Since most Chinese students here are international ... with families back [home], our Chinese student and scholar associations [come] together to celebrate this traditional festival as if we were [back home].”
Shuai moved to the United States from China when she was 12. This year, she’s the director of the annual event organized together by Santa Barbara City College and UCSB.
The following event will take place at UCSB’s Campbell Hall from 7 to 10 p.m.
There will be different types of entertainment; dance, song and instrument performances, including an ancient Chinese costume show, a comedy sketch and games.
“The entire auditorium is filled with Chinese students,” Shuai said about last year’s event, and estimates more scholars to attend this year because of a growth of the country’s population at the institution. They make up the second-largest population of the international students at SBCC.
Hounong Li, 20, a communication and political science major, is president of the Chinese Student Association at SBCC. He said the annual event will bring local Chinese scholars together.
“We want to feel at home,” Li said. “We want to feel accompanied.”
Snake — one out of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac — is known as the small dragon. Li said he assumes it’s honored out of fear and respect because “snakes are always a threat to people.”
The other animals are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Each year is dedicated to one animal in a repetitive sequence.
“Snake is not always people’s favorite — especially not mine, I have a phobia,” said Li, who was born in the year of the monkey.