There was once a mythical beast named Nian. Nian is the actual word for “year” and is a pictograph of a person carrying the harvest home. But in this legend, the Nian came on the first day of the new year to devour livestock, crops, villagers, and especially children. People were forced to put food in front of their doors on new year’s day so the Nian would not eat anyone.
One year, though, the Nian was scared away by a child dressed in red. Thereafter, villagers hung red lanterns and red scrolls on windows and doors and used firecrackers to scare the Nian away.
The beast was eventually captured by a Taoist monk named Hongjun Laozu, and he rides the Nian to this day.