The “sacred lily” (Narcissus) that blooms at the Chinese New Year is the emblem of happiness, and whoever finds his lily blooming exactly on that day, is sure to be lucky. There is a legend connected with it that is more than a thousand years old.
Once there lived in China two orphan brothers. The eldest inherited the largest share of the ancestors’ estates and also wickedly seized the younger brother’s inheritance, leaving him only a few acres of rough, pebbly soil upon which nothing would grow. At one end of the ground was a marsh overgrown with rank weeds and rushes. For years the younger brother bore with magnanimous patience the rapacity of the eldest. Poverty and hunger at last broke him down. Overcome by despair he lay on the ground, sobbing and bemoaning his fate.
Suddenly he was aroused by a sweet voice calling his name. He looked up and beheld a beautiful fairy standing over him and bidding him rise, saying:
“Thy patience and forbearance have been seen by the gods and now there is a rich reward in store for thee. Lo! Where thy head has rested thou shalt find it beneath the soil. To reach it will be no easy task, but patient toil shall bring thee thy reward. Take courage then. Rest not till thou hast found, buried deep, that which shall give thee immortal fame, and make thee beloved and honored for a thousand generations.”
The fairy vanished, the rocky ground was still there, but hope possessed the young man’s soul. For many a day he dug and toiled. At last he found the promised treasure. It was nothing but a lily-bulb. With faith in the fairy’s promise he took it up, planted it, and nourished it until it grew into a flower, fairer than any that had ever been seen. Riches and honors came to him from the moment it began to bloom. Other bulbs sprang from its roots. His name and his story soon became famous.
Strange as it may seem, the lily would grow in no other part of China. Thousands came to him to buy this flower of wealth which has ever since borne the name of the Shuey Seen Fah, the flower of the water-fairy, and which has become the emblem of a happy New Year. To this day the only way to cultivate it, is on stones and rocks covered with water, in remembrance of its original rough and stony ground.