Christmas and Chinese New Year have their differences, but they’re also quite similar.

You might believe that Chinese New Year is just a special version of a western New Year celebration. If that is the case, you couldn’t be more wrong. Like Christmas, Chinese New Year is also a holiday with a rich history and many traditions.

There are many differences in the ways in which Chinese New Year and Christmas are celebrated, however, they are two of the most important holidays around the world so they are bound to have something in common too.

Here are some of the differences and similarities between Christmas and Chinese New Year.

Dates

The date of Christmas is counted according to the Gregorian calendar, a solar calendar, and it doesn’t change; it is every year on the same date, December 25. Christmas is known worldwide and is the most commercial Christian holiday. It commemorates the birth of Jesus, and it is celebrated by billions of people all around the world.

The date for Chinese New Year changes every year. It is counted according to the Chinese lunar calendar and it is always 1-2 months after China’s shortest day of the year.

Chinese New Year in 2017 will start on January 28 and it will be celebrated for seven days. Chinese New Year is a public holiday and it is the most important economic and social holiday in China. It is always in the period between January 21 and February 20. Younger generations of the Chinese population observe the holiday differently from their ancestors, but it still remains a traditional statutory holiday.

History

Both of these holidays have their long-standing backstories. Even though the stories and beliefs vastly differ, it is important to recognize that in both cases, beliefs on what happened in the past are reflected today in the traditions we observe and how we celebrate.

The Christian holiday is honoring the birth of Jesus Christ. It evolved over two millennia into a worldwide celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian traditions into the festivities along the way. Although the time of Jesus’ birth is unknown, the Western Church placed Christmas on this December 25 and the East later adopted it too.

Most of the historical legends about Chinese New Year include a story about the terrible mythical monster, Nian (年), which is also a Chinese word for “year.” Nian would come to the villages and eat livestock and children. It was beaten with the advice of an old man, who told the villagers to make loud noises with drums and hang red paper cutouts because the Nian was afraid of the color red. On the anniversary of the date, “passing of the Nian” is recognized as guo nian (过年), also synonymous with the new year celebration.

Traditional rites and rituals

There are tons of rites and rituals involved in both holidays. Since there is no point in trying to list them all, let’s concentrate on the most important and most interesting traditions.

Christmas

  • The main Catholic rite is attending the Christmas Holy Mass, usually at midnight on December 24. Dozens of rituals and rites have been adopted through the ages.
  • Santa Claus – this bearded old man is one of the most-known icons of Christmas today. He is believed to have originated from St. Nicholas who lived during the 3rd and 4th centuries. He gained his red wardrobe in one of the Coca-Cola ads. Children write letters to him during the whole year, and many believe that he would reward the good and punish the bad.
  • Christmas trees are decorated with bulbs of lights and ornaments, while gifts are piled underneath for exchanging with family members.
  • Christmas cards are sent to friends and family. In the past, the sound of Christmas bells ringing was said to drive bad spirits away.
  • Candles are lit during Christmas as they are the symbol of Jesus who is the light of the world.

Chinese New Year

  • On the day of the New Year, families travel very long distances to meet and make merry.
  • Traditionally, it is a 15-day holiday during which firecrackers are lit, drums can be heard on the streets, red lanterns glow at night, and red paper cutouts and calligraphy hangings are hung on doors.
  • Many people are out, holding parades with a dragon and a lion dance.
  • Gifts are also traditionally exchanged between the family. Children are given money in red envelopes, and adults exchange fruit baskets, sweets, tea, alcohol, etc.

As you could expect from such a big celebrations, they both consist of families and friends getting together, exchanging gifts and enjoying the holiday spirit.

Food

The best way to celebrate every holiday is with the family, eating and drinking together. Great food can make or break any celebration so that is a subject where both events spare no expense.

Since Christmas is celebrated in so many different countries, the standard food repertoire varies from place to place. As such, typical Christmas foods include roast turkey, candies, nuts, gingerbread, Christmas cookies and many kinds of pies and hot chocolate, just to name a few.

When it comes to Chinese New Year, the food is even more important because many Chinese foods have symbolic meaning. The most common meals eaten on this day include whole fish, raw fish salad also known as Yusheng, egg rolls, dumplings, rice cakes, and sea moss.

Whole fish symbolizes abundance. Rice cakes symbolize prosperity and the ability to soar to new heights in the coming year. Egg rolls are said to bring both wealth and fertility while sea moss and dumplings symbolize wealth.

As an honorable mention, there are longevity noodles and the good fortune fruit, which are also often made for the New Year’s feast.

Decorations

One of the main similarities between these two holidays are the colors we associate with them. Even though one can find many different ideas and decoration styles during both celebrations, red and gold are often the main colors of choice.

During Christmas, decorations are put everywhere. Entire cities, including shops, homes, and streets, are decorated with many colors and lights, although red and gold are the ones that often stand out.

Most Chinese people start decorating their homes around 10 days before New Year. The incoming year is the Year of the Rooster which means that this year will have many rooster themed decorations. Kumquat trees are a very popular plant which can be seen during this holiday. Peonies are a highly favored decoration, as well as Chinese red lanterns, paper cuttings, door couplets, New Year’s paintings and upside down “Good Fortune” signs.

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