“Christmas Is Your Chinese New Year”: On Fascinating Similarities Between the Holidays

Christmas is your Chinese New Year.

I’ve heard this phrase uttered countless times by people in China when the holidays roll around, whether it’s Christmas or Chinese New Year.

And while I used to think the comparison was a bit of a stretch, over the years I’ve recoginzed that Chinese New Year and Christmas share fascinating, and sometimes surprising, commonalities.

Here are the most interesting ones I’ve observed over the years:

Good fortune

While Chinese New Year customs have a more obvious connection to good fortune (such as how red couplets and firecrackers would scare away the evil Nian monster) even Christmas was traditionally about good luck and protection during the darkest time of the year.

The color red

Red is a beloved shade for Christmas and an auspicious one for Chinese New Year.

Marking beginnings/endings

While Chinese New Year signals the start of the new lunar year, Christmas once fell on the exact date of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and arguably the end of the year’s sun cycle.

Lights

My father-in-law loves adorning the family home with traditional red lanterns, just as my husband and I love decking our Christmas tree and home with strings of colored lights. Growing up, my family would drive to Christmas light displays in town where we would gaze upon twinkling Santas, reindeer and stars. So naturally, I felt right at home attending my first lantern festival in China, surrounded by huge, glowing displays shaped like Chinese zodiac animals.

Worship

When I was a child, we always attended Christmas Eve mass at my grandmother’s Catholic church. Here in China, we stand before the shrine to the family ancestors on Chinese New Year’s Eve and bow with respect.

Going home to family

Between the holiday song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and the Chinese saying “Money or none, return home for Chinese New Year” (yǒuqián méiqián huíjiā guònián; 有钱没钱回家过年), it’s clear both holiday traditions emphasize family togetherness.

Gifts

Whether I’m heading grandma’s house for Christmas Eve or my in-laws’ place to spend Chinese New Year’s Eve, I always bring presents.

What interesting similarities have you observed between Christmas and Chinese New Year?

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Jocelyn Eikenburg

Writer & blogger at Speaking of China
Jocelyn is a writer, blogger and the creator of Speaking of China, a blog about love, family and relationships in China, including AMWF love. She has been featured on the BBC and CCTV. You can find her writing in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, the anthologies "How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?" and "Unsavory Elements", and other publications.
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2 comments

  1. I agree with you on all of these Jocelyn! One other similarity I noticed was that at Christmas time, we tend to have a big meal, as is the same on Chinese New Year. All of the focus is on that one meal which celebrates our being together. I do look forward to the deliciousness of that one meal!

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