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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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