Christmas vs Chinese New Year

Similarities and differences between Christmas and Chinese New Year

Monday, February 19, 2015 the celebration of the Spring Festival (春节 Chunjie), known as the Chinese New Year, will take place. This is the most important festival in China, comparable to our Christmas.
Considering the traditions and customs of the Chinese New Year we can see that there are many things in common between the two most important celebrations in Western countries and the Asian countries.

Since there are many similarities, let’s start with the differences:


Christmas is always on December 25th, the date never changes

Chinese New Year’s date changes every year. It is celebrated on the first new moon of the lunar calendar, always between January 21st and February 20th.


Christmas is a religious holiday linked to the Catholic religion. Christmas celebrates Jesus Christ’s birth.

Chinese New Year has pagan roots; it is linked to the rural life.
According to Chinese mythology, the origin of the Spring Festival dates back to an ancient legend that tells of a monster named Nian (
) who once a year used to go to the villages to eat livestock and children. This terrible monster was being banished by using red-color objects and loud noises, which frightened him. For this reason, in China it is usual to greet the arrival of the new year with fireworks and the use of the color red.


Christmas is a Catholic holiday, so the typical rite is to attend the Christmas Holy Mass, usually at midnight December 24 or 25 in the morning to celebrate with the community the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Chinese New Year is welcomed with lion and dragon dances, made by martial artists and acrobats, who wear a great costume with the features of lions and dragons and dancing in a parade through the streets of the city, surrounded by the sounds of drums and dishes. Traditionally this dance is used to push away evil spirits and propitiate luck and prosperity for the new year.


Christmas holiday season usually lasts two weeks, from December 24th until January 6th, the Epiphany. Not every day is a public holiday, except for schools, but it is a time for celebration.

Chinese New Year season also lasts two weeks. The celebration begins on Chinese New Year’s eve and it ends 15 days later, with the traditional Lantern Festival (元宵节 yuanxiao jie). For the Lantern festival children hold parades with red lanterns of various shapes to celebrate the arrival of the first full moon and this is the end of the Chinese New Year Season.


Christmas is traditionally a family celebration, a time when you meet the extended family, with grandparents, uncles, cousins to celebrate all together.

Chinese New Year is the most important family celebration in China. The days before this festival are frantic, lots of people are traveling, because everyone wants to reach his/her family on time to celebrate together.



Once the family has gathered, the best way to celebrate Christmas is by eating and drinking together. Each region has its own dishes, but everyone celebrates spending hours around a table, eating the typical dishes of the festivities. Typical Christmas food  include turkey, nuts, sweets and cakes. In general all the reunions with friends and family are always related to food and drinks.

Chinese New Year is also celebrated around the table eating together the traditional foods of the feast.
Certain foods are typical of 
Chinese New Year for their symbolic meaning often linked to their name or their appearance. Fish for example is a dish that cannot lack during this celebration. This is because the word fish (yú) has the same sound of the word abundance (yú), so eating fish brings fortune and prosperity to the new year.
Another typical dish of this festival is dumplings (
饺子; jiaozi) filled with meat and vegetables. Their shape remind people of the ancient Chinese coins and therefore represent wealth and prosperity.



Once done eating the typical way of spending time together during the holidays is playing games as bingo or cards.

People in China are also used to spend time together playing games. One of the typical games is majiang, a Chinese game that could be compared to our chess.



Christmas is also the time for gift exchange. Children wait anxious for Santa Claus to bring them presents and adults exchange different kinds of gifts, often food or drink or sometimes even money, especially among close relatives.

Gift exchange is also typical in Chinese New Year. The most popular gift is a red envelope (紅包; Hongbao) with money inside. The red envelope is usually given to children and the elderly. Adults generally exchange gifts as fruit baskets, sweets, alcohol, tea etc.


Christmas is the season to decorate the streets of the city, the shops and homes with lights and Christmas trees.
The typical colors of Christmas are red and gold.

Chinese streets, shops and homes are decorated as well during the Spring Festival. The typical decorations are made out of red paper cut out and nodes with red thread. The typical colors of this festival are red and gold.

Although the East and the West may seems two completely different worlds, comparing their most important holidays makes their common aspects evident.

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