Christmas and chinese new year festival

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After researching both Christmas and the Chinese New Year Festival, interesting similarities between the two unique celebrations came into fruition. For instance, both contain traditional meals, presents, feasts, decorations, songs, poems, God(s), folk lore, and are family oriented occasions. When discovering similarities, there were also perceptible differences between the two, such as the time of year, and the significance of the occasion within their respective cultures. This paper will be showcasing both Christmas, and the Chinese New Year Festival in terms of their origins, as well as the similarities and differences they both share.

     Christmas is a religious celebratory holiday, which embraces the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas Eve takes place on December 24th, the day before Jesus Christ is born. This is the day where family members gather for a festive meal, which in North America, usually consists of a large turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, gravy and wine. It is significant to know that different cultures may eat different meals. According to Wikipedia.org, “In Poland, traditional Christmas Eve meals include one or more of the following foods: Golabki filled with Kasza, Pierogi, Borscht, fish soup, carp, and pickled Herring. Krupnik is sometimes drunk after dinner,”[1] and “In the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria, a coin is concealed in a bread loaf and the host breaks a piece of the loaf at the dinner table for each member of the household: it is believed that the one who gets the piece of bread with the coin will be fortunate in the forthcoming year. The dinner is according to the rules of fasting: fish, baked beans, sauerkraut, walnuts and red wine are common. The dessert may consist of apples and dried fruits: plums, dates, figs. The table is usually not cleared after the dinner and until the next morning, to leave some food for the holly spirits - a custom which probably comes from pagan pre-Christian times.”[2] Also, there are many families whom may attend mass or choose to “divine fast”[3]on this day, as a means to celebrate on the night before Jesus' birth. It is important to know that non-religious individuals may also celebrate Christmas as well, whom primarily focus on the family, feasting, and gift giving aspect of Christmas. Some may view Santa Claus, a mythological figure, to be more important than Jesus Christ. Santa Claus is known for travelling across the world on December 24th, from the North Pole, delivering presents to the “nice” children, while the “naughty” children receive a lump of coal. Hence, Santa's list for delivering gifts to children is called the “naughty or nice list.” Santa Clause originates from “St. Nicholas, whom tried to help others while inspiring his virtues. Legends of his unselfish giving spread all over Northern Europe, and accounts of his heroic deeds blended with regional folklore. Eventually, the image of the stately saint was transformed onto an almost mystical being, one known for rewarding the good and punishing the bad.”[4] How Santa Claus's name came to be in North America was due to Dutch immigrants whom “presented Sinterklaas (meaning St. Nicholas) to the colonies. In their excitement, many English-speaking children uttered the name so quickly that Sinterklaas sounded like Santy Claus. After years of mispronunciation, the name evolved into Santa Claus.”[5] December 25th is the day where Jesus Christ, known to many Christians as their savior, is born. This is the day where a few individuals will put up numerous decorations, although many will decorate in advance. Examples of decorations used for Christmas are; miniature size nativity scene figures, stockings, wreaths, ornaments, candles, mistletoes, garlands, poinsettias', Christmas lights and most importantly, the Christmas tree. “The origin of the tree is credited to Saint Boniface (circa 722) who stopped a child from becoming a human sacrifice to a pagan god by striking down the oak tree destined for use as the stake. A fir tree sprang up in its place and he declared it a holy tree and instructed the faithful to carry one to their homes and surround it with love and gifts.”[6] Ultimately, the blending of numerous cultures is how Santa Claus, as well as the numerous traditions on Christmas Eve and Day, came to be.

     The Chinese New Year Festival is a major holiday, which has been celebrated in mainland China for many centuries, taking place on “the second New Moon after the winter solstice.”[7] It is significant to know that this festival is also celebrated in other countries by its Chinese inhabitants, while various foreigners have been known to participate in the festivities as well. During this coming year, 2010, the Chinese will be celebrating the year of the tiger, the first day being on February 14th. “According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nien (Chinese: ?;pinyin: nián). Nien would come on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year.”[8] The Chinese not only used food as a means to protect themselves from Nian, but they also released firecrackers, and wore red attire. Hence, the color red is strongly used throughout the festival, such as clothing, decorations, envelopes, sweets, gifts, etc. When families come together, they will feast on meat, noodles, rice, dumplings, mandarin oranges, sweets, and so forth. Before the feast, which takes place on the Eve of Chinese New Year, red envelopes with money inside and gifts should have already been distributed amongst family members, and children. The Chinese New Year consists of fifteen days, with the majority of the days each signifying different customs and actions. For instance, “The first day of the Lunar New Year is “the welcoming of the gods of the heavens and earth.” Many people abstain from meat on the first day of the new year because it is believed that this will ensure long and happy lives for them,”[9] “The fifth day is called Po Woo. On that day people stay home to welcome the God of Wealth. No one visits families and friends on the fifth day because it will bring both parties bad luck,”[10] “the seventh day of the New Year is the day for farmers to display their produce. These farmers make a drink from seven types of vegetables to celebrate the occasion. The seventh day is also considered the birthday of human beings. Noodles are eaten to promote longevity and raw fish for success,”[11] and on “the 10th through the 12th are days that friends and relatives should be invited for dinner. After so much rich food, on the 13th day you should have simple rice congee and mustard greens (choi sum) to cleanse the system.”[12] These are just a few of the customs that the Chinese celebrate throughout their New Year Festival. “It is also the tradition that every family thoroughly cleans the house to sweep away any ill-fortune in hopes to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red color paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity”.”[13] Decorations are usually red, consisting of pictures, greetings, and Chinese idioms. On the fifteenth and final day of the Chinese New Year Festival, the Lantern Festival takes place. During this period, numerous individuals decorate the streets with Lanterns they have lit, which are primarily red. Some people may add their own unique individuality to a lantern, by adding a song or a poem to it. The Chinese New Year Festival is a high-spirited, content time where family and friends come together in order to celebrate years of tradition, such as feasts, decorations, gifts, envelopes, mythology, fortune gods, national pride, etc. It is also an influential festival that has spread across the world, blending in with copious cultures.

     It is fascinating to learn that Christmas and the Chinese New Year have actual similarities, with slight variations to them. For instance, the use of flowers is strongly used in both celebrations, although the Chinese convention for flowers has a more significant meaning within their culture. A certain flower can symbolize different connotations, for instance, longevity, luck, prosperity, tranquility, health, etc. The Chinese are known for using many different flowers for the Chinese New Year Festival, such as pussy willows, plum blossoms, water lilies, bamboo, and so forth. For example, the reason for using pussy willows for the Chinese New Year is “In Cantonese, “Yin Liu” sounds like “Yin Lou” which is similar to “Yin Liang” (money). Therefore, having this plant around during Chinese New Year would represent the invitation of abundant luck and prosperity into homes.”[14] As for western cultures, when celebrating Christmas, individuals use flowers mostly as decorations. It is principal to know, that there is an origin story of how the poinsettia became the official flower for Christmas. “The poinsettia is a shrub that features green leaves combined with red, white, or pink leaves surrounding tiny yellow flowers. Used by the Aztecs as a dye and medicine, it is native to Mexico and Central America where it is known as “Flores de Noche Buena” (Flower of the Holy Night) and was used in these areas by Franciscan friars in Nativity processions as early as the 17th century.”[15] In terms of sweets and baked goods, sticky cake and Christmas cake closely resemble one another. Sticky cake, also known as Neen Gow, is a fruitcake that can be either steamed or baked. This particular cake is made in appreciation for the kitchen god. The Christmas cake started out as porridge from the English, evolving over the past couple of centuries into a fruit cake. The ingredients usually consist of eggs, flour, sugar, butter, marzipan, spices, dried fruit, spices, and whisky. “All Christmas cakes are made in advance. Many make them in November, keeping the cake upside down in an airtight container. A small amount of brandy, sherry or whisky is poured into holes in the cake every week until Christmas. This process is called “feeding” the cake.”[16]Both celebrations are also known for the process of giving and receiving gifts to friends and/or relatives. For instance, during the Chinese New Year, individuals will give gifts, which “are usually brought when visiting friends or relatives at their homes. Common gifts include fruits (typically oranges, and never pears), cakes, biscuits, chocolates, candies, or some other small gift.”[17] Christmas gifts are also distributed, and some gifts can be similar to those that are given on the Chinese New Year, but Christmas gifts usually consist from a large variety of options. For example, food, alcohol, jewelry, electronics, toys, household appliances, automobiles, etc.

     Christmas and the Chinese New Year are both important celebratory occasions, which can bring joy and anticipation amongst those whom celebrate these events. These are times when family, friends and even complete strangers, can come together in harmonious enthusiasm. Both events contain similarities, such as, folk lore, feasts, decorations, gifts, traditions, songs, poems, flowers, God(s), games, etc. Christmas, a westernized occasion, may contain different significance and symbolic meanings to those whom celebrate it rather than those whom celebrate the Chinese New Year. But, the most important thing about these two occasions, even with their differences, is they bring people together, and are both accepting towards all cultures and beliefs.

Works Cited

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(December.2, 2001)The Guide to Life, the Universe and Everything. Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A665949

(February.8, 2007) Popular Chinese New Year Plants. Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.nparks.gov.sg/blogs/garden_voices/index.php/2007/02/08/popular-chinese-new-year-plants/

Davis, John K. (November.10, 2009)The Origins of Traditional Holiday Plants. Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://botany.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_origins_of_traditional_christmas_plants

Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.nparks.gov.sg/blogs/garden_voices/index.php/2007/02/08/popular-chinese-new-year-plants/

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References

Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.wikipedia.org/chinesesnewyear

Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.educ.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth/438/CHINA/taboos.html

Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.ci.lenoir.nc.us/index.asp?Type=B_EV&SEC=%7BF083A2AC-A24E-4B3B-8944-F912226F078D%7D&DE=%7B817E6FA1-42C1-4B01-8A28-F0EF2477494F%7D

Retrieved November 27, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Eve

Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.familyculture.com/holidays/chinese_new_year.htm

(December.2, 2001)The Guide to Life, the Universe and Everything. Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A665949

(February.8, 2007) Popular Chinese New Year Plants. Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.nparks.gov.sg/blogs/garden_voices/index.php/2007/02/08/popular-chinese-new-year-plants/

Davis, John K. (November.10, 2009)The Origins of Traditional Holiday Plants. Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://botany.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_origins_of_traditional_christmas_plants

Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.nparks.gov.sg/blogs/garden_voices/index.php/2007/02/08/popular-chinese-new-year-plants/

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  9. Retrieved November.28, 2009 from http://www.educ.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth/438/CHINA/taboos.html
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