ChinaliondancePeople love comparisons, and different cultural traditions are a favorite. The closest Chinese people can come to comparing Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is to Christmas. There are some similarities. Like Christmas, Chinese New Year is about being with family. It’s the biggest holiday of the year. It comes during winter (don’t be fooled by the “spring” by the “festival”). 

It is also similar to the Western New Year in that it is a time to sweep away bad thing (in China, literally) and a time to forgive and forget. But Spring Festival has some very key distinctions from both Christmas and New Year. Religion is the most obvious difference from Christmas. But here are a few things you should about the Chinese New Year festival:

Fireworks: More than you’ve ever seen on the Fourth of July. Used in ancient times to scare away the beast, Nian, that would come eat crops and even people. It was also believed seeing a girl wear red scared him away, so that has become a lucky color, especially at Spring Festival. Lion dances are also about scaring bad luck away.

Red envelopes: There aren’t presents quite like Christmas, but people give each other, and especially kids, red envelopes with money inside. Amounts vary.


No Santa, just an animal: The Chinese zodiac has 12 animals and each one is represented every year. This year is a popular one – the Dragon. People are supposed to have different characteristics based on the year they are born and the dragon is lucky, so many are planning to give birth this year.

Actual traditions, especially food eaten, vary widely across the country. In my husband’s hometown of Fuzhou, long-life noodles (just long thin noodles) are eaten (for days, it seems). Please add any other traditions you know about!

Jenny Lin is a writer/editor working in Beijing. You can follow her @twinlins or keep up with her cross-cultural familial adventures at