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Bidding Goodbye to the Old Year, Welcoming the New

In some parts of the world, as in most western countries and those of the Far East, the most important festive season is celebrated during the period of December to February. How do people welcome the New Year, and what other connotations are involved in the events? While focusing on the most common festivities held at that time, like Chinese New Year and Christmas, we pick some examples that we find interesting to share with you.

In the Far East

What is the origin of Chinese New Year? Some people say, it is understood as the spring festival, welcoming the rebirth of nature. But did you know that at midnight of that last day of the old year, a horrible monster called “Nian” appears and is going to eat everyone crossing its way? Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to cautiously decorate walls and doors with red paper, beat drums, and lit firecrackers, so that the monster will be scared away by all the colors and noise. The next morning – New Year’s Day – people will congratulate each other for having survived the night (and not having been eaten).

Chinese New Year is the time for prayers, and it lasts 15 days. It is calculated based on the ancient Lunar calendar. During the first three days, people prepare special dishes for sacrificial offerings to be given to their ancestors. Firecrackers and fireworks continue being heard, because the monster fears fire and weapons. The elderly give red envelopes filled with cash to the younger generation, and many people wear red clothes, because the color is regarded as being auspicious. People wear new clothes from head to toes, symbolizing the new beginning. They also like to have New Year’s cake, play Majiang, or write blessings on walls and doors.

In the West

Around December 25, the birth of Jesus marks the Christmas celebrations in most western countries and those where Christians live and practice their faith. It is the most important festival for people in Europe, and many combine it with a few days of vacation spreading the time between December 22 to January 3. But in Sweden, Christmas starts already on December 13, lasting till January 13 – a whole full month! The day before the holy night, people will walk into the woods looking for the perfect Christmas tree.

The traditional Christmas dinner includes different dishes depending on regional habits. But most families in Sweden will prepare the Smörgåsbord (a traditional Swedish Buffet). There is also the more modern custom of watching Disney TV-Specials starting at 3:00pm on December 24. In Great Britain, families will get together for dinner on December 25. Normally, turkey is served and some choices of alcoholic drinks, like egg liqueur and hot wine punch, and the classical traditional dessert - Christmas pudding. In France, families have dinner on Christmas Eve. But they prefer delicacies like goose liver pâté, truffles, and oysters, and then await the arrival of Christ. The same day, many people will attend masses in church.

Although Christmas and Chinese New Year are very different in their cultural origins and traditional character, they represent peoples’ age-old beliefs, rituals and customs. One is the product of religious conviction, the other the transmitted heritage of a widely shared folk memory. But both create a cosy warm atmosphere during this coldest season of the year, so that everybody may happily step into the new year with hearts full of hope and gratefulness.