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Similarities Mirrored in Greece and China's New Year Celebrations
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Similarities Mirrored in Greece and China's New Year Celebrations

Greece and China have always diachronically pursued knowledge and cultural exchanges in a comprehensive way. But it would be remiss of me not to underscore that our cooperation also embraces a wide range of other sectors, and in a similar spirit of mutual understanding and growth as in the cultural regard. In the bilateral relations context, mutual understanding and a win-win conceptual framework is the ultimate aim of this systematic forging of such synergies.

In view of the significant parallels existent between the Greek and Chinese cultures, similarities inevitably exist in more traditional fields. Both societies have a rich history, and place high value on philosophy, as evident in their common emphasis on literature and storytelling.

In the same spirit, China’s Lunar New Year and Greece’s New Year’s Eve feature similar themes. Good health, happiness, and family values — constituent elements of Chinese New Year celebrations — are also at the core of New Year’s greetings in modern Greek culture.

Festivities are customary, forming as they do a complex aspect of the social fabric in expressing complex ideas through simple notions. Artistic conventions have thus been shaped and enshrined over eons. The preservation of cultural heritage and traditions is of paramount importance to future generations, especially those of Greece and China, which are generally regarded as the world’s two most important cradles of civilization.

Aware of the significance of cultural differences and similarities across nations, the people of Greece feel an affinity for the Chinese Spring Festival. They know that, out of all of China’s traditional holidays, it is the most revered celebration in Chinese culture. Such festivals, imbued as they are with specific social and cultural connotations, both embody and convey a nation’s cultural mores and belief system. It is at Spring Festival, therefore, that individuals do their utmost to return to their hometown to be with their close friends and family.

Chinese families make ready for this festival by preparing traditional dishes, whose ingredients carry specific connotations. Rice cakes, for example, are symbols of progress and so summon the promise of wealth in the New Year, while fish dishes anticipate prosperity, and noodles are emblematic of longevity. The stroke of midnight on Chinese New Year’s Eve then resounds to the crackle of exploding firecrackers.

A similar spirit pervades Greece during Christmas and New Year celebratory events. People exchange gifts, cards, and greetings, go to church, and display their decorated Christmas trees. Most importantly, they contribute to building a tranquil and joyous atmosphere that conjures the spirit of “good luck” for the forthcoming year and the future in general.

Comparing the origins and customs of the two celebrations, it is clear that Chinese interpersonal relationships are, in the festive context, similar in certain respects to Greek celebrations, by virtue of their emphasis on group orientation, kinship, and feelings. Moreover, in comparison to other cultures, Chinese and Greek ceremonial practices set great store by connectivity. Singing Christmas carols, making a New Year’s cake, trimming the Christmas tree, or even decorating a Christmas boat, as well as the treats that every household prepares at this season, are important traditions. Along similar lines, Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice, is undoubtedly the most significant occasion on the Chinese calendar, as New Year is in the West.

The Chinese New Year celebration thus serves as a new axis in the cultural dimension; an occasion whereon to view a multidimensional cultural universe. The Chinese community always warmly welcomes Greek friends at its various cultural centers in Athens, the Greek capital, which is resplendent in Chinese red lanterns on such occasions. This brings to mind the “Happy Chinese New Year, Night of Beijing” art show I attended on February 10, 2018. Familiarizing ourselves with Chinese calligraphy and mask making techniques, relishing sumptuous dishes, and enjoying spectacular artistic performances enables our foray into this new axis of the cultural universe. Greece always holds such events at this time. They indeed maximize beneficial interchanges between Chinese and Greek people in creating a unique cultural exchange perspective of the purest and most vibrant form. Despite geographical distance, Greeks and Chinese become ever closer through these festivities. At the same time, this comparative theorization and cultural group sharing — or “methexis” — essentially create deeper mutual understanding through actual shared cultural insights into Chinese and Greek traditions.

Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, originates in agricultural celebrations whereby farmers anticipated the advent of spring. A particular challenge to many Greeks consists in analyzing the animal identity of each Lunar New Year and its connotation. For example, upon exploring the relevant 12-year cycle and definitional context we ask ourselves how the Year of the Dragon, the Snake, or Monkey relates to our zodiac sign as we search for an auspicious omen for the coming year. Another esthetic element is that whereby the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations is marked by the famous Lantern Festival, which features, among others, the magnificent dragon dance.

According to the Chinese calendar, an animal and its element symbolizes each lunar year. In 2023 it was the Water Rabbit, which paved the way for the Wood Dragon, which starts on February 10!

In conclusion, various events are hosted in both countries during the New Year celebratory period. Individuals with a sense of unity take great pride in their rich heritage and, accordingly, share deep respect for each other’s cultural traditions.

I take this opportunity to extend warm wishes to everyone for a Happy New Year, and also my best wishes for the coming Year of the Dragon. 

FOUKIS DIMITRIOS is head of the Public Diplomacy Office at the General Consulate of Greece in Shanghai.

China TodayGu Yetao

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