Each year during Chinese New Year, Chinese Christians are faced with a barrage of questions as to what is the Christian thing to do or not to do. Is the celebration of it a pagan practice, or just culture? If we can draw a clear line that it is one or the other, it is easy for us to either have nothing to do with it, or immerse ourselves fully into it. But the fact is that it is not an either/or scenario. What we have in the celebration of Chinese New Year is that of a traditional practice, expressed in practices that are plainly tradition (which is fine), tradition mixed with religion (which we have to be discerning) and outright religious (which we have to avoid). Here are three examples for each of the three scenarios:
- Practices that are plainly tradition (which is fine).
Example: Family Reunion Dinner
Life is such that the children we hold in our hands grow up. With each passing year, they develop friendships and interests that draw them away from their parents. And of course, we celebrate and rejoice when our children establish their own families through marriage. With this reality, the tradition of Family Reunion Dinner on the Eve of the Chinese New Year where the family gathers together symbolizes the importance of familial relationships. It is heartening that for many Chinese Nationals working in Singapore, they plan towards making a trip home during this period to join in the respective Family Reunion Dinners. Within China itself, many travel from all parts of the huge land to be with their families.
How about for those of us who are not separated by distance? Does it mean that just because we live right next to each other that such Family Reunion Dinners are not so important? Not true. We have all heard of what it means by phrases like, ‘So near, yet so far.’ And yes indeed, quality time may be more important than quantity time. But it cannot be used as an excuse if we find that for whatever reason – work, studies, etc., that we have neglected family ties. A good number of us will be celebrating Family Reunion Dinners this evening. May it remind us that for the rest of the Lunar New Year, we need to make time for such family ties.
- Practices that are tradition mixed with religion (which we have to be discerning).
Example: Lao Yusheng (Lohei)
The above refers to the ‘Prosperity Toss’, where Yusheng (鱼生) is conflated with its homophone ‘fish/abundance’ (鱼/余) and ‘living/increase’ (生/升). Taken together, it means an increasing abundance. Hence, the tossing of the yusheng (lohei) symbolises abundance and prosperity.
Christians do not need to ‘toss up’ for abundance and prosperity. The promise of the Lord is, ‘Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first-fruits of all your produce; 10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.’ (Prov. 3:9,10).
Noting its superstitious connections, many Christians simply toss it, leaving aside all the superstition. There are those who creatively modify it in various ways which makes it not only acceptable, but meaningful. Some go to the extent of producing a full litany, i.e. complete with Scriptures and Prayers. All said, the under-lying understanding is that the tossing of the Yusheng is a practice that is heavy with a hope for ‘luck’ through a ‘magical ritual’. We need to be discerning when we do participate at such gatherings.
- Practices that are outright religious (which we should avoid).
Example: Chinese Astrological Beliefs
The Chinese Calendar is dated according to twelve animals, the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, with each animal ruling for a year. These are seen as signs (much like horoscope) where one who is born in that year will follow the ‘fate’ of that particular animal ‘for better or for worse’.
Christians do not depend on such fortunes. Our belief is in the God who indwells us with the Holy Spirit and leaves us with His Word to guide our pathways in life. Hence, while we welcome the new Lunar New Year, labeling it as the year of the Monkey, we do not check out the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” and try to order our lives according to the almanac.
We do not lose our Chinese-ness when we become Christians. We do not want to give ammunition for those who accuse Christianity to be a Western religion. May the Lord guide us through this new Lunar New Year, bringing glory to God through our rich Chinese culture. Blessed Lunar New Year 2016.
Elder Richard Lai