Chinese New Year Celebration
Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:22
As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness,
but as the servants of God.
1 Peter 2:16
For the Chinese Christians, this could be one of the most emotional issues they have to confront. For those who have been delivered from idolatrous practices in the past before they are saved, they know unmistakably that this Chinese New Year celebration has a long history of worshipping of idols and superstitious practices where the Chinese people hope to usher in good luck and prosperity for the coming year. Indeed the Scripture is true concerning the lost whose primary motivation is to stay alive and in comfort because of the curse pronounced on sinners since the fall in the Garden of Eden.
And we are told by the apostle Paul concerning the lost; Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) (Phil 3:19)
Having been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, the child of God can discern what is holy and what is profane from the Holy Bible. However, in the face of rejection by family members, relatives and friends if they do not participate in the New Year celebration, it is very difficult for them to take a stand on this issue. Of course many will quote the first part of 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23 claiming that all things are lawful for the child of God to ease their conscience somewhat in getting involved in the celebration. The rest of the verses proclaiming that all things are not expedient and do not edify are conveniently overlooked.
To take a look at what the New Year celebration really entails, below is some information taken from the book, “Chinese Customs And Festivals” published by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations.
Preparations for the New Year begin as early as one month before the festival. It is customary for the Chinese families to do a general spring cleaning of their homes to make sure that the house is spick and span for the New Year visits by relatives and friends. In the hope of obtaining good fortune in the coming year, some families make it a point to put up chun lian (spring couplets) at their doorways.
In Singapore today the practice of displaying auspicious characters in the house during the New Year has been further simplified by using a single character such as chun (spring) or fu (luck) as a decorative piece on the door or on one of the walls. The Chinese character is deliberately placed upside down because the Chinese pronunciation of “upside down” (dao) is the same as “arrival” (dao). Thus, an upside down fu infers the arrival of good luck!
The ancestors are not forgotten on this festive occasion. It is customary to pay respects to one’s ancestors by offering food or flowers. The form of ancestral veneration may differ according to one’s religion: the point is to devote some time on the New Year’s eve to one’s loved ones.
The more traditional Chinese, however, retain the practice of offering joss sticks to welcome the god of wealth at the start of the New Year. A large number of devotees welcome the New Year by praying at the temples.
The presentation of oranges during Chun Jie (Chinese New Year) is basically a southern Chinese ritual, arising from the fact that the Cantonese pronunciation of oranges is “Gam” which has the same sound as gold. When visiting one’s relatives and friends, therefore, it is a must to bring along two or even four oranges as gifts. Because the Chinese believe that even numbers signify happy events while odd numbers are only used for unhappy occasions, New Year gifts are always presented in pairs.
As a sign of respect to one’s elders the oranges should be presented with both hands. Since the recipient also hopes that the presenter would have good luck in the coming year, it is customary for the recipient to present two oranges when his visitor leaves.
Next to Mandarin oranges, the most popular feature of the Chinese New Year is the giving of hongbao (red packets). Red is an important colour to the Chinese because it symbolizes life, happiness and good luck. (In contrast black is associated with death and Chinese generally shun this colour on festive and joyous occasions.)
The custom of giving hongbao to the young (by Chinese definition only those who are married are considered adults), signifies the transmission of good wishes and good fortune. The money inserted in the hongbao is intended only to give a little joy to the young recipient; more important is the expression of good fortune represented by the red paper. It is therefore considered rude for the recipients to open their hongbao in front of the givers.
The above presentation is not written by Christians to paint the festival in a bad light but it is an unbiased description of the meanings and significance on the practices of this festival. As Christians, we should not take offence at the practices of sinners which do not align with Biblical requirements of holiness and proper worship of our thrice Holy God. Sinners are not expected to know what the God of Creation expects from them and we should show our understanding because we are told that they have already been judged by God.
But them that are without God judgeth. (1 Cor 13)
So the question is how far should a Christian go in accommodating their family members, friends and relatives. The following Scriptures should be observed.
If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. (1 Cor 10:27)
But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: (1 Cor 10:28)
Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? (1 Cor 10:29)
So should a Christian wish others a happy new year? I suppose there is no harm with a general well wishing during this time just like during a birthday occasion or during a wedding. However, a Christian should be careful not to wish the lost prosperity in the sense of wishing them good luck. I had seen a Christian being mocked and made fun of when she tried to wish her lost brother-in-law prosperity who told her she should have wished him good luck in striking many lotteries! How foolish trying to please the world!
How about going around with mandarin oranges? The fruit in itself is actually altogether nothing but to the lost, this fruit is significant in that they believe this will bring them luck and good fortune. Do Christians think they convey the right message to the lost by their participation?
What about those red packets? Do Christians really want to give the impression they are transmitting good fortune to the recipients? Is it just a cultural thing to give out red packets? Actually, such practice is a heavy burden for some families. Recently, a newspaper article reported a family with twenty-one children avoided by their relatives like a plague! If giving of red packets really means to transmit good wishes and fortunes, then those relatives must be very self-fish because they were counting their own financial loss if they were to visit this family with twenty-one children!
The author used to receive red packets from his late grandma when he was a child. Sometimes, the red packets were placed on the altar to be blessed by the idols before they were given out. As such, giving of red packets may not simply be a Chinese custom but it has far reaching spiritual implications.
Indeed it is very difficult for a child of God to avoid all the rituals and practices of this festival because he has been brought up this way for all those years. It would appear that he fails to honour his parents and elders for he has received much over the years and now he turns away from reciprocating the goodwill in rejecting the New Year practices.
More Scriptures to be observed on this issue are as follows:
Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thes 5:22)
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. (Rom 14:13)
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. (Gal 5:13)
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. (1 Cor 8:12)
A Christian may never know whether there is a brother who has been steep in idolatry before he is saved and thus by compromising his testimony and doing things that may be lawful but in effect actually wounds the weak conscience of this brother and thereby sinning against Christ.
May the Lord grant us grace and courage to honour Him before men and deliver us from all evil!