Celebrating Chinese New Year has always put me in a bit of a dilemma.
As an ethnic Chinese, I appreciate many of the traditions and practices of the festive season, as they reflect my cultural heritage (though some of them arguably feel a bit outdated today).
As a Christian, however, I sometimes wonder: What Chinese New Year traditions can a Christian follow, and what he should not?
Obviously, those practices that clearly involve religious beliefs and superstition are to be avoided. But what about those that don’t seem so clear-cut? Should I, for example, avoid wishing an older relative good fortune (even though it is part of the standard greeting in Chinese)? If I wear brightly-coloured clothes, am I giving in to the superstition that dark clothes are unlucky? Should I pay off outstanding debts before the new year, as some people do?
We could have a long debate on this topic, bringing in the 1 Corinthians 8 principle of not stumbling a weaker brother and balancing it against what these traditions actually mean.
But I’ve been reminded that some of the Chinese New Year traditions are far from “unchristian”. In fact, they appear to contain biblical principles that we can appreciate as believers. After all, at its heart, the lunar new year is about relationships with a greater Being and with fellow men.
Some have pointed out that the reunion dinner is in line with biblical principles of reconciliation and fellowship (Hebrews 10:24–25, Matthew 5:23–24). Paying off debts, reconciling differences, and making amends before the new year are powerful reminders that we are forgiven by God and given new lives, and that we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).
Even the word “fu”, which means luck or fortune, hints at a biblical perspective. Watch this one-minute video to see the remarkable link, and it’s easy to see that the human desire for fortune reflects the longing for blessing that we know can come only from God.
And what is this blessing? Many Chinese New Year greetings have to do with prosperity, success, and material riches. But even the very structure of the word “fu” (do watch the video, it’ll take just a minute!) shows us that true blessing comes from having a personal relationship with God.
John 1:12–13 expresses this inspiring promise from God: “To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
This Chinese New Year, how about taking some time to reflect on God’s boundless blessings and love, and to share His love with others?
Lord, thank You for
your ultimate blessing of
a personal relationship with You.
May I never take it for granted, and
help me to live in a way that
honours this relationship.