Celebrating CHINESE NEW YEAR as a Christian

Chinese New Year (CNY), also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. The date of Chinese New Year is determined by the Chinese calendar, based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. This is why CNY falls on a different date each year. This year, it falls on 12 Feb 2021. It starts on the first day of the new year containing a new moon and ends on the Lantern Festival fourteen days later.

Chinese New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year’s Day are celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. The celebration was traditionally highlighted with a religious ceremony given in honour of Heaven and Earth, the gods of the household and the family ancestors. However, Christians can also rightly identify with many of the themes of the CNY celebration and honour God!

1. The family

The Chinese New Year celebrations typically include the extended family. The extended family provides the basis for the flourishing of each individual member and for each discrete family unit. The strength of the family lies in its ability to bind the family through good and bad times. Our celebrations this year will be muted by not being able to welcome more than eight visitors a day to our homes due to COVID-19 government restrictions.

Yet, just as each celebration of Holy Communion is a picture of God’s final banquet where a whole assortment of seekers, sinners and disciples can gather to eat and be with Jesus forever, so too can our smaller Chinese New Year celebrations be joyful symbols of our larger unity.

2. Spring cleaning

The annual spring-cleaning can also serve as a time for spiritual stocktaking. Where are we going? Is there anything in our lives that needs cleansing? With regards to the kingdom of God, are our hearts ready to meet the New Year? We should approach the New Year with a quiet humility based on Christ’s atonement and justifying grace (Rom 3:23–26).

3. New clothes

As we begin to shop for new clothes for the Lunar New Year, we thank God for His abundant provision. The move from the end of one year to the beginning of a new one—especially after an unprecedented year like 2020—should call to mind the profound exchange where God takes up all our pain and suffering into Himself and bestows on us “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isa 61:3 NIV).

4. Feasting

At festive times we generally eat too much.  Even as you are feasting, contemplate on the following:

  1. a) Spare a thought for your own body: it is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Col 6:19). Enjoy the good gifts of God’s creation, but do so while remembering that our bodies also belong to God!
  2. b) Spare a thought too, for the poor and needy, the down and out, those with broken families, or no families. Can we be witnesses to the life-changing Gospel through sharing our festive joy with them?
  3. Ang pows

The giving of ang pows is bi-directional: we give downwards to those under us, and we give upwards to the senior members of our family. Similarly, it may be a good time to appreciate our superiors or subordinates in every station of our lives. And, most importantly, what about our God? Instead of simply expecting His blessings, how can we honour our Heavenly Father?

5. Ancestors

Ancestral worship is prominent in ancient Chinese traditions. As Christians, we worship God, not our ancestors. But the bible also repeatedly reveres the patriarchs of old. In Hebrew 11, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and others are listed as a great cloud of witnesses to the running of our race.

It is good to remember our forebears: respect them for what they have done for us. Chinese New Year is as good a time as any. We thank God for those who came before us, for without them, we would not have been born, nor would we be where we are today. We also thank God for our spiritual ancestors: our spiritual parents and mentors. Think of our Sunday school teachers, pastors, missionaries and faithful servants in Methodist history like John and Charles Wesley, William Oldham, James Thoburn and Sophia Blackmore. Let us give thanks to God for our rich heritage this Chinese New Year!

Almighty God, you are Sovereign over history and time. As we mark the celebrations for Chinese New Year, we are still mindful of the great global trial of COVID-19. Yet there is much to be grateful for. We thank You for our families; for physical and spiritual ancestors; for blessings of warm hospitality; for the providence of the abundant fruit of creation; for seeing us through this season of our common distress.

In one hand we grasp the burden of this world, yet with the other we reach for the hope of this world’s redemption. As we celebrate Chinese New Year, therefore, let our hearts be surprised by, shaped by, warmed by and remade by the same joy that forever dwells within and radiates from You, O God. In the name of our Christ, the King of the Ages, Amen.

The Rev Nathanael Goh

The Rev Nathanael Goh Jun Chuen serves as Assistant Pastor at Sengkang Methodist Church / Photos courtesy of the Chinese Annual Conference