Lunar New Year: Is It for Christians?
Lunar New Year is the most important festival on the Asian calendar. The festival begins on the first new moon of the Chinese lunar calendar, and lasts from several days up to two weeks. Today (19 February 2019) is the 15th day of Lunar New Year, marking the last day of celebrations worldwide.
The basic concept of the New Year’s celebration is renewal, closing off the old and welcoming the new. To prepare for the festival, people clean and decorate their homes, buy new clothes, prepare foods with names that rhyme with “good fortune” or “prosperity”, and settle their debts and differences. On New Year’s Day, they may exchange gifts and good wishes, usually for wealth and prosperity, hand out red packets of so-called lucky money, eat special foods, watch colourful dragon or lion dances or just enjoy the holiday with family and friends.
These customs are rich in meaning. Since so many traditional and religious elements are involved, how should Christians view the celebration? Should they simply go along with the customs? Is it for Christians?
“Remember the Source”
A popular Chinese proverb says: “When you drink water, remember the source.” This reflects the deep respect that many Asians traditionally have for their parents and forebears. Because parents gave them life, it is natural for children to show such respect, which plays an important role in the New Year’s observance.
A highlight for many Asian families is undoubtedly New Year’s Eve. On that night, most families assemble for a special banquet. This is an occasion for family reunion that people in that part of the world do everything possible not to miss. At the banquet table, places are set not only for family members who are present but also for those deceased, who are believed to be present in spirit.
At this meal “real communication exists between ancestors and family members,” says one encyclopedia. “With the bond between living and dead thus renewed, the ancestors will protect the family throughout the year,” notes another reference work. How should Christians view this custom?
Love and respect for parents are important to Christians as well. They heed the divine direction: “Listen to your father who caused your birth, and do not despise your mother just because she has grown old.” (Proverbs 23:22 ESV). They also obey the Bible command: “‘Honour your father and your mother’; which is the first command with a promise: ‘That it may go well with you and you may endure a long time on the earth.’” (Ephesians 6:2-3 ESV). Yes, true Christians want to love and honour their parents!
The Bible also speaks highly of upbuilding family gatherings. (Job 1:4; Luke 15:22-24 ESV) Yet, Jehovah commands: “There must never be anyone among you who . . . consults ghosts or spirits, or calls up the dead.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11 ESV).
Why this prohibition? The Bible reveals the true condition of the dead. It says: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” Since the dead are conscious of nothing, they cannot share in the activities of the living; neither can they help us or harm us. (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 ESV) Jesus Christ likened death to a deep sleep, and the dead will wake up from this sleep only in the coming resurrection (John 5:28-29 ESV).
Superstition and Spiritism
The Lunar New Year is also closely linked to astrology. In the lunar calendar, each year is named after one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac – dragon, tiger, monkey, rabbit, and so on. The animal allegedly determines the personality and behavior of those born that year or makes the year auspicious for pursuing certain activities. Many other Lunar New Year customs, including the honouring of the god of wealth or fortune, are specifically designed to garner “good luck.” How should Christians view these customs?
In his Word, the Bible, Jehovah censured those who turned to “the worshipers of the heavens, the lookers at the stars, those giving out knowledge at the new moons concerning the things that will come upon [them].” He also denounced the worship of “the god of Good Luck” and “the god of Destiny.” (Isaiah 47:13; 65:11-12 ESV).
Rather than trusting in some mysterious or unseen influences supposedly linked to the spirit realm or the stars, true worshippers are told: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV). In other words, superstitions keep people in bondage, but Bible truths set them free.
Honouring Household Gods
The Lunar New Year celebrations include many popular customs that pay respect to or honour numerous household gods and deities, such as the god of the door, the god of the earth or guardian spirit, the god of wealth or fortune, and the god of the kitchen or stove.
Though many of the customs may seem innocent, Christians want to follow what God’s Word directs when it comes to worship. In this regard, Jesus Christ said: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.” (Matthew 4:10 ESV).
Clearly, God wants us to worship him alone. Why? Consider this: How would any father feel if his children ignored him and turned to another father instead? Would he not be deeply hurt? Now think about God as our heavenly Father. Reflect on how He would respond.
Jesus recognized his heavenly Father as “the only true God,” and Jehovah himself clearly told his worshippers that they should “not have any other gods” besides him. (Exodus 20:3 ESV) True Christians, therefore, want to please Jehovah, not to disappoint or hurt him by serving other gods.
Show Your Love for God
Knowing the background of the customs and beliefs of Lunar New Year celebrations is one thing; deciding not to participate is quite another. If you live in a community where it is the custom to celebrate the annual Lunar New Year or if your family observes the New Year’s customs as a matter of tradition, you have a weighty decision to make.
Granted, it takes courage and determination to stand firm under pressure. Do you have strong love for Jehovah? You have every reason to love him. Your life comes, not from some mysterious deity, but from Jehovah God, of whom the Bible says: “With you is the source of life; by light from you we can see light.” (Psalm 36:9 ESV).
Rather than the god of fortune or the god of the kitchen, it is the Lord who provides for you and makes a happy life possible. Will you love him in return? Be assured that if you do, He will surely bless you!