Lunar New Year—Is It for Christians?
EVERY year in January or February, Asia hosts the largest annual human migration in the world. Hundreds of millions of Asians return to their families to celebrate the Lunar New Year. *
Lunar New Year is the most important festival on the Asian calendar. “[It’s] like New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all rolled into one,” says an American writer. The festival begins on the first new moon of the Chinese lunar calendar, or between January 21 and February 20 on Western calendars. It lasts from several days up to two weeks.
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, set off firecrackers, watch colorful dragon or lion dances, or just enjoy the holiday with family and friends.
These customs are rich in meaning. The book Mooncakes and Hungry Ghosts: Festivals of China explains: “The primary concerns of family, friends, and relatives are to ensure good luck, pay respects to the gods and spirits, and wish good fortune for the coming year.” 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) They also obey the Bible command: “‘Honor 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) Yes, true Christians want to love and honor their parents!
The Bible also speaks highly of upbuilding family gatherings. (Job 1:4; Luke 15:22-24) Yet, Jehovah commands: “There must never be anyone among you who . . . consults ghosts or spirits, or calls up the dead.” (Deuteronomy 18:10, 11, The Jerusalem Bible) Why this prohibition? Because 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, 10) God’s Son, 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; 11:11, 14.
Furthermore, the Bible shows that the “ghosts” and deceased “spirits” are really wicked spirit creatures pretending to be the deceased. For what purpose? To mislead people and bring them under their evil control! (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10) God’s commands actually protect us from serious harm. So out of love for Jehovah and a desire to be safe, Christians wisely avoid any customs that involve the worship of family “spirits” or that seek to gain their protection.—Isaiah 8:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 10:20-22.
On the other hand, Christians also want to honor “the Father, to whom every family in heaven and on earth owes its name.” (Ephesians 3:14, 15) Who is this Father? He is our Creator and Life-Giver, Jehovah God. (Acts 17:26) Hence, when considering Lunar New Year customs, we do well to ask: How does Jehovah view these customs? Do they have his approval?—1 John 5:3.
Honoring Household Gods
The Lunar New Year celebrations include many popular customs that pay respect to or honor 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. Consider the popular custom of honoring the kitchen god. * The belief is that a few days before New Year’s, this god journeys to heaven to bring a report on the family to the Jade Emperor, the supreme being in the Chinese pantheon. Hoping that the kitchen god gives a favorable report, the family sends him off with a special meal, with offerings of sweets and sticky pastries. To wish him a speedy journey, the family takes down his portrait, sometimes smearing his lips with the sweets, and burns it outside. On New Year’s Eve, they place a new picture of the god above the kitchen stove, inviting him back into the home for the coming year.
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) Clearly, God wants us to worship him alone. Why? Consider this: Jehovah is our heavenly Father. How would any father feel if his children ignored him and turned to another father instead? Would he not be deeply hurt?
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. (John 17:3; Exodus 20:3) True Christians, therefore, want to please Jehovah, not to disappoint or hurt him by serving other gods.—1 Corinthians 8:4-6.
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 honoring 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) 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) Yes, superstitions keep people in bondage, but Bible truths set them free.—John 8:32.
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. “I was so afraid because everyone around me was celebrating the New Year’s festival, and I was not,” says one Christian woman who lives in Asia. What helped her? “Only by cultivating a strong love for God was I able to stand firm.”—Matthew 10:32-38.
Do you have such 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) Rather than the god of fortune or the god of the kitchen, it is Jehovah who provides for you and makes a happy life possible. (Acts 14:17; 17:28) Will you love him in return? Be assured that if you do, Jehovah will bless you richly.—Mark 10:29, 30.
^ par. 2 Also called Chinese New Year, Spring Festival, Chun Jie (China), Tet (Vietnam), Solnal (Korea), or Losar (Tibet).
^ par. 14 The customs described in this article vary throughout Asia but are based on common original ideas. For further information, see Awake! December 22, 1986, pages 20-21, and Awake! January 8, 1970, pages 9-11.
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Reassurance to Friends and Relatives
Understandably, when one member of the family stops sharing in Lunar New Year celebrations, it can come as a shock to his or her friends and relatives. They may feel upset, hurt, or even betrayed. However, there is much that can be done to maintain a happy family relationship. Consider these comments from Christians who live in various parts of Asia:
Jiang: “Well before the New Year, I visited my relatives and tactfully explained why I would no longer share in certain popular customs. I carefully avoided belittling their beliefs and respectfully answered their questions from the Bible. This led to some fine spiritual discussions.”
Li: “Prior to the Lunar New Year, I tactfully and respectfully told my husband that I must obey my conscience to be truly happy. I also promised him that I would not embarrass him when we visited his family during the holiday period. Surprisingly, on the day his family worshipped their ancestors, he took me to a different area to attend a Christian meeting.”
Xie: “I reassured my family of my love and told them that my beliefs would make me a better person. I then worked hard to display such Christian qualities as mildness, tact, and love. Gradually, they came to respect my religion. Later, my husband studied the Bible and also became a true Christian.”
Min: “I spoke to my parents in a mild, respectful way. Instead of wishing them ‘good luck,’ I told them that I always pray to Jehovah, our Creator, in their behalf, asking him to bless them and lead them to peace and happiness.”
Fuong: “I told my parents that I did not need to wait for the New Year in order to visit my family. I visited them often. This made my parents very happy, and they stopped criticizing me. My younger brother also became interested in learning Bible truth.”
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Panorama Stock/age Fotostock