Today, the Chinese New Year festivities begin with its traditional Family Reunion Dinner. Being a pastor, I am frequently asked “How does a Chinese Christian celebrate CNY?” Often, Christian values are seen to be opposing much of the Chinese values and tradition. An uncle once said to me: “The story of Jesus is great, but we are Chinese, we have our own culture and values”.
That was the narrative for the most part of my life. Growing up in a traditional Chinese household, I’m proud of being a Chinese. However in the early days of my faith, I often felt torn between these seemly conflicting identities – being a son in a Chinese Family and being a son of God.
As I struggled I wondered “If God is love, why do I have to give up the values and traditions of the family I love?”
Chinese Christians are often depicted as traitors who give up our own Chinese roots to adopt a Christian culture. However, as we read scripture, we learn that this is not true.
“But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14)
Here we see Paul reminding Peter that Christianity does not impose itself as a foreign culture upon another culture. Gentiles do not have to become Jews to be Christian. Chinese do not have to lose their cultural values to “gain” Christianity. Every culture be it Chinese, Indian or Western has aspects that can be accepted, need to be rejected or can be redeemed. All tribes and nations and their culture and values reflect the diversity and glory of God.
The Gospel transcends all cultures. Even more, it often redeems the beauty of various cultures and restores the true meaning of its values and traditions.
The Chinese New Year celebration has been redeemed. In many ways the gospel has deepened my appreciation of this festivity as I found new reasons to rejoice in my culture.
Let’s look at one of the highlights of CNY which is the reunion dinner.
The reunion dinner (团圆饭) is an annual feast where family members gather together from all corners to reaffirm the love, harmony and respect that bind them together as a unit. It is also known as 团圆 meaning “gathering around the family home”. This event has immense sociological significance as it is a means to ensure the solidarity of the family and its cohesiveness. The pursuit of harmony is deeply rooted in the Chinese worldview.
The sad reality is that throughout the last generations its true meaning has been peeled away layer by layer to become just another weekend or holiday of indulgence. Nonetheless, having dinner together and spending time in harmony with the family is an essential way to honor your family.
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:16-18
The Christian faith also values love, honor and harmony. Infact true harmony comes from God. In the Gospel narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration, we see that God first created a place of perfect harmony. However, due to human self-centeredness harmony was destroyed. On the cross, Jesus took our place, was cast out and experienced the ultimate disunion from God.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Jesus humbled himself to take on human form, lived honorably in every way, but was shamed, stripped naked, beaten, scorned and experienced the separation from his Father that we deserved. Jesus suffered all kinds of evil, disunion from the Father and even death so that we could be reunited to live in perfect harmony with God. The Gospel story is a story of a family being reunited in harmony. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are now able to look forward to the ultimate family reunion dinner in heaven.
The Gospel gives us a new perspective of the Chinese culture and what every family reunion points to – the ultimate reunion with God – the true harmony of an everlasting family.
Christianity does not make you less of a Chinese, but rather preserves the beauty of the Chinese culture and its tradition. It can make you passionate for Chinese history and traditional values. The Gospel creates a deeper awareness of the true virtues of the Chinese people that reflect the diversity and glory of our God.
That’s the beauty of the Gospel. 新年快乐. Blessed Chinese New Year.