culture

The Tension Asian Christians Feel at Chinese New Year

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Do you know what year it is about to be? You may be thinking, “It’s only just became 2019. Are you thinking about 2020 already?” Actually, I am thinking about the quickly approaching year of the pig. Year of the pig? The world-wide celebration of Chinse New Year is quickly approaching.

This holiday is a special time for millions of people. But for Asian believers, the holiday presents unique challenges.

What Is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year (also called Lunar New Year, celebrated this year on February 5) is the largest holiday for many Asian peoples in terms of scale, importance, and family traditions. The name “Chinese New Year” can be misleading, as multiple Asian countries, such as China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore and others, celebrate this holiday. For many Asian individuals around the world, this is the biggest holiday of the year.

The celebration of Chinese New Year includes traditions that have been passed down for generations. Children and teens receive red envelopes (红包 (hóng bāo)) containing money from their family. They set off celebratory firecrackers to scare away evil spirits, and they follow a strict list of things to do and not to do. Families travel long distances to reunite and celebrate together. They gather together to eat large meals of dumplings, noodles, shrimp and other Asian dishes. Younger family members pay honor and respect to older and deceased family members. Additionally, they make sacrifices to gods and ancestors for the hope for blessings and prosperity in the upcoming year.

Chinese New Year has a similar magnitude and scale comparable to how Americans treat Christmas. Students are off school and return home to their families, stores and shops prepare specific holiday products and decorations, gatherings of people celebrate the season with large meals, and families emphasize the traditions and meaning of the holiday. All in all, Chinese New Year is the largest Asian holiday celebrated around the world.

Asian believers must carefully navigate family dynamics in an attempt to be loving members of their household and also maintain their faithfulness to Christ.

The Tension of Chinese New Year

Although Chinese New Year is meant to be a time of celebration and joy, it can become a time of tension for Asian believers. Some Asian Christians have come to America from their home country (as students or people looking for a better life) and don’t know how to celebrate the holiday in a foreign context. Other Asian Christians are “ABCs” (American Born Chinese, or 2nd generation) who are trying to balance their traditional Asian life within the home with their American life outside the home. This leads many Asian Christians to experience tension during this holiday season.  

First, Asian believers experience religious tension. Chinese New Year began as a ceremonial day for praying to gods or their deceased ancestors for blessings and good harvest. Many Asians grow up performing the motions of worship and sacrifice to their ancestors or gods not fully knowing the reasons why. These idolatrous practices thus become expectations. Asian believers feel intense pressure to participate in these religious acts. Not participating would incur severe shame and condemnation from family and friends.

Second, family dynamics add to the tension. Many Asians, either first generational or ABCs, still have family members who hold staunchly to the traditions of Chinese New Year. In most Asian cultures, family trumps individuality, and each family member is expected to do what is best for the family (generally decided by the eldest male of the family unit) rather than allowing individualistic expressions. Thus, even a kind refusal to participate in the holiday celebrations is not always an easy. Refusing to participate invites shame upon the entire family, guilt on the believer for not performing the wishes of the family, and possible disownment and separation of the believer from his/her family.

Due to the deep longstanding cultural and family traditions, resolving these tensions is difficult. Asian believers must carefully navigate and tread their family dynamics in an attempt to be loving members of their household and also maintain their faithfulness to Christ. Instead of celebrating the joys of the Chinese New Year, many Asian believers feel the weight of these tensions as they face their family and cultural expectations. Often these Asian believers will face these tensions alone as most Americans are either unaware of the holiday or lack understanding of the cultural and family background.  

How You Can Pray for Asian Christians at Chinese New Year

  1. Pray that Asian believers would wisely navigate both the tension of family and religious pressures. A culture that highly values family traditions and patriarchal hierarchy puts significant pressure on the younger generation to continue to follow the old traditions regardless of personal belief.
  2. Pray for the persecution and deep shame felt by many Asian believers during this holiday. Some have been disowned from their family for their faith. Some are consistently shunned and made fun of. Others receive verbal harassment that their choice to fully obey God is the wrong choice for them and their family.
  3. Pray that the Asian peoples who celebrate this holiday would come to see that seeking blessings and prosperity from false gods and ancestors will never fulfill them. Although they may seek the blessings for their lives now, pray that their eyes would be opened to the blessings of knowing God the Father and the love of Jesus Christ who paid for their sins on the cross.
  4. Pray that you would seek ways to encourage your fellow Asian brothers and sisters during this time. This can be a lonely time for many Asian believers who feel shamed and are separated from their families. Ask your Asian friend if you could celebrate this holiday with them and have them explain the many different aspects.
  5. Pray that you would not miss the evangelistic opportunity. Asian people love to celebrate this holiday with others. You have an opportunity to join in the celebration and speak the truth of the gospel to those who are placing their faith in the blessings and prosperity of tradition.

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Eddy Wu

Eddy Wu is a Ph.D. student in Christian Apologetics and Culture at Southeastern Seminary, where he works as the IT Operations Manager. He loves technology and is interested in the problem of evil. He and his wife Erica live in Wake Forest with their 2 kids.

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