If you were to lump together the sense of family, friends, and feasting of Thanksgiving, the deep well of tradition at Christmas, and the pomp and celebration of New Year’s Day, that may get you close to what Lunar New Year is like. It is arguably the oldest and most culturally significant celebration in Asia. It traditionally spans a five-day stretch of visiting family and friends, eating lots of food, and just having fun.
Lunar New Year is a celebration of anticipating a good harvest in the coming year, and a way to break up the monotony of the winter months as crops grow, so there is no real religious significance to this holiday. However, many families will go to a temple to pray for health and prosperity in the new year or offer prayers to the ancestors. People light firecrackers with the thought that the noise will scare away evil spirits. “Spring cleaning” is an important preparation to celebrating the New Year because it involves sweeping out bad luck and inviting good fortune to come in. Families will also hang red banners on their doorframes as requests for blessing in the coming year. Children are allowed to stay up as late as they want, because the longer they are awake reveals how long their parents will live. People eat certain auspicious foods and greet one another with auspicious phrases in order to bring health and prosperity in the coming year. All of this may make one wonder: Can a Christian in Taiwan celebrate Lunar New Year?
The short answer is, “Yes, Christians can and Christians do celebrate Lunar New Year!” It might be helpful for Western Christians to be reminded that such things as Christmas trees and the Easter Bunny are pagan symbols that we have redeemed and endowed with new meaning. Taiwanese Christians use the words of Holy Scripture as prayers on the red banners on their doorframes (and many Christians see the lamb’s blood during the Passover as a background to this tradition). In this way, it’s easy for their neighbors to know that Christians live in their communities. Staying up late and lighting firecrackers are just fun activities. And auspicious foods carry no significance, they are just delicious traditional foods! Lunar New Year is a time to pray for health and blessing for one’s family—not to the temple gods or ancestors, but to the One True God who gives life, health, and blessing to all.
Lunar New Year is a great opportunity for Christians to celebrate with their non-Christian friends and family, and to share the gospel through hospitality and conversations about how God through Jesus Christ brings true spiritual health and prosperity to those who trust in him. It is just another opportunity for Christians to pray for their unbelieving family and friends, that God through his Spirit would awaken faith in their hearts and give them new life in the New Year.
Rev. Ben Hosch serves the Church of the Lutheran Brethren as a missionary for Lutheran Brethren International Mission to the unreached people of Taiwan.