Sunday, January 22, 2012

Origin of the Chinese New Year Festival, by Alain R. Haudenschild, M.A.(CIU), M.Div. (TTS)

New Year (Spring) Festival – its biblical elements and what they tell us 

This time is generally considered a time
for family blessings
The longer we are in Taiwan and study the East Asian cultures and traditions, the more it looks like East Asia is rich in a number of (old) Israelite traditions in some cases probably rooting back as far as the times, where King Solomo during his Empire almost three thousand years ago had business going on in this area. Through his merchants his maritime fleet and later also through some immigrating clans of the former Northern Kingdom 10 tribes', basic Israelite values and traditions were introduced in major harbor cities of China/Japan. They successfully merged with local world views. (Steven M. Colllins, The Lost Tribes of Israel, 205). Similar traditions are the Menashe children, the Shintoist “Onthohsai” tradition (in Japans Nagano Prefecture), which is still celebrated every April 15th. It reminds on Gen. 22. There are more such traditions showing Israelite and earlier Nestorian influence in East Asia's cultures, the Chinese New Year customs too seem to come from such a background, as the following examples easily demonstrate.

The Chinese of today often are brought up in a potpourri of Taoist, Confucius and Buddhist traditions, and then they become Christians and bible readers discover a number of interesting similarities between their traditions like Chinese New Year and Passover, as recorded in the Bible.
The first strong indication of a Israelite tradition regarding out topic is the traditional name for Chinese “New Year”:

Blessings on red strips beside the door
at Chinese New Year
1. The name: To “celebrate the New Year” is literally, “pass (the) year” (). You can greet people with “Pass the year good!” (年好!). In more traditional areas people still literally congratulate one another for “passing the year,” or perhaps, for being passed by the ‘Year.’ The annoying traditional songs looped in supermarkets for the last week – the Chinese equivalent of cheesy Christmas music overdose – feature the greeting, “Congratulations!” (恭喜!). But why do people start congratulating one another after midnight? What has passed? “Pass the ‘year’” is a pun or play on the idea that the monster, called ‘ (Year) who comes out at New Year’s to eat people, has “passed” over. It’s as if to say, “Congratulations! The monster has passed you by!” This monster hates the colour red, and people adorn their doors with it across the top and down both sides, similar to what the ancient Hebrews did with lamb’s blood before the Exodus, so that God would “pass over” their homes during the night when God came to kill the firstborn of Egypt. These red banner sets are standard CNY decorations; even our door has them, Christians in Taiwan use such banners to write blessings words on it and attach them beside their doors too.   if you are interested to know a bit more about Chinese New Year, this link has a general summary although no one can actually document this tradition precisely as it has evolved over time and changed according to cultural and geographical influences as the Chinese people dispersed all over the world. Here is a quote from the article:
The origin of the Chinese New Year Festival can be traced back a long time through a continually evolving series of colorful legends and traditions. One of the most famous legends is that of Nien , an extremely cruel and ferocious beast, which the Chinese believe, eats people on New Year's Eve. To keep Nien away, red-paper couplets are pasted on doors, torches are lit, and firecrackers are set off throughout the night, because Nien is said to fear the color red, the light of fire, and loud noises. Early the next morning, as feelings of triumph and renewal fill the air at successfully keeping Nien away for another year, the most popular greeting heard is kung-hsi 恭喜, or "congratulations."
2. The color Red: - The colour red driving away the destroyer and thus is auspicious to the Chinese people.

For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:12

Red is not only a lucky colour for the Chinese, but also frightens off the monster 'Nian' who arrives at this time of year and destroys crops and homes.

3. The homecoming dinner. (Below is a quote from another link.)

On lunar New Year's Eve, family members who are no longer living at home make a special effort to return home for reunion and share in a sumptuous meal. At that time, family members hand out "lucky money" in red envelopes to elders and children and stay up all night to welcome the New Year. 

Chinese people have long believed that staying awake all night on New Year's Eve would help their parents to live a longer life. Thus, lights are kept on the entire night--not just to drive away Nien, as in ancient times, but also as an excuse to make the most of the family get-together.


Chinese New Year Traditions
The Passover Bible records:
Before: Houses are thoroughly cleaned, debts repaid, hair cut and new clothes bought during the festival in hope of ushering in good luck in the new year.
The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. Exodus 12:35
New Years Eve: Annual Reunion dinner with families. 守隧 Shousui: children stay up late in hope of longvity for their parents: Some that Chinese children enjoy on this day: Ang Pow or red packets containing money given by married adults.
The Chinese give money inside red enveloppes which are decorated with lucky symbols or Chinese characters. Christians use a bible verse or blessing instead. These are known as 'Lai Si' or 'Hung Bao'.
Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Exodus 12:8
The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians. Exodus 12:35
First day: Visiting elder members of the family, usually grand parents and great-grand-parents. It is taboo to sweep the floor as it is believed that luck will also be swept away.
And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. Exodus 12:22
Third day:
赤狗日Red Dog Day (Chi Gou):

In general people avoid visitations at this day as it is believed that evil spirits roam the earth.
The Israelites moved on from Rameses to Succoth, about 600,000 on foot, besides their dependents. There was also a crowd of riffraff tagging along, not to mention the large flocks and herds of livestock. They baked unraised cakes with the bread dough they had brought out of Egypt; it hadn't raised—they'd been rushed out of Egypt and hadn't time to fix food for the journey. (Ex. 12:37-39)
Fourth day: Birthday of the Chinese God of Wealth.
This birthday seems to be originate from a local tradition.  
God saw to it that the Egyptians liked the people and so readily gave them what they asked for. -
Fifth day:  Businesses usually reopen on this day.
Oh yes! They picked those Egyptians clean.12:36
Seventh day: 人日(Humanity’s birthday)is the day when everyone grows one year older.

Meal: A special soup cooked with “seven-vegetable” is eaten on this day. Others celebrate with a tossed raw fish salad called “Yusheng”.
Birth of Israel as a nation: “The Israelites had lived in Egypt 430 years. At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, God's entire army left Egypt. God kept watch all night, watching over the Israelites as he brought them out of Egypt.” (Ex 12:40-42) Meal: Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. Exodus 12:15
Fifteenth day:
兀宵Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao) A desert of sweet glutinous rice balls in syrup is eaten on this day. It symbolizes unity and togetherness
God is Israel's Hope and Light: As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw them— Egyptians! Coming at them! They were totally afraid. They cried out in terror to God. Moses spoke to the people: "Don't be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you're never going to see them again.  (Ex. 14: 10. 13)

The Chinese New Year as celebrated throughout more than 2500 to maybe 2900 years is also a testimony of a time where knowledge about the creator in Chinese culture was much more spread. It is an ideal time to talk about topics like "election by God", "meaning of life and a nation" the purpose of the family and "undeserved grace by God" and real fortune based on the texts of passover in Ex. 12-14 can be discussed.  

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