Chinese New Year is round the corner, which means three things: Food, visits, and a whole long list of do’s and don’ts.
You know the drill. No sweeping floors on the first day. Wear bright colours. Avoid black. Deposit money on 立春 (lichun – the start of spring, according to the Lunar Calendar) at a particular hour. There are so many traditions and practices, it can be a real pain to stick to the list.
And that list is even longer for those who work in really pantang (superstitious) industries. Like banking.
I remember the first year I worked in a bank, working for a boss who followed all the customs, and had a fengshui master and fortune-teller on speed-dial. We got constant reminders about the best lichun hour, our Chinese zodiac forecasts, the need to prepare angpow and oranges for the lions dancing around to bless our tables …
It was a minefield.
One day, I accidentally blessed one of those roving lions. It was an accident, I swear. I’d left my ang pow from the big boss on my table while I went to get food. Big mistake.
Would God call down fire and brimstone on me? Would this damage my relationship with Him? The TLDR: No, and no. God welcomes humble, contrite hearts. But one consequence of all this was it led me to wonder about the real OB markers for a practicing Christian. I asked myself:
WHICH CNY TRADITIONS CAN I TAKE PART IN WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE?
✅ Visiting family and friends
Everyone agrees on this, I’d imagine! So let’s move on.
✅ Giving and receiving angpow
I see no issues in the act of giving and receiving monetary blessings. It’s amoral. Not right, not wrong. The problem comes when we reduce the act to dollars and cents. That’s when we give angpow reluctantly because we do not have children, and thus get no “returns” on this investment. It’s also when we’re upset by angpow takings falling short of expectations. Or judging the giver for putting $6 in an angpow bearing the logo of a private bank.
That’s when we need to step back. The love of money is the root of all evil. Not money, but the love of it.
When we say “God will provide”, do we believe He will, just as He feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies?
When we proclaim that God is sovereign, do we really behave that way, recognising that everything we have comes from God’s hand?
When we sing Great is Thy Faithfulness, do we really believe that all I have needed Thy hand has provided?
❌ Depositing money on lichun
Depositing money on lichun is meant to guarantee more wealth for the new year. Wearing red while doing so is a plus. And this “money luck” is most powerful if the money is deposited at the golden hour for your zodiac sign.
It’s almost as though with money, everything will be sunny in this rich man’s world – a complete denial that God is the source of all blessings.
But let’s be practical. If you have to transfer or deposit money that day for any other reason, do so. After all, it’s our hearts and motives that matter. Then again, if you really have to, I hope you have an i-Banking account because well, crazy queues. Seen them first-hand.
❓ Chinese zodiac
In our culture, the Chinese zodiac is short-hand for indicating which year we’re born in. It makes it easier to establish an age hierarchy and, well, there’s a sense of camaraderie. “You’re a pig? Me too!”
The downside is realising that age is catching up. It’s horrifying to learn that the new hire is 12 years your junior. “You were born when I was taking my PSLE?!”
The danger comes when we start to associate our birth year with our personality. It’s interesting to read what the star-gazers have to say. But God is a creative God. There are about 170 breeds of dogs (if you ask the French), 950,000 species of insects (one bug too many, surely), and more than 228,000 types of creatures in our oceans. It seems laughable that God had only 12 templates from which to make us, body, soul, personality and all.
❌ Zodiac forecasts
This one is insidious. It’s human nature to want to know what’s next so we can be prepared. Huge placards with forecasts are set up in shopping centre atriums. Books with forecasts are sold by the stacks each year. Fengshui masters’ interviews are played on TV in the leadup to CNY.
It’s difficult to resist reading them. I’ve read some, and where there are unfavourable predictions, promptly forgotten that my comings and goings lie in God’s hands – not in the hands of the five elements.
The question is: What do we do with all these forecasts? How should we respond? I think this is where we need to humble ourselves and pray. Seek His face. Recognise we can’t control the future. Pray that God will protect our hearts, minds and souls from the deceit of the zodiac forecasts. Turn back to God, and repent.
Then we count our blessings. Or as I’ve heard it put: 凡事谢恩 (in everything give thanks) – which also means 烦事谢恩 (give thanks, even in bad times).
This year, I think I will bless others from the much that I’ve been given. I have Christian colleagues who make it a point to give angpow to cleaning ladies and pantry aunties to show their thanks. And I just might do that this year.
Will you join me in re-thinking your approach to CNY?