No one would argue that casual gambling is commonplace in many Chinese New Year (CNY) gatherings.

In my personal experience, I’ve seen how it brings people together. But over the years, I have begun to think about why CNY gatherings often gravitate towards gambling.

I wonder, is it because we actually have nothing better to do?

In a poll conducted by Milieu Insight, it was found that the top two reasons for Singaporeans to gather for CNY reunion dinner are “Years of tradition” (79%) and “Family obligation” (65%).

One writer has also commented that these respondents are likely “passive-aggressive complainers who can’t find a legitimate reason to back out of the inescapable family gathering, hence show up just to count down the minutes till they can head home”.

If this is how we feel towards family gatherings during CNY, it is no wonder why an activity like gambling becomes so exciting. Many of us feel uncomfortable being around relatives who we don’t meet much other than during special occasions — some of us don’t even want to be there.

So, gambling comes across as a relief because it spares us from the awkward silences and difficult conversations. And because it involves money, it easily attracts everyone’s attention. It almost seems to “lift” the entire atmosphere to make the whole gathering more exciting.

But the question we’ve got to ask ourselves is this, is gambling the real reason behind why we gather?

Are we actually satisfied if we spend hours with our relatives and leave knowing nothing new about their lives because we spent most of the time gambling and eating?

Instead of just finding activities to kill time, perhaps it would be more meaningful to engage with our relatives and get to know them better. After all, isn’t CNY an opportunity to shine God’s light in our family?

Greed makes for a slippery slope 

“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9)

Gambling is not merely a game. Though the Bible does not call gambling a sin, it is a very problematic activity. And that’s because it grows one’s love of money. 

Many of us would be familiar with the verse that says “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). The problem isn’t with money itself — it is the love of money that puts one in a dangerous position.

Gambling literally rewires your brain so you want to keep chasing the high of winning. And gambling grows greed: this toxic desire to get rich quickly causes one to fall into “temptation and a trap” because one will never feel that the money earned is enough.

I can win some more. I’ll play again next time. I can win it back. If we are honest with ourselves, it is not hard to see how greed can come to have a foothold in our lives when we engage in even casual gambling during CNY.

Whenever I play ban-luck (Chinese blackjack) with my relatives, even though it is just one ringgit, I know my heart would become like a rollercoaster.

My heart would race if I got 16 or 17 points. I would jump in excitement if I got ban-luck because that means I would win double. And conversely, I would be so frustrated and even angry when my points exceed 21.

If I keep losing, I would hope to win my money back in the next round. Even if I have won for a few rounds, I would hope to win more. If I can win 10 ringgit, why not 20? Why not 30?

Even with the little amount of money that I put in, I can already feel my heart being gripped by greed within the first few rounds of the game.

One time, when I was counting how much money I won after a game, I was suddenly shocked by how hungry for money I had become because of the game.

Even one ringgit could become so important to me because I was too absorbed in the game.

That was when I realised that every time I sit at the table and play ban-luck, I am being careless and allowing myself to fall into the trap of greed.

It scares me to see the ugliness of my heart.

If there are better things to do, why not?

I can’t say that you, like me, will certainly fall into greed once you play a few rounds of ban-luck.

I am also not saying that all the pre-believers in our family will definitely be stumbled once they see us joining in the games (that’s a topic for another time).

What I am saying is this: if there is an even better way to engage our family members, a more meaningful way to show them God’s love, why not?

Christ followers are called to not just seek our own good but the good of others, so that many may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:33).

So whether we eat or drink — however we spend our time during CNY — let us do it all for the glory of God.

  1. How do you usually spend time with your family members during CNY?
  2. What is one practical way that you can bring God’s love to your family this CNY?
  3. Think of someone who might not be able to celebrate CNY with their family. Do something to bless them!