Every year between late January and February, Chinese around the world celebrate the “Spring Festival” or what is known as the Lunar New Year. In 2015, the first day of the Chinese New Year of the Sheep fell on February 19th. I grew up with this custom with my family in Mississippi. We cleaned house, put out fresh flowers and got red packets (lucky money) from our parents. I even recall my happy father lighting a few firecrackers in the backyard. Now living in Hong Kong, I still celebrate the festival as it’s the biggest and longest holiday of the year. We try to clean house, buy traditional daffodils (narcissus) from the flower market and delight our children with red packets. Fireworks are a 20-minute pyrotechnic extravaganza over the Hong Kong harbor (which you can watch live on television with synchronized music).
It’s no coincidence that Easter is also a “movable feast.”. The date of Easter in the Western church was set according to the first Sunday following the paschal full moon on or after the spring equinox. This was in line with the dating of the Jewish Passover, which was the setting of the Last Supper. What happens in Hong Kong from time to time is that the beginning of the Lenten season and the beginning of the Lunar New Year coincide. A collision of moods, to say the least! Churches in Hong Kong resolve the conflict in different ways. Some continue with Lenten observances as scheduled since the holy days take precedence over any other days in the secular calendar. Other churches have an early morning Ash Wednesday service which leaves members free to celebrate the family reunion dinner that night. And still other churches seek to accommodate both Lent and Lunar New Year in the Sunday message (though it seems New Year has a slight advantage). A minister shared with me that one of his lay leaders insisted that the church have the evening service for Ash Wednesday. But then the member mentioned he wouldn’t be there, because he of course had to go to his parents’ home for the big family dinner!
On reflection, I realized this clash of seasons is a vivid depiction of the reality of the Christian life. The juxtaposition of rejoicing and repentance, feasting and fasting – is this not what we encounter as we cling to hope in God in the midst of the heartaches and tragedies that seem to have no end in this world? Do we not believe as Christians that “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning”? I got more inspiration from a Chinese perspective through a radio message recently delivered by one of the speakers on our religious broadcasts. Rev. Phyllis Wong spoke these encouraging words and I share them with you as our spring greeting from Hong Kong.
When we look at the essence of Lent and the Chinese New Year, we will find these two share common elements. Ash Wednesday reminds us we are from dust and to dust we should return. The Lenten season calls us to reflect on our life and to change for a brighter future walking with God. The Chinese New Year that embraces new life and expecting good fortune in the future shares the same spirit. The blessing of “Kung Hei Fat Choy” from a spiritual point of view can be interpreted as a blessing to another person to be filled with non-material wealth from heaven. They are gifts of love, joy, hope and peace. Sharing of blessings by giving red packets, visiting friends who have not been in touch for a long time and to make a phone call to express our New Year greetings are all signs of love. Love and life – this is the common core spirit of Lent and Chinese New Year. The year of the Sheep reminds me of Psalm 23. All people are God’s children and are sheep of the Shepherd who will take care of us in good times and in bad times…. May I wish you all a fruitful and peaceful Year!
I add my thanks to you for your continuing prayers and donations to the work of the Good Shepherd through Global Ministries. Together in Jesus Christ, we are led beside still waters, our souls are restored, and we are led in right paths for his name’s sake. Amen.
Judy Chan, a member of Colesville Presbyterian, Silver Spring, Maryland, serves the Hong Kong Christian Council (HKCC). She is jointly appointed by the Presbyterian Church, USA and Global Ministries. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciple's Mission Fund, Our Church's Wider Mission, and your special gifts.