I understand that the Westminster Directory of Public Worship states, —in the appendix on days and places of public worship,—that: "Festival-days, vulgarly [commonly] called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are to not to be continued." I understand this to forbid the celebration of Christmas, Easter and Good Friday. My question is, in that case, wouldn’t it be wrong for Christians to celebrate Chinese New Year as well?

I must begin by confessing that I have not thoroughly thought through this issue. Thus, while I would attempt to give a tentative answer to your question, it is possible that I may miss a thing or two which may mitigate against my present understanding. I would like therefore to invite anyone who may have thought about the question a little bit more to comment or critique my understanding, that we may know the way of God more perfectly (Acts 18:26).

Now, I understand from the directory of public worship and theWCF 21.1 that observance of Christmas, Easter, etc is forbidden only because they are religious holy days. In other words, the Westminster divines discountenanced the keeping of these days because of their religious connotations. The Scriptures gives no warrant for the New Testament church to regard any day apart from the Lord’s Day as holy. Churches which celebrate Christmas, for example, generally attach special significance to 25th of December each year. Some, no doubt, take it as a matter of Christian liberty. But the fact is that the day is still regarded as a special or holy day. A worship service with special emphases such as song presentations and drama is usually conducted on the day or the day before. Then there are special decorations and special activities which attend the day such as carolling and exchange of gifts. Whatever we may say, 25th December automatically becomes a special high day in the church’s calendar. Not only does this detract from the commandment of God to keep the Sabbath holy,—seeing there is a ‘holier’ day,—but 25th December could not possibly have been the birth day of Christ. It only became such a day by the decree of the Roman Catholic Church in the 5th Century.

What about the case of the Chinese New Year? Well, as far as I understand it, this day is based on the Lunar Calendar and is customary rather than religious. It is called spring festival in China because it falls on the beginning of spring, but it is commemorated as a yearly event without religious significance. As such, I do not have the same kind of difficulties as in the case of religious holy days. Some may say that such an opinion involves an artificial division between what is secular and what is religious, but it appears to me that there is ground for such a division, for else it would be impossible to determine what are works of piety on the Sabbath day. Having said that I must warn that as with many areas in the Chinese culture, much superstition is associated with the celebration of Chinese New Year. For example, housework is forbidden because you could sweep your luck away; and you must not use any words that is related to death, pain and unhappiness, or risk experiencing death in the home in the year ahead. Christians must be especially careful not to subscribe to, nor succumb to any of these superstitions. Remember that there is no such thing as harmless superstition. To promote a superstition, by chiding someone who is sweeping the floor on Chinese New Year is to give credence to the pagan idea of luck which is a denial the sovereignty of God in providence.

Then there is also the myth about ‘Nian’, the monster which is supposed to like to eat people, but is afraid of the colour red and loud noises—which is supposed to explain why the decorations on Chinese New Year should be predominantly red in colour and why fire crackers were set off on the day. I suppose few remember or believe this myth and in so far as it has no religious connotations, it may be regarded as innocuous mythology. But I am personally adverse to doing anything for the sake of custom, especially when there is a possibility that there are superstitious elements involved. Yet, let us be careful that we do not become legalistic and proclaim that anyone who wears red or decorates his house with lots of red during the New Year season to be doing something idolatrous. We may regarded it as a matter of indifference, I believe.

Apart from these superstitions and folklore there some customs pertaining to the maintenance of family ties. For example, extended families will gather together for a reunion dinner. And then, ‘higher ranking’ relatives are visited. At such visits, mandarin oranges are exchanged. Why mandarin oranges? Because the citrus shrub bears fruits around the time of the Chinese New Year, and I suppose the families exchange oranges from their orchard to see whose taste better. Red packets containing money (at least in Singapore) are also given to those who are not married.

What do we do? Again, I do not think it is fair for me to tell you what you ought to do. You have to judge according to your conscience. I have no difficulties about visiting or having a reunion dinner, but I find the exchange of oranges rather meaningless today. However, for some of us who have very senior relatives, a failure to visit with oranges may be regarded as being rude. And worst, we may not be able to explain our rationale even if we like to. This will have bearing on our Christian testimony. The same goes for red packets. I would like to do away with it, but you can hardly ever turn down when someone decides to give to you or to your children, and you would be expected to give to the children of the giver in return. Strange custom! It is conceivably harmless, but it could promote covetousness in the children and a competitive spirit among parents.

In conclusion, I have no problem with keeping a special family day with the rest of the Chinese communities in the land. I have some difficulties with the customs attached to it, but I would not dogmatise against them. I see the Chinese New Year as a customary season for relatives to visit one another or to gather together for meals. I would not add any religious significance to the day such as having a public worship on the day. Certainly, if the opportunity arise, I would witness for the Lord, but I would do the same on other days too. Indeed, apart from the fact that it is customary season of celebration, I see no other significance for the Chinese New Year season. Also, I would add that should the Chinese New Year fall on the Lord’s Day, then we must take heed to keep the Sabbath holy and not profane it by merry making. Similarly, it would be well for us to maintain our Lord’s Day programme. The Lord’s commandment must always be given priority over the customs of man, however ancient it may be.