Chinese New Year: Part V

Chinese New Year is just around the corner! This year’s Chinese New Year will be celebrated on February 16. Over the course of these few weeks, I am writing a series of posts to help introduce this great holiday. This is the last post in this five-part series.

Chinese New Year is filled with symbolism. As we saw last week, fish represent abundance, dumplings signify togetherness, and noodles symbolize long life. But one of the most interesting points of symbolism in the holiday is surprisingly similar to a symbol found in the Bible.

Every year in the days leading up to Chinese New Year, families will prepare red strips of paper with blessings written on them and put them around the threshold of the doors to their homes and businesses. Two longer strips of paper are used along the sides, and one shorter strip of paper is placed along the top.

These strips of red paper can be bought with blessings already written on them, or they can be made at home with someone in the family authoring the blessing. These strips of paper are called 对联  (pronounced DuiLian), and the finished product would look something like this:

A business with DuiLian around its doors

“Now what does any of this have to do with the Bible?” you may ask. Well, the story behind this tradition may sound a bit familiar to you.

The story goes something like this. Long ago, there lived a scary creature named Nian. Every year, on the first day of the year, the creature would awaken and come to the village. He would eat all the grain and livestock; and if there were any children left outside, they would disappear.

One day, an old man informed the people that Nian doesn’t like the color red and fears loud noises. The old man advised them to put red over their doors and to use fireworks to scare the creature away.

The people did as the old man said and the Nian never returned.

In Chinese, one of the words for Chinese New Year is 过年 (pronounced Guo Nian), which means to ‘pass over Nian’, which is what the people in the legend did. Or, more precisely, because they had the color red on their doors, the Nian ‘passed over’ them!

Do you see it now? Somehow, key elements of the Biblical story of the Passover have been preserved in this Chinese legend! The people (Israel) were taught by an old man (Moses) to cover the thresholds of their doors with red (blood) to prevent their children (firstborn) from disappearing (being smitten) by the Nian (the Lord). Instead he (He) would pass over them!

Blood over a door at Passover

Obviously, the story isn’t exactly the same as it is found in the Biblical account in Exodus, but the general elements are certainly there.

How then, did the Chinese get such a similar story? Well, this is all guessing on my part, but I would say it might be that when the Bible mentions the peoples of the world seeking Solomon to hear his wisdom (see 1 Kings 10), that some Chinese people sought his wisdom by coming to Jerusalem and witnessed the people of Israel celebrating Passover. The Chinese people would have certainly realized that the faith of the Israelites was the source of their blessing, so they may have tried to take the Passover tradition back to China and replicate it there. Over the centuries, the details could have been lost while certain elements of the story were preserved in these Chinese New Year traditions.

Whatever the case, this Chinese tradition makes for a wonderful way to share the gospel with Chinese people! What better way to begin a conversation with them about how we are passed over by the Lord’s judgement if we are under the blood of Christ!

Please pray for China as they approach this holiday this very week. Pray that they would have opportunity to hear of how they can be saved only by the blood of Christ!

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