Does Chinese New Year parallel the Jewish Passover?

Theresa Tan // January 21, 2020, 4:28 pm


Photo by Glen Goh.

If you have ever wondered what celebrating the Chinese New Year really means to a Christian, Bobby Chaw’s message at City Harvest Church (CHC) would have been an interesting one for you.

Chaw, an executive pastor at CHC, preached on the third day of the 2018 Lunar New Year, which fell on a Sunday. He began by drawing parallels between the histories of the Chinese and the Jewish, chiefly the significance of the Jewish Passover, when the Israelites were delivered by God and came out of Egypt. (It is a theory of some Bible scholars that the tradition of celebrating Chinese New Year began when a remnant of the 12 tribes of Israel went to China.)

“Don’t let the firecrackers do the work (of praising God). You’ve got to work for it.”

Chaw highlighted two similarities of the Chinese New Year tradition and the Jewish New Year tradition.

One, there is the resemblance between the destroyer beast that the Chinese call “nian” and the spirit of death, or a destroyer demon, in the book of Exodus. Both the destroyer beast and the destroyer demon went around killing children.

In Exodus 12:13, the Jewish painted the top and sides of their doorframe so that the spirit of death could not enter their houses. “Similarly, the nian beast was afraid of the colour red. That is why it’s a tradition for people to wear red during the Chinese New Year and decorate their house with red ornaments,” Chaw said.

The second similarity between the two traditions is that of the reunion dinner, which takes place on the eve of the Chinese New Year. It mirrors that of the Passover Feast as reflected in Exodus 12:3, 8 — all the families of Israel gathered to have supper together, to eat as one.

The Israelites during Passover

Quoting from Exodus 12:11, Chaw read: “Here is how you must eat it: You must be dressed for travel, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. You are to eat it in a hurry; it is the Lord’s Passover.” This passage shows the Israelites were supposed to eat.

“The people were to eat it dressed for travel,” explained the pastor. “Even today, at the Passover Feast, they are commanded to buckle up and be ready for a trip. But the question is, where are they going? The participant of the Passover is about to embark on a new journey to freedom.”

For the Jews, the Passover serves as a constant reminder that freedom and deliverance will come. Chaw linked this back to how the Chinese should celebrate their New Year: By putting on the attitude of hope.

“Each week as we come to church to worship, we remember what Jesus the Passover Lamb has done for us,” he said.

A Passover “service”

The Bible calls the Passover celebration a service. The definition of “service” is the undertaking of people that requires effort and hard work.

“The Passover story demands us to be active participants because sometimes we just don’t feel like celebrating the Passover,” noted Chaw.

He gave an illustration to the congregation of the Israelites waiting and hoping for deliverance but nothing happened year after year. Yet the Lord had commanded them to dress up and put on the attitude of hope.

“The Israelites must have been thinking: Is this for real, or is it just going to be another year of disappointment?” he suggested.

The Bible commands us to have service — to praise, worship, pray and to declare that deliverance is coming even when times are challenging.

Welcoming a new day

Chaw explained another Chinese New Year tradition, shou sui  (守岁) which happens after the reunion dinner. “At midnight, people set off fireworks that let off loud noises. The traditional reason for this was to fend off the beast, to release the past and to welcome the new.”

The word “twilight” means “between two evenings”. Chaw described how the Passover happened after a previous evening of oppression and before a new evening of freedom. “Yes, they were in oppression but they already had a taste of freedom,” he explained.

Exodus 12:42 shows that there are two types of “watching” that happens during the Passover: God watching His people and the people watching and waiting on God. Chaw said: “Every Chinese New Year it is when we come and acknowledge that God is watching over us, but it is not just God watching over you, we are watching unto the Lord, because God is about to do a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:19)

Standing in hope

In Matthew 26:26-30, Jesus and his disciples went out and sang a hymn after breaking bread. Chaw taught that the Passover hymn is also known as the Hallel, which is Psalm 113 to 118.

Psalms 118:17 says: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

“The night that Jesus would be betrayed and crucified, He was singing a song of hope.

“The most important time to praise God is the time when you feel least like praising,” Chaw said. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”

Chaw concluded by sharing with the congregation the Hebrew word of praise: Halal. It is to celebrate, to make a show, to be clamorously foolish.

“Don’t let the firecrackers do the work (of praising God),” said Chaw. “You’ve got to work for it. It is a command and a service to the Lord.”

人日: Happy birthday to you, you and you!

This story was first published in March 1, 2018, on City News, a ministry of City Harvest Church, and has been republished with permission. 

This story was first published on City News, a ministry of City Harvest Church, and has been republished with permission. 

About the author

Theresa Tan

Theresa Tan is the Senior Editor of City News. God gave Theresa one talent: The gift of writing. She has done her best to multiply her talent by writing articles for newspapers and magazines, plays, screenplays and a book. But what gives her greatest joy is using her one talent to serve the Lord in City News, by spreading the Good News. Theresa is blissfully married with three children and two cats. She loves reading, knitting, watching Korean criminal dramas and training young writers to win the world with words.