Family

What if parents use ang baos and reunion dinner to share about God?

Salt&Light wishes all readers a Happy Lunar New Year!

Priscilla Goy // January 24, 2020, 12:10 pm

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Lunar New Year presents multiple opportunities for parents to teach their kids biblical truths, says I’Ching Thomas, a writer and apologetics speaker who specialises in looking at Christianity in Eastern cultural contexts. Photo by George Ruiz on Unsplash.

Lunar New Year has arrived again, which means in Singapore many Chinese families will be taking part in the usual exchange of mandarin oranges and red packets, and gathering for reunion dinners.

Lunar New Year presents multiple opportunities for parents to teach their kids biblical truths.

For many families, these traditions come with great significance; for some, it’s a matter of simply following the usual practices without much understanding.

But what if parents were to explain these traditions to their children — and use them to share about God?

Lunar New Year presents multiple opportunities for parents to teach their kids biblical truths, says I’Ching Thomas, a writer and apologetics speaker who specialises in looking at Christianity in Eastern cultural contexts. She is also the International Director of Leadership Development at missions organisation Operation Mobilisation.

“I think for many of us, Lunar New Year is the ‘same-old-same-old’, and we go through the motions. There isn’t any motivation to think through these traditions from a biblical worldview,” she says.

“As a Christian, every conversation is an opportunity to share Christ. It may not be explicit; it could be asking great questions. Lunar New Year gives us many opportunities to have these conversations.”

Here are several truths that you could teach your kids about God as you explain some common Lunar New Year traditions: 

Reunion dinners: A time for reconciliation

It is increasingly common for Singaporean Chinese families to go abroad during the Lunar New Year period.

Perhaps they want to skip the usual reunion dinner or prefer not to face unresolved family issues.

Explain to your children the significance of reunions and reconciliation, and the value of family and harmonious relationships.

Or, some families might just treat the dinner as a routine that they want to “get over and done with”.

I’Ching suggests, however, that parents give time and effort to honour the tradition and explain to their children the significance of reunions and reconciliation, and the value of family and harmonious relationships.

This would enable parents to show how the Bible’s teachings about reconciliation, such as that in 2 Corinthians 5:18–19, can be put into practice in daily life: 

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

“Could the New Year reunion dinner be a kind of communion for us?” she suggests.

“As we remember Christ who died for us, we celebrate the truth that not only are we reconciled to the Father, but we are also reconciled to one another. Our love now is genuine, not ‘pretend-harmony’, and our relationships, while not perfect, are on their way to being healed and restored.”

Greetings: A time for forgiveness

I’Ching also suggests that parents and children ask one another for forgiveness during the Lunar New Year season.

“Perhaps parents could also be bold and humble enough to ask for forgiveness during Lunar New Year.”

“Can we incorporate that into our Lunar New Year traditions, either at reunion dinner or in the morning of the first day?” asks I’Ching. “We always wish one another ‘happy new year’, but beyond that, is there a place to ask for forgiveness?”

She adds: “Perhaps parents could also be bold and humble enough to ask for forgiveness during Lunar New Year.”

In doing so, parents will show their children how they are obeying God’s commandment to forgive each other, as verses like Colossians 3:13 teach: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Ang bao: Blessing others

One tradition that most families still practise—and which kids love—is the giving of ang bao, or red packets. But I’Ching gives this tradition a twist: Aside from filling the red packets with cash, she inserts a paper with a Bible verse as a blessing.

Aside from filling the red packets with cash, she inserts a paper with a Bible verse as a blessing … giving “beyond the monetary sense”.

“I want the giving to be beyond the monetary sense,” she explains.

“People don’t usually expect to receive a verse in the angbaoBut if you insert only a Bible verse without money, it’d be so kiam siap (Hokkien for ‘stingy’),” she says with a laugh.

I’Ching chooses the Bible verses with care. “This tradition of angbao giving marks a new year, a new beginning, so I think writing something like, ‘May this verse be the guide to your path this year’. That can be quite meaningful for a young person,” she says.

“And we have to be thoughtful about it. As parents, we know our children well and the challenges or opportunities ahead for the child. So prayerfully ask the Lord to give you a verse for your child.”

Such a practice will enable parents to teach their kids about the importance of blessing others just as we have been blessed by God. “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Everyone’s birthday: Being valued

人日 (pronounced: ren ri, literally meaning People’s Day) is celebrated on the seventh day of the Lunar New Year and is regarded as everyone’s common “birthday”.

I’Ching uses that occasion to share with her son that every person’s life should be celebrated, because every person is made in the image of God: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

She says: “It’s also an opportunity for us to think of marginalised groups and the less fortunate, so he does not forget that their lives are important too.”

The richness of traditions

While some parents might see these ideas as simply adding to the rituals that they have to follow, I’Ching believes that there is value in making them part of the annual traditions of Lunar New Year.

“Hopefully over time, the disciplines don’t become legalistic but a meaningful part of what you regularly do.”

“Rituals and traditions are often like spiritual disciplines,” she says.

“‘Discipline’ means you don’t like doing it, but if you repeat it, hopefully over time, the disciplines don’t become legalistic but a meaningful part of what you regularly do.”

I’Ching herself makes special effort to work her faith into her Chinese heritage at home because of the cultural diversity in her family: She is Malaysian Chinese, her husband is American, they have a 10-year-old son, and the family is based in Singapore.

This diversity has given her son a “rich experience”, she says. “He gets to see how the Christian faith is lived out and celebrated in different cultures.”

The family thus celebrates traditions like Lunar New Year, as well as American traditions like Thanksgiving.

Every Lunar New Year, I’Ching makes it a point to prepare a “full New Year meal, with too much food” for the family and cooks the dishes that her mother used to cook for her.

She explains: “These are things that I grew up with, and it’s about making the connection between what my parents passed to me and what I pass to my son, similar to how I pass on my faith to him.”

She encourages parents to be a good testimony at home as well. She says: “The ideal is that we as parents incarnate the Gospel — living out the truth and power of the Gospel at home. Witnessing via one’s living testimony is an effective form of evangelism.”

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This article was first published in Biblical Wisdom for Parents by Our Daily Bread Ministries. We invite you to check out their website for more parenting-related articles, interviews and resources.

About the author

Priscilla Goy

Priscilla loves true stories – especially stories of God’s love for people, people’s love for God and social causes, and the marginalised and misunderstood. She told such stories as a Straits Times journalist for five years, and now works as a communications professional in the social service sector.