The central festival in the Chinese calendar is Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year. “Spring Festival has a similar status to Christmas in the UK, it’s the biggest festival and the most important one.” Celebrations revolve around a family feast. “You can be away from your family all year round, but for Chinese New Year’s Eve you have to come back and have a big family dinner.
“The dinner is an expression of harmony. Families come together to emphasise harmony, and they worship gods and goddesses so that they are also in harmony with the spiritual realm. This provides a good way to introduce the idea of Christian peace, or shalom. Shalom is very close to the Chinese concept of harmony. It isn’t just about personal relationships, it’s about your relationship with everything in the world. Similarly, the biblical idea of shalom is about our relationship with God, the universe and everything. So this is an effective way of helping Chinese people think about the peace God offers.”
Nevertheless, using the Chinese festivals as a bridge to understanding Christian faith is a delicate balance. “The job of the Christian preacher is to confront beliefs as well as connect with them,” says Tan. “The Chinese preachers I interviewed all affirmed some aspects of Chinese culture. For example, they agreed the virtue of filial piety (honouring parents and elders) is compatible with biblical teaching. They also agree that the concept of renewal of life during the Chinese New Year is a helpful contact point for preaching.
“However, there are some beliefs and practices that preachers wouldn’t use, for example those that involve idol worship or the practice of fortune-telling.” Another of the major Chinese festivals is called the Hungry Ghost Festival, when the ghosts of the dead are believed to return to Earth in search of food. “The preachers I spoke to all insisted that this festival should be discarded by Christian evangelists,” says Tan, “to be clear that the Bible rejects the idea that the souls of the dead can continue to communicate with the living.