In the last couple of weeks, at the time of the parish announcements I have been inviting parishioners to join us in the celebration of the beginning of the Lunar Calendar or Chinese New Year.
After living in Hong Kong for around thirteen years, there is a part of me strongly attached to the Chinese culture, especially Hong Kong, the place where I started my missionary journey, where I finished my theological formation and the place where I started my ministry as a priest. As far as possible, I try to keep some little traditions and festive days according to the Chinese calendar. Chinese New Year is always my favourite!
When I was studying Chinese, my teacher told us the story of the Chinese New Year that roughly goes as follows.
In ancient times,?there was a monster named Nian?(年，or Nianshou 年?) with a long head and sharp horns. It dwelled deep in the sea all year round and only showed up every New Year’s Eve to eat people and livestock in nearby villages.
Therefore, on the day of New Year's Eve, people would flee to remote mountains to avoid being harmed by the monster. People had lived in fear of this monster until an old man with white hair and a ruddy complexion visited the village.
He refused to hide in the mountains along with the villagers, but successfully scared away the monster by?pasting red papers on doors,?burning bamboo?to make a loud cracking sound (precursor to firecrackers),?lighting candles?in the houses, and?wearing red clothes. When the villagers came back, they were surprised to discover that the village had not been destroyed.
After that, every New Year's Eve, people did as the old man instructed and the monster Nian never showed up again. This tradition has been continued until the present time and has become an important way to?celebrate the arrival of the new year.
The posting of red blessings around the door-post and the lintel, always reminds me of the prescription in the bible to mark the houses with the blood of the Passover Lamb to keep them safe and alive. (Ex.12:7) A blessing we all ask from God at the beginning of the year, to keep us save and in good health.
The Chinese cycle marks this year as the year of the Rooster, followers of the NRL team might want to keep their expectations high but I hope it is finally the year of Eels.
In Chinese mythology, the rooster is almost the epitome of fidelity and punctuality. For ancestors who had no alarm clocks, the crowing was significant, as it could awaken people to get up and start to work.?
In?Christianity,?the Rooster is noted for crowing three times after Peter denied Christ. As such, it became a symbol for Christ's passion. Later, the Rooster would signify the repentance of the saint and religious vigilance as well as resurrection. To this day, the Rooster seen on a weather vane is steeped in symbolic meanings that deal with watchful vigilance against evil, as weathervanes are commonly seen atop churches.
Chinese New Year is also a time for families and friends to be together. Wherever they are, people come home to celebrate the festival with their families. I remember back in Hong Kong how people visit each other on the first days of the Lunar Calendar, a visit that shows friendship, good wishes and respect. Even in the Presbytery we had to be ready to welcome parishioners who came for the New Year’s greetings. In the same way, the new year is a time to reinforce the bonds in the family and friends, a good sign that a New Year brings also a new beginning in relationships and opportunities.
Under my responsibility, the Chinese Chaplaincy had been in this parish for ten years, and 15 years before my time. It feels good to see the bonds of friendship and support that both, the parish and the chaplaincy had developed with each other. Hopefully the bond will continue for many more years.
Peace in Jesus