What traditions are worth preserving? our contributing writer, Charissa Ee, asks All-important questions to get us started on a meaningful new year ahead.
Every Singaporean Chinese family has their own traditions that are unique to them. My family is without exception. As a Peranankan family, our traditions include certain types of food like Ayam Buah Keluak for our reunion dinner. This year, I felt the need to reflect more deeply on my family traditions because my only surviving grandmother decided to break with tradition. She wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year at a restaurant.
When she broke the news to the family, we were all at a loss for words. We had gotten so used to our Chinese New Year routine that we assumed this year would be no different. We were so thrown off center that we needed to reconvene over ‘Whatsapp’ to discuss this change of plans. That one decision to break with tradition got me reflecting about Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [NIV] We know that Paul wrote this to the Romans particularly because they had such a strong culture that permeated throughout their empire.
My grandmother’s decision made me re-evaluate the Chinese New Year rituals we had come to know well in our family. Of all the various traditions that my family has, I’d like to share one that perhaps does not conform with most other Chinese families. Interestingly, both my paternal and maternal grandparents shared the same tradition of giving an ang pow (a red packet containing money) to each of their children and grandchildren regardless of age and marital status. This is quite unusual because most Chinese families believe that once you’re past a certain age, or if you’re married, then you no longer qualify to receive an ang pow.
Not only did my grandparents instill an uncommon practice, they made sure that their ang pows were of substantial value. They wanted their red packets to reflect their belief that influence comes with giving and giving generously of everything that we have, be it money, time or energy. Being believers they walked and lived out Psalm 112:9 “They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honor.” [NLT]
My family has taught me that influence doesn’t come from being persuasive. Instead, it comes from giving what we have in life regardless of its value. Over the course of these many Chinese New Years, I’ve realized that I have used my ang pow money towards my friends or towards attending workshops, buying books etc. In other words, I’ve used my ang pow money on things that could grow me as a person.
This year, I’ve decided to use my ang pow money as a yard stick to evaluate how I have been using the talents that God has endowed upon me.
Last year, one of my goals was to grow one of my Top 5 ‘talent themes’ (personal-character attributes) of StrengthsFinder® (a personal strengths assessment test) from infancy to maturity. Of all my Top 5 ‘talent themes’, the theme, Command has always gotten me into trouble and very misunderstood. So, I decided to put it to good use by offering to foster delinquent dogs from a local shelter. Through the grace and strength of God, I managed to foster and rehabilitate 5 dogs amidst a highly stressful and heavy work load. What I loved about the experience was that I got to know 5 new pre-believing families. On top of that, word got around that I could help others with problem dogs and by the end of 2015, I got to know more pre-believers in that one year than I ever have in my entire life. Looking back, Psalm 112:9 came very much alive for me.
As I look towards this Chinese New Year and the year ahead, I’m re-energized because I know that if I make the effort to invest in my talents, His might and His Spirit will bring about growth and influence.
As you think about Chinese New Year, what are some traditions that you have as a family that has spiritual significance? If you’re a parent or grandparent, be sure to specifically share why these traditions or family rituals are important. The Bible is full of rituals that God wanted the Israelites to remember not because He wanted a scared cow but rather because He knew that rituals shape our culture. Culture shapes our values and influences the way in which we do things and the life choices that we make.
As someone who grew up with dogs, I know that regardless of breed, size, and background, ALL dogs share the same rituals in greeting one another and how they behave in pack. You will notice that every dog seems to know what to do despite not knowing or having met the other dog; dogs share the same language even though they are raised in different households.
Every dog owner knows that in order to have a well-adjusted dog, it is highly important to be able to communicate effectively to your dog through training. Because they do not speak English, the onus is on us – beings of higher intelligence – to be the ones to learn how to speak ‘dog’. Dogs will only listen to you if you actually mean what you say. Dogs are loyal and highly social creatures that need to live in packs like we do in families. In every pack there’s a top dog. But no matter which country they come from, or which breed they are, they all follow the same rituals of meeting, greeting, playing and living with one another.
So why are dogs so in-tune to a united ritual unlike us humans? Why can’t we, the modern-day church, be as unified? What rituals have we preserved or lost that has caused us to be so removed from the natural world? Why can’t we seem to agree on what defines the Kingdom of God?
In a fast-changing city like Singapore, what is worth preserving in our culture? Perhaps the more important question we should be asking is – What traditions can we preserve to create the Kingdom culture that Christ so often speaks of in the New Testament?
Charissa is a trainer for both humans and dogs and loves to put her observations and musings down in writing on her blog “The Orange Chalk”. Very often, you’ll read about her rescue mutt, Lady-Mae, whom God uses to refine Charissa to serve like a servant and lead like royal.