Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup has been a Methodist pastor for 28 years, during which he was also President of Trinity Annual Conference from 2005 to 2012 before he was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore for the quadrennium till 2016.
Festivals were integral to the lives of people in the Old Testament. There were daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly festivals. Most of these were religious, as instructed by the Law. Even feasts such as birthdays, weddings and other personal events were not purely secular as each event included a divine blessing.
In recent years, there has been a growing and keen interest by Christians in celebrating Jewish festivals. While these may be especially meaningful and helpful for us to appreciate our roots in the Old Testament, let us not forget that we have our own local festivals as well.
Our church anniversaries are festivals. There are churches these days that plan celebrations to last over a period, rather than just a day, or just a worship service. A few even use the occasion to launch new initiatives, such as mission programmes and other forms of social outreach. Of course, festivals are occasions also for feasting, with the anniversary dinners or lunches.
What is of greater interest should be the celebration of our national events as festivals by our churches. It was not too long ago that Festival of Praise was closely tied to our National Day. The National Day Prayer Rally is another example.
Not all local festivals, however, should be celebrated by Christians, as they may include certain activities that might conflict with our beliefs.
There is no reason to think that there are no new festivals to celebrate. Who knows what future event may trigger a new festival?
One would have thought that the list of festivals was complete as mentioned in the Law of Moses. However, after the exile, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah (John 10:22). This festival was appointed by Judas Maccabaeus to commemorate the purification of the temple, which the Jews believed had been polluted by Antiochus Epiphanes (he had desecrated the Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus). Another later festival was the Feast of Purim, mentioned in the book of Esther (9:24-32).
What many Christians may celebrate as their most important festival – Christmas – had its origins in Roman paganism. It took a few hundred years for it to be transformed into what churches today take to be a celebration of the birth of Christ.
Festivals serve important purposes. Firstly, there is a community element. Festivals bring families, relatives and friends to reconnect with one another. They draw communities together and serve a unifying purpose.
Secondly, there is a commemorative element. Festivals are times for recollection and remembrance. Reminders of great events and heroes of the past serve to build identity and motivation. This heritage stirs up belief and self-reliance (if non-religious) and reliance on God (for believers) to face future challenges.
Although we live in a secular society, it does not mean that our non-religious local festivals have to be celebrated that way. There are always opportunities for worship and prayer elements that are organised in parallel with the festivities.
For example, a few churches still hold Chinese New Year worship services, on the first day of the Lunar New Year. It could also be as simple as introducing prayer as part of our celebrations, in thanksgiving for blessings received.
I trust that your Lunar New Year celebrations for the Year of the Horse in 2014 will include elements of your Christian spirituality.
James 3:3 (ESV) says: “If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.” Although James was referring to our speech, the principle remains the same: What you put into the horse (year), i.e. your efforts and commitment, will guide its direction. May the year lead you into joy, peace and prosperity.
Gong Xi Fa Cai!
[Updated on 28 January 2014]