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My third Malaysian Chinese wedding banquet is best friend, S’s sister. P looks stunning in her maroon cheongsam (Chinese dress), and I must say she is the happiest bride I have ever seen. The customary 8-course dinner is prepared – sticking to traditional Chinese fare, but the food is a delicious mix of Eastern and Western cuisine, the hosts embracing both their Chinese race and Christian religion.
Chinese and Christian
Many people in Malaysia confuse race with religion. In Malaysia, if you are Malay by race, you are automatically Muslim by law. If you are Chinese, you are most likely to be Buddhist or Taoist. If you are Indian, you are most likely Hindu. Of course, this is not always the case, but often, race is equated with religion due to historical circumstances. For many Malaysians, Christianity is seen to be a white or Western religion.
It is possible to be Chinese and Christian, because “There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.” (Romans 3:30) Gentiles refer to anyone who is not a Jew.
Where is your Christian name?
When I was younger, my friends used to ask why I didn’t have a Christian name. I always replied that my parents didn’t give me one, but inside my heart I knew that having a Christian name had nothing to do with my faith. A Christian name to them meant an English-sounding name, and that in itself is a misunderstanding.
Why do you celebrate Chinese New Year (CNY)?
Many friends also used to ask why I celebrate Chinese New Year. My reply was of course, because I am Chinese! CNY is a celebration of spring and the end of the winter solstice according to the lunar calendar. But many overseas Chinese communities like those in Malaysia have blurred the boundaries between religion (Buddhism), culture (folklore and mythology) and superstition. Worshipping dead ancestors, sacrificing food to idols and welcoming fortune gods into their homes are among a few that Chinese Christians will not partake in during CNY.
Christian and Chinese
But Chinese Christians do not need to lose their Chinese-ness as a result of accepting Jesus, as long as Christ culture supersedes Chinese culture. I am first and foremost Christian. Being Malaysian and Chinese comes after.
And so it is with the bride and bridegroom at tonight’s dinner. At the end of the night, everyone leaves the ballroom and say their well-wishes to the newlyweds.
The father of the bride is looking happier than his daughter because he is relieved that the night has come to an end. He shakes my hand on the way out and pats me on the back, as if confiding in a close confidante. “I’m so glad it’s over!” he says. “Some of these relatives, they don’t know what RSVP is!”
I laugh, but then I feel the pain of organising as large an event as your eldest daughter’s wedding. I feel the complexity of balancing community and individuality (inviting the entire village or only close friends and relatives?), breaking language barriers (speeches in English or Chinese?) and cultural habits (waiting for latecomers or starting without them?)
Worse, what do you do when guests turn up with their children and grandparents, when only Mr and Mrs have been invited?