Do you follow Chinese New Year traditions to the letter? Or are CNY traditions a hassle to follow in this time and age?
One more day till we welcome the Year of the Pig! As much as I am looking forward to the various family gatherings, I am also mentally listing out the things that I have to (more like have yet to) do. Have I prepared the red packets for distribution? No. Have I put up Chinese New Year decorations? No. Am I done with spring cleaning? Nope. Have I bought New Year goodies? Not at all (and I don’t intend to).
Each person in my family has a new set of clothes to wear on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Apart from that, however, I am far behind on the to-do list. Yet I wonder: how much of tradition-keeping is necessary? How many Chinese New Year traditions will get diluted with time and eventually, abandoned? How many CNY traditions will mums like me keep going, and how many will end with our generation? I speak to these five mums to find out more.
Reunion Dinner is #1. Anything Else?
33-year old Yak Shujun’s family has not missed a Chinese New Year reunion dinner in three decades. She shares that while everyone is busy with their own agendas for the rest of the year, the reunion dinner is the one occasion that the entire family puts as top priority.
“Everyone is busy, but we always manage to get together to have a home-cooked reunion dinner which my mother single-handedly prepares. It is about prioritising time and spending it with family, and family bonding is important to us,” says the stay-at-home mum. Shujun returns home for reunion dinner with her husband and 15-month old son, Oliver, and attends a separate one with her in-laws as well.
Account Executive Penelope Koh is no stranger to big family gatherings as her family meets regularly to celebrate birthdays and festivals. So having everyone gather at grandma’s house on the eve of Chinese New Year for a steamboat reunion dinner isn’t something out of the ordinary.
Having grown up together with her cousins and siblings, the 33-year-old account executive says that she would feel strange to not have these big gatherings. “I believe reunion dinners are becoming increasingly important and relevant as many now lead micro family lives. In addition, we are often busy with other things, so it’s important to make family ‘cool’,” she suggests.
Movement, Migration, Changing Traditions
Growing up, Billie Lyou, 35, had steamboat and teppanyaki reunion dinners at home. While she feels that the gathering of families at a reunion dinner will remain a key tradition, she is mindful that this practice might change over time.
“People are always looking to be more time-efficient. So instead of cooking at home, families might start to opt for food deliveries or to dine out,” the mum of two shares. Still, she observes that the significance of the reunion meal remains, “more so as families are scattered around the globe.”
Indeed, with relocation and migration, maintaining traditions can be challenging. Bank officer Rachel Zhong’s family has always gathered for reunion dinners. However this year, for the first time, the 33-year-old’s parents will be joining her recently-migrated brother and his family in the U.S. during the Chinese New Year period.
Having relocated from Singapore to the U.S., Melissa Seet, 33, is unable to spend annual reunion dinners with her family. The stay-at-home-mum makes up for this by recreating her own reunion dinner with her children, Aurelia, 5 and Raphael, 2.
Apart from reunion dinner gatherings, the mums agree that the tradition of visiting parents on the first day of Chinese New Year is a tradition that is likely to stay although Shujun feels that the younger generation tends to take house visiting less seriously, choosing to skip it when it suits them.
For 33-year old Rachel and her family, it is a must for everyone to dress up in cheerful colours and say auspicious things to each other on the first day of Chinese New Year. They also make it a point to all gather at her uncle’s house for some light-hearted gambling.
Time and effort is definitely necessary to ensure that traditions pass on from one generation to the next. Rachel elaborates, “Parents should lead the family in maintaining relations with extended family. Without these, it will be difficult for the next generation to continue to maintain relations and the tradition of visiting relatives will become meaningless to them.”
Physically being away from the extended family certainly poses as a challenge too. “Being away from home, I find it hard to follow traditions. For instance, we don’t go “bai nian,” shares Melissa, who now lives in the USA.
Finally, we wonder if physical red packets may give way to digital ang pows. “Who knows, scanning QR codes or using apps like PayNow to send ang pows might catch on,” Billie jokes.
(See also: How to Grow your Kids’ Ang Pow Money)
Are all Traditions Important?
While we appreciate the continuity that traditions bring, there are some that mums are more than willing to give up, they say.
Shujun is happy to forego the major spring cleaning session. Penelope considers traditions like spring cleaning, buying new clothes, staying awake till midnight and buying new bedsheets secondary to the reunion dinner.
Billie has stopped buying Chinese New Year snacks but she still has them at home. “My mum gets exasperated at my lack of effort and will pass me bottles of traditional snacks to bring some festive cheer to my home!” she laughs.
Chinese New Year is associated with the giving and receiving of red packets. However, Rachel feels that the monetary value of red packets may cause people to judge each other. Hence, she would rather drop the practice of giving out ang pows.
Certain traditions hold more meaning to us than others. Not surprisingly, the reunion dinner is one that will probably stand the test of time. As for the rest? Perhaps we could close an eye if things don’t go 100 per cent according to plan, and concentrate on enjoying the celebrations with our loved ones.
Happy Chinese New Year, everyone. May the ‘Huat’ be with you this year of the Boar!