What comes to mind when Chinese New Year is mentioned?

  • Ang Pows*?
  • Food?
  • Red Date Tea?
  • Relatives?
  • Questions?
  • Gambling?

* Red packets with money inside

Happy Chinese New Year of the Dog!

In just a few days, we will celebrate Chinese New Year (CNY). Is it a time of joy or dread for you?

I believe how we celebrated CNY as children influences how we celebrate and view it as adults. This, in turn, affects how we celebrate it when we have our own families.

Chinese New Year Traditions

There are certain traditions and rituals associated with CNY that fill us with joy and anticipation, while others fill us with dread. And these feelings carried over from childhood affect our decision to carry on or ditch those traditions in our own families.

Personally, except for the mandatory visits to immediate family members, I did not carry forward any of the Chinese New Year traditions of my childhood once I left home. I had found them meaningless and sometimes, burdensome.

Realising that has made me aware that in order for traditions to be passed down, it has to be meaningful. And our children must understand the why behind it. Only then would the chances of them passing it down to their children be increased. Otherwise, it just dies.

Here I share what I grew up doing and what I do now. Do note that I am not saying I am right. I am just sharing why we do what we do.

One of the many Chinese New Year traditions - the giving of ang pows or red packets.

 

Home Visits – Then & Now

An integral part of CNY is paying visits to each other’s homes.

Mum was very dogmatic about it. She had 7 married brothers and sisters at one point. And we would have to visit all these siblings at their homes on the 1st day of CNY. This must be done even though we had all met in the morning at my oldest uncle’s home where Granny lived!

Seriously.

It was fun when I was a child. Then I became a teenager. When I asked “why?” she fed me her standard answer to all questions of this nature, “We are Chinese.”

And then we had to visit many relatives/friends whom we didn’t know from Adam. Years later, I discovered that no one really knew how we were related/connected to them! They did it coz Granny did. Hilarious!

My brother and I really dreaded those never-ending boring visits. So when we had children of our own, we refused to subject our children to the same torture. Now, our family only visits my parents and parents-in-law, and a few relatives. And the visits are kept short.

Spring Cleaning – Then & Now

Just like everyone else, Mum would Spring Clean like crazy the week before CNY. Dad would even re-paint the walls every few years himself. She believed that it cleared out the bad luck from the previous year. She would also encourage us to stay up late on CNY Eve to ensure longevity for the elders. We also slept with our ang pows to ensure that we would wake up with riches in the New Year. Ha!

No, I did not bring any of these traditions into my own family.

Of the many Chinese New Year traditions, I am definitely passing on the eating of my aunt's pineapple tarts down to the children.

New Year, New Stuff – Then & Now

My mother believed that we had to start the New Year with new things. So, at every CNY we would get a set (or 2) of new clothes, bed linen and even bath towels, whether we needed them or not. Yes, we ended up with A LOT of bed linen and towels over the years.

Since I did not want the children to develop the idea that we had to buy new things just because it was CNY. I did not follow this tradition either.

Reunion Dinner – Then & Now

As a child, reunion dinner was fun because of the spread of food available. But I soon realized that everyone was there out of duty and not because they wanted to. It was mostly awkward silences and unhappy faces at the table and everyone quickly “escaped” once the meal was over. I was glad when I “married out” of the family, as my mother puts it, and was no longer required to attend.

Now, we have our own reunion dinner at home or have them with my parents-in-law, either at their place or a restaurant.

The Questions – Then and Now

Being asked inane and repetitive questions during visits with relatives was de rigueur at CNY.

• How old are you now? How did you do for your exams? (usually addressed to the children)
• When are you getting married? Why have you put on weight? (usually addressed to the adults)

However, because we only visit our immediate family whom we already see regularly, such questions are avoided.

TIP:

If you are homeschooling – prep your children! There will be questions! Don’t get flustered. Instead, just do the nod-and-smile routine and give monosyllabic answers. Avoid engaging in any discussion. Only engage those who are truly interested.

Your turn

What is Chinese New Year like for you? What traditions and rituals did you bring over from your childhood into your own family? Why did you choose to do so or not?

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