Just as the spirit of Christmas is not just about carving turkeys and exchanging gifts, the spirit of Chinese New Year is a lot more than feasting, red packets and decorating the home with fiery symbols of wealth and prosperity. The main theme in every Chinese New Year celebration is reunion. You can shut your doors and feast on the most authentic Chinese New Year dishes alone. You are not really celebrating Chinese New Year. The true spirit of Chinese New Year lies in 2 words 团圆 or reunion and not some silly superstition of not sweeping the floor on the first day.
The concept of reunion is indeed an important one. I would even go as far as saying that it’s one of the keys to the success of the Chinese people all over the world. Apart from weddings and funerals, Chinese New Year is the other rare opportunity for friends and relatives to get together. Yes, living together is not easy, but getting together to enjoy the festivities is not hard. We all … (or at least most of us) understand that humans are never perfect. We all have our faults, our idiosyncrasies and it’s only natural that we can’t agree all the time. But when it’s time to reunite, we put our differences aside, shake hands, wish one another happy new year and have a good time. Sadly, this is not well understood by many foreign residents and even a few of our own people.
It’s just like in weddings and funerals, we share the joy, the grief and the financial burden even though we may not be the best of friends at the worst of times. And in spite of all the grand ideologies and philosophies which I sometimes indulge in, it’s really that simple to me. Not so for some others. It may amaze you, but there are some people, while unoccupied by work during this period, would pick this occasion as the perfect time to reopen expired disputes, rekindling old flame wars, effectively isolating the family at a time of reunion. It’s worse when such feuds are blessed and supported on video chats thousands of miles away. What would you do if you were trapped in this situation? Organise a partial “reunion” for every warring faction? Prepare all the new clothes and goodies but stop short of “reunion”? Or just pack up and escape from it all?
I’m a bit apprehensive about travelling this Chinese New Year as my son has not fully recovered from his injury. If not, a week or two away from this stifling deadlock would do wonders for my mental health. I sometimes tell people that I’m not celebrating Chinese New Year because I find it pointless to have mandarin oranges, pomelos, snacks and scarlet decor hanging around when I can’t entertain guests or visit relatives as a family. I envy those who can travel to escape boredom or whatever stifles them.
Reunion is a concept I’ve been brought up with and it’s heartwarming to find many young Chinese families still practising it. Hopefully, their younger generation will learn the values of tolerance, mutual respect, mutual understanding and the value of extended family support which provides a strong, valuable social network. If it doesn’t get passed down in my family, at least there may be hope in yours.
© Chan Joon Yee