Commentary: Chinese New Year shouldn’t be the only time we meet our extended family
In the old days, it was common for cousins to come over often but slowly that important link to family has been lost. The pandemic is a good reminder to continue this practice, says an observer.
SINGAPORE: The number eight is considered an auspicious number in Chinese culture. It sounds like “prosper” in Mandarin.
For this Chinese New Year (CNY), it takes on an additional meaning in Singapore. Households are only allowed to receive a maximum of eight visitors per day and people should limit themselves to visiting no more than two households per day.
I have a large extended family and the plan to gather at my uncle’s place on the first day of Chinese New Year would have to be re-calibrated. Planning the visits for my family of six poses a big logistical challenge so we have to rethink how we meet safely.
While I am very grateful that we had made good progress that supported further resumption of activities and the easing of rules to allow more people at social gatherings and visitations, I found myself wishing I had met my extended family more often than just over Chinese New Year or birthdays and memorial services.
But it didn’t have to come to this if we actually made it a point to spend quality time with our extended families.
There are so many benefits to cousins growing up together and adult siblings staying closely in touch with one another. Extended family members can also help provide physical and emotional support for their elderly family members too.
WEEKEND GATHERINGS WITH EXTENDED FAMILY
When we were young, my mother would frequently take the three of us to spend the weekend at my grandma’s place, rain or shine. We would travel to Veerasamy Road (in Little India) from Bedok with our bags filled with sweets and chocolates to share and exchange with other cousins.
I fondly recall those weekends were spent playing outdoor games, watching TV or catching up with homework – no difference to the routines at our own homes, except we had great company. Indeed, grandma’s place felt like a second home.
The eve of CNY was a particularly busy time. Extended family members would gather at grandma’s place to have our reunion dinner as part of the annual tradition. After dinner, we would gather in the living room of the four-room flat to watch live variety shows.
On a few occasions, my uncles grew tired of the variety shows and switched to watching video tapes of wrestling matches.
But as is the case with most modern families, as we grew older, work and family became priorities and the frequency of these weekend gatherings dwindled. Most of us accepted the norm that the only time we would all meet was during CNY.
ENTER THE DIGITAL AGE
I still see my relatives on Facebook. We exchange greetings during festive seasons via text messages too. This seems to be the best way to maintain relationships with the extended family without meeting anyone face to face.
If I were honest, messaging is a lot less of a hassle than to arrange for a meet-up or visit. But this act of convenience comes with a hefty price tag, knowingly or unknowingly to us.
Psychologist Maggie Mulqueen suggests our increasing preference for texting over email and phone calls creates a higher quantity of interactions but decreases the quality of our relationships.
I agree that a congratulatory text spiced up with exploding confetti and champagne emojis would not bring the same smile as a phone call or meet-up in person. As I think back on how little I have seen them, a sense of guilt comes over me. How have they been coping during this pandemic?
This is something I cannot really know from just texting them every once in a while.
THE VALUE OF EXTENDED LINKS
The once doting uncles and aunties have passed their primes, transiting into their silver years.
They might not initiate family gatherings as actively as before as such events require a fair bit of coordination and physical stamina especially when large number of family members are involved.
They are now part of the statistics of an ageing population where increasingly they would need more physical, financial and emotional support as highlighted in a Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) report called Ageing Families In Singapore, 2000-2017.
A few cousins who are the same age as me are married with young children. At our current life stage, we have the best opportunity to introduce our children to the extended family members so they can develop a bond and a greater appreciation for them, the same way my cousins and I share so many happy childhood memories.
What our extended families gave us were links to our roots and bonds that lasted generations. I remember confiding in cousins, aunts and uncles about my academic path and the peer pressure I faced, or to simply catch up on how they’ve been.
I vividly recall grandma and a few uncles who would always give my siblings and myself a few dollars whenever they visit us. These small gestures meant a lot to our family which often had difficulties making ends meet.
Now that the roles have reversed, it is time we shower our elderly extended family members with the attention and support they showed us when we were helpless children.
We often sigh (myself included) at not having enough time to meet up with extended family. Indeed, each of us only has so much time in a day to fulfil our societal roles and pursue our aspirations.
While our weekends are packed with commitments for our own families, this pandemic is a good time for us to make a bigger commitment to keep those ties going strong. I for one, will take leave from work so I can visit my grandma, uncles and aunts – with my mother and children in tow.
I didn’t need a reason, it is a visit to stay in touch and for my children to know their cousins, uncles and aunts.
So even if you cannot meet your extended family this CNY due to the restrictions, you can make time for them any day after. Stay and chat so you can keep those relationships going long after CNY is over.
Tan Chin Hock is recipient of the filial piety award conferred by the Nanyang Confucian Association and Founder of Holdinghands.sg