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Friday, January 07, 2005

The Reunion Dinner

Continued from "We've arrived!"

Celebrating Chinese New Year (CNY) as a single girl is very different from celebrating CNY as a married woman. That is because once you are married you adopt your husband's surname. You have now become a new member of your husband's family and from then on you start celebrating CNY with your in-laws. In this respect, it is probably better to have sons rather than daughters to keep your house merry! Haha.

On the eve of CNY everyone would gather for a reunion dinner, a sumptious meal, more like a family feast or banquet. The leftovers would be eaten for days afterwards and sometimes cooked altogether in a pot simply called "chai bui" (leftovers). It was delicious! The girls would help with the shopping and preparing of the meal in the morning. Married ladies would have their reunion dinners with their husband's family (now considered their own as well) and only visit their own families on the 1st or 2nd day of CNY.

Back to my childhood memories. My 5 cousins together with my 5 siblings (me included) made 10. Our table could not accomodate all of us together with the adults so we often ate in 2 rounds. First the adults, followed by the kids. Before eating the kids would call out (in respect) to the elders "ah kong chiak" (literally translated "grandpa eat") , "ah ma chiak" ("grandma eat") and so on and so forth in order of seniority. Because there were so many to call out to, we came out with our own "ta ta lang chiak" (meaning "everybody eat"). Its really a nice custom but I don't think any of the kids these days do that anymore. These days families also tend to dine out for their reunion dinner instead of eating in. Thats sad because part of the fun is in preparing the 'big meal' however hard one has to work to make it happen. When going back to hometown for the festivals some would stay in hotels instead of bunking in at the old family home, maybe out of necessity from lack of space but its still a little sad. Sometimes some families even choose to go abroad for a holiday during CNY instead. Now, thats really silly! (at least to me.)

After dinner, we would have a bath and change into our brand new pyjamas and switch on every light in the house to usher in the New Year. Then we would eat groundnuts, play cards (gamble), eat mandarin oranges, drink shandy (beer and lemonade; it made us feel so grown up to be allowed to drink a little) and play firecrackers, fireworks etc. Sometimes we would stay up all night and the 10 of us would lie down in a row on the wooden planked upstairs floor with fresh pillows and blankets to watch tv. We would fight to "jom" (book) the softest cotton pillows covered with patchwork pillow cases (all homemade) and quickly grab one of the only 2 bolsters available.

On New Year's day we would have a lion dance in our house (because one uncle belonged to a lion dance troupe) and all the neighbourhood kids would crowd round to watch. When father gave us our angpow we would say "thank you pa, hor lu chiak lau lau" (long life to you).

Gee, I'm having such a fun time relieving my CNY memories. Sadly though, our grandparents are no longer here and soon everyone grew up, went overseas to study, got married and the ladies stopped coming home for the reunion dinner and CNY became quieter and quieter. These days my reunion dinner with dad and siblings take place on "Chap Goh Meh" (the 15th and last day of CNY) instead.

Now that I am married, I have to adopt my husband's traditions. Since my in-laws are no longer around, this means that we have to start our own tradition. This is so important to make it memorable for our children. We will cook up our own big meal, make the children wear new pyjamas the night before, switch on all the lights, give them angpows (red packets), allow them to wear new clothes on the 1st and 2nd day of CNY, take them to see lion dances etc etc. We won't underestimate the impact that these family traditions and celebrations have on our kids. Even till today toddler will say "gongxi gongxi" when she sees her CNY pyjamas from last year though she has outgrown the pyjama pants now :-)


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