Around the beginning of February, I come down with a dread feeling.
Usually, February is a good month, short and thus proportionately filled with more days of weekend breaks for the less work-inclined among us. Happiest of all would be the florists, what with the over-commercialised St Valentine’s Day on the 14th, virtually guaranteeing their biggest day of profits for the entire year.
What I really don’t care for is the annual Chinese Lunar New Year.
Oh, the customary money in the red packets is usually a bonus, at least until you tie the knot and then, you and your spouse have to repay all those years of free money to the next generation of bratty kids.
I can’t complain about the food either, but days of waxed duck/pig/chicken/nameless hunks of meat can be really tiring for the palate.
Some female (and male) friends, tempted by the feast of treats displayed, gorge on the sweets, the candied fruits, chocolate, the roasted melon seeds, the barbequed pork, the pineapple tarts and various other baked goods, only to end up paying for it the next day with an attack of the zits or extra inches to show on their waistline.
What I really can’t stand is the customary visits.
For those not in the know, Chinese traditionally visit each others’ homes to offer wishes of prosperity, good luck and health for the year ahead.
Ordinarily, I’m all for the custom of letting extended families celebrate the New Year together. I do appreciate that in times ahead, such customs may be all that stand between individual alienation from the broader society. I definitely appreciate chances to bond with my extended family.
The part that I dislike is the whole superficiality of it all.
In the past, perhaps things were different. When people used to live long distances from each other and when life was hard, a holiday where you not only get a break, but also get to see kin and friends you miss is not a bad thing at all.
However, with Singapore being such a small place, there are plenty of opportunities for people to see their relatives. We don’t have to wait for the excuse of Chinese New Year to see our relatives and friends, and to build relationships. It becomes a poor replacement for healthy bonds with each other. The visits become a crutch for relationships that we don’t care about, the ones that only come onto our radar once a year.
We visit the home of someone for nine-tenths of the year we don’t give a hoot about, we mask our boredom with joviality, we try to make awkward conversation about yet another relative we don’t care about. We then try to leave as quickly as possible to reduce the apparent waste of time that it is to us.
Worse still, there will be relatives whom we can’t get along with, and for traditions’ sake, pay the grudging visit during the New Year instead of trying to mend relationships in the long term. No wonder so many here prefer to fly off to another country for a holiday trip to avoid the ordeal that Chinese New Year has become.
There are exceptions, of course, and it’s always a happy thing for me to witness gatherings in the true spirit of Chinese New Year.
Chinese New Year should be a time of joy and celebration and a time where we remember the meaning behind the unique traditions we have.
To properly understand what the festival meant to our forebears is to prepare for it throughout the year via caring for our friends and relatives and building strong bonds with them. Until we are able to do so, all talk of maintaining and remembering customs is for naught.