In every culture, there exists a festival that serves as a celebration of one's racial
and family identity. For the Thais, Songkran, or the Water Festival in April, holds significant cultural importance. Indians mark their Diwali festival, spanning five days, while for many Chinese, the Chinese New Year (CNY) festival extends over a grand 15-day period.
In modern and urbanized Singapore, the communal celebrations reminiscent of village and clan gatherings have, to a large extent, faded away. There's a lack of boisterous firecrackers or fireworks to bring the community together, although there is an official celebration where an 18m-long firecracker will be ignited at River Hongbao 2024.
The Reunion Dinner on CNY Eve takes center stage as the most important gathering for most families. This meal acts as a homing magnet, binding ties and traditions. The menu is a reflection of diverse family backgrounds—Hakka, Cantonese, Hokkien, or Nonya—with the interesting addition of a Malay dish like curry chicken, symbolizing the fusion of Chinese migrant ancestors with other cultures.
Regardless of strained family ties, some families make an effort to gather, setting aside grievances. Conversations during this time remind us that family is both a given and a gift, sometimes leading to unspoken forgiveness as we let bygones be bygones.
The Reunion dinner also serves as a poignant reminder of those who have passed away. Memories surface, such as times when my late Mum hinted that she did not have the financial wherewithal to cook the usual spread. Still, she somehow manage to have Har Lok (River Prawns fried in black bean sauce) and steamed chicken on the table. The treasure dish may be missing the more expensive items but no less delicious. I wished we were more sensitive towards her hints. We really do miss her.
The second day involves visiting relatives, followed by friends on the third day, though these customs have evolved in modern times. For a few days, work takes a back seat as the home becomes the focal point. It's been a while since anyone stood on the balcony, observing the neighborhood, or sat on the sofa long enough to appreciate the living room's role in family gatherings.
As a proud father watches his children (or grandchildren), work-related problems fade into the background, and the relentless pursuit of honor takes a pause. The adage that "the home can be a graveyard of career ambitions" resonates, prompting a recalibration of perspective.
Family and friends are cherished gifts of life, and for love to endure eternally (1 Corinthians 13), it must be grounded in strong family and friendship ties. Indeed, "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father..." (James 1:17). As Christians, gratitude is expressed for the numerous gifts bestowed through culture, family, and friends, with the ultimate gift being salvation through Jesus Christ, who has called believers into His family.