Lunar New Year family togetherness

The lunar new year is a wonderful time for reconnecting with family.  Thanks to modern technology, families are in touch again with a few clicks on their smart devices and are even able to have real-time chats during reunion dinners and family gatherings!

Nephew, Quinlan, opening his hong pau
Our family came together in the Chinese New Year tradition of reunions on the eve of the new year followed by visits on the first day, starting with the homes of the elder relatives.

As in most annual festivals, it’s probably the children who most enjoyed it most. 

While the Chinese have a host of traditions to celebrate the spring festival, one of my favourites must be the tradition of giving and receiving hong pau or red packets filled with fortune money.

I always remember how grandmother used to refer to presenting the hong pau as giving lai see or good fortune wrapped in red. 

It’s not about the contents of the packet but the wish for the recipient to receive a bit of red and be blessed with good fortune, good health and prosperity or a better future. 

Little Jamieson all dressed-up in a
hand-me-down satin Chinese costume!
She also taught us not to immediately open the red packet as it was a gesture that was considered rude.  Well brought up children would thank the giver and respond with wishes for a Happy New Year, then keep away the red packets to open them discreetly at home.

I share the joy of Aunty Polly and Uncle Steven who were enjoying a wonderful bonding time with their family in Wimbledon, UK since last December.  My mum sent through them (in advance!) gifts and hong pau for our family members there.

While they are keeping traditions with the family there, they had much fun visiting London’s Chinatown to enjoy how the Chinese celebrate the spring festival there. 

They also had a reunion dinner at home and invited my sister and her English family over to celebrate with a traditional feast on the first day of the Lunar New Year, prepared with all the festive ingredients that are readily available in Chinatown!

Chinese New Year eve Laksa Johor lunch at Nelly's Cafe
So it was simply a pleasure to see my grand-nephew, Jamieson, wearing the traditional Chinese costume that once belonged to Aunty Polly’s grandson, Jackson, and which was out-grown by his brother, Quinlan!

The joy of seeing younger family members and new additions to the family reminds me of how time is passing with the cycle of life.  

As new members are added to the family, we cannot help but also feel the loss of the family members who have left us.  

My nephews, Andrew [2nd from Left] and Aaron [Right]
and family at their reunion dinner in Perth, Australia
As for my immediate family, we are not particular about Chinese traditions or taboos so we often push the boundaries for food options in our reunion meals because we understand that it’s really not about the food but the joy in sharing family togetherness.

This year, we decided to do things a little differently.  To make new memories, my brother and his family decided to have a head-start with the festive feasting by coming back to Johor Baru for a much sought after taste of Laksa Johor.

For the eve, we did not limit ourselves to just enjoying a dinner together but started with a reunion lunch.  It was fun and interesting that another family, of mixed parentage (Indian-Chinese) and who shared the same idea, joined us to enjoy this meal together.

Cousin Malcolm [Right] and family with guests at their
reunion dinner in Sydney, Australia
Cousin Richard and his wife, Jane, who have a tradition of visiting our home just before the start of the Lunar New Year, kept this thoughtful tradition and came over with kueh and Chinese New Year goodies, for afternoon tea on new year’s eve.

I was pleasantly surprised to see them turn up with another couple and it was good to meet his niece Olivia again, who was back from Sydney with her friend, Peter.

In the next forty-eight hours, we virtually reunited with family members in locations from Sydney, Perth, Mont Kiara to Wimbledon.

Cousin Bernice [3rd from Left] with her parents and
family enjoying their reunion dinner in Wimbledon, UK
Festivities continued into the first and second days of the Lunar New Year as we shared the excitement through modern technology, doing FaceTime chats and sending photos of family gathered to enjoy good food and company. 

It was amusing how we tried hard to recognise faces of young people who have since grown older and just had fun reconnecting with one another.

I felt very encouraged to see how the youngsters are growing out of their awkward stage and have gained more confidence to conduct conversations with adults (me!).  

The Mok's of Mont Kiara, in group shot after their dinner
I was particularly impressed to discover that there is at least one younger member of the family who is showing some interest in the family tree, asking questions and being curious about who’s who in the family.

Some of us meet only once a year during the annual family gatherings in a tradition set down by our great-grandmother and even though faces may be familiar, the youngster may not be clear about who’s who.  And now someone younger is interested to find out how we are related!

To me, this is a very promising sign.  As she is maturing with age, she is seeing the importance of family ties and is keen to find out more about our family relationship.

My mum [seated] with the next next generation of Mak's
on a visit to her eldest brother in Kota Tinggi
As the aged members of the family pass on, it’s up to the next generation of responsible adults to keep the tradition of meeting during festive occasions such as the Lunar New Year to stay in touch with each other.

And it’s also up to the next generation to ferry the elderly around to family gatherings so that they can join in the festivities and let the youngsters meet them, get to know them and benefit from their experience. 

In a multi-generation large family like ours, it’s really rather confusing when the age gap is small between uncles and aunts with their nephews and nieces.  It’s even more mind-boggling when youngsters are introduced to adults who are in fact, their nephews and nieces!

So it’s worthwhile to discuss a little more about who’s who in a separate story and hope that more members in the younger generation would be able to figure out how all of us are connected in the family.

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