When my brother and I were children, we loved Chinese New Year because it was the only time when we got so many ang pows or red packets to buy the toys, books and stuff that we wanted. However, when I hit my teenage years, I dreaded Chinese New Year. The reason was simple because we were meeting extended family relatives who know next to nothing about our growth, our age and how far we had progressed. We just had to visit them because it was under parental instructions.
I still remembered my mother having to pull my brother out of bed just to go for visitations. The only fun part was reunion dinner. We got to go early to my grandmother’s house and gathered with my aunts and uncles, not to mention cousins whom we grew up with. After the reunion dinner, my grandmother, who passed away a few years ago and I still miss her fondly, would give us ang pows for good luck. She was always generous giving out 2 ang pows to us for every Chinese New Year and we liked what we get because she put in quite an amount into the ang pows.
As Teochews on both sides of the family, we received considerable ang pows. This was probably because Teochews were a group of Chinese who treated face value more than anything else. I still remembered one year, the whole group of cousins complained about receiving an S$2 dollar ang pow and the uncle who gave that ang pow was ridiculed. I felt that it was so unnecessary and so mean.
Therefore, the tradition for giving ang pows must be dealt with cautiously in my family. When I got married, I had to visit a lot of relatives. We could never breakeven during Chinese New Year because we did not have kids. However, this did not deter us from visiting our relatives during the first few years of our marriage. Without any regard for your feelings, the relatives were always concerned when a couple who had been married for more than 3 years, did not have any kids. They would ask “When are you planning to have children?” “Please have kids earlier when you are still young and have the energy.” In my mind, provoking thoughts occurred. Will you help me to look after the kid? Will you be paying for his or her school fees? Will you be the one who will be waking up for night feeds?
Soon, an auspicious occasion turned into an occasion which I disliked most. My husband and I decided to take things easy. We wanted to be happy during such an auspicious occasion so we begin to plan lovely trips over the Chinese New Year period. We were able to get away from all the naggings and remarks that were uncalled for to enjoy cooling trips to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. We had couple bonding time and we were happy because we did not have to listen to some dispensable remarks from aunts and uncles whom we did not even meet over the years.
Our tradition of going away on trips did not stop even when we were blessed with Caden. My mother would always bring Caden around because he was the apple of her eye. When Caden was two, my husband felt that we were not doing our duties as parents to instil the correct values of gathering with family and bonding over Chinese New Year to Caden. So we stopped the vacations and brought Caden around for visitations when he became 2. Although he did not know the meaning of Chinese New Year, he did his Gong Xi Gong Xi gestures very well. After getting the ang pow, he would dutifully pass it to me.
Having children changed our mindset about family togetherness during Chinese New Year. The concept of visitation was to gather with family members and of course, giving ang pows was a tradition that we as Chinese could not do away with. However, we must stop the kids from opening the ang pows and announcing how much they got in each ang pow. This action is deplorable and totally inappropriate. Parents should advise their children to open their ang pows at home after visitations.
As for Mark and me, we try to keep visitations short, choosing only to visit close family members and friends because these are the people who are really in our lives and who matter to us. We also wanted to know how our close family members and friends are doing.
Finally, we wanted to teach our kids the true values of Chinese New Year. It is not a season to just collect ang pows and passing them to mommy for safe-keeping. It is the first day of the Lunar New Year and it is the only time we gather as family to eat delicious Chinese cuisine during the reunion dinner, enjoy Lohei, get to wear new clothes and new shoes and go for family visitations, not to mention that we are able to indulge in barbequed pork, pineapple tarts and kueh lapis. We wanted Chinese New Year to be a time that our kids look forward to.
I am quietly hoping that Caden and Charles will not behave like me when they are in their teenage years. I hope they will always look forward to Chinese New Year and carry on the traditional values of Chinese New Year even when they are in their adulthood.
I understand that many like me in my earlier years detested Chinese New Year. Relatives will become loathed busybodies and they will insinuate or talk about things that will hurt our feelings. Forgive them because they probably see you only once a year and they do not know what is going on with you or your life for that matter. If you do not want people to ask you so many questions about your love life or when you are planning to have kids, just pack your bags and go on holiday trips. It’s the best time of the year to go Korea or Japan to enjoy the cool winter season.
When you have kids and you are visiting, you have to be careful of the amount you put into your ang pows. Giving S$28 and above to close family members is a norm. Giving S$8 to S$10 to extended family members will save you from any embarrassment and remember they come with domestic helpers who should be given about S$4 to S$6. The amounts which I have stated in the aforesaid are just for your reference only. You probably have your own budget in mind. Just be happy, smile and ignore the dreaded and erroneous conversations and you will trudge through Chinese New Year with a smirk!