Confessions of a LNY Scrooge

I used to call myself the Scrooge of the Lunar New Year. The Lunar New Year was, to me, an introvert’s nightmare—it was too loud, too colourful, too crowded. There was too much food and so much waste. I “Bah! Humbug!”-ed from the time the festive music began playing in malls (usually the day after Christmas) until the 15 days were over.

Large gatherings with distant relatives I met only once a year stressed me out. When I first got married and finances were lean, I resented having to give angpows to children I barely knew, much against the spirit of it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

My family is not very traditionally Chinese. The traditions of the festival that are linked to good fortune such as red and gold decorations, and the cleaning and sweeping away of bad luck, as well as the emphasis on astrology and the accumulation of wealth, are accoutrements the Christian side of my family does not believe in. We believe in God, not in luck.

That said, the traditions my family does celebrate during the Lunar New Year are linked to the idea of reunion. My mom comes from a large family; she is the eldest of eight siblings. My grandparents used to have their married children and families back for dinner every Sunday evening. Even though my grandparents have long passed on, a core group of my mother’s siblings, along with their children and grandchildren, have continued the tradition by hosting the weekly family dinner—that is, until COVID-19 struck.

The best part of the Lunar New Year has always been, for me, the family meal. After our regular Sunday dinners, we usually have to rush off because the next day is a work or school day. But on the first day of the Lunar New Year, we can linger as long as we like.

We meet at my mom’s family home, the site of those long-ago dinners when my grandparents were still around, and take an annual family portrait. It is wonderful to see how the family has added new members over the years, even as some have gone to glory. My grandparents would be proud.

COVID-19 has caused me to reflect more on my idea of family. One of the things I miss most, and realise I have taken for granted, is our weekly family dinner tradition that we have had to put on hold due to government-mandated safe management measures. My cousins, whom I met every Sunday in pre-pandemic days, have had babies whom I have barely seen. Even when we meet in church, we cannot linger to talk and catch up.

What I am thankful for, though, is that over the last two years, my husband, two daughters—one of whom is 14 and the other is six—and I have grown much closer. We have had to stay home much more, in close quarters—including serving out a 10-day quarantine together—so have been forced to be more tolerant and patient with one another. My husband used to travel extensively for work, but has not since January 2020. We have found more activities to do together, such as taking skating lessons as a family, and have discovered parts of Singapore that we had not been to before.

Another family I miss is my church family. I have come to realise that the annual church family camp is, in fact, a “church family” camp—with the luxury of more time to spend together as members of the family of God. Worshipping online, having discipleship group meetings and Sunday School on Zoom, have been useful stand-ins, but virtual meetings cannot replace face-to-face fellowship and heart-to-heart conversations.

There is a saying that we know the value of water only when the well runs dry. Some of us have lost friends and family over the last two years and were unable to bid farewell to them in person. In June last year, my father lost his best friend to a brain tumour; he was able to visit only once before his friend passed. We all probably also have loved ones overseas whom we cannot visit.

Will life ever return to a pre-pandemic “normal”? I pray it will, and soon! But there’s no knowing when—or if—that will ever happen. Rather than waiting for the day when larger-scale gatherings are allowed, I realise I have to intentionally meet up in small groups with extended family and friends I have not seen in a while. My hope, for my family—immediate, extended and church—is that we do not wait to realise how precious our relationships are, and will do what it takes to show we cherish them.

Sheri Goh is the Editor of Methodist Message.