Somehow, things weren’t quite the same without the patriarch of the family.
Looking back at last year’s celebrations, Chinese New Year was rather different.
I can’t really describe the difference accurately, but it just felt different. One thing is for sure, it was a lot quieter – in fact, the right word would be sombre. And this wasn’t just because the colour theme for the dinner was blue.
We started the reunion dinner quite late in the evening, because the whole household waited for me to come back from work. Thankfully, I was able to wrap everything up by 6pm, and reached home half an hour later. Everyone was surprised that I could be back before sundown. It was so unusual for me to still be able to see the sun instead of the moon and the stars when I got out of the office that day.
For the reunion dinner, we ordered takeaway dishes instead of having the usual steamboat dinner, which had been the staple menu for our reunion dinners for as long as I can remember.
This is because Mum is not a very good cook, but she is a very smart one. And steamboat is the easiest to prepare!
Anyway, we had a scrumptious 10-course meal complete with seafood, meat and plenty of vegetables. We agreed on the takeaway food, because all of us refused to jump on the bandwagon and join the crowd in the restaurants, fighting for table reservations. Imagine the noise, the rush and the gobbling down of food; everything would be over in a flash to make way for the next family who has reserved the table for the next hour.
The best part of the celebration was the theme. We often think of a theme so that when we congregate for the celebration, we would all have something in the colour theme of choice and match each other’s clothes. It’s probably also a great excuse to splurge on new dresses!
We would all be so excited and weeks before the celebration, we would be discussing the theme. Quite often, the theme would be set by the women of the house, and the men would just agree. They probably think it’s just too trivial to pay much attention.
My favourite part of the reunion dinner would be the yee sang. This is the one dish I always look forward to because it’s only available once a year. Restaurants don’t prepare this dish any other time of the year even if one were to beg them or pay extra.
The enjoyment of this dish is not complete without the tossing of the yee sang ingredients along with auspicious declarations affirming one’s hope for the new year. The louder this is, the better!
Some of the usual declarations include “I want to be married soon!” (I think this is probably just applicable to me as it only happens in my family); “I want more money!” and “I want a promotion!”, among others.
And, of course, the tossing is always messy: the messier, the better. Thank goodness for maids who help clean up after the tossing, otherwise, the tossing would probably not be as exciting or as high!
We used to have a never-ending supply of booze after dinner which lasted till the wee hours of the morning as part of the celebration and family tradition. But last year, we only had red wine and each of us only had one glass. How strange, right? Somehow, everyone didn’t seem to be in the mood for more.
We ended the night with a two-hour game of poker. I ended up being the biggest loser and gave away the most coins; upping the ante being a mere 20 sen. I retreated to bed at 12.30am. A sign of old age perhaps. Normally, I would be the gung-ho one every year to make sure everybody doesn’t sleep early.
It is an old Chinese tradition that children shouldn’t sleep throughout the eve of the New Year and into the first New Year’s day to ensure that our parents are blessed with long lives.
Last year, however, I was the first to retreat to slumberland among the adults in the house. Yes, age is definitely catching up and I’m no longer the hyperactive one. Of course, I’m also no longer the youngest in the clan as my nieces and nephews have taken over the spot since nine years ago.
One significant difference in the Chinese New Year celebration was that we celebrated this period without our patriarch, my father. After all these months, just when I thought I had come to terms with the loss, somehow the celebrations still seemed to be a great challenge to me.
Nonetheless, I believe time heals all wounds. I’m looking forward to this New Year’s celebration.