Reunion after long separation is even better than one’s wedding night.– CHINESE PROVERB
What do families, particularly Chinese families, talk about at reunion dinners, like the recent Chinese New Year Eve dinner?
Contrary to what some Chinese New Year advertisements on TV have portrayed, sensitive questions like “When are you going to get married?” are a big no-no.
In the olden days, when matriarchs still ruled Chinese families, such questions had to be tolerated, especially by the young ones, to whom the question was posed. In those days, when filial piety was highly valued, who dared to offend the curious and busybody matriarchs of families?
In the olden days, the family reunion dinner would be held in the Chinese ancestral home with members of the family rushing home for the big gathering.
That was the time when grandparents would get to see their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Meeting them maybe only once a year, naturally, the grandparents would be curious to know whether their single children or grandchildren of marriageable age who worked far from home had found suitable partners and whether they were thinking of tying the knot soon.
The Chinese New Year Eve dinner was a good time to share news of good tidings as impending engagements or marriages.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since those days of long ago. With the passage of time, traditions have changed and the matriarchs in Chinese families have passed on. Many Chinese families do not live together anymore; children prefer to live in their own homes after marriage instead of staying with their parents.
Nowadays, many modern Chinese families prefer to have their reunion dinners at hotels or restaurants.
“After eating there, there is no need to wash the dishes and plates and clean up,” pointed out a friend of mine who had her family reunion dinner in a restaurant. Both her parents have passed on and on hand to enjoy the dinner with her were her younger brother, wife and two children.
Nowadays, some Chinese New Year Eve dinners are held a few days earlier too.
My younger brother hosted a Chinese New Year Eve dinner for the Liong clan one day before Chinese New Year Eve.
Besides his four chlldren, their wives, girlfriends or boyfriends and grandchildren, he invited me (the only sibling who lives in Kuching), my mother (who happens to be his mother, too), my son and daughter-in-law and a few friends.
To the dinner, his daughter, who is in her early 20s, brought along her boyfriend. I knew they were going steady and I was glad to meet him face to face after hearing a bit about him. Did I ask them when they were marrying? “No”.
Her brother, two years older than her, also brought along his girlfriend. I also knew they were going steady and was also glad I could meet the beautiful girl face to face. Did I ask them when they were marrying? “No”.
Although I am two years older than my brother who hosted the dinner, I think I have no right to ask my niece or nephew when they were marrying.
When I met my niece who came with her boyfriend and my nephew who came with his girlfriend, I just said, “How are you? Long-time no see. Good to see you.”
I just left it to my brother and his wife to share with me whatever good tidings they wanted to share.
I learnt that night there was no impending engagement or marriage in my brother’s family. Instead, my brother, his wife, children and grandchildren were out to have fun at their first-ever family outing in Kuching.
My best friend in Sibu also had a Chinese New Year Eve reunion dinner at home.
My friend lives with her elder brother, who is just a few years older than her, and his family.
To the dinner came her brother’s children. Those who were married came with their spouses and children while those who were single came along. One of the daughters flew all the way from Australia with her husband and young daughter to join the auspicious gathering.
There is no matriarch in my best friend’s family because both her parents have long passed on.
Just like at my family’s Chinese New Year Eve dinner, nobody asked the single ones when they were going to tie the knot.
My best friend has always advised me to keep quiet at gatherings when I have nothing good or nice to say. “That way, you do not offend anybody. If there is good food, just enjoy it,” she used to tell me. That, to me, is good advice.
Frankly speaking, I think parents, aunties and uncles have no business to ask sensitive questions, especially at family gatherings. Many young people I know have a fairly good idea of what they want out of life and when they should marry.
When the young ones have completed their education, found good jobs and suitable partners, they will let us know. After all, they want “ang pow” (red envelopes containing cash) from us at their wedding dinners. All we have to do is to be patient and wait.