Food, family and festive cheer: Why I love Chinese New Year get-togethers

This year, my wife and I will gently remind those among our relatives who drive: Make sure you do not breach any parking rules when you come to the Chinese New Year gathering at our house.

Last year, a Land Transport Authority enforcement officer turned up close to midnight at our Telok Kurau home because someone had complained about a car parked illegally.

But good sense prevailed in the end - after all, amid festive cheer where many people visit family, friends and relatives, it can be a challenge to find parking space - and my relative was let off with a warning.

The incident has not dampened our enthusiasm to organise such Chinese New Year get-togethers.

On Feb 22, a Sunday and the fourth day of Chinese New Year, many people are likely to hold similar gatherings or parties too, with many firms able to cater food and drinks to suit all budgets.

While some Chinese-Singaporeans are not celebrating Chinese New Year, according to a recent Straits Times story, my wife and I feel we would be forsaking an important and meaningful anchor in our lives and so we try to go beyond just visiting homes of relatives and friends.

We feel it is also our duty to bring together as many relatives as possible in a bid to nurture and strengthen bonds, at least once a year.

That would also extend a practice of my late mother-in-law who would slave over the stove the entire first day of Chinese New Year to whip up a festive spread for the entire clan.

The challenge was immense given that there would be close to 100 guests, and she did it with the help of only a maid.

My wife and I believe that even as Singaporean lifestyles, values and traditions have morphed over the years, with more people opting to socialise only with certain folk, one should not downplay or neglect kinship ties.

I feel that as one grows older, friends may come and go but relatives can be counted upon to rally around you in times of need, with no questions asked.

So despite the logistics and work needed to host a get-together, we do it - and we also hope we inspire the younger generation to do likewise and keep the clan spirit alive and strong, especially as family sizes shrink and more people remain single.

A get-together is also more likely to appeal to the younger relatives who may not find visiting homes of separate relatives something to look forward to.

Food is a great social lubricant and a get-together allows the hosts plenty of options to satisfy the crowd - from catered food to guests chipping in with their own culinary creations too.

And with food, people naturally stay longer to eat and mingle.

To foster greater interaction, it is best to switch off the TV and provide activities for the guests, whether it is board games for the younger folks or mahjong for the adults.

You can get relatives to share about their holidays or memorable recent life events - like a baby's first-month celebration - by playing videos of these cherished occasions for everyone to go ga-ga over.

It is always good to invite the neighbours to thank them for putting up with the noise, crowd and occasional parking inconvenience.

The important thing is to create Chinese New Year memories for everyone and hopefully, they will look forward to coming back next year.