Like other festivals in multiracial Singapore, Chinese New Year offers an occasion to reaffirm the role of tradition in sustaining society and culture over the long term. The customary practices of four-generation families, as reflected in this newspaper recently, reveal that the young are likely to accept the legacy of the past when it's passed down lovingly by the old. Naturally, the symbolic significance of observances must be explained, otherwise these might appear arcane and even meaningless to some young people.
Food is an important part of this cultural relay. Family recipes, sometimes altered a little to suit the culinary tastes of the young, give them a stake in the perpetuation of broader cultural practices. The reunion dinner is an occasion that gathers up these symbolic aspects of the new year. An invitation to a feast is not a command to eat at a particular place but a gesture of respect accorded to the unifying act of eating together.
The traditional dinner attests to the importance of food in sustaining the body and the mind as sites for the transmission of familial values inherited from resilient cultural practices. Skipping the dinner through the simple expedient of being abroad could indicate cultural weariness. In many cases, it could be an escape from the hoary interrogations over exam results, job, marital status or babies. Perhaps a little respect for privacy might help the young acquire more respect for legacy.
The bonds renewed between passing and arriving generations within an extended family are reflected in the larger community. In his Chinese New Year message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong underscored how every generation hopes that its ageing parents live well even as its children grow up happy and successful. Given the age and cultural profiles of Singapore society, it is vital that family traditions are kept alive perennially, and not treated as just a seasonal obligation.