CNY visits & reunion dinners to continue with 5 pax rule, but some families not in 'celebration mode'

The reality of CNY this year.

Lean Jinghui | January 27, 2022, 01:08 PM

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PERSPECTIVE: This year, prevailing safe management measures (SMMs) will be maintained during the Chinese New Year (CNY) period, in the face of an ongoing Omicron variant wave.

The permissible group size for social gatherings will also remain at five, with households allowed to receive up to five visitors per day — down from eight in 2021.

Inevitably, this means that CNY plans will be shaken up, as families re-structure CNY celebrations around the new rules.

Mothership speaks to families in Singapore to find out how they feel about this year’s tighter restrictions.

Many families have some established routines when it comes to celebrating CNY.

This year, however, the five pax rule means that many families will not be able to have their usual celebrations, and calls for planning ahead in order to keep within the rules.

While some form of house visiting and reunion dinners will still take place, they will be carried out with much-reduced fanfare.

Some might even have to cut back on house visits, and make hard choices on how to prioritise visits to different family members.

Deviating further from tradition appears to be the norm, as families try to compromise with muted celebrations.

How some families are organising visits: Groupings based on family size

For 33-year-old Ana (not her real name) and her family, the first and second day of Chinese New Year will be especially packed this year.

The extended family of slightly over 20 members includes Ana's parents, her siblings, and their families. They have organised their house visits based on family size, on a first-come-first-serve basis.

As the go-to organiser for most family events, Ana was the one who kickstarted the conversation:

"We mostly arranged to just 拜年 (house visit) with our parents. The five-pax restriction means that we are not able to squeeze two families [of four pax] together this year. So if we are able to arrange the smaller size families together, we do so. Our family members are all pretty flexible in terms of arrangements."

As such, Ana's parents will get to meet all of their children and grandchildren over the two public holidays, while abiding by the restrictions:

CNY visiting plans for Ana’s family. Siblings are numbered one to five in order of age. The parents visit or are visited by the siblings and their families. Screenshot courtesy of Ana.

While pre-Covid CNY gatherings typically saw the entire extended family gather for food, tossing yusheng, and ban luck (blackjack) at the eldest sister’s house on Day 2, that would be cancelled this year, shared Ana.

She elaborated: “Ban luck is definitely our favourite activity, played only during CNY. Some of us might still play depending on who meets [this year], but the feel and thrill just isn’t there with a smaller group."

"We will likely not lao (toss) yusheng because it’s too much to finish with fewer people.”

Early reunion dinners and house visiting throughout the CNY period

Bryan, 56, shared that for his extended family of 12, 2022 would mark the first time they are unable to all celebrate CNY together.

This year, to abide by tightened restrictions, the plan would be to have two annual reunion dinners, with the first taking place a day earlier than usual.

Bryan and his family (three pax) will visit his parents together with one of his brothers and his wife (two pax) on Jan. 30.

This allows his other brother and his family of four to have 团圆饭 (reunion dinner) with their parents on the eve of CNY – Jan. 31.

The situation is much the same, with dates for reunion dinner shifted forward as well, for Rowena Low, 56, and her family of over 30 people.

"We started our reunion dinners already, two [to] three weeks ago, in early January," she says.

Low and her six siblings decided early on that each of them would bring their 84-year-old mum to visit each of their households over the weekends leading up to CNY.

Chope-ing the dates was based on a first-come-first-served basis, depending on who locked in their slots on the family chat first.

Taking into account the Covid-19 health risk for their elderly mum, the family even agreed to carry out Antigen Rapid Tests (ART) on each day of visiting for this year, as an additional precautionary measure.

House visits with their mum have also been planned during CNY period, beginning from Feb. 1:

"For this year, 早起的鸟儿有虫吃 (the early bird catches the worm). So I quickly booked the slots [for CNY eve] and for the first day [of CNY].

[On the first day], my mother will come to my house for lunch, and my brother will visit her at her house in the early morning. My mother is very busy [this year] lah."

For families of nearly 80: Video chat

For another family of up to 80 pax — comprising seven siblings, each with their children and grandchildren — taking it virtual has become the default during the Covid-19 pandemic, even for CNY.

Ang Siew Kheng, 59, explained that over the past two years, each sibling has had individual reunion dinners with their families, with video calls connecting the extended family across different locations.

“[On the eve of CNY] we set a time, and anyone will login and briefly wish each other ‘happy New year’. My niece will take a screenshot to commemorate the occasion. Then, we continue with our individual reunion dinners.”

Ang added that while the family wishes to gather like before, it is not a possibility, so the plan is to keep things “very, very simple” this year.

As for house visits, the elderly in the family would be prioritised. For Ang's family, this means visiting Ang’s father-in-law, and her eldest sister’s family.

“My sister will say ‘oh these days I’m free, and you all can come’. So I already told her that I’m visiting on the second day. The rest of the days I’ll open [my house], and see who wants to visit me."

How families feel about the five-pax restrictions

In line with what other families shared last year, the families interviewed expressed feelings of 'sian'-ness (tiredness) about 2021's CNY. This year, that feeling has only increased.

Ang shared candidly that with the five-pax rule, planning activities had become very difficult, even tiring.

Last year, her elder siblings had still managed to uphold their yearly tradition of going to the movies, but they had not even thought about it this year, admitted Ang.

As a result, the elderly folks in the family had noted that this year seemed to particularly lack festive atmosphere, or, in their words, “没有气氛 ” (no atmosphere). She said:

"I think this year is very tough, as we [are] sort of not looking forward to [CNY] this year already. You know, with eight pax we still could do something, but five is tough. So I told my son, I [am] really not looking forward, I really don’t like Chinese New Year now."

Low, whose family had also decided to forego their movie tradition this year, agreed that there was definitely a feeling that "celebration mode" has been reduced.

She reflected with a sigh: "We have to follow the restrictions lah. Then have to split many many days lor, so my mother has to be very very busy lor. It is our individual responsibility, to do our ART and make sure that we are clear before we visit."

Ana agreed, and shared that she had been especially grateful their family was easy-going this year, so everything could just be first-come-first-serve:

"It's a whole co-ordination, so ultimately the families must be agreeable. Our family is just very harmonious in general. Ultimately it is a festive season. Why make things difficult for each other?"

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Top images via Zheng Zhangxin and Unsplash