Come Home for Reunion Dinner

This incidental blog is inspired by this Chinese song “Come home for dinner”   《回家吃飯》.

This is a heart-warming touching song of the singer and composer of the song.  He lives in Beijing for 13 years and have not returned home for the traditional Chinese reunion dinner.

Reproduced this 36-year-old article “Time to cast off this dinner hang-up in plain words” by Turtle in New Nation, 8 February 1981.

It is odd how some Chinese New Year customs have changed with time – and how some haven’t, even though the premises on which they were based no longer apply.

I am thinking here of the Chinese New Year’s eve reunion dinner, which still holds a central place in most families’ celebrations, and long may it do so.

To sit down with one’s parents and grown up brothers and sisters is a reminder of the original family from which we came – and to which we turn in times of the greatest travail (death of a spouse or child) and need (including a loan of money).

Dislike a brother though we may, little though we have in common with the sixth or second child of mother’s large brood, it is hard to deny one of them when he or she asks for help – and the reunion dinner renews the adhesive that binds the whole, which, in these days, may not stick together as well as it used to.

But while there is no notion of scrapping the reunion dinner, we should now re-examine a central tenet – that married women must eat it with their husbands’ parents.

The origins of this idea lay in the traditional concept of woman as chattel.  Once she married, she was considered to have left her family and to “belong” to her husband’s side.  Her parents had no more claim to her.

Today it is still de riguer that a married woman eat her reunion dinner with her in-laws.  This is well and good if that is where she wants to be, if there is no rival tug on her heartstrings.  Indeed, some traditional parents would not dream of having their daughters over.

But there are parents who do – and indeed why shouldn’t they, even if there are unmarried children and married sons to keep them company.

The situation is specially felt when a family comprises, besides the old folk, only married daughters.

These “underprivileged” parents would very likely have to eat on their own, come New Year’s eve.   On the other hand, daughters sit down to a meal with in-laws whom they may like well enough – but seldom, if ever, are they as dear as one’s own parents.

In the face of the two-child family norm preached, more and more parents are going to end up eating reunion dinners on their own – because both children will be girls.

This cardinal tenet of Chinese New Year is today based on an unacceptable premise:  woman’s lesser importance therefore she goes where her husband goes.

It is also blind to the fact that in many, if not most families, a daughter is a daughter forever – but a son is lost when he marries, his drift is to his wife’s side.

This is the very opposite of the popular belief, but a daughter, as many traditional-minded parents have discovered, is more regular in her visits, tenderer and more concerned about the old folks than a son.  When, as if often the case, her mother helps mind the children, the bond is even stronger.

So many characteristics of the reunion dinner have changed.

Some families now go out to a restaurant.  If it is a home-cooked meal, the menu is a simplified version of the traditional one because few have the time or inclination to cook the old dishes.

Some even go away during the festive season, preferring to spend their precious leave elsewhere to visiting relatives.

For practical reasons, others cannot return home.  I remember, as a student away from home, failing to get a ticket back for that all-important occasion.  I spent reunion night with other students, whopping it up in a restaurant, none the lonelier for the experience.

If these variations are possible, why do we hang on, when the reigning spirit is family togetherness, to a practice which disregards the feelings of so many?

One solution is for couples to eat the main meal with the husband’s parents, and finish off  at her parents’ place – or the other way around.

Another alternative is for a couple to alternate reunion dinners with both sets of parents.  This means for one year they eat with the husband’s family; the next with the wife’s parents.

A little flexibility can work wonders – if you want everyone to start the New Year happy.

[Source: NewspaperSG of the National Library Board].

Another video to share the chefs working at restaurants and had to miss the reunion dinners at home with their famililes.

Although most ethnic Chinese outside of China, including Singaporean Chinese in multi-racial Singapore, the traditional once-a-year practice to celebrate the Chinese New Year reunion dinner, it is an important family gathering to set a priority for everyone.

However, there are some personal unforeseen circumstances when a few of the members of the family had to be missed from the reunion dinners.  For instance, the children overseas to work on that day, the elders who are sick and disabled, family financial situation and tight family budget. It does not need to celebrate a grand annual reunion dinner.  A simple dinner together with everyone in the family is a happy, meaningful reunion dinner to enjoy.

Please watch a sentimental reunion dinner video-clip, courtesy of James Low here .


Whether the rich (above) or the poor (below), the Chinese New Year reunion dinner are celebrated by every family once a year. [Archived photos with courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore to acknowledge and thanks to share on the blog].


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