The Reunion Dinners / 团圆饭

Though the intention remains the same, Reunion Dinners have changed and modernised over the generations.
Life used to be much simpler. Frugal living was the way of life, and having bread and water as staple everyday food was the way to be. It’s only during New Year’s eve, where after the best food were offer to the gods and ancestors as thanks giving, will there be a feasting and celebration of the year’s passing. 
The celebration of this annual reunion differs in northern and southern parts of China. People in northern parts of China prepare dumplings, as a symbol of gold ingots and prosperity in celebrating and the welcoming of a new year. In southern China, glutinous rice balls are a must and are meant to symbolise the harmonious gathering of the family.
The food prepared is usually an expression of the wishes and hopes for the new year. In our modern day, dishes served during reunions are therefore unambiguously name to express good luck and well-wishes for the new year as well. 
“Lou Sang” is such a dish that’s popular amongst Malaysians and Singaporeans during reunion dinners. When read in Cantonese, it’s translated as the ability to catch fishes. For traders and businessman, it symbolises the survival, abundance and growth of their businesses; as for the working class, it symbolises progress and promotions in their careers.
Better late than never
With changing times, modernisation has gradually influence and even changed the traditional idea of returning home for reunion dinner on new years’ eve. Must reunion dinners be celebrated at home and only on the eve of the new year? This is no longer the case in today’s context. 
Everyone wants to be home for reunion. For some of us who are from outstation working in the cities, the journey home may take hours of travelling. To avoid the heavy traffic and crowd, some chooses to only return home after the eve of the new year. 
Miss Yan, who works in a hospital in Singapore, due to work schedule is only able to return on the second day of the new year. She shares “I would love to be home for reunion with my family, but sometimes its beyond my control due to work schedules”. She continues to share, for her the significance of reunion is the gathering together of the family. As long as she’s home for the New Year, the timing of when is not as important as it’s better late than never. 
Dining out has become the norm
Reunion dinners used to involve the entire family, each helping out in their own way to prepare. This lively scene of gathering and working together as a family has gradually disappeared. The younger generation who are working in the cities rarely cook at home due to work commitments, and they would usually just make it home in time for reunion. In order to solve the hassle of preparing for reunion dinner, many are choosing to go out to a restaurant for reunion dinner instead. 
As we become more affluent, and its business as usual for a lot of restaurants, people are willing pay to enjoy a little convenience. One the one hand, one can reduce their mum’s toils in preparing for the reunion dinner; on the other hand reunion dinners can be celebrated in the comfort of air-conditioned restaurants. 
Ah Hui shares, “I usually celebrate reunion dinner with my uncles and their family. It’s quite a task to prepare food enough for the 20-30 of us. Hence we choose to eat at restaurant”. Even if one chooses to eat out, advance bookings are required and have to be arranged a month before. Any later and there will not be any availability. 
In recent years, dining out for reunion dinners has become the norm, and restaurants are often filled with patrons. With limited seating, to address the demand whilst not losing the business, restaurants have resorted to allocate time-slots for diners.
Reunion dinner as a formality
Dining out for reunion is not all that rosy either. With shortening of time and the increase in guests, service at the restaurants are compromised. For some, it’s a very long wait for the dishes. Ah Hui shares, “We would usually rush through our reunion dinner in restaurants within one to two hours. Even before we have had much opportunity to catch-up with the family, we have had to take our leave.”
Traditionally, reunion dinners are enjoyed slowly with the gathering of the family, greeting each other and chatting of the year’s passing, and strengthening bonds. Hence reunion dinners celebrated at restaurants have been reduced to just a formality, it’s meaning diluted, as we rushed through the dinner and make way for the next family gathering. 
Ah Hui also remarks, the children at reunion dinners are nolonger interacting or chatting with elders, and instead they are fiddling with their smart phones or tablets. As such, reunion dinner has become just a gathering of the elderlies. 
Importance of reunion 
Ah Hui and his family decided to celebrate reunion dinner at home this year. He says, “It’s still better to celebrate reunion dinner at home. It not only give the younger generation an opportunity to sharpen their skills in the kitchen, but it is also the teaching and sharing of our heritage and culture to the next generation.”
He adds, the dishes prepared at home are not comparable with those by the restaurants, but at least it can be enjoyed leisurely. One can also opt for take-away as an alternative to dining in restaurants. For places like Taiwan, Singapore and other regions, there are services that deliver new years’ eve cuisines directly to your homes for your convenience and enjoyment. 
With changing habits of our modern life, the way we celebrate reunion dinner have evolved to cater for our needs. Nevertheless, the intentions remain the same. Even if we are gathered together, but our minds are preoccupied with other matters, reunion is still meaningless. After all, reunion dinner is about the gathering together as one family, one heart!

Leave a Reply