Chinese New Year is here again!
For us here in Singapore, the same proceedings take place every year. Reindeer and snowmen decorations morph into firecrackers and ( this year) Ox figurines at our malls. Chunlian, or CNY couplets, sprout on doors, walls and even windows in our neighbourhood. And oh of course, the music.
However, this year’s CNY is our very first with Covid restrictions in place.
Each household is only allowed to receive eight visitors per day. Outside home, we have to keep our masks on when we ‘lohei’ or toss the yusheng, and forget about shouting the usual auspicious phrases too. At restaurants, multiple-table bookings are prohibited unless it is from the same family.
However, all is not lost. Here are some ways you can keep the festive spirit up while observing the rules.
Shop away from peak periods and crowded areas
There is much to purchase and prepare for the festivities. Reunion dinner is just the first meal of many and even with fewer people visiting due to the new guidelines, most still want to stock up on goodies and snacks, not to mention buying new clothes!
We shouldn’t be like the crowd in Chinatown last weekend.
The shoppers paid no regard to social distancing guidelines and went about their CNY shopping errands packed shoulder-to-shoulder as if Covid never happened.
At least they seemed to learn their lesson. The crowds became much smaller after the National Environment Agency stepped up safe distancing measures in the area.
We may be doing well on Covid cases, but CNY shopping crowds still pose a risk if a cluster pops up again.
So how do we get what we need while still being considerate and safe?
One way is to avoid peak periods. Head to the shops during off-peak timings when there are fewer people around. Supermarket chains like NTUC FairPrice are extending their shopping timings and are keeping neighbourhood stores open during this period.
If you haven’t already done so, start shopping earlier rather than later. This allows you to plan your trips better and to give yourself the option of coming back another day if your favourite shop is overcrowded.
Another way of avoiding the crowds is to hit the less popular places.
While Chinatown is still the best place to go for all your CNY needs, don’t discount your local neighbourhood malls and shops. The heartlands are filled with hidden gems just waiting to be discovered.
These shops may not be as bright and bustling, but they will probably still have what you are looking for. As they tend to be more “hidden”, crowds would be smaller. This makes it safer and faster for us to complete our shopping, not to mention also supporting the smaller “mum-and-pop” shops!
So while I’m sure many of us want to enjoy the hustle and bustle of CNY shopping, let’s not forget the broader picture and spare a thought for others (and ourselves!) and shop responsibly.
Give e-hongbao instead
Giving and receiving hongbao or red packets are an indispensable part of CNY celebrations.
Yet with Covid, some people might be a little wary of exchanging these small packets of good fortune in person.
For one, there’s the physical factor. We are already discouraged from handshakes and other forms of touching, so even passing a hongbao may leave some people uncomfortable.
Moreover, due to the limit of the number of visitors allowed per household per day (more on that later), meeting the extended family is going to be tough.
Luckily, there’s e-hongbao.
It was already available here before Covid happened but it only really took off in China as a more convenient way to give hongbao to relatives.
Thanks to e-hongbao now being available on PayNow, we have a safer way to give and receive some hongbao cheer with the relatives this year. It also allows us to continue spreading the joy of CNY within our families (and friends!) even if we are physically apart.
And since we’re evolving some traditions, why not fully embrace it? Some banks are reporting ‘overwhelming’ demand for reservation of new notes due to Covid restrictions.
What about this: Let’s go fully digital with hongbao, and if we do give physical red packets, let’s not use new notes at all!
The monetary value does not change regardless of how crisp each banknote feels. It might even help with saving the environment.
Let’s not forget the true meaning behind giving hongbao – that is to wish good luck and prosperity to our loved ones. The monetary value is great but it should be secondary. So how we receive it and in what form we give it shouldn’t be as important as the joy we share when we do.
Communicate with your relatives and schedule your visits accordingly
Due to the recent increase in local Covid cases, restrictions on group-numbers have been tightened for the CNY period.
This year, those with big extended families may not be able to enjoy the same festivities (multiple mahjong and blackjack tables, anyone?) as previous years.
But we can use what we have learned during Covid to celebrate CNY with our families too.
Set up a family WhatsApp group (if you haven’t already created one) to schedule who’s visiting whom, when and where. The rest can Zoom in with a group call. It’s not exactly the same, but at least everyone will get a chance to catch up. Who knows, maybe even the older relatives might get a kick out of the novelty of seeing each other on an iPad!
Bonus: The WhatsApp group would be a great way of staying in touch after the CNY period too.
The smaller groups could also allow for more meaningful conversations with our relatives. During previous CNYs, homes would be so jam-packed with visitors that it’s difficult to move around the house, let alone talk to everyone for longer than a cursory interrogation by that auntie or uncle.
In another sense, this occasion gives us an opportunity to bond more with relatives whom we get to see only once a (Chinese New) year. Finding solutions to small problems like these could bring a family closer and imbue this CNY with even more meaning than the previous years. This gives us more hope and power in our collective fight against Covid.
Still much to be celebrated despite limitations
It’s evident that this CNY will look and feel very different from previous ones we’ve had.
The many things we aren’t allowed to do serves as a constant reminder of the trying times we now live in. Yet, we can pat ourselves on the back for making it through the tougher times when Covid hit the hardest.
As community cases have greatly decreased since then and restrictions are being slowly and steadily lifted, our goal now is to make sure that Covid cases stay diminished.
While we ring in the Year of the Ox, let’s not forget our fight against Covid and the role we all have to play. As long as we do so, we’ll be a step closer to being rid of Covid for good, so that we can go back to a restriction-free CNY in the coming years!