A new wife’s thoughts on tradition

THIS is my first Chinese New Year as a married woman. As the festive day draws closer, I've found myself often thinking about tradition, culture and where love comes in.

For those of us who are ethnic Chinese, the New Year is the most important date on the calendar. It's when family reigns supreme, tables are laden with delicious food and children flit around collecting ang pows. Of course, no matter where you look, someone is eating mandarin oranges or peanuts.

The eve of Chinese New Year is when families hold reunion dinners in their hometowns, and it is arguably the meal of the year. In China, people start travelling two weeks before. Here in Malaysia, we brace nine-hour jams without question, often with full bladders.

As a Chinese girl, tradition dictates that when a couple enters marriage, the woman officially becomes part of the man's family. From that day on, every reunion dinner should be spent with the man's family in his hometown.

This is what I grew up with. I spent nearly all the reunion dinners in my life with my father's side of the family. Then on the first or second day, we'd pack our bags and head to my mother's hometown to continue the celebrations.

In long existing cultures, there are countless traditions in the context of marriage that often determine gender roles and responsibilities. But as years have gone by and the world has taken a more egalitarian approach, couples are starting to change things up and finding the middle ground.

I personally know of couples who alternate between whose side they go to for reunion dinners. There are also couples who choose to continue with the old tradition, and do so happily. These couples have found other ways of balancing the scale, in that sense. So neither approach is wrong, but since it's now my personal reality I've been giving it thought.

Traditions are a tricky thing. I often struggle to find a balance between safeguarding my culture by observing traditions and fitting them into my framework of moral values and beliefs. Where one draws the line, it's hard to say.

If we look back through history, traditions were birthed by the habits of a few – usually influencers with political, economic or religious authority – then embraced by many. Many cultures have been lost along the way as younger generations exchange traditions for seemingly greater freedoms.

My husband and I are part of this younger generation, and so we are responsible for our culture and traditions. Both of us are proud of our Chinese roots, but also acknowledge that some of the culture's practices and traditions don't sit well with our values and beliefs. So we let them go.

It is a sobering thought, to think that eventually the traditions we have known and grown up with may no longer exist. Or perhaps it is simply the reality of life. What I have found is that genuine, sacrificial love in a relationship makes all the difference.

If love between two people is independent of expectations defined by culture but on the constant choice to choose the other's happiness, there is room for traditions to stay. These may not be in their original form, but the essence of respect, loyalty and sacrifice will remain.

You may be wondering whom I'll be spending the reunion dinner with. Honestly, I'm very blessed to have grown up in an amazing family, and married into an equally amazing one. So I'll be at my husband's side this year. For now, it's a tradition we're willing to keep.

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