Wear red underwear. Pay your debts before Chinese New Year (CNY). These are some of the traditions and superstitions that form part of the CNY celebration and festive experience.
How relevant are these traditions and superstitions today? Yahoo Southeast Asia gathered responses from Gen Z’s and millennials on their thoughts on CNY traditions and the probability of them standing the test of time.
Personal schedule and preferences
“I respect and adopt the traditions as long as it doesn’t clash with my school or work schedule, ” says Year 3 Singapore Management University (SMU) Business School student, Ayumi.
“I don’t really bother about what colour I wear during CNY. I want to wear what I think looks nice and that I am comfortable in,” claims small-business Thulium Records co-founder Phillip Poon.
As society evolves and a new generation emerges to partake in cultural traditions, they must cater to the cultural and lifestyle demands of our progressive society.
Increased pace of life, availability and individual needs factor into public receptiveness towards embracing festive traditions.
Money and superstitions are key driving factors
“I’d rather buy costumes or outfits to wear on a daily basis than a one-of purchase,” claims Ayumi. The 21-year-old, who is currently pursuing a Bachelors’ degree in Business Management, expressed her deterrence in purchasing festive garments like the Cheongsam due to rising prices.
“COVID made people realise how much money they can save during festive seasons if they were not to participate as much and be more selective of gatherings,” says Poon.
I’d rather buy costumes or outfits to wear on a daily basis than a one-of purchase.
Content creator and host, Royce Lee, 31, has also noted an increase in friends inquiring and paying their financial dues in the weeks leading up to CNY as compared to the rest of the year.
“I think everyone is more jittery during this month to repay the money they owe me. My friends have been messaging me actively this week to ask ‘How much do I owe you?’” claims Lee.
Superstition also plays a part in the fulfilment of traditions.
“I think that people wouldn’t feel comfortable owing money through the new year because they believe in luck and this causes a placebo effect,” says Poon.
Parental obligation and cultural responsibility
“The problem is not just society itself but the passing down of generational values from the older generation to the younger generation. Your heritage is formed by your ancestors,” says Jet Ho, creative director of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Association.
The 34-year-old believes it is the duty and obligation of parents to pass on traditions to their children.
I purposely buy a new outfit when I do house visits. It’s a form of respect to my relatives.
He also believes that conveying the meaning behind traditions can help the younger generation understand the importance of upholding them.
“I purposely buy a new outfit when I do house visits. It’s a form of respect to my relatives. I also understand that the meaning of having the reunion dinner is to sit down as a family and have cohesion. That is why I actively participate in this tradition,” says Ho.
Mixed views towards the continuity of festive traditions
Gen Z’s and millennials have dissonant views towards the continuation of CNY traditions and superstitions.
Ayumi, who is part of the Gen Z generation, expressed a general decline in a need for social gatherings since COVID and growing up as a digital native.
“I feel that people of our generation may not continue the tradition of visiting extended family during CNY. We still hold New Year celebrations once a year, but I’m quite pessimistic overall,’ shares Ayumi.
Alexis Chew, 23, also expressed similar sentiments about playing a more active role in carrying out CNY traditions. The idea of hosting larger scale gatherings in the spirit of bai nian (wishing somebody Happy New Year in Chinese).
I feel that people of our generation may not continue the tradition of visiting extended family during CNY.
“As a younger person, it is a bit weird to organise an extended family gathering and invite your elders. The organising is usually done by someone older in the family,” says the Lasalle College of the Arts graduate.
For CNY traditions to stand the test of time, it would seem that the responsibility falls on the older folks to educate and encourage the younger generation to continue such practices.
Meanwhile, millennials seem more enthusiastic about the return of social gatherings during the CNY season and carrying out festive customs.
“I kind of miss visiting family. Because of COVID I haven’t been able to see them for the past two to three years. This time round, it will be quite refreshing to see them and catch up,” says Lee.
The way forward seems to be to inculcate traditions as trends and to set activities for the purpose of reconnecting and bonding with loved ones.
Social factors also play a key role in the continuation of cultural traditions that help build the festive spirit and atmosphere.
Lastly, Gen Z’s and millennials need to make sense of and find individual meaning in the practice for a grounded reason to continue partaking in CNY traditions.
“I appreciate the Chinese New Year for giving me the opportunity to participate in these traditions in an extended family setting,” says Chew.
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