The television is always on. On the eve of the Lunar New Year, it would likely be a live telecast of the annual Lunar New Year variety show I’m half-heartedly watching while our mother nags at us to hurry with last-minute spring cleaning tasks.
Throughout the new year, no matter whose home we are in, the television would serve its purpose playing some kind of festive white noise in the background, adding to the atmosphere even when no one is watching.
For as long as I could remember, the Lunar New Year has always been marked by a cacophony, jarring but not entirely unenjoyable.
Sadly, we didn’t grow up with the ear-splitting bangs of lit firecrackers during Lunar New Year as they have been banned in Singapore since 1972.
I’m lucky to have precious childhood memories of Lunar New Year celebrations at my grandparents’ house in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where my uncles would set off long strings of fire-red firecrackers, then various smaller, less intimidating novelty fireworkers like the egg-laying hen or battle tank much to our amusement.
From the crunch of festive snacks by the handful from red-lidded plastic containers to the clatter of chopsticks and sizzle-crackles of stir-fries in the kitchen, I would say the best soundtrack of the Lunar New Year has to be the chatter and conversations—catching up with extended family on new things that had taken place in the past year, sometimes just regurgitating the same pleasantries year after year.
This year however, Lunar New Year feels much quieter as Singapore continues to impose strict Covid-19 restrictions. Most notably, households may only receive up to five visitors a day. Everyone is also encouraged to take a rapid antigen test before gatherings.
No doubt that has broken the fast-paced rhythm of back-to-back house visits, typically squeezed into two weekends for Singaporeans who celebrate, mostly ethnic Chinese of the diaspora who make up over 75 percent of the population.
Pre-pandemic, the Lunar New Year is typically a hive of noisy activities celebrated over 15 days consisting of temple outings, extended family visits, and, for us, hasty trips to Malaysia to see my grandmother in the years before she passed on.
The current restrictions mean we suddenly found ourselves with free time as our usual commitments and gatherings are canceled.
These past few days into the Lunar New Year, we’ve gone cycling, made crêpes for lazy impromptu brunches at home (since the second day of the Lunar New Year this year coincides with La Chandeleur), headed to the musem, and gone for walks with my parents.
It’s not the same Lunar New Year I’ve grown up with but I’m appreciating the newfound calm especially as the pandemic lingers on.
Even though most of us have been trapped on the island for the past two years, life has not slowed down. We’ve found ourselves juggling remote work, distance learning, the ever-changing measures, and adapting to more hours than we would have liked at home with our partners. Even finding new things to do on weekends has somehow become a drag once the thrill has worn off.
This feels like a more restorative start to the Lunar New Year where we slow down and take a step back—learning to strike a balance between spending time with the people who matter and mindfully pressing the reset button on how we want to live our lives in the new year—instead of rushing from house to house with angpows (red packets) and mandarin oranges or lamenting how we are losing another year in the pandemic.
Years ago, I’ve lugged home in my luggage a pasta maker I bought on sale in France and I’ve talked about making pastas and noodles with my mother ever since. While slightly ashamed to say we haven’t yet done this, I think it’s probably high time for me to unbox the pasta maker and finally put it to good use this year.