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传统的可变与不变

2006-09-24 13:26

  On Chinese New Year's Eve, while many will gather for the reunion dinner, others will head for the airport or train station to “flee” from such festivities.

  With a growing number of Singaporeans going on overseas tours during this time - some to give Chinese New Year celebrations a miss - the Chinese New Year holiday which used to be a lull period for travel agents has in recent years become a peak season.

  Isn't Chinese New Year the most important traditional festival for the Chinese? Well, for those who choose to take flight, it means an opportunity to enjoy a holiday out of the country. The concern is, if even Chinese New Year can be ignored, what other traditional festivals cannot be disregarded?

  Why do we need to preserve traditional festivals?

  Firstly, they are inseparable from our ethnic identity. The Chinese, Malays and Indians all have their own traditional festivals from which they derive “a sense of belonging to a particular community”。 So if any Chinese does not see himself as one, there is no need for him to celebrate any Chinese festivals.

  True, everyone has the right to reject traditions. The problem is: You cannot deny your ethnic origins or change your skin colour. We are born with a certain skin colour which cannot be “bleached”- if one has a “yellow face” and yet refuses to identify with the Chinese, who else can he or she identify with?

  Secondly, the fundamental spirit of the more than 2000-year-old Chinese New Year is closely intertwined with the traditional culture and values of the Chinese. At its core is the Confucian value of“仁”or“benevolence”- to be “benevolent is what makes humans truly human”。 The word “仁”also means two persons or person-to-person when you break it up. In today's language, it can be described as interpersonal relations.

  Traditional Chinese festivals invariably centre on maintaining and improving human relations.

  Reunion dinner helps to deepen family ties while the exchange of gifts and greetings enhances relations between friends. To skip the reunion dinner and stay away from Chinese New Year means losing many great opportunities to forge stronger kinship and friendship ties.

  On the other hand, people who grieve over and lament the loss of traditions would do well to do some re-thinking.

  Are there elements in our traditions that have become outdated? Should we be more concerned about the meaning of a tradition or the form it takes?

  To keep up with the fast-changing times, we can change the way a tradition is observed without it losing its meaning.

  A tradition must be capable of being passed down from one generation to another. Yet this does not mean traditions cannot be changed. Over the years, the way Chinese New Year is celebrated has always been changing. The most obvious example is: We no longer light firecrackers.

  Many found the ban hard to accept when it was first imposed here years ago. Without the sound and fury of firecrackers, they felt that Chinese New Year just seemed to have lost its festive atmosphere. But the lighting of firecrackers is by no means a must. Many big cities in China have introduced a similar ban.

  As for the reunion dinner, it can be eaten at home or a restaurant. The venue is immaterial - the important thing is the presence of all family members.

  To adapt a tradition to changing circumstances does not signal the demise of that tradition. On the contrary, it is by adapting that we can preserve and safeguard traditions. Of course, this must not be done at the expense of the true spirit of any traditions.

  Even for people who prefer to take a holiday during the Chinese New Year period, some may do so only after having the reunion dinner and may visit places like China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan which also celebrate the festival. They are not shunning Chinese New Year as such, just spending it in other places. But those who do not even bother to have the reunion dinner may be “overdoing things a bit”。

  The sad thing is that some will deliberately pick some destinations with few or no Chinese at all. Well, if some people are determined to have nothing to do with traditions, there is not much that we can do.

  (The writer is an Executive Sub-editor of Lianhe Zaobao. Translated by Yap Gee Poh.)

  你过年,我避年;除夕夜,有人合府共享年夜饭,有人一家分头赴机场、火车站。

  过去,每到年关旅行社就几乎“冬眠”,如今风气大变,越来越多人出国旅游,有些人是为了避年,旅行社的生意像冬天里的一团火。

  不是说春节(农历新年)是华人最重要的传统节日吗?在那些避年者眼里,春节的意义是:利用假期出国逍遥。连最重要的传统节日也可以不要,还有什么传统节日不可抛?

  为什么要保留传统节日?首先因为这些节日是跟自己的民族身份分不开的。华人、马来人、印族人过各自的传统节日,他们就有了“我是这个民族的成员”的自我意识。如果有哪个华人不认自己是华人,他当然也就没有庆祝华族传统节日的必要。

  每个人都有权放弃传统,问题是:你没法放弃你的民族特征,没法改变你的肤色。人的肤色是与生俱来的,现在还没有一种漂白剂,能将有色种人来个全身“漂白”,你也没法改变那黄棕色的脸。你不愿跟自己的民族认同,你想跟谁认同?

  其次,延续了两千多年的春节其基本精神是跟华人的传统文化与价值观分不开的。以儒家为代表的传统意识,其核心是一个“仁”字:“仁者人也”,这个字分来就是“二人”,也就是“人”与“人”,用现代的话来讲就是人际关系。

  华族的传统节日都离不开维系人伦与增进人际关系这个基本主题。通过团圆饭,增进亲情,通过送礼拜年,增进友情。错过了团圆饭,避开了农历新年,那就等于错过了增进亲情与友情的大好时机,那是不是一种损失呢?

  那些面对传统失传而痛心疾首的人也要好好反思:我们的传统是否有些过时的成分?我们是重视传统的内涵,还是传统的外壳?

  为了适应时代,我们在保留传统的精神实质的前提下,可以改变传统的表现方式。传统必须能一代一代往下传,不能传的,还能叫“传统”吗?传统也不是一成不变的,两千多年来,庆祝春节的方式一直在变,一个最明显的改变是:过年不再燃放爆竹。

  在新加坡禁止爆竹之初,很多人一时没法接受,认为没有爆竹就不像过年。如今连中国大陆的大城市春节都禁燃爆竹了,谁敢说春节非放爆竹不可?

  再说说年夜饭,可以在家里吃,也可以到酒楼吃,在哪里吃并非最重要,最重要的是一家人要团圆,可见传统是可以改变的。

  改变不是为了告别传统,恰恰是为了更好地保留好传统、捍卫好传统。如果改变带来的是传统精神的丧失,那是不值得鼓励的。

  就以新年期间出国来说,不妨做具体分析,如果是全家高高兴兴吃过团圆饭才出国,所到的还是华人生活的地方(如中国大陆、港澳、台湾),在那里还能感受到浓浓的春节气息,那叫做“易地过年”而不是避年,有何不可?连团圆饭都不吃就走,那是不是走过头了?

  遗憾的是,有些人刻意找个没有(或极少)华人的地方避年,有意跟华人传统“绝缘”。对于这些下定决心要“永别传统”的人,我们能做什么?只能是“有看法,没办法”。

  。作者是早报执行级编辑

  《联合早报》

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