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The Meaning of Reunion Dinner for Chinese People

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Table of contents

  1. Who Joins the Reunion Dinner?
  2. Where is the Reunion Dinner Held?
  3. Activities Before and After the Reunion Dinner
  4. Impacts of Reunion Dinner on Cultural Values
  5. Conclusion

Chinese society is embedded with many traditions, norms, and a unique history of its own. Regardless of various classification among the Chinese people, they all share the same core values, identity, and language, which have been passed down over the centuries. The basic idea of consistency and togetherness is the foundation of the growth in the country and preservation of their culture. One of the key highlights is that the majority of the Chinese norms, celebrations, and traditions always have underlying connotations in addition to the literal practices. For instance, the celebration of Chinese New Year is a yearly ritual to mark the beginning of the New Year, which often bring luck and wealth to the family. However, the celebration also represents the core family values such as the importance of togetherness and harmony. In this essay I’m going to analyze the Chinese society to provide an insightful knowledge of how these people live, what traditions they follow and how they celebrate the main holiday – Reunion Dinner.

Who Joins the Reunion Dinner?

Traditionally, Reunion Dinner is celebrated privately and purposely for family members’ reconnection. It is a time to strengthen family bonds especially with members who move away from their homes or birthplace to make a living. However, in the current modern society, researchers found out that the celebration of Reunion Dinner is extended over family boundaries. People start to invite friends who could not travel back home due to work commitment. More interestingly, they will also have staffs as a part of the family dinner because of their contribution toward the success of their family’s business.

Where is the Reunion Dinner Held?

In traditional practice, Reunion Dinner needs to be held at the home of the eldest generation depending on the surviving members that can be grandparents’, parents’, or the eldest siblings’ home. Although, in today’s society, returning to ancestral home is no longer a requirement for the younger generation. The dinner venue can be flexible depending on the family’s preference. Some Chinese people even choose to dine at restaurants for practical reasons like being able to enjoy the meal without worrying about food preparation and cleaning up afterward. The place of Reunion Dinner is linked with the sense of emotional attachment of the family and therefore, is negotiable in modern days.

Activities Before and After the Reunion Dinner

Besides returning home for the Reunion Dinner, there are also activities that are traditionally required to carry out before the dinner. The family is expected to offer sacrifice to the ancestors by arranging a table of dishes with seat for each of them. The eldest family member begin by pouring drinks for the ancestors. They shall begin eating when candles and joss sticks are lit. At the same time, the remaining family member would burn some more joss sticks and worship the ancestors with bended knees. After the dinner, it is customary for the family to stay up until very late at night while continuing to catch up with one another. This custom is called “shou sui” which means families would spend the night of New Year’s Eve awake and welcome the new year together.

Impacts of Reunion Dinner on Cultural Values

Every detail of the dinner is brought out with the intent of creating the “good luck” ambiance. Generally, Chinese people would prepare eight to nine dishes for the Reunion Dinner. This is because the two numbers hold their own special meanings. Due to the phonetic similarity, “eight” represents luck and prosperity while “nine” resembles longevity. Meanwhile, the number four is avoided for the occasion since the pronunciation sounds like “death” in Chinese and therefore, is considered unlucky. Similar to the number, all dishes that are chosen and prepared for the dinner also withhold their unique meanings. Eight of the most common dishes that will be discussed are fish, dumplings, sticky rice cake, dried oysters and black moss stir-fry, lettuce, noodles, tangerines, and kumquats. These cuisines have linguistic representation that carries symbolic meanings.


In the Chinese culture, the Reunion Dinner reflects on certain values that Chinese people care deeply about such as building and maintaining relationships, social status, identity of the family/group, and symbolism of the food components.. 

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