updated 10 Feb 2010, 12:23
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Wed, Feb 10, 2010
The Straits Times
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Tradition trumps Valentine's Day
by Jessica Lim

SINGAPOREANS have long been accused of blindly aping Western traditions, but the numbers surrounding Feb 14 this year give the lie to that claim.

Only 30 marriages - a 10-year low - will be sealed this coming Valentine's Day, down from 221 last year.

Courting couples are not rushing into making reservations for romantic candlelit dinners either, prompting some restaurants to slash prices for pairs of diners.

The reason: Feb 14 happens to be the first day of the Chinese New Year, and family and traditions are more important.

Records from the Registry of Marriages show that of the 30 couples tying the knot that day, only half of them are Chinese. Last year, over three-quarters of those who got hitched on Valentine's Day were Chinese.

For Ms Linda Lim, 26, getting married on Valentine's Day was an option until she realised it coincided with the Chinese New Year.

She said: 'If I have my wedding then, the attention will be on us, when it should be on the elders. It's disrespectful.

'Valentine's Day is nice, but I want to spend it visiting my family.'

For Ms Michelle Lim, 26, who got married last month, a Feb 14 wedding day would have got in the way of celebrating the Chinese New Year properly. She said: 'Chinese New Year is much more important to me. It's about family bonding.'

A Nanyang Technological University professor who specialises in urban culture said this mindset is encouraging.

Assistant Professor Michael Tan of the university's School of Art, Design and Media said observing Chinese New Year traditions ties people to their roots and the community.

He added: 'It fosters interpersonal relations, which these days have been undermined due to our touch-and-go lifestyle.'

In the meantime, those adamant about getting married this Feb 14 are up against road blocks: Solemnisers, for example, are taking the day off.

Bride-to-be Rigelica Maie Coleman, 46, and her groom, both half-Chinese, want a Feb 14 wedding because it is the fourth anniversary of their meeting.

Rejected by three solemnisers, the couple finally found an Indian semi-retired solemniser to conduct their nuptials.

Even hotels and restaurants are none too interested in offering wedding packages for that day. The Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, the Ritz-Carlton and all 25 Tung Lok Group restaurants, for example, have not had a single wedding booking.

It is just as well, because 'we can concentrate on reunion and family dinners, which give us better returns', said Tung Lok's chief executive Andrew Tjoe.

'We prefer big groups to couples anyway,' he added.

Restaurants more traditionally linked with romancing couples have also noticed a cooling in the race for tables on Feb 14.

Garibaldi Italian Restaurant & Bar in Purvis Street, for example, has so far received 85 reservations for its six-course dinner that night - half the number it had garnered by this time last year.

It is offering a 10 per cent discount for holders of certain credit cards, which it did not have to do last year.

And Italian restaurant Donna Carmela in Greenwood Avenue will charge about $60 a head for an a la carte meal during the Chinese New Year, half the cost of last year's Valentine's Day menu.

Will diners be enticed?

For some courting couples, the answer is no, if it means missing out on time with family.

For example, Miss Penelope Lim, 19, and her boyfriend agree that love can be celebrated another day because Valentine's Day 'is such a small thing compared with the Chinese New Year'.

Consultant Ruth Chua, a 43-year-old mother of three, also said she will not contemplate going for a cosy dinner with her husband: 'It is unheard of in our family. I am traditional and the family reunion is important to me.'

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Additional reporting by Mou Zong Xiao

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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