When I was growing up, I used to enjoy celebrating special occasions and holidays. Be it Chinese New Year, Christmas or even birthdays of friends and family members, I took the many opportunities to catch up with kith and kin, and took part in all the accompanying revelries.

However, as I grew older, these celebratory occasions became less joyous and meaningful for me. Working life, caring for children, and taking care of household chores – all these made me feel pressured and less willing to participate in, much less organise, any kind of celebratory activities. I felt little enthusiasm for them, but I had never once revealed my true feelings. But as push comes to shove, something was bound to crack, as it did during Christmas last year…

For example, when it came to Chinese New Year, I would go on overseas holidays with my husband and two kids, instead of visiting family. And to ease the pressure off managing the money spent during Chinese New Year, I even denied my children access to their red packets, which, of course, made them unhappy.

For birthdays, I would simply ask friends and family members to tell me what they wanted directly, or they would just receive shopping vouchers. I had begun to dismiss the feelings of friends and family, and attached much lesser significance to what these holidays and occasions meant!

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On Christmas Eve, right after dinner, our family took to unwrapping their presents. Everybody was happy… till they came to unwrapping my gifts for them. To my horror, our family helper had wrapped all the presents in the exact same way, in small boxes using the same wrapping paper without any tag to identify what’s what, so it was impossible to say which was for whom!

I gave out the presents, with little idea of what they were. And so, my two kids got two large ceramic garden gnomes (which, by the way, were really ugly); my husband got an electric shaver which he already had (I made the excuse that I thought it was time to replace it); and my single, elder brother got a supermarket shopping voucher (“for your future family”, I said jokingly).

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But when my mother-in-law unwrapped hers, everyone got a shock: It was a box of condoms, extra-large sized, and strawberry flavoured. Luckily, being good-humoured, my family laughed it off, and the gift was passed to my brother, whom everyone thought was the right receiver of the condoms. I laughed with them, but inside, I was sure they felt disappointed, and I felt deeply embarrassed and guilty.

Even though my family did not find out the real cause of the incident with the presents, it was enough to break me out of my complacency and thoughtlessness. I now realise that holidays and special occasions such as birthdays don’t revolve around gift-buying or our personal enjoyments, but are really about being sincere in our actions, thoughts and feelings, and to show how much we care for our loved ones.