Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.
Unnecessary Comparisons & Competitions within Family Traditions
Holidays of any kind are rather stressful and triggering for me. Chinese or Lunar New Year is one that twists me up with glee and anxiety in equal measures and has since I was a kid.
Glee because I got to openly celebrate this part of my culture at home, in school, and pretty much anywhere without the usual jeers and harassment. Plus the food was always incredible and filled with rare treats our grandparents spent weeks making for all of us. The hong bows (red envelopes with money) were less interesting to me, even after I got older and better understood the concept of “free money”.
Anxiety because it meant spending time around relatives, neighbors, and other Chinese people who compared me with my brother and cousins (and found me lacking), treated me poorly because of where my parents were in the family hierarchy, or ignored me completely. I looked younger than my age, was too smart for my own good, and acted clumsy/socially awkward compared to my socially adept, taller cousins who looked and acted more mature than their ages.
Then there are the traditions and rituals involved in preparing for the Chinese New Year holiday – some that stay the same from region to region, and others unique to family mini-cultures – that actually starts on New Years Eve with dinner. That can take up to 3 weeks of advanced preparation with all the cleaning, organizing, decorating, food preparation, and cooking involved. Finally, the celebrations may start on the evening before, but they last for 4 weeks. And each day of the first two weeks have specific traditions involving travel, visiting, receiving guests, and so on.
College Drama: A hick’s traditions passed over for a green card?
Then, once in college, I met a young man from Hong Kong through a college dorm neighbor. I want to say we were friends, but it was more one sided than that. She liked having me around because my “pathetic” existence boosted her self esteem. Plus I was at least as smart as she was so our academic accomplishments became a competition she strived to win. Since I didn’t care, she often did win.
But that’s getting away from the point. She practically worshipped this young man and wanted to stay friends with him, but he was having trouble with his green card and ability to stay in the US. Before I met him, she asked me about my heritage and how I celebrated holidays with my family. I answered her questions and reached out to other family members for more details if I didn’t have an answer. It was a good excuse for me to re-connect with that part of my culture.
A few weeks later, she came back and told me his opinion: my family and I were a bunch of hicks from the country because people in the city don’t celebrate like that. He called us country bumpkins and other terms I can’t remember.
Maybe if she waited until after asking me to go out with him and consider marrying him so he can get a green card and stay in the US before telling me that, I wouldn’t have been so rude to him when we met. Then again, maybe I would have been just as rude – but less annoying and a lot friendlier during his dorm visits.
Either way, that was the beginning of the end our our pseudo-friendship and another reason for me to hate holidays. Not the first time someone proposed marriage that way even if it was for other reasons, but it was the last time. And yes, both experiences soured me on the idea of relationships and marriage – especially with an Asian man.
Celebration with a Twist
I do my best, but cannot follow everything. The traditions I know best have been passed down from my grandparents to their children to their grandchildren (i.e. my brother, cousins, and me). Even within that large circle, some traditions have changed with people marrying in and bringing their own holiday traditions. My father’s side of the family decorates different from my mother’s side of the family. And each of my mother’s married siblings follows a blend of each side’s food and decorating traditions.
Planning my move during Chinese New Year wasn’t intentional. But the apartment came available at the right time and for the right price. I had the money mostly saved up and a plan to cover the rest of my other expenses. Plus the act of packing up my old place to move in to the new one constituted cleaning the whole apartment and discarding anything old, broken, unwanted, or holding me back with the end of the year – part of the holiday preparation 🙂
While I couldn’t decorate the new apartment with traditional good luck and prosperity symbols, I was able to do some laundry, change my sheets, shower, put on clean clothes, and cook a small meal with the basics of a traditional dinner on Friday evening. Then rest quietly until bed time and spend Saturday relaxing or napping as I let my body heal from the physical stress of packing + working + coping with many triggers and 0 down time all week.
In the end, I was able to reclaim another holiday the trauma had taken away from me.
A new home.
A fresh start.
An auspicious new year.
HAPPY 2020 YEAR OF THE RAT
Thanks for reading.