As a Chinese-American therapist, I see many second-generation Chinese-American clients and interracial couples who seek support in navigating the Chinese culture and family dynamics. Well, the Lunar New Year is almost here, and I thought I would make a light-hearted and informative post about an aspect of our culture during this important time of the year: The Year-End Family Reunion Dinner.
The Year-End Family Reunion Dinner
The Year-End family reunion dinner is one of the most anticipated mini-event right before the Lunar New Year. The street shows and firework hooplas that you excitedly anticipate usually happen on the first of the new year, whereas the family union dinner is usually a quieter affair the night before all the festivities. Think of it as a Thanksgiving dinner but with Chinese food. It is the most important meal of the year to catch up with parents, grandparents, in-laws, and other relatives, depending on the size of the family.
Among the traditional foods are Spring rolls and dumplings, which are symbols of wealth and fortune, and a whole dish of chicken or fish represents unity and togetherness. There is also a dish called Hair Vegetable with oysters. It’s hair-looking seaweed stewed with an oyster in yummy sauce. It sounds weird, but it’s delicious, and it symbolizes good luck and fortune because of its pronunciation. Of course, this round, orange fruit- Tangerine, is usually served after the meal.
You are on the Hot Seat
Same as the Thanksgiving meal, the family gathers to eat and catch up. As much as you would love to hear good stories, often, it segues to exchanging opinions, debates, then issues. Small talks become big talks, and then everything goes off the loop. And you’re now on the hot seat. Nosy relatives who’re only seen once in a blue moon enter and interrogation starts. From good questions like “how are you?”- “how’s your business?” – “how’s your married life? ” to brow-lifting questions like, “when will you have kids?” – “why did you marry a white man/woman?”, and so on and so forth. Comparisons of yours’ and theirs’ never end. So, for someone who traveled far to be on the same table, but only to be cornered by relatives who have less to zero contribution to your life, is undeniably bothersome. You may at times want to flip the dishes on their faces, but realize it’s Chinese New Year, so you just sit on your hands.
It’s a bonus to be a part of an extended family that all gathers during Chinese New Year. Unrealistic expectations are always between the lines, and you just don’t know how to get away with it.
But, there’s a way to avoid it. That is the Grey-Rocking technique. Your goal is to become uninteresting and act like a bland, grey rock. To accomplish this:
Always respond in a dull and boring way. It makes the toxic person go somewhere else for their emotional mayhem.
Don’t show emotional reactions to their probing questions. One way to do this is to anticipate the jarring questions and rehearse the answers.
Talk about mundane or boring topics like traffic or weather. You may want to jab back at them, but is that really the best use of your energy and your zen?
Set firm boundaries.
Theories are easy. Let’s put the theories into practice. Here are some things you can say or do:
It’s a joyous time of the year seeing people and eating good food but don’t forget you are your priority, and setting boundaries is a good thing. If you want more strategies on maintaining your zen during the new year, consider talking to expert therapists who can help guide you through this process.
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