The Holidays (part 1)

My blog has been a bit neglected lately due to the end of semester, the holidays, JMM, and then more holidays. So I thought it might be interesting to write about how I experience the holidays as an ABC (American born Chinese; now that I think about it, this may or may not be a term that is only okay to use if you are an ABC).

My parents don’t speak English, and so the only holidays they know are the ones that commercialism and the NYC public school system aggressively marketed about 15 to 20 years ago, i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. I have to note that I’m super not sure my parents know the origins of Thanksgiving or Christmas and that they may be excuses for my mom to do some of her favorite activities:

  • gather her children (my sister and I),
  • cook way way too much food,
  • tell us that we need to exercise more, and
  • heavily hint (or blatantly state) that we really should be trying to find 男朋友 (boyfriends) so that we’re not alone later in life.

A note is that the direct translation of 男朋友 is “male friend” which makes it sound less weird when you’re no longer the age where boyfriend/girlfriend sounds appropriate? Maybe? Anyways, that’s how Thanksgivings, Christmases and New Years go in my household. In fact the only difference from when my sister and I are normally home is the “way way too much food” vs. the normal “way too much food”. Each picture is most of the food of “one meal” for 4 people who don’t actually eat that much. At least one of these pictures is just a casual Saturday.


  • I have tried to prevent my mom from cooking this much and not succeeded.
  • I think this stems from when money was way tighter and my mom is still trying to make sure that we eat enough. I always thought salted fish and cabbage with rice was a reasonable and delicious meal. Exposure to the media has informed me that this is not the case. (For those who don’t speak Cantonese, that’s a super old song that says something to the effect of “When I’m with you, even salted fish and bok choy is delicious.”)
  • I promise that we just spend days eating leftovers and that all of the food does eventually get eaten.

Now, I was always under the impression that we didn’t celebrate a holiday that resembled Christmas. This is in part because in the two months leading up to Lunar New Year, there are quite a few things that my mom requires us to be home for. But I just refer to those things in Chinese, so I never quite made the connection. This year, my brain finally realized that we celebrate the winter solstice….with more food. If you’re keeping count, that’s 4 large meals from mid November so far.

One of the other things my mom requires our presence for is this surprise “holiday” that’s not actually a holiday. It’s called “还福“ which roughly translates to “returning the luck”. It’s a tradition where we make a bunch of food and give thanks to ancestors and spirits for the good luck that we’ve experienced throughout the year. There’s no set day for it; from what I can gather, each family consults the calendar to see which day is auspicious at least a month before the Lunar New Year, and it has to happen before noon. I have asked my parents why it’s called “returning the luck” and if it means that we should not do anything that requires large amounts of good luck in the time period between this and the New Year. Alas, the only response I received was laughter. So if anybody reading can answer such questions, please shoot me an email. This brings the meal count up to 5.

Another thing that also tends to happen in this time frame is that my sister, my mom, and I manage to have birthdays that land within 30 days. (My sister and mine are fixed, but my mom follows the lunar calendar.) So that at least in part explains these:

Not pictured is a cheesecake and some other desserts that also managed to happen. Despite that fact that we will at some point go out to dinner to celebrate, my mom with inevitably celebrate each event with another large meal. These bring the way way too large meal count up to 8. Again, I promise that everything does eventually get eaten, and admit that leftovers are a tad odd on days 4, 5, … But mid November through January 1st is not the time period for becoming a fitter human in my family.

The one non-food thing that happens is that my parents live sort of near this Italian neighborhood where a large number of houses decorate extravagantly for Christmas. It’s become such a thing that there are tour buses. So going anywhere near that neighborhood by foot or car from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is…. an experience. But we inevitably forget and get trapped at least once every year. This year was no exception:

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So this wraps up how I experience the “holiday season” aka the time period from late November to January 1st. This is followed up by the Holidays (part 2), aka Lunar New Year, which I may also write about in the near future.

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