I spent the first 20 years of my life in China. Holidays in America always remind me of the ones I had there. Fourth of July is equivalent to October First as a day to celebrate the founding of the nation. Memorial Day is similar to Qing Ming, a day to remember the deceased. Qi Xi is the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
The closest Chinese holiday I can think of that’s like Thanksgiving, is the Lunar (Chinese) New Year. Families and relatives get together, cook a big meal, and express gratitude for the past year and best hopes for the future. And while both holidays are about family get-togethers, Chinese New Year is way more intense.
Americans complain about booking airline tickets around Thanksgiving and coping with traffic jams. But it’s really no comparison to the crowds flooding major train stations around Lunar New Year. For workers who are tight on money, this is the only time of year that many visit their family. Last year Chinese travelers made 3 billion trips in the 40 days before and after the holiday.
For Americans, the busiest travel time of the year doesn’t even fall on the day before Thanksgiving—Americans travel more for summer vacations.
The American saying is, absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s joyful to think about reconnecting with the ones we miss and those who love us, until reality kicks in. Americans may be arguing about politics and religion this year, but for Chinese, there will be stressful confrontations over personal matters.
When are you getting married? What’s the plan on having kids? How about purchasing properties? How much did you make last year? Chinese relatives and families are not afraid of asking difficult questions, because they all love you.
The big meal
In the US, the most searched question on Google related to Thanksgiving is “How to cook a turkey.” Over 80% of American millennials this year worry that their turkey might be over-cooked.
Well, that’s just turkey. For the family dinners I helped prepare with my parents and grandparents, fish, chicken, pork… they all have to be there. It typically involves days of preparation with the fresh ingredients to make steamed whole fish, rice cakes, egg dumplings symbolizing luck and prosperity, and it takes us several days to eat them all.
When I look at every aspect of Thanksgiving that creates stress, I think about the same thing for Chinese New Year and know how it can be worse. But all these years, I’ve never ceased to love and miss Chinese New Year, the chaotic travel to finally arrive at home. I’ve waited hours in the airport because of weather delays; woken up early in the morning to hunt for fresh, expensive produce in local markets; and years later I no longer remember the arguments we all had. Time has turned them into understanding of the differences among us.
The holiday is stressful but it creates shared memories—good and bad—which is something both cultures have in common as we head back home to celebrate with our families.