How Being “Married to China” Changed How I Celebrate My Wedding Anniversary

8525005221_9c01c8ced0_zWhen July rolls around, I’m guaranteed two things – plenty of sultry summer weather (especially here in Hangzhou, considered one of China’s “furnace” cities) and the yearly round of congratulations from American friends and family on another wedding anniversary with Jun. Nowadays it comes virtually through e-mails and Facebook messages; when we used to live in the US, it would arrive via greeting cards with silver-embossed print and sentimental prose neatly tucked into pale pink envelopes.

As a child and adolescent, I watched my parents mark their yearly wedding anniversaries with the appropriate festivities – fancy dinners out, weekend getaways, and of course gifts like jewelry. I also grew up in a culture so invested in the idea of celebrating wedding anniversaries that there’s an entire etiquette surrounding the appropriate gifts to mark wedding anniversaries. (Did you know, for example, that you’re supposed to give silverware on your fifth wedding anniversary?)

So it might surprise you to learn that whenever someone congratulations me on our wedding anniversary, sometimes it feels strange.

Why would something I was raised on now seem foreign to me? Well, there’s a personal reason for that – namely, my Chinese husband John. He doesn’t celebrate wedding anniversaries, which is how people are in China. And after years of being married to him, the idea that wedding anniversaries demand celebrations has fallen off my radar.

Why is it that people here don’t celebrate wedding anniversaries? Well, given that people in China hardly celebrate their own birthdays (or, for that matter, birthdays of family/friends), is it any shock that wedding anniversaries don’t count as a significant event? I wonder if it has to do with attitudes towards love and marriage here. In China, love is something implied, inherent in any marital relationship. It doesn’t need to be restated again and again (the way Americans and other Westerners can’t stop saying “I love you” to their spouses or partners). By that rationale, maybe it doesn’t need to be celebrated in some obvious, Hallmark kind of way either.

The thing is, as blasphemous as it might sound, I like the simplicity of this all. I like the fact that a wedding anniversary doesn’t require the cards, dinners out, getaways or gifts. I like knowing that, here in China, my anniversary isn’t something in the spotlight. It’s something that’s private and personal. Something that John and I can celebrate however we want to.

John and I may never mark our anniversary the same way my parents used to – and that’s okay in my book. The most important thing is that we’re still together as a couple, still married for over 11 years (yes!) and still crazy in love.

How about you?

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29 thoughts on “How Being “Married to China” Changed How I Celebrate My Wedding Anniversary

  • July 27, 2015 at 8:58 am
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    Really? You got anniversary cards from someone besides your husband? In my American circle of family/ friends, we kind of leave it up to the couple to celebrate their anniversaries on their own. I have no idea when any of my siblings’ or parents’ anniversaries are unless they post them on FB.

    I suspect a ploy by greeting card companies.

    Of course, this lack of external celebration might also be because marriages aren’t exactly lengthy in my family. I never knew silverware was for your fifth anniversary. Probably because my various parental units never got to 5? 😉

    Reply
    • July 31, 2015 at 10:36 pm
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      “my various parental units never got to 5?” LOL Autumn, your comments always make me smile!

      Reply
  • July 27, 2015 at 10:14 am
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    I think it is the same in Taiwan – people don’t really celebrate birthdays, but I am not really sure about anniversaries.

    We never get any cards or anything from anyone, but my husband and I always celebrate both of our anniversaries [Taiwan and Canada ones.] Like I wrote in a previous post, so many marriages end in divorce these days that love is worth celebrating. http://foreignsanctuary.com/2015/07/06/five-key-factors-to-a-happy-successful-marriage/

    Reply
    • July 31, 2015 at 10:38 pm
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      Thanks Constance! So true…with divorce increasingly common, love is indeed worth celebrating!

      Reply
  • July 27, 2015 at 12:51 pm
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    No one other than my cousin (she has an amazing memory) remembers Ming and my wedding anniversary. I usually forget myself. It’s right before Christmas which is right before my birthday which is right before New Year’s. Who can remember anything at that time?

    I don’t think my parents make a big deal out of their wedding anniversary either. I guess every family is different. I have also found Chinese people don’t do much to mark anniversaries or birthdays, but I suppose that may change. Any excuse to demand a present from the hubby!

    Reply
    • July 31, 2015 at 10:39 pm
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      Ha ha, yes, it’s never bad to have an excuse to demand a present from the husband! 😉

      Reply
  • July 27, 2015 at 1:24 pm
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    It is the opposite here in India!

    Birthdays are ALWAYS celebrated. It is a big deal… no matter the age. In fact, if people had not flown in from various countries and cities for my partner’s mother’s 85th birthday on Saturday, she would have been terribly hurt. I was once in terrible trouble as I nearly wasn’t back for one of her birthdays – you do NOT want to know what I had to pay to change the ticket and alter work arrangements!! She wants to be fussed over and fetted. It means she is loved.

    You would think with so many arranged marriages, wedding anniversaries would be very understated affairs. While not such a big deal as birthdays, attention is starting to grow marking these milestones too.

    We just came back from celebrating my parents 50th anniversary. While the ‘normal’ ones tend to slip past without much notice, the ‘big’ ones are a big deal!

    Reply
    • July 31, 2015 at 10:40 pm
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      Wow, that is interesting Carissa — I didn’t realize b-days were so big in India. And interesting that wedding anniversaries are gaining more attention.

      Reply
  • July 27, 2015 at 4:14 pm
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    I think Chinese aren’t really into sending cards – any sort of cards. I still remember trying to hunt down Happy Birthday cards some years ago. And simple things like postcards before that (I found those even harder to get). It’s a bit easier nowadays, especially in cities like Shanghai – the made-for-foreigners supermarkets now carry them.

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  • July 27, 2015 at 4:42 pm
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    Yeah, Chinese don’t celebrate those. And my husband is soooooooooo not Chinese! We celebrate anniversaries of our first meeting, of the day we got our “husband&wife papers”, of the wedding… We celebrate our birthdays and the best thing of all – my in-laws learnt it from us! They started to celebrate those after I said once that life is short and we should celebrate as much as we can – just because we can, it’s automatically worth celebrating. They adopted this idea and we are celebrating everything we can 😀

    Reply
  • July 27, 2015 at 4:58 pm
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    Since my parents divorced when I was a child, wedding anniversaries were never a thing in my family for obvious reasons. Mr. B’s family celebrates his parents’ wedding every year though. They usually throw a relatively big dinner for family and friends.

    I personally don’t think much of anniversaries in general, so I don’t think i will do much in the future for my own wedding anniversary..

    Reply
  • July 27, 2015 at 8:04 pm
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    I have never seen birthday cards sold in The Gulf.

    Birthdays and engagements are celebrated in this ultra conservative corner of the Middle East but not in the open. They do at home. hotels or behind close doors. The locals are generous; they really know how to put out a good spread even for their foreign colleagues. Their ‘parties’ are more frequent than ours in the West.

    They will bring in food, chocolates etc to share with their foreign colleagues. too. I have never been given cheap chocolates etc. Oh yes, they do quality chocolates in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia; local too and in my view, superior than French, English Artisan, Belgium, Swiss.

    Reply
  • July 27, 2015 at 9:13 pm
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    Happy anniversary! Even if you decide not to celebrate it 😉
    I am not great at celebrating things either… this year we totally forgot our 3 year anniversary, haha (well as there has not been a wedding involved yet, maybe it is easier to forget?).

    Reply
  • July 27, 2015 at 11:15 pm
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    Happy anniversary!

    Your post reminds me the time I asked Sing when is his parents’ wedding anniversary (this year they should mark 30 years together) and Sing was like ‘No idea, you know we don’t care’. I forced him to ask his mother but reaction was identical. That’s why I keep reminding him a month before the anniversary that the big day is coming. Sadly, no one besides my parents remembers 🙁

    Reply
    • July 31, 2015 at 10:45 pm
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      Thanks Lina! Sounds like my husband…he didn’t know his parents’ wedding anniversary either. It’s just not in the culture here.

      Reply
  • July 28, 2015 at 11:06 am
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    I am happy for the both of you with the happy marriage, Jocelyn. 🙂 I can’t believe I have been reading your blog for many years now.

    Dawen and I just eat out on our anniversary (and sometimes just for Taiwanese beef noodle – ha). 😀

    Reply
  • July 30, 2015 at 4:11 am
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    When I was married to Cai, we celebrated our anniversary but only because I mentioned it. We didn’t really know which to celebrate, thought, because our civil ceremony was several months before our banquet. In the last few years I’ve forgotten those dates (like I couldn’t remember which dates they fell on) and resorted to photos to stir my memory. Cai had never celebrated his birthday before we met, but after that we did each year.

    In Hong Kong, where we met and married, people went all out for birthdays. All those delicious cake stores made it so easy. Cake stores were used to personalizing birthday cakes in either Chinese or English. I learned this quickly because I moved to Hong Kong two weeks before my 20th birthday and my roommates went all out with gifts, cake, and dinner. Even more fabulous than in the U.S. They taught me well!

    Reply
  • July 30, 2015 at 9:17 pm
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    We havent celebrated our wedding anniversaries either, just went once to eat out thats it 🙂
    My parents are pretty much the same, they only celebrated big anniversaries like the 25th 30th and so on

    Reply
  • August 2, 2015 at 11:29 am
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    My fiance’s parents don’t celebrate their wedding anniversary either (they moved to the US from Shanghai). I don’t think he’s even seen their wedding pictures actually! I think we will celebrate our anniversary though since he’s almost as American as I am. That reminds me, the next time I see them I should ask about their wedding. His mom is sweet and we get along really well. I definitely want to incorporate Chinese traditions in our wedding!

    Reply
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