From Chinese New Year To Christmas in July?

A Chinese style Christmas stockingJohn never looked more upset the moment I lifted our artificial Christmas tree — up and out of the living room.

“What are you doing? Don’t move that,” he said.

“But it’s embarrassing,” I said, not glancing back at him as I carried it into our bedroom. “Just think if our guest saw it.”

“Nobody cares, just leave it out.”

“Look, this isn’t just another Chinese New Year decoration you just hang up all year long.” I glared at him as I said it, the kind of glare that says, “Don’t even try winning this argument.”

Outside, the sun’s rays turned the field across from our place into a shimmering green, where the crack of baseball bats and the barking of dogs trailed by owners in shorts and T-shirts reminded me the holidays had long gone. But you wouldn’t know it by the Christmas tree, stockings and string of holiday lights in our home — decorations that, to my Chinese husband, deserved a place in our home the entire year, just like the red couplets or “Good Fortune” characters decorating the homes of most Chinese.

Blame it on me. Didn’t I dub Christmas “The Chinese New Year of the West?” I wanted John to feel closer to the holiday, and to understand that it meant as much to us as Chinese New Year meant to him, a holiday that even he looked forward to all year round as a child. So when John suggested leaving up our Christmas decorations until Chinese New Year ended, of course I agreed. What better way to reflect our family’s traditions than by honoring both of our holidays together, from the day after Thanksgiving to the end of the first month of the Chinese New Year?

But I forgot about one critical difference between our respective holidays — unlike their Christmas counterparts, Chinese New Year decorations never come down. In John’s family, the auspicious couplets his father writes on red paper stay pasted by the door the whole year, only to be replaced by a new set, a set that reflected that new year and its new zodiac animal. They don’t have a stash of keepsake Chinese New Year decorations, like the ornaments we made in elementary school or the Christmas stockings my mom knit by hand for my sister and I. For me, half the fun of each year involved the “rediscovery” of all our Christmas treasures. Did I cherish my mom’s Christmas stocking even less because it hung over John’s head all the time?

Besides, what would this guest think if she saw our Christmas decorations still out? She was an American, and most Americans, just like my stepmother, would have put away their Christmas things by the first week of January. Any longer than that and you ventured into honest-to-goodness freak territory — like the neighbor who kept his wreath hanging on the side of his house all year round, and looked to us like a real-life bizarro hiding a secret Stephen King kind of life behind his doors. Even though I never shied away from being different throughout my entire life, well, I just didn’t want that kind of different, staring my guest in the face in our living room.

In the end, I put my foot down — and put that tree away, along with the condoms, that ugly brown box filled with snacks, and almost everything else I considered too embarrassing for a guest. That evening, we had a fantastic time with the woman we invited over, who loved the food we made — and hoped to return the favor by inviting us to her place.

But it wasn’t until weeks after the fact that I explained to John the problem with Christmas decorations in the summer. After I told him, he laughed in realization. “Now I understand,” he said.

But the truth is, I understand him too, in a way. I know why he wanted those Christmas decorations up all year — because he believed they brought us good fortune, just like those his family would put up around their home every year. So I conceded one thing, or rather, a few — I let him keep the Christmas stockings out and that string of lights, which most people never really notice anyway because they’re in the corner. And if anyone asks me this summer, well, I’ll just smile and say, “Haven’t you heard of Christmas in July?” 😉

Have you and someone you loved ever misinterpreted the meaning of a holiday (or its decorations)?

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15 Replies to “From Chinese New Year To Christmas in July?”

  1. That’s actually interesting, but I can’t think of any scenarious where someone misinterpreted meaning of holiday or decorations. Closest one I can think of is the fact that my Korean ex thought that he wasn’t allowed to eat or try to some Jewish cooking.

  2. Most of China holidays do not have a theme so perhaps that is a reason your husband wants to keep the decorations up.

    In the US, we can decorate for Valentines, Easter, July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and whateverelse a person wants to celebrate.

    I miss US especially NYC. Living in Asia is great for the experience but there is nothing like NYC.

  3. I keep my Christmas decorations on until passing Chinese New Year. There is a strict clergy calendar in Cathelic Church, but I want to honour Chinese New Year. I take day off on Chinese New Year every year, just to make a statement.

  4. Christmas in July? Interesting. But why not? Everyday is Christmas day or CNY if you are happy, otherwise what is there to say? But seriously, I too like to keep the CNY decos on till at the least Chap Goh Meh or the fifteenth day of CNY. And although we are not Christians, we sometimes do buy at least a small decorative Christmas tree and some decorative lightnings to celebrate the occasion. We Malaysians celebrate all the major holidays of the races here. But it can get to be embarrassing to keep the festive decos far beyond their day.

  5. At first I thought this post was kind of being mean to John. Mostly because I always feel heart-broken when the Christmas decorations come down haha, so I could understand him feeling sad if he’s used to keeping CNY decorations up all year long. I didn’t take down a lot of the indoor decorations until I moved to a new apartment in April this year. I took down the outside stuff, but inside is my space, you know?
    I’m not a Christian but I love family traditions, and maybe because I’m away from my family I feel like it (leaving xmas deco up) keeps the memories closer or something.
    About being embarrassed of what your guest would think… Well I guess I don’t really pay attention. My friend came to visit me before Christmas ’11 and then told me to take down my decos when we video chatted. my answer “but its pretty” (in a whiney voice).
    The tree of course I have to get rid of New Year’s Day or Jan 2, because I will only buy a real Christmas tree, and they die lol. That would probably be bad luck in Chinese.
    The whole decorating the day after Thanksgiving I didn’t understand, but I don’t decorate until like 2-3 weeks maybe before Christmas, 2-5 days if I’m feeling lazy.

    The funny thing is, with your insight to Chinese leaving CNY deco up all year, it makes me excited to go to China for holidays 😀 Sad right? <3

  6. This really made me chuckle. It is sad to put them away – I always miss having the lights on at night. I’m not really superstitious but I think a lot of people try to take them down before the 12th night of Christmas. If you don’t, they should be left up all year!

    My Mum has a collection of singing soft toys/ornaments for my nephews and niece that she adds to every Christmas. I cannot tell you how glad I am to see them locked away every year, especially the singing trout! haha.

  7. preserving tradition is a good thing and oh by the way, the offspring of Chinese men and Caucasian women are really beautiful, Chloe Wang and Adrianne Ho being 2 good examples. Cheers !

  8. In my opinion, Asians need more testoterone to boost up our personalities and charisma!!! I wish more asian men can talk like we’re fighting then we can break most sterotypes :). Just acting like it is okay as long as we can break sterotypes :). We are taught to be gentle and show our abilities under the radar and that’s considered weak. I always like to see more asian men who are successful in their careers and physcially fit and get their hands dirty if they want to and be on top!

  9. I noticed the survey did say younger people report discrimination at a higher rate than older generation. Also most Asians are new immigrants. I think it makes sense because most older generations are less assimilated. Therefore, they are less aware of all the problems. Recent immigrants also tend to work hard and strive to succeed as outsiders. They also mostly focus on education and economic success.
    Asian women are more assimilated than men. They are given more chances to assimilate.

    I will take these research findings with a grain of salt. Most new comers might also view model minority a good thing. Let’s hope there will be more researches reporting breaking the bamboo ceiling.
    Irish and Italians were once social outcasts. When will the day come for Asians (Asian men) not being viewed as outsiders (or perpetual foreigners)? Will America become color blind?

  10. I think John is right about keeping the Christmas decorations up into the New Year. It’s fun and festive to keep them up longer. In America, we are too pressured to move on to the next thing because we are so overmerchandized. We rush out to buy a Christmas tree after Thanksgiving and throw it out as soon as Christmas is over (we always buy fresh, never artificial). Something is wrong with you if you still have your Christmas tree and house lights up after New Year’s Day. Americans are too uptight about appearances. I’m the last one on my block (in Southern California) to take down the decorations and throw out the Christmas tree in mid-January (February, if it weren’t a fire hazard), and I like to keep the Christmas lights on our house until after New Year’s (and it’s not because I’m also a little lazy). Sounds like John’s a cooool dude and chillin’ out, watching his Christmas lights blink. I’m with him.

  11. One thing I’ve noticed in both Jilin and Jiangsu provinces is that many small mom and pop stores and bars have Santas and banners saying Merry Christmas up all year round. The only place that I saw removed them was a new western style shopping mall in Kunshan.

  12. I love this Jocelyn! I’m so sorry it took so long to have you over!! Knowing this happened before I visited is outstanding, and completely understandable. I definitely believe you should start a Christmas all-year-long holiday, but I also understand the joy of opening up the box of Christmas every year.

    I truly hope your trip is going smoothly. I will try to come see you both when I’m in the midwest again!! Safe travels!


  13. Also…on a random note. I’ve had at least two “Christmases” where our decorations were up until April or May at least. It is not so uncommon, particularly if your family uses an artificial tree, is a busy family, and loves the beautiful lights….

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