One of the greatest gifts of being in a cross-cultural or international relationship is how it changes your perspective on the world. That’s what happened to American book blogger Svetlana, who once dated a Korean guy — and at first, couldn’t understand his reluctance to celebrate the Korean Lunar New Year in America.
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“How are you going to celebrate Lunar New Years?” I asked him over the phone, holding my cell phone close to my ear.
He chuckled as if I made a joke instead of asking a serious question. “Back in Korea, there is already a holiday atmosphere, something that’s not here,” he told me. “It’s hard to get excited over Korean holidays.”
As much as I could relate to that, a part of me didn’t entirely understand. My family also came over to America and yet we celebrated Russian and Jewish holidays. So why was it hard for him to celebrate Korean holidays?
The only holidays he and I ever celebrated together were birthdays. We would talk about holidays, and I learned more about Korean culture and where he came from. But despite my wishes, we never celebrated any Asian holidays. Only a few times did we celebrate Valentine’s Day, mostly by giving each other small gifts. But other than that, nothing.
Only after he went back to South Korea did I finally understand why he didn’t celebrate Korean holidays with me.
Creating a community on your own is difficult, and holidays often mean intimate moments between family members instead of passing acquaintances or co-workers. Since I have my parents and my sister with me in America, it’s much easier to enjoy that sense of community. He was also surrounded by a Korean community, but how many of these people were his friends or family members? How many of them were able to understand and support him? I also realized it probably wasn’t easy for him to help me, an outsider, understand what to do and not to do for the holidays.
Sometimes when I met international students from China, it seemed as if they were living in survival mode. I doubted they celebrated Chinese holidays on their own. After all, when they have to worry about things like finances and even jobs, how can they have time to kick back and relax?
What if I had been an international student like him, dating a guy in that country? Would I have forsaken my own holidays, or would I have asked him to celebrate with me? Chances are, if I had worried about things like finances, I would have done the same as him.
It’s a shame I never had the chance to celebrate Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year, with my past Korean boyfriend. Still, thanks to him, now I understand more how difficult it is to be here alone in America, especially during holiday gatherings, as well as the importance of establishing a community to help you celebrate holidays. All along, I took it for granted that I was surrounded by supportive family members to celebrate the holidays with me.
Svetlana is a book review blogger. She enjoys reading unique books set in Asian cultures, from classics to contemporaries, and introducing her followers to AM/WF books that aren’t so well known. Her blog has something for everyone. She is still single.
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