After The Wedding: Surviving Your First Chinese New Year As A Newlywed
No matter how many times you and your partner have spent Chinese New Year with each others’ families, getting married feels like a gamechanger - firstly, because you actually have to give ang pow, and secondly, because you’ll now be fielding questions like “Soooo, trying for a Dragon Baby?”
Our writers, Gwen, a newlywed, and Diane, who is celebrating Chinese New Year for the second time as a married person, swap survival tips for the festive season:
Gwen: People have been asking me how married life has been over the past year since I tied the knot, and it’s actually been pretty similar to pre-wedding dynamics. What I’m really apprehensive about is how we’ll be navigating our first CNY together as a couple. Diane, you’ve been there, done that - any pointers you can offer me? Teach me senpai🙏🏻
Diane: I agree that my pre and post-married life isn’t actually all that different. This is my second CNY as a married person, but last year, we had a death in the family, so we couldn’t fully celebrate. So this year will be our first full-blown CNY celebration, and like you, I’m a little apprehensive.
Gwen: I think the first CNY is a steep learning curve where you may be forced to spend a longer period of time with the extended family (as opposed to the wedding where it’s just few seconds of exchanging pleasantries) and you suddenly realise that you don’t remember who is who and why Aunt A isn’t talking to Aunt B. I know that my husband being a jiak kentang struggles with piecing together faces and their salutations, and getting the Chinese salutations correct!
Diane: As a fellow jiak kentang, I definitely feel a little ashamed when my husband’s relatives speak to me in full-blown Chinese. I can almost feel their disappointment that after two years of marrying into a Chinese-speaking family, I’m still effectively monolingual.
On preparing ang pow:
Diane: Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Are you and your husband planning to prepare ang pow this year? By right, newlyweds are “exempted”, right?
Gwen: We got married in March last year, so I don’t think our relatives (and friends!) will be as understanding if we decided not to hand out ang pows this year. I know my friends are definitely dropping hints left, right and centre 😒
Diane: My husband and I still gave ang pow last January because we also got married in March of the previous year, which meant that by the time Chinese New Year rolled around, we’d been married more than 10 months and had time to financially recover from our wedding. My husband told me his relatives would understand if we opted out, but truthfully, we could afford it and I didn’t want us to look stingy during our first Chinese New Year as a married couple.
On navigating ang pow-related family dynamics:
Diane: How similar are your in-laws’ ang pow traditions to your family’s? I definitely had a hard time trying to grasp whether we still needed to give all unmarried family members ang pow, and whether we should only give them to family members who are unmarried and younger than us.
Gwen: Thankfully, my in-laws are Eurasian and do not really celebrate CNY - Christmas is a bigger deal for them, so I’ve gotta make sure I turn up. That being said, from my husband’s perspective, ang pow rules are too confusing for him and he leaves it up to my discretion on whom to give red packets to. It is a case of the blind leading the blind though, because I’ll end up consulting my mum anyway!
On dealing with (awkward) family dynamics in general:
Diane: You know what’s awkward for me? Not remembering how to address Second Cousin of Fourth Uncle. Or if his girlfriend is the same one that I met at last year’s CNY reunion dinner.
Gwen: Ooh yes, avoiding taboo topics and remembering what hot goss you’re not supposed to tell certain people, that’s incredibly challenging. My husband and I do a quick run through in the car before we visit each household on what not to say and what minefields to avoid. It’s like an elevator pitch version of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Diane: The last thing I want is to become that kaypoh aunty who inadvertently triggers sore spots, for example, asking a cousin what he’s working as after he got retrenched, or asking a couple about kids when they’re secretly dealing with infertility.
Gwen: Or bringing up someone who had recently died in front of the immediate family…as you weren’t aware, or worse, forgot about! 😳
Speaking of kids..dealing with kids
Diane: A word to the wise, don’t be that cringe relative who tries to use Gen Z lingo when you’re obviously not a Gen Z.
Gwen: Agreed. Let each generation have their own thing! One sore spot though - how does one deal with misbehaving children who are clearly being a nuisance while their parents gaze adoringly at them like it’s the cutest thing they’ve ever seen? Also, outrightly rude kids who rip open their ang pows and chastise you for the amount you’ve given them - has that ever happened to you?
Diane: I can’t say that it has but now I’m a little worried.
Any other awkward incidents:
Diane: For personal reasons, I barely drink alcohol and I never gamble. But I find it so hard to tactfully refuse relatives who press me to join in their drinking or in their CNY gambling games! As much as I believe in setting boundaries, the people-pleasing part of myself is afraid that I’m embarrassing my husband by looking like a stick in the mud. In cases like these, it’s important for my husband to support me when I say no. I’d do the same for him if it happened in my family.
Gwen: Speaking of alcohol, you know those reunion dinners where some random uncle might have had one glass too many? Then they'll start getting all handsy and verbally provocative…yikes. If I hear some drunken slurring, I make it a point to siam these people.
On managing your social battery:
Gwen: I think it’s super important to pace yourself with each visit, because all that time spent dealing with various characters and navigating touchy conversations is surely gonna drain your battery before you know it. I’d personally try and chill out at a cafe in between visits or even stop for boba or ice cream somewhere.
Diane: Chinese New Year is seriously overstimulating. It’s not just having to converse with relatives. The nonstop noises, eating, games, and screaming kids make me long for the “5 pax rule” of yore. And once you’re married, you have to do it with two sides of the family! My biggest advice is to devise a code word or signal with your spouse so that you can quickly indicate when your battery’s on red. And no matter how much fun you’re having, if your other half looks like they’re dying, you should start calling it a night.
But okay, Chinese New Year isn’t all bad….
Diane: The last thing I want to do is scare all the newlyweds, so despite all our complaining, CNY isn’t thaaaat miserable. I like connecting my husband to relatives whose company I enjoy, but whom I rarely get to see - for instance, cousins who live overseas. And while some kids are bratty, my heart melts at the cute little tikes who spout CNY greetings, and who happily accept any ang pow, regardless of the amount inside. And while neither of us are into dressing up, if we were, I can imagine it’d be fun to choose cute outfits together too!
Gwen: It’s definitely a good excuse to meet up, especially with relatives who live abroad. I mean, most people are so busy with their own lives that they barely have any time to connect. Kaypoh and toxic relatives aside, it’s always nice to hear that my cousins or nephews/nieces are doing well in their lives. And it warms the cockles of my heart when I see my ah ma beaming from ear to ear from the joy of just having everyone around under the same roof for once.