Going home for the holidays can be a nerve-racking experience in any culture. All families tend to have their own traditions and unique ways of doing things and no one wants to inadvertently cause offense or hurt feelings. The experience is especially complicated for the many foreigners who will spend Spring Festival with loved ones in China and experience frsthand this most important of all traditional Chinese holidays. Whether you have a Chinese family of your own or you will be accompanying a Chinese friend to his/her home for the holidays,we provide a few tips here to make spending the holidays with a Chinese family a bit easier.
The nice thing about visiting Chinese families is that while it is polite to bring gifts, generic gifts are expected and even welcome. You don’t have to go overboard, nor do you have to spend a lot of time picking out something personal for each family member. A gift box of in-season fruit, a carton of cigarettes, and a nice bottle of local spirits are safe bets for practically any family makeup. If there are elderly people in your host’s family some vita mins or traditional Chinese medicines are good gifts which show your respect and care for the older generation.
Don’t forget the hong bao
Hong bao are red envelopes filled with money, and for Chinese children, getting hong bao is the most exciting part of the Spring Festival holiday. If you’re out of college, and especially if you’re already married, prepare hong bao for the younger members of the family. Find out ahead of time if there are any children in the family and set asideenough money to make sure you can give them each a little something. You don’t have to blow your entire savings on hong bao for the entire extended family, but if there are any younger brothers or sisters in your friend’s family, nieces or nephews, or if your friend has children of his/her own, preparing a hong bao is customary, and, while not expected from a foreign guest, would be a nice touch and a good way to return some of the hospitality you’re being shown. You can put a s much money as you like in the hong bao but 100RMB is a good amount – not too much or too little. If you’re younger and unmarried,be prepared. The family may give you a hong bao themselves! If this happens, accept it graciously and be sure to thank them profusely.
Try a little bit of everything
Try to sample all of the dishes on the table, but be warned, if you particularly like a dish, your Chinese companions will be sure to load your bowl up with your favorite until you have to physically stop them. You might want to let your host know ahead of time if you have any allergies or if, for instance, you can’t handle spicy foods, especially if you’re dining with a family in Yunnan or Sichuan, where practically every dish is loaded with lajiao, or hot peppers. Your hosts will feel bad if you are unable to eat any of the food prepared because it is too spicy or was cooked in peanut oil and you’re allergic (and they might even go so far as to get up and cook a new dish just for you). So give the person who invited you some advance warning about any food issues so the cook scan be sure top repare something suitable for your palate.
Be prepared to watch TV
After the big meal, most Chinese families will sit around the TV and watch the Chunjie Lianhua n Wanhui, or the Chinese New Year’s TV Gala. There is a bilingual version on CCTV 9, but even so, the New Year’s Gala can get kind of dull if you’re not a native Chinese speaker and it can be hard to keep yourself from nodding off. Politely watch the TV Gala with your hosts for a while, and if you get bored you can suggest taking the children outdoors to set off fireworks. Chances are the kids are just as bored as you are and just looking for an excuse to get away from the TV as well.
Wear new clothes
On Chinese New Year’s Day it is traditional to dress in new clothes. Most parents will buy t heir children a new set of clothes for the occasion,so if you’re a parent and celebrating Spring Festival with a Chinese family,make sure that your own children can participate in the tradition by buying them a new outfit for Chinese New Year’s Day. The out fit does not have to be particularly fancy, but some families will use this occasion to dress their children in traditional outfits, or tangzhuang. Other families will simply buy a nice set of regular everyday clothes. If you’re an adult,you do not have to dress in new clothes, but make sure the clothing you wear on New Year’s Day is clean
and does not look too worn. Be sure to compliment the children in your family on their beautiful new outfits.
As the guest, your host’s family will probably fuss over you, worrying over whether you’ve brought warm enough clothes, piling extra blankets on your bed, and making sure you have enough to eat. The at tent ions of a Chinese family can be a bit suffocating at times, and it is hard not to get annoyed sometimes by all of the extra attention. Just remember that their attention,however unwanted, is coming from a place of caring. Try not to get visibly aggravated even after grandma suggests for the 16th time that you probably should wear more layers or when auntie thrusts yet another banana into your hand because you look hungry. Politely thank them and accept their hospitality, even if it is annoying, because in the end you’re only spending a few days there and it will make them happy to be able to take care of your needs and to know that the foreign visitor was happy and comfortable during their stay.