My First CNY With The In-Laws

Adding a novel dimension to their spring festival, Adam embraced his in-laws and their dynamic culture when he first joined the Lu clan’s celebrations as part of the family.

As Chinese New Year approaches, like a latecomer to the festive party of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, the chilly air and hum of the heater always takes me back to my first Spring Festival as a married man, which was also my first Spring Festival where I felt part of the festivities rather than a volunteer from the crowd at some awkward shopping mall performance.

I had met my wife’s parents before, but that was all before the rings and “I do’s.” Now I was part of the Lu clan, I was unsure what that entailed, what new expectations were now upon my shoulders, whether or not I would have to endure some kind of initiation. Faith’s dad was far from Al Capone, yet I have to say as we headed along Dongguan Avenue, I was a bit nervous.

…Pulling up on the drive it’s clear we would have to park down the road, as cars cram every available spot. The house is full of hustle and bustle, but there are basically three groups, the grandads are in the garden smoking, the grandmothers are cooking while discussing who is and isn’t married yet, and the younger people are all looking at their phones. I fit into neither group, so I count how many chickens are in the garden; 17, the answer is 17. At dinner folded tables are unfolded, red wine and apple vinegar bottles are opened and the feast begins. There are the usual two long tables, the older generation and the younger generation, however my inclusion has spawned a new, somewhat exclusive group, the English-speaking kind.

There are the usual two long tables, the older generation and the younger generation, however my inclusion has spawned a new, somewhat exclusive group, the English-speaking kind.

My wife always told me that when she was younger, she felt overlooked at family gatherings, somewhat forgotten in the crowd. But as the only female in her family with a foreign husband, she now can’t escape the spotlight. During Spring Festival, I introduce some new activities alongside TV and gossip, such as the family game of “Monopoly.” Faith’s father is a gentle and patient man, but will always tell everyone exactly what they are doing wrong and what they should do. I find it funny how he takes on the role of Monopoly consultant with every player whether they encourage it or not. Faith’s mother and I share a simple conversation; she tells me to “Duo Chi Dian” which means “Eat more!” To which I reply, “Hao;” and proceed to eat more. I couldn’t help but notice it was the same phrase she said to the remaining 16 chickens in the garden.

The great thing about Lu family dinners is that I don’t have to clean up or even help take away the dishes—the first time I picked up a plate to take to the kitchen, I was scolded by a group of aunts who insisted I sit down, put my feet up and let them do it. I didn’t want to be rude so I agreed. The older women are in the kitchen cleaning, the old men are smoking, the young people are on their phones again and now there are definitely 16 chickens left in the garden.

Not long after dinner the youngsters decide that setting off fireworks in the village square would be a good idea, so we set off on a walk through the smoky streets. Upon reaching the village square we find some like-minded people who had already started—reckless just isn’t a strong enough word to describe what I saw—so I hung around at the back with flashbacks of all those fireworks safety adverts I watched as a kid around Guy Fawkes Night.

Later that evening as we all huddled together wearing big winter coats in the living room, my first real experience of Chinese New Year was coming to an end as a true participant. Faith’s family had made me feel welcome throughout the day, I was grateful to them for that. For Chinese families, it wasn’t common to openly express feelings with words, so I never told Faith’s mother that I was thankful for the way she welcomed me so warmly into her family. Not long after that day, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer—my one regret of that first Spring Festival is that I never got to tell her I was thankful to her before she died. I guess we never know which Spring Festival will be our last, so it’s important to cherish each one with the people we love.