Dating outside of your culture is all fun and games until you have to explain to your significant other why you’re stuffing a dirty nickel inside of a dumpling or wearing a red thong in the middle of January. Let’s face it: The Lunar New Year is filled with traditions that, unless you grew up in an Asian household, can be difficult to articulate.
My mom is Chinese and my dad is Mexican, so he had a lot of learning to do about my mom’s culture (and vice versa). As a queer man who lives in one of the most diverse cities in the world, there have been plenty of times that I’ve dated people of color outside of my own culture and had to teach them how to celebrate the Lunar New Year as well. Unfortunately, since I can’t hold a man down, I’ve had to give the spiel every year, and I’m starting to get tired.
On top of that, the Lunar New Year can feel isolating. It’s a holiday associated with so many tender memories of family and home, and it can be difficult to feel like no one around you is making a big deal out of it. Worse still is when your significant other doesn’t remember it’s the Lunar New Year and you have to passive-aggressively remind them. So those lucky enough to be dating Asian baddies who celebrate LNY, I decided to make your life easier. Here’s my advice, as well as some friends’, about what you can do with or for your significant other to show them you care about the holiday.
Go Out To Eat Dumplings Together — Or Better Yet, Make Them At Home
Lunar New Year traditions vary widely throughout the diaspora, as the holiday is celebrated in China, South Korea, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. But for many households, there’s one constant: dumplings. I’m not just talking about a plate of 10 or so dumplings, which would probably be a regular amount for a regular day. I’m talking about an excessive, borderline-gluttonous amount of dumplings.
Just like many Americans can remember having way too much turkey or mac and cheese on Thanksgiving, we have memories of bursting at the seams on Lunar New Year from eating entirely too many dumplings. So making new memories together can be a thoughtful gesture.
Surprise Them By Wearing Red Underwear
This is a detail that would definitely bring a smile to your significant other’s face. Wearing red underwear is not only sexy, but also shows that you’re paying attention to the smaller details. When we were growing up, my mom always made sure we wore red underwear to maximize good luck and fortune in the new year. Now that we’re adults, the tradition takes on a fun new form.
Don’t Buy Traditional Clothing Without Consulting Them First
If you were thinking about wearing a qipao or any other traditional Asian clothes to celebrate, it’s best to ask your partner how they feel about it before you do.
“If it’s appropriate, ask them for help finding the right outfit,” Liliana Rasmussen, a friend who is half Chinese, tells me. “And remember, it’s always better to ask rather than assume.”
Wearing traditional clothing without asking your partner can be a huge turnoff. They themselves might have no connection to that part of their culture, so it could end up making them feel fetishized or alienated.
Give Them A Red Envelope (With Literally Anything Inside)
No Lunar New Year would feel complete to me if I didn’t receive a red envelope. Usually, extended family would give us red bags filled with money. I know what you’re thinking: In this economy?
Times are tough and inflation has reached doomsday proportions, so if you can’t afford to bust out the Benjamins, you’re better off putting something else in there like a gift card, a concert or plane ticket, or something that they can use and that feels intentional. It’s the act of being given a red bag and opening it that feels special, rather than the cash itself. You can buy the red bags in your nearest Chinatown if you live in a big city or on Amazon.
Deep-Clean Their Home
This is pretty self explanatory on any given day, but this suggestion — courtesy of my friend Amy Zheng, who runs an Asian American and Pacific Islander collective called Baesians — is especially significant during the Lunar New Year. That’s because you’re supposed to have a clean house to rid your space of bad luck.
Don’t Mansplain Anything
Sure, you’ve done some well-intentioned research on the interwebs about Lunar New Year, and you want to flex all that knowledge on your boo. I’ll give you your pat on the back right now, virtually. But the worst thing you can do is tell them that the way they’re celebrating is “wrong” or not in line with the most traditional way of doing things.
“As Asian diaspora people, many of us experience disconnection from our ancestral cultures and traditions. So perhaps be mindful that for your partner, ‘correctly’ or ‘incorrectly’ participating in traditions might be a sensitive topic, since for many of us, our knowledge or language ability is limited,” Vincent Chong, a friend in New York’s Brooklyn borough, tells me. “Especially as queer and trans diaspora and mixed people, tradition doesn’t make much space for us. So we’ve got to be actively constructing new culture where we exist. There isn’t really a road map.”
Christopher Chin, who lives in New York, feels similarly about how removed some of us might feel from the holiday. “Not everyone who celebrates LNY here in the U.S. has the privilege to understand or be connected to the cultural significance of a lot of the traditions,” Chin tells me. “One piece of advice is to remember to center your partner and be aware that there can be a variety of ways folks feel about celebrating it.”
This advice is pretty consistent across the board. Feeling like your partner is genuinely curious about you and your personal traditions makes you feel good, according to my mom.
Again, keep in mind that the Asian diaspora is enormous and extremely complex, and each household has their own way of doing things. Sometimes we invent things, and that’s OK. Don’t question the validity of your significant other’s way of celebrating the holiday because it’s authentic by virtue of being theirs.