A Newbie's Guide To Celebrating Lunar New Year With An Asian Baddie

When people of different ethnicities date, sharing traditions can make them feel vulnerable. Here's how to get in on the festivities in a fun and respectful way.
Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost Photo:Getty Images

Dating outside of your culture is all fun and games until you have to explain to your significant other why you鈥檙e stuffing a dirty nickel inside of a dumpling or wearing a red thong in the middle of January. Let鈥檚 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鈥檚 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鈥檝e 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鈥檛 hold a man down, I鈥檝e had to give the spiel every year, and I鈥檓 starting to get tired.

On top of that, the Lunar New Year can feel isolating. It鈥檚 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鈥檛 remember it鈥檚 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鈥檚 my advice, as well as some friends鈥, 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 鈥 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鈥檚 one constant: dumplings. I鈥檓 not just talking about a plate of 10 or so dumplings, which would probably be a regular amount for a regular day. I鈥檓 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鈥檚 face. Wearing red underwear is not only sexy, but also shows that you鈥檙e 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鈥檙e adults, the tradition takes on a fun new form.

Don鈥檛 Buy Traditional Clothing Without Consulting Them First

If you were thinking about wearing a qipao or any other traditional Asian clothes to celebrate, it鈥檚 best to ask your partner how they feel about it before you do.

鈥淚f it鈥檚 appropriate, ask them for help finding the right outfit,鈥 Liliana Rasmussen, a friend who is half Chinese, tells me. 鈥淎nd remember, it鈥檚 always better to ask rather than assume.鈥

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鈥檛 receive a red envelope. Usually, extended family would give us red bags filled with money. I know what you鈥檙e thinking: In this economy?

Times are tough and inflation has reached doomsday proportions, so if you can鈥檛 afford to bust out the Benjamins, you鈥檙e 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鈥檚 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 鈥 courtesy of my friend Amy Zheng, who runs an Asian American and Pacific Islander collective called Baesians 鈥 is especially significant during the Lunar New Year. That鈥檚 because you鈥檙e supposed to have a clean house to rid your space of bad luck.

Don鈥檛 Mansplain Anything

Sure, you鈥檝e done some well-intentioned research on the interwebs about Lunar New Year, and you want to flex all that knowledge on your boo. I鈥檒l give you your pat on the back right now, virtually. But the worst thing you can do is tell them that the way they鈥檙e celebrating is 鈥渨rong鈥 or not in line with the most traditional way of doing things.

鈥淎s Asian diaspora people, many of us experience disconnection from our ancestral cultures and traditions. So perhaps be mindful that for your partner, 鈥榗orrectly鈥 or 鈥榠ncorrectly鈥 participating in traditions might be a sensitive topic, since for many of us, our knowledge or language ability is limited,鈥 Vincent Chong, a friend in New York鈥檚 Brooklyn borough, tells me. 鈥淓specially as queer and trans diaspora and mixed people, tradition doesn鈥檛 make much space for us. So we鈥檝e got to be actively constructing new culture where we exist. There isn鈥檛 really a road map.鈥

Christopher Chin, who lives in New York, feels similarly about how removed some of us might feel from the holiday. 鈥淣ot 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,鈥 Chin tells me. 鈥淥ne 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.鈥

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鈥檚 OK. Don鈥檛 question the validity of your significant other鈥檚 way of celebrating the holiday because it鈥檚 authentic by virtue of being theirs.

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