Am I turning into my older relatives for Lunar New Year?

Oh dear.

Natalie Teo |
January 11, 2023, 2:11 am

We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.

The festive season really sucks for some of us.

I should know, I grew up dreading the Lunar New Year period every single year.

Prying questions about my grades, my relationships and the relentless body-shaming from older relatives I barely knew or cared about are really all I remember about these visits.

Of course, my quintessentially Asian parents were rarely on my side, constantly joining in to mock me and compare me to my more successful, well-adjusted (and thinner – because this is so important) cousins.

Gatherings like these would take a toll on anyone’s mental health.

Especially when you don’t meet the stereotypical Asian markers of success – a well-paying job, a “traditional” marriage, kids and somehow still managing to stay rail thin after all that.

Two years later

While Covid-19 upended most of our lives, one silver lining for me was the brief respite from these large gatherings over the last two years.

But with stepping into my 30s, I’ve also seen my mindset towards this dreaded time of the year shift.

No, I haven’t gaslit myself into believing that these people only meant well.

I just no longer see my older relatives, who gave me lasting New Year trauma, as evil. Rather, I view them with a mix of relatability, sympathy and pity.

It’s a strange feeling to no longer be the youngest generation at the table.

As the older relative (I’m an aunt to a few kids now!), I feel obliged to be the one initiating conversations with the younger generation, and making them feel included.

The truth is, this is hard.

There has gotta be a reason why we don’t see each other more often, right? Photo by Wan San Yip/Unsplash.

And looking back, the sullen child that I was probably made it even harder for my extended family.

The breadth of shared human experiences across generations is really not that wide.

After talking about the weather (hot), current affairs (depressing), politics (warning–might start a fight), there really is nothing much left to discuss.

Desperate to revive the dying conversation, I find myself having to bring out the big guns.

“So, how’s school?”
“Got a boyfriend now?”


I’m not proud of it, but I can certainly say that I can empathise better with my relatives who asked me these questions growing up.

Time’s arrow marches forward

It’s something that has always been at the back of my mind, but with every year that passes, my older relatives seem to number fewer.

While we’re in the prime of our lives, looking forward to the milestones ahead like new jobs, becoming homeowners or raising families, they are entering their sunset years.

If this time of the year is hard for the young, I don’t think it is any easier for the old.

The Lunar New Year may be meant for families to gather and catch up, but it is also a reminder of the passage of time.

Not being able to partake in the usual visitation routine for the past two years meant very little to me.

But for my older relatives, it meant not knowing when – or if – they would see their sibling or cousin again.

After all, I have lost at least three grandaunts and granduncles in the last two years.

It may be some ways yet, but I can only imagine that when I reach that age, each gathering will be compounded by a certain sense of loss and the unkind inner voice that suggests, “You’re next”.

It’s not that hard to be nice

While I will always be annoyed, I now feel a certain sense of pity towards my relatives who seem to derive joy from making others uncomfortable, intentionally or otherwise.

I’ve learnt from the family newsletter (i.e. my mother) that more often than not, pesky family members who resort to digs about my appearance, relationships, jobs or grades, don’t have much going on for them in life.

This, of course, does not excuse bad behaviour.

But it certainly provides context for why they act the way they do.

With age and experience, I have definitely learnt how to advocate for myself.

(My methods are more subtle and a lot less funny.)

I also see this as an opportunity to do for the younger generation what my parents couldn’t for me—shut down these negative interactions when I see them.

Intervention doesn’t have to mean directly butting heads with rude relatives.

As a conflict-averse person myself, I’ve found that the best way to approach this is to create a distraction like interjecting to offer a snack or a drink.

This usually pleasantly surprises the interrogator, while giving their victim an opportunity to exit the unwelcome conversation.

But the truth is, I will never enjoy celebrating this festival, especially not with near-strangers who I have to tolerate the company of, just because we are related by blood (they probably feel the same way about me).

But check with me in a few decades when my days are numbered and perhaps I might have a completely different opinion.

Images by Galen Crout/Unsplash

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