US National Holidays: Ambivalent Embrace?


As a child growing up in an immigrant family, Western or U.S. specific holidays were always an odd experience for me. Then when I moved to China, China specific holidays were even more odd!

Christmas light decorations; lot of effort to put these up!
Typical American Christmas light decorations; lot of effort to put these up!

I’m talking about ones that are particular to a country or region, as opposed to religious holidays like Christmas which go beyond borders and even cultures, though they are often seen through a national filter too.

For me, holidays such as Thanksgiving, New Year’s, Halloween, and even July 4th were often just sporadically celebrated in the traditional sense – I can only recall a handful of times when we had turkey with all the trimmings in a family setting. The cooking process was difficult, and my mother had no idea how to keep the oven roasted turkey from tasting like sawdust until my then college-aged sister fortuitously discovered the “turkey bag,” which is actually a type of oven bag. Who knew?

Similarly for New Year’s Eve, I remember looking out my bedroom window at fireworks in the distance, wondering about what it was like to be at whatever party was going on in that person’s backyard. I could always sense the special mood of celebration and anticipation, but I could never realize it and internalize it for myself. It was always as an outside looking in.

Typical Asian American Thanksgiving potluck dinner-note the sushi and stir-fried noodles
Asian American Thanksgiving potluck dinner; note the sushi and stir-fried noodles

And for Halloween, my parents would forget and then just turn off the lights and not answer the door when trick-or-treaters came. They were probably thinking, “Why are these strangely dressed children begging for food?” One time, my mother felt sorry for them and just gave them some money to go away.


When I went off to college, I had a greater appreciation for these holidays, mainly in the context of celebrating with friends. I had the full range of experiences: Thanksgiving potluck dinners (admittedly sometimes with stir-fry or sushi), New Year’s and costumed Halloween house parties, and even July 4th barbeques.

But without having the cultural experience ingrained in me as a child, it was always an ambivalent embrace as an adult.

So as I’ve walk down my street the past couple months, I’ve seen the mockingly scary Halloween decorations come and go. And then the Thanksgiving decorations with the rustic fall brown colors and turkey feathers. Now, it’s the laboriously impressive traditional Christmas lights and the ultra-convenient star shower laser light projectors that are popping up.

For those new immigrants to the U.S., it’s unrealistic to fully embrace a holiday culture that you didn’t grow up with, but if you give it a shot, you’ll get to understand the culture of your new home more.




Creative neighbors' Halloween lawn decorations
Creative Halloween lawn decorations; we learned to hide from trick or treaters at my house



万圣节的游行:我们到曼哈顿去看了游行活动(10月31日晚上)。人们都穿着各式各样的奇装异服,连小孩都是盛装出行的还提着讨糖的篮子,我觉得太冷了就没有装扮自己。游行在曼哈顿晚上8:00开始,由政府组织的,游行队伍中有各式各样的骷髅和服装以及各式舞蹈和歌唱表演。在中国,在鬼节这天没有任何活动,除了去祭拜祖先。在美国大家都很开心的参与到这个节日中,尤其是小孩子在晚上开始家家户户去讨糖果,不请客就捣乱(Trick or Treat),所以大家在那天都会准备一些糖果发给孩子们。由于我们去曼哈顿了,我公公婆婆呆在家里,有趣的是他们没有准备糖果,我婆婆说:“有一个很可爱的小女孩来讨糖,他们实在是不好意思没有给她发糖,就给了那小女孩2美金。” 后来陆陆续续还有很多的小孩来敲门,他们就再也没有开门了,由于他们没有准备糖果。如果我公公婆婆提前告诉我的话,其实我提前准备了一些糖果在家里的抽屉里,就不至于那么尴尬的躲在家里了。在我看来,不是他们不喜欢过节,只是这些节日并不是他们小时候成长时所接触到的节日,再加上他们是中年的时候才移民到美国,自然就没有想要主动去庆祝这些节日。我才刚开始美国的生活,对于美国的节日的看法也就是看看热闹而已。


Let us know what you think and share your experiences!