One of many cultural (and family) traditions that I’ve struggled to understand over the years is the annual inundation of gifts every time my in-laws visit. This visit my kids were inundated with gifts twice: once when Nainai arrived and again when Yeye arrived. For those of you who have not experienced this, let me give you the play-by-play.
My mother and father-in-law bring two bags when they fly. The smaller of the two contains their clothes for the week, while the larger bag is stuffed with gifts for my kids (their only grandkids). The first order of business when in my in-laws arrive--no matter how late--is the distributing of gifts (toys, school supplies, clothing for the next three years, shoes, underwear, socks, books, movies, CDs, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.)
In the middle of the gift-distributing process and about the time our kids’ eyes were beginning to glaze over, my husband and I realized that we should confiscate and hide some of these gifts to use as Christmas gifts from Nainai and Yeye (since they probably hadn’t thought about Christmas yet).
Well, our plan caused great strife for both generations. My son saw my husband carry a load of toys upstairs, and then later re-traced dad’s steps to look for them. My daughter saw everything, and later asked me why Yeye and Nainai hadn’t wrapped the gifts. And my in-laws were just plain mad that we prevented them from giving these gifts to their grandchildren right away.
Days later, the kids had forgotten about the gifts, and my in-laws had wrapped the confiscated items. I felt only marginally pleased with our solution, feeling like--in attempt to keep our kids from becoming spoiled brats--we had offended some deep-seated belief about how Chinese grandparents were supposed to show their love for their grandchildren.
In Chinese culture, love is communicated in ways that I’m not used to, through gift giving, food, and scolding. I’m trying hard to be understanding of this cultural difference, but my pragmatic Western self just wants to tell my in-laws to save their money, give their grandkids a hug, and tell them, “I love you” instead. My in-laws are learning how to hug, though, so I’m trying to learn how to be understanding of their need to give gifts.
May the gifts you give this season be filled with love!