What it’s like celebrating Chinese New Year as a mixed Chinese

My different appearance made me the centre of attention during gatherings.

Liam Willett

Aspiring cat dad.

Published: 22 January 2023, 10:14 AM

I didn’t always enjoy Chinese New Year. 

There were many times I found it hard to fully immerse in the festivities due to my different appearance. I would liken it to an identity crisis of sorts.

To most, Chinese New Year is a time for family get-togethers, angbaos, Bai Nian (visiting) and the reunion dinner with Lo Hei (tossing of Yusheng).

However, as someone of a mixed lineage, I experience the celebrations slightly differently. Family gatherings are smaller, there are less red packets, and we only have to book a single table at restaurants for our reunion dinner. 

Born to a British father and a Chinese-Singaporean mother, my identity has not been entirely clear. Ironically, while exposed to both European and Chinese lifestyles, I could not completely immerse myself in one or the other.

I would be referred to as an ang moh (caucasian) despite being born and raised as a Singaporean. I also find myself having to explain my lineage every time I meet someone new – especially taxi drivers.

I didn’t necessarily harbour feelings of angst, but it did get exhausting having to explain myself every time.

During the festive season, my grandparents would bring me to their gatherings with friends, where I would be at the centre of attention due to my different appearance.

These were times I dreaded Chinese New Year, simply because of how awkward it was, feeling so out of place.


Having reunion dinners at restaurants has been a family tradition every year. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ LIAM WILLETT


As I grew older, it dawned on me that my fully-British father has always actively participated in the Chinese New Year traditions. These include decorating the house, visiting relatives from my mother’s side of the family and cooking Chinese New Year dishes.

To him, Chinese New Year is an opportunity for him to meet up with in-laws, and to embrace a new culture.

That was when I realised that if he could embrace a culture he wasn’t born into, why do I, a half-Chinese, struggle to do so?

Recognising this made me gradually learn to let go of these awkward feelings and change my views on feeling out of place in situations like these. 

I was thankfully able to adapt and be comfortable in my unique circumstance while immersing in both cultures.

These include enjoying festivities from both sides including Christmas and Chinese New Year, having European and Chinese home-cooked food, and using my heritage as a conversation starter.


Growing up, my mother made the extra effort to make sure me and my sister were dressed up for Chinese New Year. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/LIAM WILLETT


When I view the celebrations today, identity is something I struggle with much less. I find myself embracing my roots from both sides.

Family time, including reunion dinners, have become a reminder to me that we can all come together despite our differences.

I learnt that festivities have no boundaries as we are living in a world where ethnic fusion is more common.

The festivity has since become an important time for me, as it is one of the only chances I spend valuable time with my relatives.

Now, I keep these reminders in mind as I soak in the annual festivities and grow to be more comfortable in my own skin and identity.

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