Kimchi for Christmas

by Kris

“I am half-Korean,” is a response to a question I am asked almost daily, or at least any time I meet a new person. Growing up with a “white” dad and a Korean mom made for some interesting culture clashes. One easy example of my biracial life is Christmas every year. My family spends Christmas with my mother’s side of the family, so it is a fun Korean filled time with hints of American traditions.

My family Christmases fit perfectly with practice theory. My family has managed to dismantle the traditional American Christmas and shape it into a holiday that is somewhat American whilst fitting the Korean needs my family has. Practice theory would classify me as the agent[1] because I am participating in this biracial event and making my own choice to be involved, yet I am doing so within the American social structure. A practice theorist would look at our Christmas dinner with light in his/her eye because our table features ham and mashed potatoes as well as kimchi, bulgogi, and lots and lots of rice from the biggest rice cooker you’ve ever seen. Like Sherry Ortner says, “…the linkage between such structures and any set of social categories… is a culturally and politically constructed phenomenon.”[2] I agree with practice theory because I think there is always resistance to structure and in my family’s own little rebellious way, we are resisting the system in our performance of Christmas.[3]

A feminist theorist would look at our Christmas traditions with a different lense. To a feminist theorist, everything is gendered, which is true, especially of our after dinner traditions.[4] After our Christmas feast (that the women cooked), the men always go to the movie theater with the kids, and the women stay behind and clean up as well as watch a movie of their own at the house. The women in the family do have their time though. In the days following Christmas, the women have a day where they go to the nearest town and shop all day. A feminist theorist would consider this a stereotypical standard for women. Yet, my aunts, mom, and grandmom do not do this because it is a womanly thing they must do. It is their own way to get their free time away from the submersion of family activities that happens around holidays. My opinion may well be a product of feminism because I can not help being influenced by the fact that I identify as a woman, but I take joy in thinking that little tradition is not a product of feminism but a product of their own will.

[1] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 8 October 2015

[2] Ortner, Sherry B. “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?,” In Women, Culture, and Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 1974.

[3] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 8 October 2015

[4] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 8 October 2015

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17 Responses to Kimchi for Christmas

  1. Anne Poirot says:

    An interesting aspect of Feminist Anthropology is how often women and children get categorised together in their daily interactions and tasks. In this essay, however, the men take the children to the movies. This is a very interesting phenomenon that leaves the men responsible for the children (even if it is for a fun activity). I think Feminist Anthropologists would enjoy unpacking how this aspect of men/children relationships differs from the roles which are stereotypically assigned with mother’s responsibilities of children. I would love to know more about traditional Korean female roles with their children to further develop this idea. I also love kimchi!

    • Nicholas Paulin says:

      I completely agree with this. A feminist anthropologist’s view on this relationship would make for a really interesting read. We never really see that many examples of men/child relationships, its really only ever women/child. Great observation, and I would also like to know more about Korean female roles to see where this could possibly go.

  2. Maya Heath says:

    I LOVE that you included Christmas traditions in your blog. I think Christmas is really a strong way for people to come together and show their identity just as you explained. I was quite fascinated by your feminist anthropology reference. I definitely wasn’t expected that to be a theory that you would use for this blog. I think you really chose a topic that many feminist anthropologists would be quite interested in learning more about. This blog was quite fascinating, and I thought it was great to learn about different cultural traditions.

    • Noelle says:

      I as well think it is super interesting the way you included the information about the Christmas traditions in your family. The blending of two unlike cultures is an insight to how different cultures unite together to make a cohesive unit. It would be cool to go more in depth with what Korean traditions/foods/rituals are kept in different households. Which ones emerge most frequently, which ones are left behind, changed. Additionally, looking closely at who perpetuates these ideas and why would be very educational.

  3. Max Liebers says:

    To start off, I think it’s so cool having two different cultures in your family come together as one to celebrate holidays in a variation of traditional ways. Your point when you were talking about how you agree with practice theory in the way that your family is always resisting the system in your performance of Christmas is a super fascinating perspective. Agreeing with the a few comments above, I also find it interesting that the men that the children to the movies. I would like to see a feminist anthropologist analyze this to see what he/she has to say about that. Cool essay thanks for sharing!

  4. Bianca Prioletti says:

    I admire your biracial holiday traditions! From an outside perspective, one might look at socially constructed American Christmas traditions as cookie cutter molds- Christmas tree decorations, presents from Santa, sharing a meal, and attending Christian mass. But the reality is, the United States is a melting pot, and I think fusing different practices is more common than not. I wonder how your father’s side of the family gathers and celebrates, and what they think of your Korean Christmas.

    • Natalia Sabadell says:

      I also admire your biracial traditions. Many people probably assume that a Korean and American Christmas would clash, but your essay shows how it actually makes the holidays more special by incorporating aspects of both cultures which are important to your family. You show how there is no one way to celebrate a holiday, leading me to wonder how Culture and Personality theory would interpret your family traditions.

  5. Emma Metz says:

    Feminist Anthropologist study gender roles in a family dynamic, and would see the roles/jobs in your family around the holidays being created and reinforced through culture. These gender roles are not always negative. In my family the girls also normally cook our family dinner, and holidays meals, but it is the boys jobs, or whoever did not help cook, to do the dishes. Many of these roles or outdated and stereotypical, but that does not mean they are harmful or unwanted. My mom loves to cook and bring my family together, so the gender role for her is fitting. It could be harmful if these gender roles becoming restricting on what we can and cannot do.

  6. Kaila Quinones says:

    I really enjoyed your essay, it was very well written, and very easy to follow. I like how you put your personal experiences in here and how you talked about your family and how you guys celebrate Christmas. I was surprised when i was reading to see that you used Feminist Theory it wasn’t what I was expecting, I thought you used it greatly. While reading towards the end I like how the men take the children out and give the women time to clean up and to have some time for themselves. I like this because the women are usually stuck with the children while men get to have time to themselves.

  7. Anna Bockhaus says:

    First off, I loved the title! Right away you sparked my attention, not only with the title but with the first line. From the beginning of your essay, I was interested in the personalised insights you’d provide in relation to your mixed heritage. You applied the theories flawlessly and took a very interesting approach to what feminism and feminist theory mean to you, personally. Very well done, I enjoyed your essay.

  8. Seaira Lee says:

    To start, I thought this essay was very well written! From the beginning I was very interested in how your own family holiday connected to the theories. That being said, I thought that the theories were applied perfectly and I especially liked the feminist theory because it was unexpected. The essay flowed nicely from start to end and it was great to get to take a look into the Korean Christmas. Taking into account that your family is a mix of cultures I think it would interesting to compare the Korean with the fathers traditional holiday and see how much they differ from a anthropological view.

  9. Morgan Sievert says:

    I loved learning about some of the Korean traditions in your article. I liked the insight that you gave concerning your unique family traditions and the balance you see between the two cultures. I connected with this piece because it reminded me of some of the different things we do in my family because my grandma incorporates Spanish traditions during the holiday season. Also, your connections with feminist theory and practice theory fitted seamlessly with your overall thoughts about your personal experiences. Great and easy to read article.

  10. Azabe says:

    This is a well written piece. I think you incorporated the theories so well into your own life. Your examples made the theories more relatable as many of us can apply family traditions to our lives. I grew up with both parents from Ethiopia, and we incorporate western Christmas traditions like presents, stockings, and Christmas music, but we always have a big Ethiopian feast and then go to an Ethiopian church. Growing up for me, and possibly for you, these traditions are so ingrained in me they are a part of my American identity.

  11. Kendall Abady says:

    Great topic and essay! I love how you were able to take something from your own life and apply to your essay. It made the essay very interesting and fun to read while making it feel a bit more personal. I also enjoyed how you incorporated feminist anthropology into the essay because you presented it and used it in a way that I would not have been able to do. Great job!

  12. katemccort says:

    It is super cool seeing a person of mixed cultures studying anthropology. I love how you applied these theories to your own life and explained it through a common experience other students could relate to- holidays at home. I can imagine its strange for you to live in a house with two different cultures, histories, and traditions, and it must be even stranger for your parents. I would love to read about how your parents spent their first major holiday together, who compromised, and how they planned to spend the rest of their holidays together. It was also cool to see you compare the two very different theories to the same subject. Extremely well-written.

  13. Brian Streeter says:

    The most interesting aspect of your essay to me was your last comment about your disagreement with what a feminist anthropologists would say. I think that often we are writing and discussing cultural practices (even our own) and looking at them through the lenses of various theorists to the degree that we can actually step back and disagree with them. The various theories are useful but only explain a certain angle of the true story. Your essay highlighted how important it was to get the emic perspective as well as what an anthropologists would say looking in from the outside.

  14. Thomas Bartlomiejczuk says:

    Great paper, Kris. I would have never thought, before reading this paper, to look at Christmas through a Feminist Anthropological lens. As I ponder about this I can agree that, though to a lesser extent, my family’s Christmas is also very gendered. The women are the primary cooks, just like in your family. Gifts that are given between two individuals are very dependent on the gender of the gift giver and gift receiver. For instance, one girl may get another girl clothes; whereas a man, feeling less confident in his sense of women’s fashion, may opt to get a “safer” gift that he thinks she’ll like, such as alcohol or chocolates. Indeed one can often tell, just by looking, if a gift came from a man or a woman.

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