Tuesday, December 20, 2011


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I'm very happy to be a guest blogger today. Veronica has asked me to talk about Christmas traditions from my point of view of someone who is Korean born and raised in Canada.

 I came to live in Toronto just before my 7th birthday, back in the early 1970's. That means I still had a lot of childish notions and ideas about Christmas. Sure we had Santa in East Asia, we called him Grandpa Santa (if you look at the direct translation). Sure we gave out gifts to family and friends. But the similarities basically ended there. There was no such thing as sending a letter of my hopes and desires to the North Pole. Lists were never made nor acknowledged.

Koreans also had no clue (and still do not seem to) about the idea of gifts being surprises and wrapping them in secret to put under a decorated tree. To this day, the older generation of my family still insist on giving "envelopes" as that's just easier than fighting crowds of people only to get there and realise they had no clue what to get anyway as there are no lists! Money is also held in such high regard - well I suppose that is true of most cultures and societies.

So if you think about it, the whole idea of the wedding registry is quite a puzzling notion to Koreans as well. One of my favourite depictions of Korean culture at work is an episode of the "Gilmore Girls" when the character Lane - a Korean banana (yellow on the outside and white on the inside) got married.

We had our version of the tooth fairy as well. But typical of Asian work ethic, I had to really work for my supper, or in this case, work for my money. This particular tradition greatly favoured my mother as when my teeth began to fall out one by one, I had to throw them onto the roof of my house in order to successfully send the message to the fairy that I "had proof need dough"! Of course being very young, I was never successful in my attempts, so my pockets stayed empty. OK, I am digressing...

Another way to say Merry Christmas
 Now many decades since my migration to Canada, I have found myself evolved into a Twinkie (another example of yellow on the outside, white on the inside), as bemoaned by John Cho's character in the first "Harold and Kumar" movie. I am married to a Canadian man and I'm very comfortable with the Western traditions of Christmas as we celebrate with his immediate and extended families. But as Christmas approaches, I think about my family gatherings. It always feels a bit awkward, as the older generation have somewhat embraced Western ways, but how we celebrate now is a hybrid of East meets West. There are still a lot of envelopes somewhat under the artificial tree, but now there are also prettily wrapped gifts and this year, we implemented the Kris Kringle system. I can let you know on December 26th, if that was a great idea or if it went up in flames!

They say that when 2 people come together in marriage, they bring with them each of their family traditions. And as a unit, some of these traditions are upheld, modified and new elements added in to make them their own. The same principles apply to cultures that blend into each other. To say that they are "clashing" sends out a negative tone. I'd like to think that we're all a happy world and differences can be fun and interesting, not obstacles to bear.

Merry Christmas everyone and CHUK SUNG TAN!

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