Changing tides of the holidays

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Changing tides of the holidays


“A Memorial Service Table Delivered for the Lunar New Year,” stated a flier, which also mentioned that a wedding catering service would prepare the food. The price didn’t seem too expensive, so I asked the provider why. He explained that it’s because they provide just enough food to set the table for the service. You can pay more to feed an entire family, but not many families order extra food because the menu is generally not very popular or delicious.

Instead, many families have a new tradition of dining out on holidays. While older generations prefer traditional dishes for the holiday feast, the younger generation would rather have pizza, pasta or steak. Of course, some restaurants offer a “fake memorial service meal” featuring the vegetables presented at a memorial service, but it certainly doesn’t please the young generation’s palate.

I asked the delivery service about the origins of the ingredients, and they simply said that I should be looking for more expensive options if I want to be picky. In fact, due to the soaring price of domestic agricultural products, most dishes for the memorial service are being prepared with imported ingredients. Out of concerns about radiation in the waters near Fukushima, Japan, some families are using Canadian lobsters or Thai shrimp instead of seafood caught in coastal waters.

Other traditions of the Lunar New Year or Chuseok (Korean day of thanksgiving) are disappearing quietly. Some 20 years ago, we used to put a little bit of each dish in a container after the memorial service and send it to the neighbors. My family never had chicken for the service, but one of the neighbors always sent chicken legs, which I secretly waited for. Their children also liked the shrimp pancake we used to send.

The practice of sharing in the community became extinct as people began living in apartments. In the old days, Koreans used to offer a helping hand even to strangers. The tradition of buying a new outfit or a new pair of shoes has also disappeared. Many of us have fond memories of anticipating the gift, and the tradition was a great way to assure that the children are loved by the family. What will today’s children remember the holiday by?

Now, we have the three holiday “taboos.” When relatives gather, it is courteous not to mention three topics: school, work and marriage. One should never say, “You applied to college last year. Where did you end up going?” or “Good to see you. What do you do?” or “Are you dating anyone?”

Such thoughtless remarks could really hurt someone’s feelings. Close family members would be considerate, but careless relatives from far away might try to catch up and ask something that someone doesn’t want to discuss. I don’t want to be that uncle who hurts someone’s feelings. In order not to make that mistake, I should say half of what I want to say and smile twice as much.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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