USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Christmas Volunteering’
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Píng’ān yè (Chinese Christmas Eve, roughly ‘Night of Peace’)

Informant:

M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.

Context:

This is a Chinese tradition that M’s family would participate in during the Lunar New Year in Beijing. Because he was close with all his family, he and his younger sister would often have to do these traditions twice a year, once with their mother’s side of the family and again with their father’s side. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“A more recent tradition that became popular in China is… you know how America has Christmas? Well, in China, Christmas Eve is called Píng’ān yè (in Chinese: 平安夜), which means like… ‘Night of Peace’. And because the Chinese word for apple sounds like the word for peace, people will go around and hand out apples. Almost like Halloween here in America, except instead of people going door to door, people will go and hand out apples to people walking around. It’s weird, too, because the stores will sell apples with the word ‘peace’ on them, but for higher price than normal on this day. You don’t really see middle-aged or older people doing this, though, it’s typically only the young adults or teenagers. There aren’t really gifts on Christmas, but on Christmas Eve, there is apples! I think that it is kind of interesting that young people in China took this Western holiday and like made it their own. It’s almost… uhh… artificial, in a sense, but you know, I think it is a good way to mix the two cultures without the older generations thinking we are trying to make China like the West. It’s also funny because my sister is in high school now and one of her volunteer projects this year was to go and hand out apples.”

Thoughts:

Although this is a relatively new tradition in China, I was fascinated by this. Sometimes it’s hard to disassociate yourself from your own traditions and see that other cultures do things differently. When M discussed the tradition being only celebrated by the youth, and almost dismissed by the older generations, I was left to wonder why. When I asked him what he thought of such a new tradition, he laughed and asked me what a tradition was, or how long needed to pass before something became a tradition. He also asked if a tradition needs to be celebrated by everyone in the community, whether that be a family, a group of friends, a neighborhood, a city, state, country, etc. I liked the idea of the youth creating their own traditions, blending two cultures together as the world becomes closer and more connected to each other. Often, when people examine traditions outside of their own, they shut them out, or even shut others out of their traditions. It was cool to see the blending of two traditions, rather than an exclusivity. On a side-note, I also found it interesting to learn that markets would sell apples for a higher price around Christmas Eve. Money dominates everything, even tradition!

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Portland Christmas (Adulthood)

Informant Info: The informant is a 22-year-old male who was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and comes from a Catholic family. He currently is a senior at USC and is very into half-marathon and marathon racing.

Interview Transcript

Interviewer: As an adult, what are you Christmas traditions like now?

Where we’ve changed our Christmas Eve traditions a little bit as we’ve gotten older is about when I got to high school. There’s a place called the Downtown Chapel or St. Andre Bassett that has become like our parish… So, I’m a Catholic so Christmas is primarily a Catholic holiday for us not necessarily or whatever like an Amish holiday. So, we would go and that became our parish. But they are in downtown Portland, so they are a really big resource for people experiencing homelessness. So, they had a lot of like programs on like every day of the week. On Fridays they had soup kitchens. All that stuff. So, it’s like that’s like the mission of the of the church more so than normal church that we used to belong to. We made our tradition started for me in fifth grade and in making it like our full tradition when I was like maybe in eighth grade or ninth grade is that we would go down on Christmas Eve during the day and you would serve a t a Christmas party. So, they had like a Christmas party where they host like over 200 or 300 people who were experiencing homelessness in Portland and they have all this food and coffee and they have like different Christmas movies playing and they have chances to make like gingerbread houses and all the really, really, fun Christmas related things and just an opportunity for them to get out of the cold. And so that’s what we’ve now been doing every single year since like middle school and since then I look forward to Christmas a lot more because it reminds me a little bit more of like how fortunate I am and also like the chance that I can still interact in my parish even when I’m coming home from college. And so we do that and then after that we go to watch downtown at this place called Dan and Louise which is like a chowder… A clam chowder spot. And it’s like actually not particularly good food. Like I think it’s fine but like it’s more become tradition so its not like we can stray away from it even if we wanted to. And then we all go get a picture with Santa. Now literally I’m 22 and the youngest and my brother is almost 30 and we still get pictures with Santa. It is ridiculous, but we are not able to sway my mom in that sense.

And usually it’s like I would say that Christmas is one time that my family is coming and spread throughout the country and it’s hard to try and find time where we can all be together. But my mom made a really, really, really, big effort to kind of make sure that we’re all together on Christmas which is something that I appreciate more and more as I get older. So, I think that having some normalcy of most of the traditions that now seem kind of arbitrary or like silly or like things like I’d be fine changing if it wasn’t the tradition. I think for her and it provides a sense of security and family comfort. So that’s kind of like what I interpret as our traditions for Christmas but definitely one of our most tradition laden holidays.

Analysis:

It is interesting to see how the informant’s Christmas traditions have evolved as he was growing up. The context behind this collection refers back to a previous collection of his Christmas traditions as a kid, and how they have changed as he has gotten older. It’s interesting to examine how he looks most forward to volunteering and serving the community on Christmas now, whereas a kid he seemed to only look forward to the presents.  This seems to be primarily influenced by his mom, who he mentioned held traditions to be extremely important.

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