Korean Thanksgiving Traditions

Main Piece: “In Korean thanksgiving we gather all the family and sit down and make own rice cakes, Songpyun, and translated in English, it is a half mooned shaped rice cake. In the middle of the rice cake there is something sweet… I can’t remember exactly what, but it is sweet. We make them and steam them, and then play game called Go Stop. It’s a gambling game that is like poker, where you pair the images and the card, and you bet on the game. One point is considered a dollar, and they get doubled and tripled very easily. One thanksgiving I earned 400 dollars from my uncle. Sometimes it can get a bit hot, because people lose a lot of money… but its all in good fun so we like it. The holiday lasts three days and everyone stays with family for the entirety of the holiday. It is a great chance to reconnect with cousins cause they live in different cities and different social positions. Because of this, we don’t get to see each other that much so it is a good chance to see everyone for at least a few days in the year. There are a lot of very diverse professions in the family, so it makes it even harder to see each other which is why it is good to reconnect with each other.”


Background: MP said that Korean families have become more nuclear recently, so there are less big families, and it is more or less smaller tight knit familial groups. MP also mentioned that Korean culture can be very individualistic when it comes to everyday things, and that because Korean people are very ambitious, they can be very judgmental. MP mentioned that a lot of his cousins were very jealous that he was able to study in the United States because it is viewed as a very prestigious opportunity, and they don’t have the money to be able to have that experience. MP mentioned that things of that nature can sometimes create more jealousy during the thanksgiving season, and as a result sometimes families would decide not to gather during the family holidays. When asked whether or not he thought this more of a contained thing with his family, MP responded that it is extremely common in South Korea to have this issue of jealousy, and as such sometimes it was seen as more of a pain to meet for Holidays.


Context of Performance: MP told me about his typical Thanksgiving while we were at my apartment discussing typical traditions and holidays in our respective cultures. He was very excited to talk about it, especially after hearing how it differed from my general experience with Thanksgiving and holidays in general.


Analysis: I found WP’s thanksgiving traditions to be extremely interesting, especially because while at first it seemed to mirror typical American thanksgivings, it quickly became apparent that there are some striking differences. The gathering of the family is obviously very similar to American Culture, and it would appear that in both cases there is an emphasis on making time for your family, and being thankful for the fact that you all have each other. However I do find it interesting that MP mentions how judgmental it can get during thanksgiving especially in regard to people’s school and work opportunities. I also found it very interesting that some years they would decide not to meet as a family because it is seen as more of a headache, than a fun time of the year. This must tie in to what MP was talking about with Korean culture being somewhat individualistic, and how even though familial bonds are important to an extent, the main thing is to do what is best for you. In America, we are definitely an individualistic culture, but those ideals almost always seem to take a backseat during holidays. In some ways it seems that in America we are trying to make up for a year’s worth of being selfish, by spending one or two holidays with families.