Tag Archives: birthday tradition

Pork and Sauerkraut and Birthday Wishes

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 53
Occupation: Teacher
Residence: United States
Date of Performance/Collection: April 10th
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

This is a transcription of the informant’s New Year’s Day tradition.

“Every New Year’s Day we always go over to my brother’s house with all the extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone. He is a really good cook and makes a giant roast pork and sauerkraut meal that we have been doing since we were little. Then New Year’s Day was my mom’s birthday so we’d cut her the first piece and then she’d put a candle in it for her birthday. It was like a fake little pre-birthday celebration with the whole family. She passed away many years ago but we still light the candle and do the whole thing but instead of a birthday wish it’s a wish for the new year for everyone. It’s sweet I think.”

Background:

The informant is from a large German-American family. 

Context:

The informant described this to me when I inquired about her family’s traditions around the holidays. 

Thoughts:

Pork and Sauerkraut is a very common New Year’s food, especially for those of German heritage. The combination of a birthday wish and luck for the new year appears to go hand in hand. There are certain theories as to why pork is associated with luck for the new year, “In Europe hundreds of years ago, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Also, a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground in the forward direction” (Sherrow 28). The symbolism of a pig digging forward is meant to represent forward movement for those that eat the pig in the coming year. The luck of pork and a birthday wish create a hopeful start to the year for this family  

Sherrow, Victoria. “EAT FOR LUCK!” Child Life, vol. 86, no. 1, Jan, 2007, pp. 28-29. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy2.usc.edu/docview/216762697?accountid=14749.

Seaweed Soup

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 52
Occupation: Jeweler
Residence: La Mirada, Orange County, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 3 April 2020
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Main Piece:

Seaweed Soup is a popular traditional Korean dish.

Original script: 미역국

Phonetic (Roman) script: Miyeok-guk

Translation: Seaweed soup

The following is transcribed and translated from a conversation between the interviewer and the informant.

Informant: Out of all the Korean soup dishes, and there are lots and lots of it, miyeok guk (seaweed soup) probably has the most ties with meanings and stuff. It’s most famous for being the soup that people eat for their birthday breakfast. And it’s mostly breakfast, I don’t think people eat this for their birthday lunch of dinner. So a lot of foreigners call miyeok guk the ‘birthday soup’.

Interviewer: Where did that birthday tradition start?

Informant: I’m not sure when or where, but it originates from how miyeok guk is served to women who had just gave birth. It’s like, high inn iron and iodine and stuff, so it’s seen as really good postpartum food. It’s the first thing moms eat after giving birth, so it’s the first thing that babies eat when they’re born too. I think people eat this soup for birthdays because of this, to remember where they start from and remember their mothers.

Interviewer: Is there any other meanings tied to the soup?

Informant: Koreans also avoid this soup the day before or the day of an important exam. Seaweed has this slippery texture and I think it reminds people of like, slipping, falling, failing, all that bad stuff you don’t want reminded of before an exam.

Interviewer: What if there’s an exam on the day of your birthday?

Informant: (laughs) I guess you have no choice then.

Background:

My informant, woman in her 50s, was born and raised in Korea but immigrated to the United States when she was in her 30s. Though she doesn’t recall when or where she acquired this piece of folklore, but she describes it as such a common piece of food knowledge that all Koreans are aware of it from a very early age.

Context:

The conversation was conducted over a phone, while the informant was at the comforts of her own house. The conversation took place in Korean, and was then translated into English by myself.

Thoughts:

Korea has a rich history with its traditional cuisine, and plenty of lore around these food items. Eating a meal on your birthday to remind yourself of your mother’s labor sounded appropriate, as Korean culture is built heavily around Confucianism.