Religious Identity and Festive Food at the Protestant Christmas Picnic

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I suppose the one article that stands out in this course whilst studying indigenous cultures and impact of foreign faith was that via Avieli, “At Christmas We Don’t Like Pork, Just Like The Maccabees’” that is based on the Religious Identity and Festive Food at the Hoi An Protestant church in Vietnam. The author, Avieli, is a cultural anthropologist as properly as the Israeli Anthropological Association President. He also lectures at the Ben Gurion University in Israel at the Sociology and Anthropology department. Since 1998, he has been conducting a range of ethnographic research work in the central Vietnamese city of Hoi An. In this article, I will be responding to the arguments discussed by using Avieli about the influence of cultural dishes on religious ceremonies.

This article is based on research conducted about a religious celebration in which a small community of Protestants in Hoi An (central Vietnam) gathers and marks the day with worship, a mutual picnic and a short ceremony in the churchyard every Christmas. The article explores the significance of culinary features regarding such an event. The author demonstrates how different facets of the partakers’ identity- the regional, the religious and the ethnic, are negotiated, exposed and defined by analyzing the eating and the arrangement of dishes. In his research, Avieli argues that while the eating arrangement symbolizes the ethnicity of Vietnamese identity, the food hint at “double marginality” and foreignness such as between Christianity and Buddhism as well as Protestants and Catholics. According to his research finds, the intricate relationship between marginal religious groups and nation-states as well as individuals of different religious groups within the same ethnic community, are mostly expressed in subtle practices. However, this observation is effortlessly overlooked by outsiders but are evocative and crucial to the residents. Therefore, to understand these complexities, the author focused on the meaning of the culinary institution as a domain of socio-religious negotiation and its context to political authority.

Food is vital and essential to the survival of all species in the world. It is also a perfect artifact that differs among cultures. For instance, different communities use the same ingredient such as wheat and can transform it into different meals such as Italian pasta in Italy or French baguettes in France, which encompass the personality, cultural and social identity of the citizens. According to this article, the way a society eats asserts it diversity, organization, and hierarchy. Therefore, food is central to the character of individuals in which a person is constructed socially, biologically and psychologically by the meal he or she decides to incorporate. Avieli stresses that the power of food is characterized by the procedure of preparation in which culturally made meal crosses the margins of the body and breach the contrast between “Inside” and “Outside” and between “the self” and the “the world.” For instance, the Hindus express their commitment to the value of non-violence and sanctity of life by taking pure vegetarian meals. This also reconfirms their loyalties to their faith demands, with the values, practices, and ideas they entail. However, food is consumed on a daily routine, and thus, it defines the culinary sphere as unworthy and trivial for scholarly attention.

Communities mark their celebrations with meals. The dishes prepared are also influenced by the religious beliefs of these people. Furthermore, some religious permit the preparation and partake of some meals while others may refute. When the community members congregated together at Hoi An church during the Christmas picnic, as a sign of reaffirming their faith, they shared meals and ate together. Contrary to the traditional vessels of religious distinctiveness such as the icon of Jesus, the star or the cross, which are explicit and thus liable to supervision, dishes and food at the event was a depiction of the exceptionally flexible and multi-vocal items that were used to reveal the way Protestants considered themselves and their religion. With the congregation eating arrangement suggesting that they conceive themselves as members of the Kinh majority group together with its core values, the dishes were characterized and or influenced by the French origin of Christianity in Vietnam. As a result, the author demonstrates that the choice of this alien meal, which originated from outside, depicts devotion and purity as well as their willingness to shun some traditional meals such as pork similarly to the Maccabees.

The author is fascinated with this decision and poses questions such as “why food’ and therefore attempts to find out the reason behind this choice. First, he considers the Vietnamese political context, which hardly tolerates the discussion of religious identities in any other socio-cultural realm. With there being no connection between this choice and the authoritative regime, Avieli decided to explore the essential qualities of food that render it a cultural artifact, which include: the elastic and dynamic nature of meals. This characteristic makes it a prime vessel for polysemic and complex ideas. Food is less canonized and prescribed than other cultural artifacts. It qualities such as dynamism, variability, and flexibility permits for exceptional agility when it comes to its symbolic meaning. It nature that also leads to it being ignored due to its domestic routines and unassuming domain depict another reason for preference. Similarly, the feminine and mundane features of preparing food as well as its perishability define the culinary realm as non-significant as well as non-threatening and thus less need for regulation. As a result, the author affirms that it is this transient and taken-for-granted nature of eating and cooking that enhances the negotiation and expression of sensitivity, problematic and forbidden issues within the culinary field. Therefore, the members of a given culture or society can use the culinary arena to endorse and demonstrate the crucial ideas that they hold about themselves and their faith.

In conclusion, I feel that it is correct when the author states that some aspects of religion are defined as “cultural” and “spiritual” and are presumed as personally positive, culturally adequate and socially stabilizing. For instance, culture is not only a buzzword in contemporary Vietnamese official discourse due to increasing materialism, erosion of tradition and social instability but also a valuable item that generates economic activities and attracts tourism. As a result, the Vietnamese hold their culture with the utmost regard and maintain there cultural festive. At the same time, other religious aspects are treated with concern and suspicion, deemed with exploitative and superstitious and thus regarded as dangerous, harmful and antisocial.

Work Cited

Avieli, Nir. “At Christmas, We Don’t Like Pork, Just Like The Maccabees’ Festive Food and Religious Identity at the Protestant Christmas Picnic in Hoi An.” Journal of Material Culture 14.2 (2009): 219-241.

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