By Angela Kim, Maddie Deutsch, Hsnwei Liu, and Sofia Blackwelder
The Tower (Princeton, NJ)
I was just a little girl the first time I had hotteok. A hot, chewy pancake filled with melted brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, and nuts—it was the perfect snack to warm my cold fingers and rosy cheeks while wandering the streets of Seoul with my family. And even though it was so long ago, the memory remains a vivid snapshot in my mind.
Much has changed since that moment. I don’t visit Korea as frequently as I did back then, when my family and I made periodic excursions to and from America. I also don’t speak Korean with such ease—now, English is my dominant language.
Yet hotteok is still present in my life. On both Korean Thanksgiving, Chuseok, and American Thanksgiving, my entire family gathers around the kitchen to make hotteok. It is a noisy and messy affair: counters dusted with flour and hands sticky with dough and sugar. Sure, we often use a boxed mix, but it is still redolent of the hotteok that I had in Korea—the rich fragrance of the melted brown sugar, the warm and inviting flavor of the cinnamon and honey, the nice crunch from the walnuts and pecans.
When I take a bite, I am back in Korea for a moment, walking around the maze of concrete buildings, surrounded by my immediate family and relatives. The tradition of making hotteok during holidays isn’t just for the pleasure of having a nice snack. There are moments when I am not sure of my identity, for the literal and figurative distance between my American and Korean lives is so large. Yet hotteok reminds me that I am part of both worlds. It bridges the distance between my heritage and my American life.
– Angela Kim
Family movie nights are a pretty normal occurrence in my house. My parents are constantly focused on getting the family together and doing some activity, even if it is just for two hours a week. Except it is almost never for only two hours—it usually ends up being about four. This is where our non-traditional tradition comes into play. My family carries the gene for extreme indecisiveness. I know it is very normal to have trouble picking a movie everyone likes, but we don’t just have trouble. We have heated debates, sweet reminiscing, and we end up watching the trailer to pretty much every flick “On Demand.”
At this point, I am so used to my family’s long process of film selection that it would feel strange to ever just pick one and watch it. I actually look forward to my brother disagreeing with everything I say and shooting down all of my suggestions. I eagerly anticipate turning down the long, educational documentaries my mom always suggests, as well as the old, practically black-and-white comedies my dad insists are classics.
Especially with my brother in college now, I’ve come to realize how meaningful traditions are, no matter how big or how small they may be. My family’s tradition may not be one of religious importance or cultural background, but it allows me to spend time with my relatives, which I deeply value. I couldn’t care less about the actual movie we end up watching that night because—let’s face it—my mom is asleep before the introduction credits come on anyway. What I really look forward to is sitting together on a couch and talking, before we all go back to our busy lives filled with schoolwork, athletics, business, and stress.
Maybe the inherited trait of indecisiveness isn’t so bad after all.
– Maddie Deutsch
Compared to the average Taiwanese-American household, on the weekends, my house involves much more Risk and Jeopardy. The two days we have between the chaos of school and work are a period of synchronization, when we revert to eating dinner at set mealtimes instead of the who-gets-home-first-eats-first mentality that characterizes our typical weeknights. Like other families, we bond through the process of playing games—over laughter, disappointment, and barely suppressed rage. Unlike other families, we add a factor of penalty.
On a traditional game night, popular activities include cards, movies, and board games. My family’s spin on this established custom is the addition of consequences for the losing player in the form of extra chores or errands. Friday night marks the start of a three-day tournament in which the four of us compete to avoid the largely unpopular assignment of mundane tasks such as loading the dishwasher or vacuuming the living room.
Our catalog of games includes Big Two, Risk, and Five-Card Draw Poker. Poker is played with the most determination. At the end of ten hands, the family member with the least amount of chips is given the role of cleaning the kitchen—an incredibly unappealing activity to complete on a Friday at midnight. Despite the punishing aspect of this system, there lies a silver lining within its many risks. While ensuring a clean house, playing games also forces us to practice strategy and humility. After years of my parents winning round after round, my older brother and I have developed the skills to even the playing field. Now, the four of us take equal turns cleaning the kitchen. On vacations, this is the method we use to decide who gets the plush, king-sized bed and who sleeps on the pull-out couch. It is our way of bonding while instilling equality in family chores. In my home, age and salary don’t matter—playing skills do.
– Hsinwei Liu
Unlike the many people who choose Christmas as their favorite holiday, I prefer the one right after―New Year’s. There’s something about a fresh start that makes me smile. My family’s traditions come from both sides, maternal and paternal. In my mom’s native country of Colombia, eating 12 green grapes at midnight symbolizes 12 lucky months ahead. From my dad’s side of the family, it is a tradition to eat black-eyed peas, which are supposed to encourage luck and prosperity. But when the peas were introduced to my younger brother, Ethan, he refused to eat them. My father got creative, telling us that each black-eyed pea would symbolize a dollar we would earn that year.
My favorite tradition comes after the clock strikes midnight, when my entire family gathers all of our suitcases and bags. Doing our best to hold them all, we run around the outside perimeter of our house barefoot on the freezing cold and usually snow-covered ground. This is supposed to promote a year full of travel, something I hope for even more than luck or money.
My parents got divorced when I was nine, and now they are both remarried and hardly talk to each other. Because a remaining friendship wasn’t left behind, little reminders of them together make me selfishly happy. They split up who we spend holidays with, but in their separate households each New Year’s, they still carry out each other’s traditions.
These three traditions have gotten me excited for the new year ever since I was a young girl. I can’t wait to introduce them to my children in order to see the same excited smiles on their faces that appear on mine each year.
– Sofia Blackwelder
Photo Credit: Unsplash