Monday, January 5, 2009

Festive Foods

We received a fruitcake over the holidays from a neighbour.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. It actually didn’t taste as bad as you would think, but notwithstanding that, I’ve never quite understood why we consume such “seasonal” festive foods in Singapore.

Quite apart from the fact that Christmas is a religious holiday observed by Christians (and in fact, Christmas has some of its festive origins in pagan customs), I simply don’t understand why Singaporeans, and people around the world in general, choose to celebrate the occasion by consuming foods that are frankly, alien to our cultural heritage.

I might be generalizing, but it seems to me that many cultures historically have had some kind of festival in winter to celebrate the harvest and to simultaneously usher in the New Year. And in many cases, those celebrations have been and continue to be marked by consuming foods that have been prepared using, out of necessity back then, preserved ingredients. 

Fruitcake is a prime example. It’s composed of dried fruits (which are generally native to the northern hemisphere) that have been soaked in alcohol. Smoked ham could be considered another festive preserved food. Turkey, on the other hand, is part of Thanksgiving due to its historical connection with Native Americans and the Pilgrims.

If you’re European or American, I can totally understand why you would continue to consume such festive foods (which don’t taste half as good as fresh foods) out of tradition and heritage.

But if you’re a Singaporean living in the tropics? Hello?

I don’t see why we should eat tough and gritty turkey simply because it’s considered “part of Christmas”. Or fruitcake for that matter. And definitely don’t get me started on matzo balls for Jewish holidays. I’ve had those before. No offence to Jews, but ugh. 

If it doesn’t taste good, the only reason to eat it is out of tradition, or politeness in the spirit of the occasion if you’re invited to a party held by native celebrants of the festival. And it’s just not part of our tradition. Not really.

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