At Christmas We Don’t Like Pork, Just Like The MacCabees: Festive Food and Religious Identity at the Protestant Christmas Picnic in Hoi An

by Nir Avieli Journal of Material Culture, Vol. 14, No. 2, 219-241 (2009)

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Abstract:
Every Christmas, the tiny Protestant community of Hoi An (central Vietnam) congregates and marks the day with a service, a short ceremony and a communal picnic in the church yard. In this article, based on anthropological fieldwork conducted in the town since 1998, the author explores the meanings of the culinary features of the event. By analysing the dishes and eating arrangements at the picnic, he shows how differing facets of the participants’ identity — the religious, the ethnic and the regional — are exposed, defined and negotiated. He argues that, while the eating arrangements represent ethnic Vietnamese identity, the dishes themselves hint at foreignness and `double marginality’: not only of a Christian minority among Buddhists but also of Protestants among Catholics. The author’s findings suggest that the complicated relationship between nation-states and marginal religious groups, as well as among members of differing religious communities within the same ethnic group, are often expressed in subtle practices that are easily overlooked by outsiders but are meaningful and evocative for the participants. The discussion focuses on the meaning of the culinary arena as a sphere of socio-religious negotiation, especially within politically authoritative contexts.

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