Writing about this just popped into my head after one of my friends wrote on his Facebook “What if, after all the superstitious things people do on New Year’s Day, it turns out that your entire year is determined by the quality of your first poop of the year?… I wonder if there any pseudo scientific studies on this shit“. It’s definitely something to think about! But you do end up wondering why a lot of cultures fixate on superstitions on food (and its remnants) in particular. I’d go as far as saying that we have made cultures around food, or perhaps food itself made cultures just like this new study on “How Beer Created Civilisation“. For a long while we thought that our early ancestors cultivated grain in the pursuit of good bread, but it turns out that the development of bread-making was a consequence of experimentation of grains from its cultivation for beer-brewing.
“Hayden has pushed the idea that cultural factors, not environmental ones, fostered the domestication of grain. Once people understood the effects of alcohol, it became a central part of feasts and other social gatherings that forged bonds between people and inspired creativity… It’s not that drinking and brewing by itself helped start cultivation, it’s this context of feasts that links beer and the emergence of complex societies.”
This does not, however, explain why we create superstitious practises involving food and I have no idea why people would want to do a specific dish, sometimes not even tasty nor appetising, to bring about something that isn’t even certain – good luck. Some cultures are more prone to this than others. Eastern cultures, Chinese in particular, have a multitude of food that supposedly brings about good luck. I wonder if, with the sheer amount of poverty even now, they still sincerely believe that birthday noodles & mooncakes work. I’ve tried birthday noodles several times before and I would pick instant noodles anytime, if given the choice. I’d be all for good lucky food, but why subject ourselves to horrible lucky food such as birthday noodles? Some mooncakes make me think that the people who make them didn’t even think people would eat them. It is only recently that the Chinese from outside the mainland – Singapore, Taiwan, HongKong, Malaysia, etc., thought about rethinking the mooncakes and making them so much better.
In the Philippines there is a strong influence of Chinese culture in food practises as well, but not as much as Malaysia & Singapore. We don’t celebrate the Chinese New Year and the common folk don’t have an inkling that there is such a thing as a lunar calendar. Yet, there are enough Chinese-Filipinos for the mooncake & “tikoy” (a glutinous rice-cake shaped moulded into a carp that is traditionally served by slicing bits of it and coated in an egg batter, given away by the Chinese-Filipinos during the Lunar New Year season) markets to exist. Us slightly-Chinese people are a bit confused. My aunt and granma make it a point to have this fruit basket of 12 assorted, spherical fruits for New Year’s eve. We don’t really know why we do it aside from luck propagation. Well, I say why not? It would be an excuse to eat lots of fruits & get some vitamins in the coming week, plus it looks festive having it next to the New Year’s dinner.
This past year though, I’ve felt a sharp decline in people’s religiosity & belief in the superstitious and pseudoscience in general. A lot have happened that perhaps made Filipinos start questioning why they believe what they believe & do what they do. My aunt & gran would probably not mind if we quit with the fruit gathering for luck. Our neighbour, relatives of ours, would probably be alright with not bothering with firecrackers anymore. Perhaps people have given a lot to the victims of the Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) that it ate up their Christmas budget, hence a more sombre atmosphere this December. I felt that this season, people were carrying on with tradition solely for sentimental reasons and not with unshakable belief. I’m perfectly fine with that. In fact, I’m for it. If people could actually be rational about how & why they celebrate, and also get their priorities straight, there might be hope for this country. Tradition & culture is great. People just have to be able to justify the reasons behind what they’re doing & not do it just because everyone else is.
There is much pressure in providing an elaborate Christmas & New Year’s Eve dinner for their family. So much pressure, in fact that crime rates go way up come December & morals seem to be temporarily suspended. Lots of stolen smart phones flood the market which you can get for cheap. Petty theft plagues the public transport during the season that you’d be forced to think twice about getting into a bus or a train, when the rest of the year you don’t really think about it. What is the point of this when Christmas is supposed to make you celebrate things related to love & generosity, & New Year’s celebration is about looking forward to a better year ahead. Both are not about dread & domestic terror. This is not even about the “haves and have-nots”. Sure, we have a nice dinner and all. But over the years the elders in the family realised there is no point to feasting and giving ridiculous amounts of gifts to everyone. It won’t bring any amount of luck if you’ll be suffering from indigestion and a full load of leftovers in your refrigerator which you have to consume in the days ahead. Our dinners have shrunk. This year marks the year we didn’t bother with a whole roast suckling pig. Gifts became practical, & our small extended family sat comfortably around the table telling stories into the dawn and Skyping relatives far away. I felt so much better!
I hope that, with a little bit more noise from the freethinkers, science advocates, & secular humanists in the country, we’ll have more reasonable & less dangerous celebrations in the years to come for everyone.