Holiday Memory: Kimchi for Christmas

by Stephanie Launius

Stephanie's parents
Stephanie’s parents

As the daughter of an Asian-American immigrant, Christmas in our house has never been what you would call “traditional.”

Aside from Breyer horses, all I wanted was to have the Christmas I had pictured in my head: snow on the ground, my mother baking cookies in our kitchen, dad smoking a pipe by a lit fire, being surrounded by family and cousins. You know, real ABC family type stuff.

With the exception of snow on the ground, those are the Christmas experiences that I never had and likely will never have. My mom isn’t much of a baker and my dad gave up smoking long ago. The vast majority of our family either lies in the Midwest or Korea, and to top it off, I’m an only child. ABC family we are not.

My story is similar to the one of many second-generation children all over the world. You want so desperately to fit in and cannot truly appreciate the uniqueness of your childhood and how it shapes who you are till much later. You struggle with wanting to know and love the traditions of your parents and with still wanting to fit in and embrace the American way of life.

Six-year-old Stephanie and Santa.
Six-year-old Stephanie and Santa.

Before you get too bummed out, let me tell you that things turned out to be much better than that ABC family stuff I thought I wanted.

We may not have had an abundance of family, but my parents
made friends easily and we often spent Christmas at the Victorian era home of two wonderfully amazing anthropology professors who acted as my surrogate grandparents, Ann and Clay. My parents could not have created a more perfect environment for me by incorporating two people who loved to fuse cultures into my upbringing.

Their Christmas tree twinkled and glistened with ornaments collected from their visits across the continents.  Tokens of stories just needing to be shared.

Ann would ask Clay, “How much longer until the turkey is done?” and each year it seemed to take just a bit longer. Clay would regale anyone who would listen with some amazing stories from his younger days, while out on the back porch, checking on the spit-roasting goose.

He always asked my mother to bring kimchi to eat with the goose, too, even though he would be nibbling on it all night.

Kimchi for Christmas.
Kimchi for Christmas.

The evening would conclude with Clay falling asleep at the table, while everyone else chatted and enjoyed a flaming figgy pudding.

I still tear up at the memory of Clay’s passing, knowing that Christmas will not ever be the same.

To my parents’ credit however, my mother makes sure that our tree can rival any Macy’s display. Yards of ribbon and lights weave through her massive ornament collection, but nothing stands out quite like the angel at the top of the tree. We’ve had it for as long as I can remember.

She’s made of painted tree bark, has pukka shell lei that adorns her coconut husk hair and is so small you can barely see her. She’s out of place in such a setting, but it’s not quite Christmas without her. You see, my mother bought her long ago in Hawaii – where she and my father first met.

Both my parents have lived in worlds they were not born into, but they have melded east and west into one home and have tried to give me a sense of normalcy growing up. Now, as an adult, I have come to cherish every quirky moment about Christmas in our house.

And just as “Orange is the New Black,” I believe that kimchi is the new normal.

Stephanie Launius is a Recruiter in TERRA’s Tukwila office.

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