08 January, 2008

no. 10: a merry, gendered Christmas to you!

well... all my Christmas celebrations have now officially come to an end. Ukrainian Christmas occurred (according to the Orthodox usage of the Julian Calendar) on the 6 and 7 of January this year. Presenting us with the ever present concern of just how much overeating one person can conduct in the span of a few weeks. Apparently, quite a lot.

Though, how can one resist when it is the only time there are vast quantities of Kutya (a honey-sweetened wheat dish to start off the meal), holubtsi (cabbage rolls), Kolach (fresh-baked braided bread), Nachynka (a sort-of cornmeal souffle) are available? Never mind a delicious turkey, stuffing, some perfectly cooked carrots, and tray upon tray of homemade dainties. I had resisted on ('normal') Christmas Eve, knowing the spread to come on Christmas Day, my aunt's peanut butter and chocolate covered maraschino cherrie s, but I had to cave-in and indulge last night. Like all Christmas treats, these delights are ephemeral too. It was so fantastic, and yet amazingly, I was hungry today. I have a feeling my stomach has grown accustomed to large quantities of feasting-foods, and will not appreciate my return to the typical "poor starving student" meal plan I'd been using prior to the holidays.

I love the holidays. Not only is there a lot of food to be had, but there are great bonding moments with family and friends, and there's an expectation that people take life a little more slowly, more deliberately and more attentively. There also seems to be a rather gendered division of Christmas festivities in all the events I attended. Who cooked the bulk of the food? The women. Who set the tables to overflowing with food? The women. Who collected the dishes and doled out desserts and coffee? The women. Who loaded the dish washer, and washed the pots and pans? The women. Alright, I'm oversimplifying. My father does an amazing job of washing everything from crystal to roasting pans, and is a huge help to my mother and me on Christmas Day.

Perhaps it's just Ukrainian Christmas where the the gender differences become entirely too apparent. The men bartend. The women set out dishes of appetizers and ready everything for eating, from the first course through to the last dainty desserts. And at the end of the night, when the boys and men have retired upstairs to watch the hockey game and check internet news, the women stay behind in the kitchen carving up the turkey leftovers, packaging up remnant stuffing and potatoes, and washing the seemingly insurmountable mountain of dirty dishes - whether too large, crusty or delicate for the dishwasher. One of my more memorable years actually involved the patriarch (though, truly the matriarch really does rule in these families) taking his delightfully tiny and new granddaughter on a walk-about tour of all things family and Christmas, from the tree to the table, taking a stop at the kitchen where all the ladies were busily cleaning up from the delicious supper. That was not the memorable part. What stays in my mind was the comment he made about how one day she would grow up, and like a 'good girl' would join the other women in the kitchen. And while I'm sure he didn't mean it in any specifically chauvanistic way, how could I not see it like that? There I was, on my third towel, drying dishes, while the only thing he'd done (and no, neither him nor I come from the host household) was help to carve the turkey... which it would seem is a most auspicious (if relatively simple and straight-forward) task.

Now, in all honesty, I do understand part of it. The women know the recipes, as they have been passed down from generation to generation by matrilineal line. But we all know dishwashing is a non-gender-specific task, so why is it that the very same women (particularly my aunt and her sister) who spent the last two days, and the week prior, preparing these traditional dishes have to then turn around and spend another couple hours washing? I really don't honestly believe anyone delights in washing dishes after the first hour of kitchen duty has elapsed. Surely, at the end of a cookie-baking session, there's a bit of sense of full-circle completion as the last bowl is rinsed clear of doughy residue, but no one relishes scrubbing a roasting pan. And all of us know that the more desirable thing to do would be sit and talk with your family, and enjoy that cup of coffee that's now coldly sitting on the crumb-scattered table. So why is it that the menfolk seem to have that privilege moreso than the women?

All this aside, I, of course, love my family, and will no doubt continue this odd holiday tradition of dish washing for many more years. And probably yet again failing to correctly pronounce the traditional Christmas greeting : Khristos rodyvsya!

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