MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Cultural diversities make up the Marine Corps family, and that can bring attention to different traditions individuals celebrate during the holiday season.
Members of II Marine Expeditionary Force come from various backgrounds throughout the world, sharing their family customs. Various traditions are introduced by Marines that come from the Caribbean, South America, and Asia. They encourage good luck, love, wealth and include foods that bring families together at the dinner table.
Cpl. Junior Bazile, a Marine Air Ground Task Force planner, II MEF, meets his family each year to celebrate Haitian customs including a holiday tradition more than 200 years old called New Year’s soup.
“We get together each year to eat this traditional soup and share our stories from throughout the year. Some of the soup’s main ingredients are beef, noodles, cabbage, carrots, pumpkin and potatoes. It’s definitely something I look forward to because it’s the best soup I’ve ever had,” Bazile said.
Bazile said this custom is similar to a traditional Christmas meal, but it comes days before Ancestor’s Day, a day recognizing Haiti’s independence.
“Our families still have Christmas by exchanging gifts, but it’s on the 24th, without a Santa Claus. New Year’s soup is very popular with us. Ask any Haitian and they’ll know what you’re talking about when you mention it,” Bazile said.
Some seasonal traditions could be considered eccentric. Lance Cpl. Jennifer Neier, an administrative clerk with II MEF Headquarters Group, II MEF, said in addition to her Venezuelan family having a holiday meal, they also practice several amusing customs to ring in the new year.
“On New Year’s Eve, we have a family dinner like others, and wear something red which brings good luck in love,” Neier said.
Along with food and superstitions, Neier’s Latin culture also performs a tradition for New Year’s countdown with 12 grapes.
“When the clock strikes midnight, we tell all our loved ones, ‘Happy New Year!’, and eat all twelve grapes before 12:01 a.m., for twelve wishes to come true. We also wear yellow underwear inside out and fix them back after midnight. That symbolizes good luck in wealth,” Neier said.
Neier said the most outlandish part of her South American customs comes when the community pays greetings to each other.
“Finally, everyone gets an empty suitcase, and we walk around the block with the rest of the neighborhood. It’s pretty crazy, but we do it for good luck in travel and adventure. These are all weird, but fun ways we celebrate the new year,” Neier said.
Marines that traveled from the Far East celebrate New Year’s festivities with different recipes and cultural merriment. Cpl. Huynh H. Pham, facilities noncommissioned officer, Headquarters and Support Co., II MHG, is from Vietnam, and shared his custom in celebrating the new year.
“Asians have a different New Year’s Day than western civilizations, and our New Year’s holiday is about two months after the calendar new year,” said Pham, referring to the Chinese new year, which is the second new moon after the winter solstice.
Pham said before the new year, his grandparents prepare rice cakes. Square ones symbolize the earth, and round ones for the sun. This is a tradition with many Vietnamese.
When New Year’s was approaching, Pham said his family would be up to welcome it in with a bang.
“Everyone stayed awake when the new year came, and we’d celebrate with firecrackers,” Pham mentioned, because firecrackers have a prominent history in Vietnam, later being outlawed by the Communist Party to prevent fire accidents.
After the new year arrives, Pham’s family traditions offer wealth to their younger generations.
“In the morning, children receive money in red envelopes from the elders, so every new year we always have a wallet full of cash. Some save it, some buy stuff, but most of us gamble. That’s probably why we have many Asian poker champions on TV, because we know how to count,” Pham said.
Pham said the following three days are spent in leisure. With no work or school, Vietnamese enjoy their time off with food and celebration.
“Even though it’s far away, my heart is always home on New Year’s Day. Marines and sailors who served in Vietnam probably know about the Asian New Year, and I’m certain they’ve tried rice cakes. I hope my story brings back memories to all Asians, especially Vietnamese who have served in the armed services,” Pham said.
A variety of backgrounds makes for a colorful Marine Corps. Diversities that set people apart, in turn, can bring people together to learn more about holidays and traditions. At the least, it can mold well-rounded, culturally savvy Marines.