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Study finds Kiwi Christmas a co-operative affair

Study finds Kiwi Christmas a co-operative affair

Preparing Christmas dinner in urban New Zealand is a more co-operative affair than Christmas in America or Songkran (New Year celebrations) in Thailand, an international study has found.

AUT University occupational therapy researchers Valerie Wright-St Clair and Clare Hocking were part of the team to carry out the first international comparative study looking at older American, Thai and New Zealand women’s experiences as they lead their families in preparing celebratory foods for Christmas and Songkran.

The team, which also included researchers from Thailand’s Chiang Mai University and the United States’ Eastern Kentucky University, recently presented their work at the Society for the Study of Occupation in Washington DC.

AUT Head of Occupational Therapy Valerie Wright-St Clair says they wanted to find out what it means to older women to plan, prepare and share food at Christmas and Songkran.

“We asked them who else is involved, what roles they have, when they start and where food is prepared. As well as the anticipated differences in the recipes, we found real differences in who is involved.

“In Chiang Mai, all the younger women in the family come together to follow the eldest woman’s directions as she prepares the dishes according to ancient tradition to offer at the temple. This annual ritual will be repeated in the say way until the elder woman is too frail to lead the food preparation,” says Wright-St Clair.

”In Kentucky, older women typically host the meal and prepare the main dishes, until they think it’s time to hand the reins over to their eldest daughter.”

However the researchers found Christmas dinner in New Zealand is a much more casual and cooperative affair.

“Unlike women in their mother’s and grandmother’s day, older New Zealand women are now more likely to organise a shared meal. This means other women in the family, and increasingly the younger generation of men, bring a favourite dish for the Christmas meal,” says Wright-St Clair.

“Despite these cultural differences, women in all three countries are motivated to prepare the foods that the family, and particularly the society in Chiang Mai, associate with the celebratory event.”

The research findings have relevance to occupational therapy. Occupational therapists often use cooking to assess people’s ability to return home, teach people essential life skills, help them rehabilitate after an accident or illness and as a leisure activity with people in rest homes.

“To make the most of those interventions, we need to know more about what it means to older women to prepare food for others, hence the study,” says Wright-St Clair.

The study began in 2000 with the researchers meeting in Thailand to design the research in such a way it would be replicable across culturally diverse groups.

More than 70 women across the three countries participated in group interviews. Women over 65 years old were recruited in New Zealand and Kentucky, and in Thailand, women over 60.

The study received two research grants from AUT and one travel grant from the Asia 2000 Foundation of New Zealand.

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