Author Archive
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition/Ritual

All dirty laundry needs to be washed before December 31st at midnight. My mom makes me search the entire house.

Notes:

The subject had many New Year’s rituals to share pertaining to his family. He said that every New Year’s Eve his mother made him search the house for all dirty laundry so that she could wash it before the New Year. He emphasized all laundry stating that everything and anything dirty that could be cleaned in the washing machine, was. When I asked about the reasoning behind this he says that it is considered bad luck when crossing over into the New Year if you have dirty laundry. He furthered this making a connection between the cleaning process and the superstition saying that it’s not a clean start to the New Year. The subject was unsure of its origins exactly but said that it was a popular custom in African American families, saying that his entire family does it.

At first I thought that his may be a clever way to make the kids get all of the dirty laundry done before the New Year, however once I heard that it was not a clean start to the year, I believe it has more to do with this. I think it reflects the idea of a clean slate, making sure that the New Year is started fresh without the trials and tarnishes from the previous year. I think it symbolizes a lot more than what it first sounds like. Having a clean house and clean clothes to enter the New Year allows the family to ease into the year without having to deal with the problems from the past. The clothes can be seen as past year occurrences that need to be washed away before the New Year. I think that the fact his mother makes him search through the entire house, which he emphasized telling me that even socks or pillowcases were included, shows her strong belief in it. It is obviously a big stress reliever for her as well, since entering the New Year the house is clean and she does not have to do the laundry.

Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ritual

For New Year’s Dinner, everyone in my family must eat collard greens and black eyed peas. Collard greens symbolize money, and therefore promote a good financial start to the New Year. I don’t quite remember what the black eyed peas represent, but we always eat them every year.

Notes:

This subject in particular had a lot of different customs revolving around New Year’s Day. He said that this meal was served every year for New Year’s dinner because it helped to promote a good start to the year. He explained the importance and symbolization of the collard greens as representing money, and thus a great start to the New Year. He said that black-eyed peas were also served every year but that he couldn’t remember what they stood for exactly.

There are many different rituals centered around the New Year, and although this one seems new, I believe that there are many more like it. The whole idea behind the New Year rituals is to make the next year the best in every way possible. I think that this dinner represents just that. The food is meant to represent money, which is a common theme among many New Years traditions. Money is often wished or hoped for, and symbolized for good luck in many different occasions. My guess for the black-eyed peas is that they symbolize another good luck charm for the New Year, something along the lines of good health. I think that the most important part of this tradition is that it is repeated every year and that the family comes together for this celebration. New Year’s Day in regard to American households is not considered the most family-oriented holiday, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, therefore this ritual makes it possible for the family to celebrate the past year together and start a new one together as well.

Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition – Brazilian

Well, my mom does not put her purse on the floor because it is a commonly believed Brazilian tradition that if you put your purse on the floor, your money will disappear. And trust me she really believes and follows this. She says my grandma believes the same.

Notes:

I encountered this superstition twice in my collection. First this subject said it was a Brazilian superstition and the subject told me that his mom and grandmother followed it, and that they believed that if you set your purse on the ground than your money would disappear. He said that his mother never sets her purse on the floor for fear of this.

I think that this superstition could possibly stem from an idea that the ground is the lowest point, and setting something as important as money down on the ground is sort of careless and disrespectful. I also think that his version could have something to do with lower mythology, and perhaps setting the purse on the floor makes it easier for trolls to come and steal the money and thus it would disappear.

The second time I encountered the subject said that it is a popular belief in Mexican culture not to set your purse on the ground, saying that it is considered bad luck because you will not receive any money. She was not sure of the exact reason why it had to do with the ground or anything, but that all of the women in her family followed it.

I think that his version is much like the first in regard to the disrespect and carelessness by setting your purse on the floor. For this I think that the ground being low has more to do with the bad luck aspect, as the setting the purse on the floor makes it seem as though you don’t care about the money. Maybe the idea is that the fact that you are so careless and therefore you will not receive any money.

I think its interesting to see the difference between the two variants, one has the idea that you will not receive any money and the other is that the money you have will disappear. I looked up the superstition on the internet but could not find anything that stated why or the origin of it.

Adulthood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle

Superstition – University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California

Don’t shave on Game-day. (with reference to USC football)

Notes:

The subject told me that its bad luck to shave (a guy’s face) on game day, saying that the team you were rooting for would lose. This is a huge superstition on USC campus, due to the obsession with USC’s football team. The subject is a member of the Trojan Marching Band and stated that this is a widely held belief for the band as well as most students on campus. When he told me this superstition a few other guys were around and he pointed at one and said you shaved when he played Oregon State (USC lost the football game this past season (06-07) to an unranked Oregon State). The guy quickly denied it, as if he wanted to deflect the blame of losing the game. It was obvious that they both believed and followed this tradition. The subject however was not sure how it started or why it only referred to shaving but swears it works.

I had never of this superstition before coming to USC, but that could be because all of the sports at my high school were not amazing. I think that this ritual definitely has a lot to do with the university and its tie to athletics, in particular to football. I do not think that the act of shaving itself has a lot to do with the custom, other than the fact that it is an everyday occurrence for men, and skipping it implies that they are doing something special. I think that if there were other things men did as often as shave, other than bathing, eating and sleeping, they would be equal contenders as to this ritual. I did find it interesting that both boys were so into the custom, and that the accused one was so quick to deny the comment. It really showed how fervently they followed the superstition.

Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition – Mexican

If you talk back to your mother, your hand will fall off.

Notes:

The subject told me that when she was young her mother told her a lot of different superstitions to get her to behave. One of the ones she used the most often was the above, which was about talking back to your mother and how your hand will fall off as a result. I asked her why it was the hand, and she said it came from the idea that if you raise your hand at her, then you will be punished by losing your hand. She did not know the origins of the saying exactly, however it was not only her mother who used it, as another subject said that her mother would say it to her as well. I asked if the superstition prevented her from talking back to her mother, and she said that for awhile it really scared her, but as she grew older she began to realize that it was not true and ignored it.

I think that this superstition is clearly created to keep children in line. At first I did not see the connection between losing a hand and talking back to your mother, however after she clarified it, explaining the act of raising your hand at your mother it made much more sense. I think that this idea of behaving towards your parents reflects the common Mexican tradition of respecting your elders. Mexican culture is very community and family-oriented, where the grandmother and grandfather expect to be taken care of by their sons and daughters, often residing in the same house. To typical Americans this sound preposterous, however Mexican tradition puts a high value on the elders and their wisdom. This idea that talking back to your mother would cause you physical harm is not so much about the harm as it is about teaching the child to respect their parents and eventually to care for them in the future.

general
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Celebration – Mexican

Quinceanera

This is the celebration of the daughter’s fifteenth birthday and is a rite of passage for a young Mexican girl as she enters womanhood. Some of the traditions during this ceremony include a dance with her father (which is the most important), goes to church for confirmacion (confirmation) which is a ceremony exclusively for family. The party afterward is for friends and other guests. Prior to the celebration the girl cannot wear high heels or make-up and cannot dance with a boy. However during the party, after she dances with her father, she has to dance with the boy she chose to be her date to her quinceanera.

Notes:

The subject was eager to talk about this celebration as it is a huge part of Mexican culture. Quinceanera is the celebration of the daughter’s fifteenth birthday, which represents a transformation from a child to a woman. The subject talked to me for awhile about the ceremony and the different aspects of it. She said it was the first most important day of your life. She told me that most people say that a wedding day is the most important day in a girl’s life, but she said that this day is all about you as opposed to you and your husband to be. She went through the different occurrences during the day, stating that the first thing the girl and her family do is go to church and for confirmacion. This is a custom that allows the girl to assert her faith by her own free will as opposed to having her parents make the decision for her. This is a crucial step in becoming a woman.

After church the girl hosts a party where relatives and friends are allowed to come. The girl must wear a white gown to her party and flat bottom shoes. The celebration lasts for hours, with food and dancing as the main activities. The most important part of the party is the dance between the father and the girl, this marks the last dance she has with her father as her dad’s little girl. She is then presented with a pair of high heels which represent maturity and grace. Prior to her quinceneara the girl was not allowed to wear high heels, make-up or dance with boys. The next part of the celebration includes the dance with the date she brought to the party, this is significant because it is another sign of growing up, as the girl can now have relations with boys.  The subject said that the parties are always a lot of fun and bring the community together in celebration.

I think that this ceremony or rite of passage is amazing. It has so many traditions that have stood the test of time, with the father daughter dance, the presentation of the shoe, and the white gown. I think that there are many symbols throughout this celebration, for example I think that the white gown is meant to symbolize purity, and perhaps in the past this was a wedding celebration as well, and once the girl turned fifteen she was eligible to be married. I also think that the shoes and the lift of the prohibition of boys and make-up are symbols of adulthood and maturity. This ceremony reminds me of the cotillion or a debutante ball, in which girls of age 18 or so have an introduction to society party, where they also don white gowns and dance with their fathers. The balls are very similar in significance as well as both are coming of age ceremonies. The confirmation of faith at the church is much like Christian and Catholic Confirmation which occur in 10th and 11th grade respectively.

Childhood
general
Life cycle
Musical
Narrative

Children’s Rhyme

Miss Susie had a tugboat

The tugboat had a bell—ding ding

Miss Susie went to heaven

And the tugboat went to—

HELL-o operator lease give me #9

And if you disconnect me I will

Chop off your behind

Behind the‘frigerator there was

A piece of glass

Miss Susie sat upon it

And it went right up her—

ASS-k me no more questions and I’ll

Tell you no more lies

The boys are in the bathroom

Zipping up their—

Flies are in the meadows

The bees are in the park

Miss Susie and her boyfriend are

Kissing in the

D-A-R-K, D-A-R-K, Dark, dark, dark

–is like a movie, a movie’s

like a show,

A show is like a TV set and that

Is all I—

Know I know my Ma, I know I know my Pa,

I know I know my sister with her

40 meter bra, bra, bra

My mother is Godzilla

My father is King Kong

My brother is the stupid one

Who made up this whole song

Miss Susie had a baby

She named him Tiny Tim

She put him in the bathtub to

See if he could swim

He drank up all the water

He ate up all the soap

He tried to eat the bathtub

But it wont fit down his throat

Miss Susie called the doctor

The doctor called the burse

The nurse called the lady

With the alligator purse

Miss Susie punched the doctor

The doctor punched the nurse

The nurse punched the lady

With the alligator purse

Analysis:

The subject told me that she used to recite the rhyme with all of the other girls at recess in third grade (which is about 10 years ago). She said that the Miss Susie rhyme was one of the most popular rhymes used often in conjunction with hand clapping of various patterns (see above picture for example). When I asked her why this one was so popular, she suggested that it may be because of the length and the melody, which makes it easier to make up intricate clapping routines.

When I first heard the subject recite this rhyme I was immediately taken back to my elementary school. I also did the various clapping routines during this rhyme with my little sister, however mine was a little different, instead of a tug boat mine was a steam boat, as well as several other word choice changes throughout the rhyme. I mentioned this to her, and she nodded saying that within her own school district there were many different versions. I took note of this and looked up the rhyme online and found many different websites citing the rhyme, each one a little different. Some of the rhymes, like the one below, is shorter than the one she and I knew. Also a few of the rhymes had Miss Lucy as the subject rather than Susie. I was surprised as to how many variants there were of this one children’s rhyme. Then I read the website, and it was dedicated to children rhymes of the eighties, and although there was no proof of its birth in the eighties, I think that since its been around for over 20 years, there are many different variants. However each variant still stays true to the melody and the disguised cuss words.

I think that this rhyme was and is still so popular among young girls and boys is because of the cuss words, hell turns into hello, ass into ask, and flies (referring to pants) turns into flies (referring to bugs). I know that little kids are normally not allowed to cuss so this is a way to get around it, without getting into trouble. I also agree with the subject, in the fact that the length and speed of the rhyme was ideal to a good clapping routine.

When I looked up this rhyme I found a wikipedia article on it, in which it gave a list of allusions that use a line or refer to the rhyme in their contents, I have included the list at the bottom of the page. I was surprised at the array of sources that used the rhyme from cartoons like Rocko’s Modern Life and The Simpsons to bands such as The White Stripes as well as comedian Bob Saget.

http://www.inthe80s.com/rhymes.shtml 4/20/07

Miss Susie had a tug boat,

her tug boat had a bell (ding ding),

miss Susie went to heaven her tug boat went to HELL…o operator

please give me number nine,

and if you disconnect me I’ll cut off your behind the refrigerator

there lay a piece of glass

miss Susie sat upon it and cut her little ASS…k me no more questions,

I’ll tell you now more lies

the boys are in the bathroom zipping up their flies..are in the meadow,

the bees are in the park,

miss Susie and her boyfriend are kissing in the d-a-r-k, d-a-r-k, dark dark dark.

The dark is like the movies,

the movies’ like the show,

the show is like tv

and that is all I know know know, I know I know my ma

I know I know my pa,

I know I know my sister with the 49’rs bra. The bra is for the boobies,

the boobies for the milk,

the milk is for the babies with diapers made of silk.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Susie

Allusions

  • Bob Saget sings a similar song at the end of his live comedy act.
  • In the White Stripes song “Hello Operator” (on the album De Stijl): “Hello operator / Can you give me number nine?”
  • In the Self song “Pattycake” (a reminiscence of the narrator’s 1970s childhood, on the album Gizmodgery, which was performed using only children’s toy instruments): Verses 2 through 4 and a modified version of verse 5 as a bridge.
  • In The Simpsons episode Bart Sells His Soul, Sherri and Terri sing, “Bart sold his soul, and that’s just swell / Now he’s going straight to / Hello operator / give me number nine” in Bart‘s nightmare.
  • In The Simpsons episode Fat Man and Little Boy, Lisa and her friend Janey recite this rhyme. An eavesdropping Homer gasps whenever he expects profanity and lets out sighs of relief when they turn out to be innocuous.
  • In South Park, Wendy Testaburger has a similar song (“Miss Landers was a health nut…”).
  • On Rocko’s Modern Life, Rocko and Heffer sing the first few bars of the song on a car trip.
Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition – Filipino

My mom and grandma warn me against eating too much before going to bed, because apparently, if you do that, you can get something called “bangugnot”, where you have a really, REALLY scary dream and die from fear and choking on all the food you just ate.

Notes:

The subject said that his mother and grandmother warned him about eating too much before he went to bed because he could die of a nightmare, known as bangugnot. He said that it was widely believed in the Philippines. He was not sure of the origin of the legend, but that, “they say it actually happened to a famous Filipino actor vacationing somewhere once. He partied too hard and POW he was dead the next morning with a scared-shitless look on his face.” The subject, as a result, still does not eat a lot before he goes to bed for fear of bangugnot.

When I first heard the beginning of this legend, I was thinking its sole purpose was to prevent kids from having bad habits, something like don’t eat before you swim. However when I heard it was actually widely believed in Filipino culture I was intrigued to find out more, unfortunately the subject was not clear on exactly what it was about, other than what his mom told him. When I looked it up on the internet the only thing I could find was a comic that referenced the bangugnot, in which the main character’s wife dies of one (the link is at the bottom). After much trouble finding the origins or anything else with mention to this condition, I finally stumbled upon a TIME article in which it talks about nightmare death, and directly cites the bangugnot from Filipino culture. The article is really interesting because it talks about one doctor’s patients who have died in their sleep, all in seemingly good health, and all Filipinos. While most assumed it was an acute pancreas disease, some of the victims did not suffer from it, completely dismissing the theory. The doctor could not find any traces of poison or parasites or any sort of disease, all that was known was that they went to bed after eating a heavy meal, which is known to cause wild dreams. In the end the doctor finds the answer to these deaths in the folklore, learning that in the Philippines a dream-death theory exists known as the bangugut (“Nightmare Death” Time Magazine). Even though the word is spelled a little differently, it is referring to the same condition.

After reading the article, I realized I was completely wrong in my first assumption and that this condition is widely believed and occurs throughout the Philippines.

Time Article: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,806038,00.html Apr 20 2007

Entitled “Nightmare Death”

Comic Image: http://www.geocities.com/tobito_abad/tobsandman/page002.html Apr 20 2007

Image taken from the comic entitled “Bangugnot” -a Sandman fan comic by Tobie Abad

general
Proverbs

Proverb

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise

Notes:

The subject heard this proverb when he was staying abroad in Chile from his host dad. I asked him what the context of the proverb was and he said that he had slept in really late on the weekends and missed breakfast one day and his host father said this in return. I asked him what he thought it meant, and he said that those who get up early, succeed in life, while the others are too lazy. He said that he was embarrassed after hearing his host dad say this and he made an effort to get up earlier every weekend after that.

This proverb is interesting, for one reason because it is in English, and we know this because it rhymes in English, and its very rare to have something rhyme in English and Spanish (which he spoke in Chile). I have not heard this proverb in my own life, but I am sure that it has been circulated. I agree with the subject, I think that it means that those who take initiative and wake up early and start their day are more successful. I think that he was implying that the subject was being lazy, and also that it was disrespectful to miss breakfast as well. I think this proverb reminds me of the ever-popular, “early bird gets the worm,” which has basically the same meaning. Both imply that the earlier you get up the more opportunities you will have. I can see the truth behind this as well, because obviously if you are sleeping in you are letting other people who get up earlier have the chances, while you miss them.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ritual – Mexico

Leave a cup of water on the nightstand before you go to sleep every night.

Notes:

The subject told me that both her mother and her neighbor leave a cup of water on the nightstand before they go to sleep every night. The idea behind this is that the ancestors come to drink the water. The subject said that she has heard of a couple of people doing it, but does not know where it exactly comes from, she refers to the Day of the Dead celebration that occurs in early November, in which the entire neighborhood travels to the cemetery to bring food and drink offerings to the dead. She says that taking care of their ancestors is a big part of Mexican culture.

I think that this custom reflects the idea of taking care of and looking after the dead, much like the Day of the Dead celebration. I think that leaving the water out at night shows the ancestors that the people have not forgotten about them, it shows that there is still the respect there. Leaving water is also a part of the Day of the Dead celebration, and when I asked the subject about this she said that it’s the only drink the ancestors drink. She said that everyone brings water for the dead. The fact that her mother and her neighbor do it every night shows their dedication to this custom. I asked the subject if she continued the custom since she lives alone now, and she said no. She said that her mother moved here from Mexico, so she continues a lot more of the traditional beliefs, while the subject does not. This is known as acculturation and assimilation. The subject, being a second-generation immigrant, has taken on more elements of the American culture, and lost some of the traditional Mexican ones.

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