Author Archive
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

California Agricultural Festivals

My informant is originally from Santa Rosa, CA, where she grew up with some small town community ideals and in particular, festivals and annual gatherings.

She noted that there were three festivals that everyone she knew always attended, and that if you didn’t attend, it was questioned why. They were family events, and when one got older they would spend the evenings at the events with their friends.

The first festival was the Gravenstein Apple Festival in Padalum, CA. It usually took place in August, and my informant went every year with her family, just like her father had gone every year when he was younger. There were a variety of arts and crafts and apple oriented foods there at the festival. The biggest event was the pie contest, however. This event was possible because of the abundance of apples in the region, so my informant has told me. It was also used to promote local businesses as they would often donate gift baskets to give away at the event as a means to get exposure for their products. She also remembers other farm-like activities like an animal petting zoo and craft booths.

The second festival was the Sonoma County Fair  (in Santa Rosa Fair grounds).  It was the other event that you went to if you grew up in Santa Rosa. This was the presentation/competition of the animals. Kids could also enter ‘art projects.’ My informant listed cross stitch as an art project specifically. Schools promoted this festival because they passed out entry forms to the students in schools, a component that is different with contemporary folklore, using the school to promote traditional festivals.

The last annual event that my informant said she always attended was a 4th of July potluck picnic held in her court, which all of the residents would block off for the day. It would be a big potluck barbecue. Kids would ride their bikes around the court. They would have games like egg toss and water balloons for kids. When it started to get dark everyone had fireworks and everyone would set them off. The entire event lasted for about 12 hours. She noted that  the people involved with these events had usually lived in the area for a prolonged period of time and there was a real sense of community at all of the festivals.

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Bayberry Candle

My Mother said that growing up, her mother would always burn a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve for good luck and that they would also burn it on New Years Day for good luck. It would burn the entire day until it the wax ran out.

According to my mother, this tradition comes from England, and then was continued as a New England tradition during colonial times. My mother told me that her mother’s side was English, and had the last name of Trasp, which is where the tradition of burning the candle came from in her family. She was not sure why it was a bayberry candle was burned, however.

My mother said that it wasn’t a tradition to make the candle, they usually just bought it. But the candle comes from the wax scraped off the berries of the bayberry shrub, and the bayberry plant is found in both Europe and North America.

This is interesting because in earlier colonial times the bayberry wax would be collected, perhaps because the animal fat used to make candles was scarce. Now the candles are made from other materials, with the bayberry scent, and burned for the sake of tradition.

The interesting thing that I found was that there were many traditional things that my mother did for good luck that came from different regions, and the bayberry candle was just one of them. There were multiple traditions around the holidays and my mother said they did them all, from burning a bayberry candle to a traditional German New Year’s dinner.

Customs
Festival
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

BrownBo Formal – Allegheny College

I thought it would be interesting to ask students who went to school in very rural settings what they did for fun or any college festivals and parties they would have. My informant, who is on a sports team that forms a very tight knit community and serves as her primary group of friends, described to me a usual party held around Christmas time. It was started by the boys soccer team living in a particular house near campus eight years ago. Since then it has become a tradition.

The boys from the soccer teams and basketball teams traditionally ask the girls from the girls’ soccer team to the formal, which is really just a college drinking party. The reason why the boys from the soccer team asks the girls’ soccer team is because those are the people who come out to support their games and share the field with them, which in turn almost makes all of the lore surrounding their sport the very thing that draws them together.

Those who attend the formal wear cocktail attire, which is unique to this event. The reason why it is unique is because, as my informant told me, most of their parties are in very casual and warm clothing because of the small town atmosphere on campus. You have to be comfortable because everyone walks on the icy sidewalks during the winter, and the sports teams in general usually dress more casually than the rest of the student body at Allegheny College.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Devil’s Night

My informant told me about the traditions surrounding Devil’s Night, or October 30th, the night before Halloween. She mentioned that the normal activities boys would participate in would be egging houses at night and “doorbell ditching.” When egging became an issue of destruction of property and legal action could be taken against the children involved, they switched from egging a house to using toilet paper, spreading it around trees and the house yard.

My informant felt that this was a very east coast tradition because of our association to early Halloween traditions and witches in Salem. She could not name when Devil’s Night started, just that several generations of her family knew about it and all that went on that night, usually criminal behavior.

Often this would involve smashing pumpkins as well. My informant thought that maybe this was another imitation of spirits because of the stories surrounding Halloween. My informant said that when she was younger, her parents would tell her scary stories of things that happened on Devil’s Night to prevent her from going out and taking part in the activities that got her fellow classmates into trouble.

Earth cycle
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

German New Year’s Dinner

My informant, whose background actually features multiple nationalities, remembers her traditional dinner that they had every New Years day for good luck. It consisted of pork and sauerkraut. When she talked of this dinner she actually referred to it as a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, the Pennsylvania Dutch actually referring to German Immigrants, a mispronunciation of the German word for Germans, Deutsch.

The sauerkraut is cooked in a crock-pot with the pork for the entire day, and my informant said that apples were sometimes included in the pot with the sauerkraut to make it sweeter. Considering the abundance of apples in the region, this is no surprise that they were used.

The Pennsylvania Dutch traditional dish from which my informant’s contemporary meal comes from is actually something known as hog maw, which was pork sausage and potatoes stuffed into in a cleaned pig’s stomach, boiled, and sliced.

My informant also mentioned that kielbasa, an Eastern European traditional sausage, was also included with the shredded pork and sauerkraut.  This influence comes from the Pittsburgh area, which features a large eastern European population that immigrated to the area for jobs in the steel mills around the turn of the century 1900s.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

A Ghost Story

When my informant was about 10 or 11 years old, she was told a story by one of her mother’s friends because she was bored and there no cable in the house. She remembers the story well to this day because of how good a story-teller her mother’s friend, Dave Morton, was.

 

The following is a paraphrase of my informant’s ghost story:

 

“There is a big Victorian house is in Morgan Hill in Northern California. A young businesswoman moves in and discovers an ugly lime green master bedroom in the house. She starts to paint the room bright white because she hates the color and then goes to bed in another one of the rooms. She walks into this room the next day and one of the walls is a BRIGHT green again. But the others are still white. So she paints the wall again, but still the next day it appears bright green. Finally she gives up and decides to sleep in the master bedroom that night. But in the middle of the night she sits up quickly because she has this weird feeling….and there is a lady at the end of the bed staring at her, a tall, young, pretty, brunette, in Victorian clothing. The businesswoman puts her head under the bed to pretend it’s not real, she peaks under from the covers and there is no one there.

 

So the next day she has her dog sleep with her to make her feel easier. Once again she sits up in the middle of the night and she looks over and the dog is missing and the ghostly woman is there again staring.

 

She gives the bedroom one more night, she falls asleep, but she sleeps ‘on the surface’

It’s not a deep sleep. Then all of a sudden she starts to feel something in the room. She looks at the end of the bed and there’s the girl standing there again. The businesswoman thinks maybe something has to happen. She yells at the girl standing and yells ‘what do you want?’ The ghost lifts her arm and points at her.

 

So the next day she wakes up and the one green wall is a little lighter green. The business woman thinks that the wall is lighter because she talked to the ghost the night before.

 

The next night the ghost appears once again and the woman asks what she can do to help the ghost, but the ghost disappears.

 

When the businesswoman wakes up the next morning, there is a locket sitting on the edge of her bed. She sits there and she looks at the initials engraved on the locket. Then she notices that the green wall is even lighter, and realizes that the ghost wants her to figure out the ghost’s story.

 

She starts asking around if they know anything about the house and this woman. She finally finds a woman who knew stories about what took place in this house: that there is a young girl brutally murdered the night before her wedding in the master bedroom against the green wall. The girl’s fiancée found her the next day, and also discovered that the only thing missing from the room was the girl’s locket. The killer was also never found.

 

No one was in that room long enough to find the locket or for the ghost to give the locket to someone still living. So the ghost had found the locket and gave it to the businesswoman, the current resident, and because of that she was free, and the wall was no longer green and the ghost never came back.”

 

Now my informant said she wasn’t even interested in the killer or the fact that he was never found. What stuck with her was how her mother’s friend described the murder as a “splatter job,” and how there was a second person, who confirmed that the story was true.  My informant feels that there is no moral to this story. It was for pure entertainment purposes, as there is not much reason to stay away from the house because the ghost is now supposedly gone.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Lucky Horseshoe

My informant described to me on of the good luck charms, (perhaps superstitious), that her sister used when she was younger. She would keep an actual horseshoe by her bed and hang it so that the horseshoe was like the letter U on the wall. It was hung this way to make sure that luck did not literally pour out. For whatever reason, my informant’s sister hung it up to keep the luck in, whereas in some cultures the horse shoe is hung upside down so that luck pours down on a person.

I asked my informant if she knew the history about the horseshoe, why it was used, and what region the horseshoe as a good luck charm originated. She was not certain, but she thought maybe it was from their Irish heritage.

Upon further research I found that horseshoe, made out of iron, was originally used to ward off faeries as part of Celtic tradition. Since then the tradition as been adopted as a good luck charm and the symbolism of the iron in the horseshoe is no longer an essential part to the good luck charm.

It should be noted that my informant told me her sister was superstitious and that she used multiple luck charms from multiple regions, though most of them were European. The informant’s mother even had an elephant pointed at the front door, which was said to bring good luck. I speculate that this might be an American adoption of multiple customs and luck charms.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection
Proverbs

An Irish Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

 

Above is an old Irish blessing that my mother remembers her family often paraphrasing at birthdays and other family gatherings. Also, cards with this saying were very popular.

Though not used a blessing at weddings, my mother said that sometimes someone said this blessing at reception as part of a toast. My mother’s father’s side was very Irish, and my mother’s grandmother was the first generation of Americans in her family that emigrated to the United States from Ireland at the turn of the century.

The part of the blessing that my mother remembers is, “may the road rise up to meet you.” The way she reads the blessing, it is a way to wish the best for a person, or a couple, on any celebrated occasion that marks a milestone like a birthday or an accomplishment like graduation or a ceremony like a wedding.

Although the entire blessing is listed above, (my mother had to look it up because she couldn’t remember it exactly), only parts of the blessing was used when spoken at family functions. My mother the part of the blessing most often said was, “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back.”   If the entire blessing was read, it was usually just at weddings.

Festival
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kennywood Russian Festival

Every year at the local theme park in Kennywood, Pittsburgh, there would be a Carpathian-Russian festival to celebrate heritage and go to the theme park. My grandfather often took his family because of the celebration involved and because of the community they were a part of, which was largely Slovakian.

My grandfather cannot remember if it was the park that started these festivals or if it was his community that decided to have the festival. They would be held at the picnic tables at the park, and there would be polka music always played by a live band and traditional polka dancing. The food that was often cooked was kielbasa, perogies, which are similar to ravioli, but have potatoes and cheese inside of them and foods more traditional to the Slovakian population. My grandfather also mentioned that they had poliopkis, similar to pigs in a blanket.

Other groups that would have similar picnics at Kennywood were the Italians and the Polish. The Irish did not as much, as they had a separate festival during the fall that they gathered and celebrated their Irish culture, although it became more commercial and was held at an amphitheater just outside the city. Kennywood festivals were special in that many people usually didn’t even ride the rides, they just paid the general admission fee to get in, (you could purchase single tickets to ride the park rides), and eat the good and participate in the celebrating.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

The Slovakian Werewolf

When my father was growing up, he was a very big fan of the classic monster and horror movies, among them Dracula (1931), and The Wolf Man (1941). Because his grandmother was born in Slovakia, he thought to ask her about other ‘eastern European’ legendary monsters that the movies portrayed such as vampires in Transylvania, etc. He was about 18 or 19 when he asked her about vampires and werewolves. He said that she told him that she did not know about vampires in Slovakia, but that she did believe in werewolves.

His grandmother was from the region near Bratislava, Slovakia. She told my father that while growing up, she had heard of a girl that had been attacked by what she claimed to be a wolf. His grandmother then said that people saw a man with a bit of the girl’s clothing caught between his teeth. The folklore of her region prompted her to believe the possibility of this man being a werewolf. She offered no charms to ward off werewolves to my father, however, just that she believed in them.

Because she believed that a human male could be a werewolf, my father’s grandmother obviously viewed werewolves as shape-shifters, which also has origins in Russia.  It is also interesting to note that it was a girl who was attacked and that the significant clue to prove the existence of a werewolf was clothing in the man’s mouth. This to me sounds like a distant version of the tale of Red Riding Hood, which had an underlying lesson to teach girls the dangers of the male ‘appetite.’

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