Author Archive
Folk Beliefs

Italian superstition of bread orientation

My informant comes from a very italian family. She informed be about the superstition of the orientation of bread on a table:

“Putting a loaf of bread top-crust facing down on the table is like making Christ lie face down. It brings bad luck.”

My informant first heard this from her grandmother in Italy. She said that it was an old italian superstition, yet she still never places bread crust down.

I had never heard of or noticed such behavior by her or any other Italians before. I suppose it is because I am so used to everyone placing bread crust-side up that I have never thought that it could be “bad luck” to do it differently. I believe this superstition to be important because it reflects on the respect that even modern-day Italians have for the beliefs of their ancestors. It also reveals how religious they are in its connection to Christianity through the mention of “Christ”.

Folk Beliefs

How the Irish keep from drowning

My informant told me of an old Irish superstition that he learned from his father:

“If you bless yourself before diving into the water, it keeps you from drowning”

My informant swims often, and he said that he always blesses himself before going into the water. He does not remember a time when he didn’t, and believes that he would surely drown if he did not.

I have seen my Irish relatives make similar gestures before doing things like: crossing the street, getting on an airplane, or even carving the Thanksgiving turkey, so it did not surprise me that crossing or “blessing” yourself before diving into water was also practiced. It again highlights the strong connection between the Irish and religion, and the fear that comes along with it. In this case, the fear is drowning.


Folk speech

Girly-Girl Chant

My informant remembers chanting this with her friends in elementary school. She believes that it was around third grade that girls began singing this to each other in line-up before school began.

Oh, my gosh! I think I need a manicure! (looks at nails)

The sun, I swear, (presses hand to forehead) is greasing up my well-done hair! (touches hair)

Go! Go! Fight! Fight! (bobs head back and forth), Gee I hope I look alright! (points to herself)

Forty-three, fifty four, I don’t know the stupid score! (Makes confused face)

I remember this chant from elementary school. It was used to mock the “girly-girls” by singing it in a high-pitch tone and using dramatic eye-rolls for emphasis. There was no purpose to the chant, other than to show your friends that you knew it. I believe that it is important because it reflects upon the American societal image of a “girly-girl” and the fact that girls themselves recognize how ridiculous it is.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Monday Night Dinner

My informant told me about the tradition of “Monday Night Dinner” at sororities at USC

“Every Monday all the girls come to the sorority house for dinner. They all dress in fancy attire and arrive at the houses around 4:45pm. The new members make “deliveries”, which is when before dinner they bring gifts and notes to the different frats that are having Monday Night Dinner too. After they finish they come in and sit down to dinner. As they eat, boys from different frats come in and make deliveries to the house. The girls clap as they come in and each gift is delivered to the specific girl. They can be anything from a romantic bouquet to a funny card from a friend. It is also a way for frats and sororities to strengthen their relationships with each other by sending deliveries to certain houses.”

My informant told me that she enjoys the tradition, and she likes to take advantage of it for flirting with boys. If you like someone, you can send them a delivery.

I am in a sorority on campus and I enjoy the tradition of Monday Night Dinner as well. I have utilized it to ask certain boys to our House Invites and also to send funny notes to friends. I’ve also noticed that boys who are usually very shy will use this as a way to communicate with girls that they like. I’ve also noticed that if girls “hook up” with boys over the weekend it is often customary for the boy to send the girl a delivery on monday, such as chocolates or flowers, as (although it seems ridiculous) a “thank you, I’d like to kiss you again some time” kind of delivery.

I also talked to my friends who are in sororities in other schools and none of them were familiar with the tradition of “Monday Night Dinner”. It seems to be a unique tradition to the Greek System at USC. It has been happening for as long as many of my friends can remember, so I assume that it is something that the Greek life likes to keep alive to pride itself on its heritage.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Camp Hayward song

My informant sung me a song that she said is often sung at the sleep-away camp she attends in the summer called Camp Hayward:

“Camp Hayward born and

Camp Hayward bread and

when I die I’ll be (pause) (clap)

Camp Hayward dead!

So, rah-rah, Camp Hayward, Hayward

Rah-Rah Camp Hayward, Hayward

We love Hayward, we love you!”

My informant said that she and the other campers were taught this song from the leader of the camp at their first camp-fire session. After that, the campers would sing it before every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is a happy song that gets everyone into the spirit of being at Camp Hayward. To this day it still reminds her of her experiences there. She told me that her younger sister, who also attended the camp, will often subconsciously hum the tune before they eat with their family.

I went to a similar camp when I was younger. We had songs that we sung before eating, but we called them “dinner songs.” They were similar in purpose, and often included the name of the camp in the lyrics. It was meant to keep us happy and our spirits up. Now, my friends and I will often sing the songs together as a way of connecting and remembering the time we spent there together.

Folk Beliefs

St. Anthony of Padova statue for good weather

My informant told me a superstition passed onto her from her italian grandmother:

“To insure good weather, place statue of St. Anthony of Padova in the window facing outward.”

She told me that she does not usually follow this, mostly because statues of St. Anthony are hard to come by in the United States. In Italy, her grandmother had many little statues, and around the time fo the harvest she would put them facing outward in all of the windows. Although my informant does not practice this belief, she still believes in it.

I have heard many different superstitions about the weather, so this one does not surprise me. I was interested in the fact that my informant did not practice it, but stil does carry on the belief. I assume that the statue is placed facing outward in order to interact with the weather that is outside.



The Pooping your Pants story

My informant told me a story about his younger brother:

“My brother, sister and I all went to an inner city Roman Catholic grammar school.  It was located next to a church, and every day during recess, at exactly noon, the bells would ring the Angelus and all children were supposed to stop in their tracks and quietly say a prayer until the bells stopped. The nuns patrolled the playground and no one moved. We kids actually liked to freeze in odd positions like statues. My little brother was a new first grader and afraid of doing anything wrong. During the first week of school he played during recess, but when it came time to freeze for the Angelus he couldn’t make it through because he had to go the bathroom. But he was young and nervous and afraid to anger the nuns by walking across the playground to the school’s bathroom. So he just pooped in his pants. I was assigned to clean him up and couldn’t understand how my brother let this happen.”

My informant told me that he often tells this story to his sons, daughters, nephews, and nieces at family gatherings. It is a funny story that always makes everyone laugh.

I found this piece of folklore interesting because my grandmother told a similar story involving peeing herself in class because she was afraid to ask to go to the bathroom. It seems like a common theme amongst children when they have to face obeying the rules even if it means soiling themselves. There is also always something funny about pooping your pants, no matter how old you are I find that people always find stories that involve soiling yourself funny.

Folk speech

Moses, Jesus, and a little old man golfing joke

The following is a joke my informant told me:

Moses, Jesus, and a little old man are playing golf. They get to a particularly difficult hole which requires them to hit the ball onto a little island in the middle of a lake. Moses goes first and hits his ball into the water. He then puts his staff into the water, parts it, walks over to his ball, and hits it into the hole on the island. “Two!” he says. Next it is Jesus’s turn. He hits his ball into the water. Jesus walks out onto the water, and hits his ball into the hole on the island. “Two!” he says. Finally it is the little old man’s turn. He hits his ball into the water. A fish swims down, eats the ball, swims to the surface, spits it up, an eagle catches it, flies to the island, drops it into the hands of a squirrel, and the squirrel deposits the ball into the hole. “One!” the little old man exclaims. Moses then turns to Jesus and says: “Man, I hate playing with your dad.”

My informant says that he usually tells this joke while golfing, or at church. However, he says that since it is favorite joke, he often tells it in other situations. Since it is not offensive, it usually goes over well with everyone.

I like this joke a lot. It is not one that requires the listener to participate in the joke, and instead relies heavily on the punch line reveal that the little old man is god. I first heard it when I was 13, and I liked it because I could understand it. Still to this day I think that it is a very clever story. I have also found that even though it is a religious joke, it is not offensive. Often religious jokes cause trouble in that they make-fun of the stereotypes associated with a certain religion. This joke, however, is quite harmless, which is why it is easy to tell to any audience.

Folk Beliefs

Promise from Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque

My informant told me of an old Irish belief that he knew called the Promise from Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque:

“If you go to Mass and Communion on nine successive first Fridays of the month you will be allowed to repent your sins on your deathbed.”

My informant made a point of making sure that I knew that Margaret Mary was “Blessed” and not a “Saint”. He told me that he personally had never done what the belief said, but that he still has some time left to do so before he plans on dying.

Again, the connection between Irish superstitions/beliefs and religion is very clear. This, like many others, is also linked to fear. In this case it is the fear of dying and not being forgiven for your sins.

A version of a similar belief in which going to church nine fridays in a row will grant you the ability to repent your sins appears in authored literature in:

Kippley, John F. A Catholic Prayer Book. Lulu, 2005. Print.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Post Happy Birthday Song

My informant chanted to me a song that is sung directly after the commonly known “Happy Birthday” song:

“You sing the happy birthday song, and then right after that you sing:

Are you 1?

Are you 2?

Are you 3?

Are you 4?

Are you 5?

And then it keeps going until you reach the age the person is turning and they yell: Stop!”

My informant told me that this sometimes happens after the birthday song, but not always. She first heard it when she was at a birthday party in second grade. Once people reach an older age, the song becomes annoying, and often if the person is over 20 years old it is not sung because it is too long. Sometimes it begins and then other people cut it off because it is too long and annoying to go through every year until you reach the particular one that the birthday boy or girl is turning.

I remember singing this when I was younger. I am from the northeast, and I have found that it is common in that region. However, here in California most people have never heard of the chant. I personally did not like it, I found it annoying. In my experience once it begins to be chanted half of the people in the room participate and half roll their eyes and impatiently wait until it ends.