Author Archive
Legends
Narrative

Witchduck Haunting: Virginia Beach

The informant (20) grew up in Virginia Beach, VA and moved to California when she was fifteen. Having spent most of her life in Virginia, she is familiar with many of the local legends, such as the Witchduck Haunting:

“The Witchduck Haunting is a legend about Virginia Beach. It starts with this farmer woman in the 1600s or 1700s, I think. There was a woman farming or working in the fields, and she was wearing men’s britches because she wasn’t going to farm in a dress, which would be awkward. The people were suspicious of her and accused her of being a witch. She was tried so they tied her thumbs to her big toes and threw her in the river. She freed herself and was found guilty because it was said that if you were innocent, you would have sunk. I was told she escaped and was never found, but other versions of the story say that she was caught and put in jail. I heard this story from older sister, who heard it from a bunch of her friends. Almost everyone in the neighborhood knew the story, so you could probably ask anyone and they could tell you some version of it. It’s a nice piece of history that’s specific to Virginia Beach. There’s even a Witchduck Road and Witch Duck Bay. Oh and supposedly, every year the woman comes back to haunt the scene of her trial and appears as a strange light floating above Witch Duck Bay.”

This is a really interesting story. It’s probably so well known within the community because it places Virginia Beach in the larger historical context. It relates the modern-day city to greater historical happenings during the 1700s. The legend also gives the people of Virginia Beach a unique past to look back on. It’s also interesting that the woman who was tried as a witch was dressing in men’s clothing. Perhaps her attempted drowning was also a type of punishment for going against social or gender norms and not abiding by what society expects of a woman.

 

Annotation:

A similar story appears on the Virginia Beach website.

“The Haunting of Witchduck Road.” VirginiaBeach.com. N.p., 4 June 2009. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <http://www.virginiabeach.com/articles/haunting-witchduck-road>

Game
general

Law & Order SVU Drinking Game

The informant (21) is a Junior at USC. She transferred to USC for her sophomore year, and before that, spent her freshman year at Bennington College in Vermont.

The informant is my roommate and she wanted to contribute a drinking game to my folklore collection. This game is known as the Law & Order: SVU Drinking Game:

“The rules are pretty straight forward. You take a drink when you hear the “dun dun” sound, when a weapon is drawn, someone hits on Mariska Hargitay’s character, when there’s a celebrity guest, or when Ice T says “that’s messed up.” Whenever B.D. Wong is on the screen, you drink half your beer and when Stabler worries about his daughter, you take five drinks. Sometimes people make up other rules, but those are my standard ones. I learned this drinking game in Vermont, when my roommates and I got really into the show and watched pretty much every episode. By best friend there had learned the game in high school from another friend of hers. It’s a fun game and I play it because it’s an excuse to watch more L&O SVU, which is the single greatest show of all time and there are a million episodes so you can change things up during different ones. Also, drinking is the single greatest thing ever and can be done a million times even if you know that the outcome will be the same each time.”

Having watched Law & Order SVU, I agree with much of what my informant says. The game is a great excuse to watch more episodes and there’s a lot of freedom with the rules so things won’t get boring from episode to episode. Depending on the specific rules, sometimes the game is designed to get a person to drink a lot in a short amount of time, or even to prolong it. Drinking games that involve TV are also a great bonding experience because everyone’s watching the show at the same time, looking for the same things, and no doubt, as episodes go on, the side-conversations get more and more hilarious.

Foodways
general
Material

“Pizzelle Cookies”: Traditional Italian Recipe

The informant was born in Pennsylvania but her parents immigrated to America from Italy. Despite living in America, my informant has very close ties to her Italian roots, and still cooks many traditional Italian dishes.

The informant has been making traditional Italian waffle cookies, or Pizzelles, for as long as I can remember. I asked her to teach me how to make them this month which removes them somewhat from their normal context. Usually, pizzelles are a holiday treat and my informant makes them only for Christmas. She learned to make these waffle cookies from her mother and they used a special waffle iron that her mother brought over from Italy. What’s really special about this tradition now is that my informant still uses that same waffle iron from Italy to bake these holiday treats. No one else in the family makes pizzelles, but my informant revealed that next Christmas, her daughter will have to take over because it’s getting too hard for her to make them (she’s 91 after all). This means that her daughter will become the active bearer of this tradition and the waffle iron from Italy will be passed into her possession. Eventually, it will make its way down through the family. Below, I have transcribed the interview with my informant that took place while we were cooking.

Me: So your mom taught you to make these?

Informant: Yes. We used to make them together was I was little. But when I got married and had kids, I took over the baking.

Me: And this is the same waffle iron she used to use? In Italy?

Informant: The very same.

Me: Why do you still make them? What’s so important about them?

Informant: It’s a Christmas tradition. It wouldn’t be Christmas without waffle cookies!

Me: But don’t you get tired?

Informant: Yes, it’s hard work making 96 dozen cookies one at a time. Eventually Terry (her daughter) will have to take over. Probably next year. She can have this waffle iron too.

Me: So is it just habit to make these Christmas cookies, or does it mean something more to you?

Informant: Well, the habit is the significant part. It’s a tradition that’s always been a part of my life. It’s always been a part of the rest of the family’s too. Isn’t that enough of a reason to keep making them?

Me: Yeah, but does it like help you feel more Italian or something?

Informant: You could say that. We’re keeping an Italian tradition alive by making cookies every year. It makes me remember my parents, my childhood, even my own kids’ childhood—how I would help my mother, and then later, when Terry would help me.

Me: So that’s why you go through all this trouble every year, making tons of these waffle cookies?

Informant: It’s not trouble…I like making the cookies, I’m just getting older is all. It makes me feel connected to the past, to my parents that died a long, long time ago. And because I know that Terry will keep making these cookies, I feel connected to a future I probably won’t get to experience.

I always understood this baking tradition as a way of connecting to the family’s Italian roots. My informant sees it that way too, but she also thinks of it in a way I never would have considered. She knows that the tradition will last into the future, carried on by her daughter, then probably her daughter’s daughter, and so on, which connects my informant not only to the past, but the present and future as well. Perhaps this is why the women in the family make these cookies: to connect to past, cultural roots but also to those of the future.

Recipe:

½ cup shortening

2/3 cup sugar

3 eggs

13/4 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. vanilla

Pinch of salt

Mix shortening, sugar, and eggs. Beat until blended and smooth. Add flour, baking powder, and vanilla a little at a time mixing well. The texture should be soft but should not run. The more flour, the thicker the pizzelle will be. Other flavors may be substituted for the vanilla such as: anise seed or oil, lemon juice or grated rind, cocoa, orange juice, chopped nuts (very fine).

Annotation:

A very similar recipe can be found in 1000 Italian Recipes by Michele Scicolone. Unlike my informant’s recipe, this one does not use shortening and adds butter to the cookie mix.

Scicolone, Michele. 1000 Italian Recipes. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley and Sons, 2004.

Customs
Earth cycle
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Vietnamese New Year Celebration

The informant is a 20 year old, Vietnamese American female. She is a junior at the University of Southern California, but was born in Boston, MA. Both her parents are Vietnamese and were born in Vietnam.

Over lunch, the informant told me about the Vietnamese New Year celebration that occurs at the time of the lunar New Year, the same as the Chinese New Year. The particular celebration that my informant is familiar with starts a week before the actual day of the New Year. This week is devoted to cleaning the entire house. Then, families make a tree with yellow leaves, a mai tree, and hang red envelopes from it, which contain money. When the New Year finally arrives, the envelopes are opened and the recipients get their money. Traditionally, married couples are the ones that give out the money, and little kids are the ones that receive it. Before a child gets his or her envelope however, he or she must say, “Happy New Year, may the New Year bless you” as a type of chant almost. The envelopes are red because it is the color of luck and is meant to promise a lucky year for the recipient.

While this is all my informant had to say about the celebration, I had a few more possible interpretations for elements of it. First of all, I’d never heard that cleaning the house was part of a New Year’s celebration. The informant mentioned that the Vietnamese traditions borrow a lot from Chinese traditions, so maybe the idea of cleaning a week before the celebration has to do with the fact that seven is a very important number in the Chinese belief system. After thinking about it some more, the only conclusion I could come to was that starting off the New Year with a clean house was to indicate a fresh start in life for the following year. Also, the importance of the mai tree in the celebration may similarly reference the idea of newness, or maybe even Spring, which will arrive shortly after the start of the New Year.

Adulthood
Customs
Festival
general
Life cycle
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Picking up the Bride”: Vietnamese Wedding Tradition

The informant is a 20 year old, Vietnamese American female. She is a junior at the University of Southern California, but was born in Boston, MA. Both her parents are Vietnamese and were born in Vietnam.

Over lunch, the informant told me about a Vietnamese wedding ceremony called “Picking up the Bride.” The groom and his groomsmen carry baskets filled with pastries, moon cakes, fruit, and teas, all wrapped in red cellophane to the bride’s family’s house. The men line up outside of the house while inside, the same number of women do the same, ready to receive the baskets. The ceremony stems from a Vietnamese folktale of two brothers. The older brother gets married and his younger brother gets upset. The younger brother goes off by himself and cries. He turns into a tall tree. The older brother goes looking for his younger sibling and leans up against the tall tree to rest. He cries too, and becomes the leaves of the tree. Finally the bride comes looking for her husband and brother-in-law. She finds the tree and turns into the seed of the tree’s fruit. Eventually, someone comes along and eats the fruit, spitting out red seeds.

The informant told me that in the ceremony, the items in the baskets are usually fruit from this tree, a small tree, and other ripe things to symbolize loyalty. The “Picking up the Bride” ceremony is meant to welcome the groom into the bride’s family and bless the union of the two people. Usually, after the baskets have been delivered, the bride’s father makes a speech, further welcoming the groom into his family. Traditionally, the groomsmen would go on foot to the bride’s house, so the ceremony had the added element of a journey. This also allowed for everyone to witness it, and turned the procession into a parade almost. It serves as a way to let people know that a wedding was taking place.

I agree with the informant’s interpretation, and while she didn’t specifically mention this, the ripe fruit brought over to the bride’s house in the baskets could also be a symbol of fertility, serving to bless the new couple with a fruitful union.

Customs
Folk medicine
general

Swedish Sauna

The informant is 77 years old. She was born in Minnesota and is of Swedish and Finnish decent.

Over Easter Brunch, the informant provided me with this unique Swedish sauna tradition.

“One time, when I was little, I went with my mother to Minneapolis where there was a Polish community to go to the sauna. It was the one and only time I went. There were too many naked women running around for me to want to go back. Anyways, what you did in the sauna was essentially take a steam bath. After you got all sweaty and steamy, in the old country, you would run out and jump in a snow bank. In Minneapolis, we just poured ice water over ourselves. In the old country, after this you would hit yourself with pine branches, but we didn’t do that here. The point was to open up your pores, and invigorate yourself—to stay healthy.”

Like the informant said, this ritual seems to be about purification and rejuvenation. I would guess that the steam is meant to cleanse the body. Following a steam bath with cold water would also cause pores to snap shut, blocking out any future dirt. I’m not sure what function the pine needles would have served but perhaps it also had something to do with invigorating the flesh.

 

Foodways
general
Material

Polish Pierogi Recipe

The informant is 83 years old. He is Polish, but was born in Michigan.

Over Easter Brunch, my informant told me about his own Easter tradition that he used to celebrate with his family:

“Every Easter, we used to make Pierogis. These were somewhat of a delicacy for my family and they were more expensive to make than anything else my family usually had to eat. Pierogis are made with cabbage and pork, kind of like a Polish ravioli. We would only ever be able to make them for special occasions, so we chose to make them for our Easter Meal.”

Recipe:

Dough:

2 cups flour, sifted

1 egg

½ cup lukewarm water

½ cup milk

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. melted butter

In a large bowl, beat all ingredients. Add additional flour to firm if needed. Roll out and double. Cut into ½ inch circles.

 

Filling:

1lb. of pork

3 carrots

1 leek

1 celery stalk

1 onion

Butter or oil for frying

Parsley leaves

2 eggs

Salt & pepper

Wash beef and put in salted water. Cook, until the meat softens. Peel and cut into small strips. Throw vegetables into stock with meat and leave gently cooking for 30 minutes. While the meat is being cooked with vegetables peel onion and cut it into cubes. Fry onion on the frying pan with the addition of butter, until lightly browned. Take the meat out of stock and tear into smaller pieces. Add fried onion and mix everything. Grind the mixture of onion and meat in a meat mincer. Chop parsley leaves up and add to stuffing. Break two raw eggs into a meat mixture. Add salt and pepper. Mix. Season to taste. Arrange stuffing on pierogi dough circles and carefully glue the dough, forming pierogi. Cook pierogi in salted water. After floating to the surface cook until become soft. Then sift out. Pan-fry the cooked pierogi. Use butter or sunflower oil. Fry pierogi, until browned on both sides. Serve.

Foodways
Material

Swedish Lutefisk Recipe

The informant is 77 years old. She was born in Minnesota, and is of Swedish and Finnish descent.

Over Easter Brunch, my informant supplied me with some traditional Swedish folklore. The first thing that came to her mind was a recipe for Lutefisk that her family used to make. This is what she told me about the traditional Swedish recipe:

“Lutefisk is an old Swedish fish dish. It’s cod preserved in lye. I think my mother used to soak it in milk, or actually probably water. The only time she would make it was Christmas Eve. I used to help a little bit, but I think I mostly got in the way. It was actually really disgusting. No one liked it, not even my mother who spent the time making it every year! I don’t know why we kept making it for so long, but it was a traditional thing that made us feel more connected to our roots. After leaving the old country, it was nice for my parents to have a little something traditional, even if no one really enjoyed it!”

I agree with my informant’s reasoning about why the tradition continued. If no one actually enjoyed eating the lutefisk, then it was most likely made as a way to stay in touch with the family’s Swedish heritage after moving to America.

Recipe:

1 piece dried lutefisk, sawed into 6 lengths

2 tablespoons lye

Prep: Soak the fish in water for 3 days. Add two Tbsp. lye into a gallon of water. Soak for 3 days in this solution. Then soak for 4 days in water, changing water every day.

Cooking: Tie the fish loosely in a square of cheese cloth. Drop in a large enamel pot of boiling water. Cook 10 minutes or until well done. Remove cheese cloth put on a platter and debone. Serve with a mustard sauce.

Customs
Game
general

Friendship Bracelets

The informant is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is twenty years old. She is also the Jr. Helenes chair for the USC Helenes, which means she works closely with the girls at 32nd Street School and other Helenes to create a mentoring system.

The informant let me interview her about a friendship bracelet making activity that took place between the Jr. Helenes and the USC Helenes:

“Some Helenes and Jr. Helenes were at our regular meeting place, at 32nd Street School. I taught them how to make the bracelets. It’s fun to teach other people to make the bracelets and it’s just a good way to bond. I don’t know why friendship bracelets are popular but they’re symbolic and meaningful. And simply making the bracelet together is a good bonding experience…For me, it’s my way of showing someone that they’re important to me—but it’s not like everyone who’s important to me has a bracelet; it just depends who I have that tradition with. I guess I also like the idea that other people can see them and ask who it’s from. With the Jr. Helenes, it’s nice to have a sort of bonding exercise so we can become really close. That way we’re more than mentors—we’re friends. I got started with friendship bracelets when I went on a month long trip to Hawaii during high school. We were making so many new friends, it was a good way to celebrate that, I guess. I ended the trip with like 7 bracelets. I also like giving them to people because they know I care about them. I like to let them choose the colors and have them hold on to the end while I make it so that it’s a process we’re doing together, and the finished product is something that will make them think of our friendship whenever they see it. I also am kind of superstitious, and I like to have them make a wish on the bracelet, because supposedly the wish comes true when the bracelet falls off.”

I agree with most of what the informant says about friendship bracelets. They are definitely symbolic of a friendship and a way to celebrate that relationship. She also made a good point about the process of making the bracelet serving as a time of bonding. What really struck me about my informant’s experience with friendship bracelets was the superstition tied to them. This was new to me, but it really adds another element to the bracelets, making them even more of a shared experience between two people.

Annotation:

Friendship bracelets can be found in the movie Napoleon Dynamite (2004). In this movie, one character goes door to door selling the bracelets and later, Napoleon and his friend Pedro hand them out when Pedro is running for class president. Instead of being made from thread, these bracelets are made from plastic.

Napoleon Dynamite. Dir. Jared Hess. Perf. Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, and Jon Gries. Fox Searchlight, 2004. Film.

Adulthood
Childhood
Customs
Festival
general
Holidays
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Día de los Muertos Celebration: Mérida, Yucatán

The informant is 56 years old. She is Mexican and was born in Mérida, Yucatán. She moved to California when she was 6 six years old, but still remembers many of the local traditions, especially the tradition surrounding the Day of the Dead.

Before the celebration begins, people clean their houses, making sure the laundry is done and the dishes are washed. This is because if a deceased family member’s spirit comes to visit on the Day of the Dead, you don’t want them to have to do the work for you, or at least feel like they should. The celebration is supposed to be a time for them to enjoy themselves, and like awaiting the arrival of any house guest, you always clean up to make things presentable.

The Día de los Muertos celebration begins on October 31st. As the first day of the celebration, it is dedicated to celebrating the passing of the children. Any babies or toddlers that have died in the past year are honored on this day. Families set up an altar or a shrine. The altar is covered with a white tablecloth that has colorful embroidery around the edges. A green cross is placed on the altar because this is the color of Mérida. Colorful candles are set up too. Then, the deceased one’s favorite dishes are put out on the shrine. These can be anything from favorite candies to Mexican pan dulce bread. Favorite toys and games are set up too. Sometimes these are marbles, or even coloring books—it just depends on whatever happened to be the child’s favorite. Pictures are also put on the altar. After the altar has been assembled, the family gathers to say the Rosary. The altar stays up for the entire day and night of the 31st.

On November 1st, the child’s altar is taken down and another one is set up, this time celebrating the passing of any adults. The decoration for these altars is all black and white. The white tablecloth has black embroidery and white candles are placed on the altar. Pictures are put up and the adults favorite foods are placed on the altar as well. Again, these can be the pan dulce bread or tamales, even shots of whiskey or a pack of cigarettes. The altar is left up all day and night.

On November 2nd, the adult altar is taken down and the day is set aside for going to visit the grave sites of the deceased family members. Sometimes candles are burned on the graves, or flowers are set upon them. This marks the end of the Día de los Muertos celebration.

As my informant said, the entire celebration is a way to celebrate the life of a loved one. The altars are meant for families to pay their respects to the dead by presenting them with all of their favorite things from life. It is a festive way of honoring the dead, and communing with the spirits that come back for a visit.

 

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