Author Archive
Holidays
Tales /märchen

Zwarte Pite

Legend: “So, um, my mom told me uh about this. My mom told me about this. So my Mom’s mother is Dutch right, and grew up in Holland I guess, it’s not, they don’t really do Christmas. Saint Nickolas day which is on the 5th of December Sinter clause (who is Santa clause) he has a companion to Zwarte Pite which translates to Black Peter I think he’s like a Moorish guy. Like Santa’s helper maybe. I think this is where the elves come from. There isn’t a whole group of them, just one. Just like you know one helper. He helps Santa and give good kids treats, but if you’re bad, he’ll hit you with his reed. Uh or his wand, he doesn’t use a reed. That’s Krampus. He hits you with his wand or something weird like that. Or he’ll take you in his cart back to like the Moorish islands or something. Kinda weird. But he’s bumbling and a good companion. Not like Krampus. Like the German tradition. Like this evil demon guy I don’t know if helper is the right word really, he is like this terrifying horrific demon that um will like. Santa gives presents to the good children but Krampus comes to the bad children and beats them with rusty chains and reeds. And then he takes them to hell in his basket.” According to my informant Zwarte Pite is similar to other traditions in the area where Santa Claus does not deal with the bad children, but has a companion do that for him. In Holland, it is a nice spirit that will also reward children but still is capable of punishing them. She believes that the Krampus, which is a similar companion to Zwarte Pite in Germany, is used to scare children into behaving. She mentioned later that Germans have Krampus Nacht, or Krampus night, the day before Saint Nickolas day, where they dress up like the Krampus and parade through the street. She also said that Dutch people do the same with Zwarte Pite but that it is “very touchy” due to having to dress up in black face with bright red lips in traditional clothing. This is a very unintentional form of racism, according to my informant, because the point is not to make fun of black people, but to enjoy Christmas. I believe that the Moorish influence from when Holland was the Sothern Netherlands of Spain from the sixteen hundreds to the eighteen hundreds. Spain has been very influenced by the Spanish moors and this would have moved all the way up north to what would become Holland. Even if the Moors did not travel that far, prejudices would have traveled with the Spanish who moved. Having Zwarte Pite be nice may also reflect a difference in the way that German and Dutch parents raise their children. German parents are very strict while the Dutch are more laid back. There is a reason why tourists love to travel to Holland.

Legends
Narrative

Roma origin Story

My informant learned this from her parents when she was a child. It is the origins of the Roma people

“The oldest stories come from Egypt. Gitano is how they say gypsy in Spain, so Gitano like hyptano. Like Egyptian.  They say that on the outskirts of Egypt there lived the mystery people. They had the knowledge of the past and future and could cure people.  They would be called in by the pharaoh if he needed soothsayers….so the Roma people became very powerful in the land. And people got jealous and so they drove them out into the desert and they continue to wander and continue to be a nomadic people.”

My informant believes that this is a very important story because the Roma people are nomadic and so it is important to know where they came from.

It is very important for this group to know where they come from, especially since they have been so split up over the centuries.  Nation states do not take kindly to nomadic people who wander over their borders and so the Roma people need to be strong in their identity.  This story also allows them to have always been outsiders with mysterious powers.  It’s very empowering for a people to know that they had all of this power before and could continue to use it.

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Easter Bunnies Messengers

Story:

 

“When I was a little girl my mother told me that the bunnies that came out during the spring were the Easter Bunny’s messengers and they told him what I was doing and whether or not I was being a good girl. The amount of candy and presents I got would depend on how good I had been. Later I found out the Easter Bunny wasn’t real and that the bunnies were just bunnies, but I always wondered whether my mother had changed the amount of candy my sister and I got because she thought we had been bad children. I doubt it though.

 

I remembered this from my childhood because I love animals and because bunnies always start coming out in the spring and whenever I see one I can’t help but remember. I loved holidays and I think my family made this up to discipline the children subtly. They wanted us to behave and they bribed us in a way. Just like during the Christmas season when children are told St. Nick is watching. I guess this story was a variation on that. “

 

Many other countries have holiday figures with helpers, like Santa Claus and the Krampus in Germany.  The rabbit is a fertility symbol during Easter which, before becoming Christianized, was a fertility ritual.  All of the rabbits are coming out so they would be easy to spot in the days before Easter.

Humor

Vietnam Vet joke

My informant told me this joke as we were commenting on jokes in bad taste, such as racist jokes and dead baby jokes.

How many Vietnam vets does it take to screw in a light bulb?

YOU DON’T KNOW MAN, YOU WEREN’T THERE!

 

She thought it was funny because it plays off of the stereotype of the PTSD Vietnam soldier who overreacts to the slightest thing.  She says that people love stereotypes, even if they know they aren’t true.

 

This joke takes a known form of a joke “How many x does it take to screw in a light bulb?” and throws in the vetern sterotype.  This form is very easy to make blason poulaire out of because it relys on puns and stereotypes as the punchline.  It is also a way to cope with the difficult issue of the Vietnam war.  The punchline is a quote from Jacob’s Ladder, a thriller about a Vietnam war veteran made in 1990.  The movie is about a traumatized vet who finds out that his post-war life isn’t what he believes it to be when he’s attacked by  horned creatures in the subway and his dead son comes to visit him*

 

*Jacob’s ladder: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099871/

Festival
Game
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

German Pickle Tradition

Every Christmas, my informant’s family will hide a pickle ornament in the tree and whoever can find it first gets a jar of pickles as a prize.  She said that this is how they also initiate people into the family.  She remembered when her brother-in-law first came to the house for Christmas and he was very confused and thought that it was weird.  She says people always get this look on their face when they walk in the door and are told “Ok, now find the Pickle!”

While typically this tradition is for children on Christmas morning, my informant’s family has changed this to a family tradition that helps the test people who are new to the family such as a potential spouse.  The emphasis for this traction is on family ties and having a game that includes everyone, even the new comers.  It’s an initiation ceremony.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

11:11

Story:

“My aunt was injured in a skiing accident and she’s parapaligic and now my cousin believes in 11:11 and now he has an alarm that goes off.  And every 11:11 he makes a wish for her to walk again.  I believe it too and I also make a wish for her.”

The 11:11 wish is relatively new.  The earliest it could have started is the beginning of digital clocks and clocks that actually showed 11:11.  Plus, it is only possible to have two if the time is not military.  It is the only numbers on the clock that is the same backwards, forwards and upside down.  Somehow, this has given the number special powers and has people believing that it is a sign or signals spirit presence.  For this family though, it is a way to influence something they feel helpless in front of.  When medicine doesn’t work, it is much easier to turn to some kind of magic to help.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Dove Signs

Story:

“In my family, we believe that when a person dies, they become a dove.  When my great-aunt and grandfather died, the next day there were two doves in our backyard.  So I believe it.”

My informant thinks this is because the dove is often associated with souls that fly up to heaven.

The Mourning Dove is often symbolic of optimism and is spiritual with a message of life, hope, renewal and peace.  This is very helpful for a family that is coping with the death of a beloved member.  There are other tales of loved ones becoming butterflies or ladybugs. It is typically an animal that can fly and is very beautiful, which is similar to the idea that the soul of a loved one is beautiful and flies up to heaven.

Folk Beliefs

Funny Bones

My informant was told this by a friend when she hit her funny bone and held it close to her side.

“If you touch your elbow after you hit your funny bone, you will lose money”

Her friend was from Mexico and said she learned this from her mother.  My informant was a bit confused by this advice.

This belief might be because holding your elbow after you hit it could be counterproductive, like it bunches up the muscles which make it take longer to stop hurting.  Also the threat of losing money reveals that wealth is very important to the community that the friend came from and can be used to prevent certain things.

Humor

Peanut joke

Joke:

“So a man was sitting alone at a bar and he kept hearing this whispering that said “hey nice shoes” he looked around and nobody was there he heard “You look nice today” he looked around nobody was there. Then he finally asked the bartender “Am I hearing anything?” and the bartender said, “it’s the peanuts. They’re complementary”

 

My informant loves to tell this joke because it’s clean and it’s a pun.

Puns are a way of playing with language in a way that messes with how similar words can mean very different things.  In this joke, complementary means both free and giving complements.  I’ve heard lots of jokes where the bartender responds with a pun. It is a popular genre where the idea is that the bartender is the one who knows what is going on while the patron is confused or, a similar one, is where the bartender acts as the frame for the joke.  This may be because a bartender is expected to be the one in control of a bar. They are the ones who control the intake of alcohol and are there to interact with the patrons.

Foodways
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Vietnamese Bedtime Story

Story:

“It’s a bed time story that my mom used to tell me about this human eating monster that like terrorized a village in Vietnam. And I don’t know, this one hero got him to like try this delicious Vietnamese chicken dish and he liked it so much that he just ate chicken”

My informant liked this story because was funny and so easily resolved.

In this little story, it connects my informant with her Vietnamese heritage, not only in the location, but also in food.  It presses that Vietnamese food is so good, that it can stop a terrifying monster who now loves it so much, it is all he eats.  It is her mother telling her that their culture is important for her to know.  It is the last thing she hears before she goes to sleep and what she eats every day.  It was important for my informant to hear this because she grew up away from Vietnam in American culture.

[geolocation]