Author Archives: Benjamin White

Children’s Jingle Bells

To the tune of “Jingle Bells”

Jingle bells

Jingle bells

We will hear no more.

We have captured Butterballs

and nailed him to the floor.


Took his boots

and his loot

only left his socks.

We gave him a beach party

and dumped him off the docks


Splishy, splash

Splishy, splash

We will hear forever more

Now the Fat Man’s hauling toys

Across the ocean floor.


My informant learned this version of jingle bells from a friend of his in elementary school. He and the other “no talent brothers” sang a number of these songs throughout elementary school. This song is sung primarily at christmas time, especially in the car after a version of jingle bells is aired on the radio. The song originally demonstrated the children’s rebellion against parental influences as many children’s songs do. However, my father only introduced this song to my brother and I after we had entered high school, past the point that we would sing it ourselves, so now it reflects more his desire to show that he is still a child at heart.

Red Envelopes

There was once a village that was terrorized by a monster at the same time every year. The monster targeted children. The townspeople could not defeat the monster and the monster would not leave them alone. One day, a young man with a red pouch went to battle the monster, but the monster ran from him. The man returned to the village, telling the townspeople that the monster was frightened by the color red. So, everyone in the village dressed their children in red. When the monster came to the village, it quickly fled, fearful of the color red. The villagers took the color red as a symbol of luck and gave the children red envelopes every year to ward away the monster and to bring good fortune to the child.

My informant has known this story as long as he can remember. His parents would tell it to he and his cousins around Chinese New Years. The monster described serves as a form of boogeyman, and the fact that the red envelopes given by the parents are needed to ward him away the monster allow for a form of black mail to make the children behave as the new year approaches, much as Santa does around Christmas time for Christians. It would be interesting to know if these traditions developed independently or if one inspired the other.

Moon Cakes

The world used to have 10 suns, but a man took arrows and shot them down until only one sun was left. He had a beautiful wife that wanted to become immortal. One day, the wife found her husband’s medicine and ate it, turning into an immortal fairy. She flew away to the moon where all the fairies lived and the woman brought a rabbit with her. Even though the husband was angry, he did not shoot down the moon because he loved his wife so much.

Whenever my informants family buys mooncakes (the Chinese sweet cakes that are consumed on/around Chinese New Year), there is a picture of a lady included in the package. Neither he nor his family is quite sure how this story relates to mooncakes, but they all agreed that the lady in the image is the lady from this story. He first heard this story from his mother when he asked about the picture. Unfortunately, my informant did not remember many of the details from this story, so it is difficult to analyze it without explanations for why she left her husband, however it is worthwhile to note that this story serves as an origin story for the rabbit on the moon visible if you turn your head to the right.

Bamboo Leaf and Rice

There was once an evil king that did not care about his people and did not listen to anyone. A kind governor tried to help the king, but the king would not listen. The governor was so distraught that he committed suicide by jumping off a cliff, into the sea. The people under the governor’s rule loved him immensely and they did not want the governor to be eaten by the fish in the sea, so they covered sweet rice with bamboo leaves in order to satisfy the appetite of the fish, so that their governor’s flesh would not be eaten.

My informant first heard this story from his parents on May 1st as a child, as it is tradition to eat bamboo leaves and rice on that day in honor of this event. The fact that the governor committed suicide out of shame due to failure and an unwillingness to continue to work for an evil king is an interesting moral lesson to teach to children through this legend. Respect for the elders and the dead is also features prominently in this story as it does in traditional Chinese culture and explains why the tradition is still practiced today.


Soak some beef bones overnight in water.

Bring the bones to a boil for around 10 minutes.

Dump the water and rinse the bones.

But the bones back in the pot with clean water and bring to boil again.

Add some more water and once the water reaches boiling again, drop to a simmer.

Add blackened onions, ginger and star anise.

Simmer for 4-5 hours, adding water if the level drops below the bones.

Slice some beef into thin bite-sized slices.

Soak some noodles in warm water for 30 minutes.

Place the beef into a bowl with scallions, onions, coriander, basil, beansprouts, lemon juice and chili sauce.

When broth is ready, remove the bones, strain the broth, and add some fish sauce.

add the noodles to a pot of boiling water and then drain.

add noodles and broth to the bowl of spices and beef.

My informant is 1/16th Vietnamese, and is rather ashamed of his Viet. ancestry. He does not practice any Vietnamese traditions, however, he does love to eat Pho, a traditional Vietnamese dish. Pho serves as his only connection to his Viet. ancestry. He knows the recipe to make Pho, but never makes it himself, however he frequently visits restaurants that serve it, and enjoys it when his mother makes it. The fact that this serves as his only connection to his Vietnam is either a coincidence, or speaks volumes about how good this traditional food way truly is.

Insha Allah – “God willing”

Insha Allah – “God willing”

My informant has known this phrase as long as he can remember. His Syrian family uses it frequently. He claims it is also common among most Arabic speakers who are Islamic. Essentially you say it after a sentence like “He’s going off to college in Kentucky, Insha Allah.” or “I’ll see you next week, Insha Allah.” It’s meant as a constant reminder that although we make plans and do things with a purpose, it is ultimately in God’s hands what happens and where you end up. You never know what can happen or where life will take you.

Many times, however, it’ll be said essentially as a “no” or “maybe.” For instance a child can ask, “Can I get a Nintendo for my birthday?” and you’ll hear the parent say “Insha Allah.”

Allah ey adim illy fee al qhar- “God bring what is best closer.”

Allah ey adim illy fee al qhar- “God bring what is best closer.”

My informant has known this saying as long as he can remember. His Syrian family uses it frequently. When having a serious conversation with someone about what to do, what is going to happen, etc. the conversation will almost always end with this phrase. This is because if two people are discussing something that is out of their hands, it ends the conversation with a little prayer to God asking for the best-case scenario to play out, whether or not the person knows quite what that is. It also signifies that this scenario may play out bad right now but best overall. You just can’t see it.

The Boh Boh

The boh boh is the Syrian equivalent of the “boogeyman” it’s some vague scary figure that parents scare their kids with and friends tell stories about. “watch out for the boh boh”

My informant does not remember any particular stories, but his parents did tell him a number of stories to scare him into behaving as he was growing up.

Upside down shoes

If you take off shoes and leave them upside down, its bad luck because the “soles are pointing at god, which is dirty”

Whenever anyone in my informant’s Syrian family takes off their shoes, if someone leaves them upside down, someone else will flip them over. He claims that this is an old superstition that dates back before Arabic exposure to English so the fact that sole and soul are homophones is a coincidence. This saying emphasizes the need for cleanliness as god is always watching.

Calculus Joke

“Alcohol and calculus don’t mix, never drink and derive.”

My informant was first told this joke by his high school calculus teacher. It plays off the “Don’t drink and drive” ad campaigns, and adds in a pun for good measure. The result is a highbrid  tragedy-nerdy math joke.