Author Archives: Carmen Villasenor Santiago

Coins inside dumplings

“I know one of the best things I remember of superstitions from my family is that my extended family and I made dumplings at Chinese New Year and put coins inside six of them because six to us is a lucky number. Then after we put the coins inside we cooked them and then like serve them out for the whole family who was over to eat at the celebration and well basically it was that whoever ate a dumpling and found a coin inside it, and hopefully not choked (laughs) would have good luck for the rest of the year until the next Chinese New Year where we would do it again. I liked this superstition because it allowed me to you know cook with family and have a good time and also I might get lucky and find a coin, plus dumplings are yummy.”
Being positive with family traditions in order to try to give off good vibes of having a good year is a very common form of folklore in ways that they try to find ways to be lucky the next year.

Choreg and dolma family time

“As far as little things like tradition or I guess family folklore that my family has is that before every holiday, the three grandmothers in our family get together to cook for three days straight in order to prepare for the family party, which trust me is huge! The reason they cook so early is because they make a lot of baked breads, such as choreg, and complicated appetizers, such as dolma, that require hours of work to prepare. During these three days, all the granddaughters come to help clean and to learn little tips and secrets to cooking these special meals, which you can guess, will be eventually passed down to us. However, cooking with the grandmothers has influenced me in a deeper way other than just like learning how to properly roll a dolma. We have made so many memories spending hours in the kitchen together, we talk and laugh and yell, but most importantly we see that the value of creating these meals is not just the joy we all get out of eating them, but time we get to spend together because of them. In this case the preparing is as much fun as the eating them itself.”
Another means of coming together as a family and in this case, food is important to notice how food plays such a prevalent role in the folklore of different families because of the way it unites them.  Food is not only a way to cook but the different ingredients that are used and the recipes that get passed down all form part of this folklore from different cultures.  In many ways when families come together in order to have meals together or such, they are able to go through the journey of cooking together and this too becomes such a significant part of tradition for many.

Red envelopes and Tang Yuan

“For Chinese New Year we would visit every member of our family and go to their houses and tell them merry…I mean happy Chinese New Year, and wish them a happy one and give the children of the families red envelopes with money inside them. This is based on Chinese tradition of New Year and it was kind of like wishing them good luck in the upcoming year. Also fifteen days later we would celebrate the lantern festival in which it is tradition to eat a dessert called Tang Yuan – this is glutinous rice flour – and this symbolizes the family togetherness. I liked all of these events because I guess I just related them to seeing my whole family come together and just good family times.”
Many families have these tradition in which they share money or give it to the children in order to make them more excited about the New Year or such family gatherings. Being able to be with family and share such special this is very important for many cultures.

Blowing on dandelions

“Growing up I guess always heard or even participated in the whole superstition about blowing a dandelion in order to make sure that you get your wishes granted, I guess they can kind of be seen as a symbol of your hopes or dreams have a chance of coming true. I think the very first time I did it I was very small walking back from school with my mom and she say one and like told me to blow on it and to make a wish. Apart from that I just kept seeing on TV I guess so every time I saw one I would like remember to blow on it and make a wish, I liked it because it kept me thinking about magic or this flower that could make my wishes come true and it was nice.”
It is important to point out he place that the media plays in the superstitions that many people believe in this kind of magic and it is a nice way to kind away from societies daily struggles.

Brides wearing white

“Another one of the stories that I grew up hearing was the reason why a bride wears white on the day of her wedding is to like symbolize her purity in entering marriage and also in many ways that it is the happiest day of her life. I learned this from my mom and dad and it’s supposed to be the bride being pure and such or whatever. And I guess a variation of this is how it became a folklore joke I guess because it goes like this: ‘a kid asks his mom why the bride wears white and she says because it’s the happiest day of her life and then the kid asks why the man wears black’. I guess it’s just funny the fact that people joke about a man’s life being over when he gets married.”
Jokes are a very important part of folklore too because they help relieve pressure from social expectations by being funny. And traditions regarding marriages are also very important because they are everywhere and they dictate how many people see their lives with their spouses.

Evil cemetery gnomes

“Uhm well I guess when it comes to some stories that were passed down I know that I kept hearing from my grandma that garden gnomes are evil because people use them to trap souls in graveyards or something like that and that is why they are seen as scary or whatever. She told both my sister and me but I’m still more doubtful about it. And well the legend goes that the ghosts would come out at night from the graves at the cemetery and so rather than having them spook everyone they would place the gnomes there and I guess they would get trapped and such. Well all I know is after that I can’t see gnomes the same way you know?”
There are always ways that people try to think of protecting the death that have departed form earth and using gnomes in this case is the folklore that has grown in Latin America. It is a way to relieve the worries about the evil spirits that people will create.

Knock on wood

““Cuando dos personas dicen lo mismo al mismo tiempo, ellos tienen que hacercarse a ir a tocar madera para que no se queden cotorras”
When two people say something at the same time they have to make sure to go near somewhere that has wood and knock on it first, because the person who knocks on it last it said to like end up really old without being able to get married or “cotorras”. Since this came from Mexico it was very important in the past for women to find a good husband to marry, therefore if they had the bad omen to end up alone it would be bad.
In a society where ending up alone it was seemed as bad is important to realize that people come up with these kind of superstitions in order to scare women of ending up alone (which is bad to them). This kind of folklore is kind of entertaining because it bases it self on different fears that people have.

Throwing coins in the air

“On new year’s you are supposed to hold a handful of coins and right when it strikes midnight you’re supposed to throw the coins in the air and it’s supposed to…it’s like hoping for wealth in the new year. And also you were supposed to have a full plate of different kinds of fruit at your dinner table and this is supposed to symbolize prosperity in the New Year. I learned these from my mother as well where she learned them from the Philippines form the elders.”
Being well off – economically speaking – is very important to many people and therefore these traditions are created in order to feel like one can change their own fate by doing little superstitious acts.

Palm itching and dreaming of black

“Well since my family is Armenian there are like quite a lot of little beliefs that I have heard growing up from my mom or dad that they themselves probably got from their parents themselves. Like, let’s see an example of this is that when you dream about something black it means someone that you know or such is going to die. This happens because I believe the color black is just seen as like a color that attracts bad luck or bad omens in Armenia. Uhm and then another one that was also very common when I was growing up was like that when your palm itches it means you’re going to get money soon or like in the near. I guess these were just phrases that were passed down as tradition or something of the sort. I remember I used to always like when my grandma or my mom would tell me these stories because it made me think that Armenians were like the coolest people ever!”
The fact that cultures have such traditions make it important to see the superstitions that make people believe to have good or bad omens in life and it is interesting to see how devoted some people are to these beliefs.

Saint Nicholas Day

“Saint Nicholas Day which is before Christmas, I believe is the 13th of December, actually I can check that for you” (goes off to check), “December 6th sorry. And you lay your shoes outside and Saint Nicholas stuffs them with treats overnight.” “it was always a fun holiday to celebrate and it made me feel a lot more connected to my ancestral roots because it was something that my family did differently from other families, and it served as a reminder of my heritage…let me see, it also gave me a sense of pride in whom I was and who my family was, it made me feel like I was part of something more than just my family and just, just white as a race.”
“So like Christmas?” I asked
“Kind of its sort of like a prelude to Christmas, it was a delightful holiday it made my childhood fun, so the story of saint Nicholas is that there were three girls who needed money for various reasons and they came from a poor family, saint Nicholas heard of their plight and while they were drying their stockings one evening, he snuck over and filled their stockings with the money that they needed. And that is why we have Saint Nicholas Day to commemorate that act of kindness.”

I believe that this is a way that people kind of have a variation of Christmas in order to be able to adapt it to their own heritage and it would it some ways make them more united.  The way that different cultures manage to make variations of holidays in order to match them to their culture is interesting to hear about because it keeps their uniqueness there.  They are able to integrate their traditions and incorporate them into this type of folklore and that is a certain characteristic that many people manage to incorporate into their lives.