Author Archive
Customs
Life cycle

Kissing the Wall

Item:

Me: “Do people look for their specific lip marks when they come back?”

Informant: “Oh god no, it would be impossible to find them.”

In the informant’s ballet company, when a member was doing their last performance of a show (as in, your last ever Nutcracker performance), it was tradition to put on bright red lipstick and kiss a specific wall, leaving a mark. The mark not only signified you were a part of the show, but was symbolic of a part of you always being tied to the company. People would come back years after graduating to visit the wall they had kissed previously.

 

Context:

The informant was involved in ballet through most of her life and knows a lot about the secrets and traditions carried with being a part of a ballet company. She takes them all very seriously and indicates that most all of the other dancers did as well. According to the informant, everyone kissed the wall at some point as long as they were in the company for a full run of a show. The informant wasn’t clear about exactly when you kissed the wall — it was after the show, but not necessarily directly after completion. Additionally, the go-to action didn’t used to be kissing the wall. The tradition used to be signing it, but it got too messy, so the lip marks were the evolved method.

 

Analysis:

Perhaps the most interesting part of this piece of folklore is that the tradition changed from signing the wall to kissing it, for reason of “the signing got too messy,” according to the informant. It’s perhaps telling of how significant or deeply rooted a tradition is when the reason for completely changing it is one of rather minor inconvenience.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Luminaries

Item:

“The first time I remember one staying lit the whole night I was like… blown away, I ran inside and got my parents.”

Families take time just before Christmas to set up paper bags full of sand and a candle along sidewalks, driveways, and streets throughout the town. They are called luminaries, and setting them up is a community effort that results in beautiful lanterns lining all of the streets in the days leading up to Christmas. The purpose of setting them up was apparently to light the way for Mary and Joseph on their journey to Nazareth. If a candle remained lit by the next morning in front of your home, it was considered to be a sign of good health.

 

Context:

The informant couldn’t pinpoint a specific time when the ritual started, since it had been going on in his town for countless generations. He believes that the idea of creating and placing luminaries is originally a hispanic tradition, although there aren’t still connections to hispanic culture in his enactment of the tradition. He says it was extremely rare to see a candle stay lit overnight, but on occasions that it happened it was a big deal, at least when he was a kid. His family isn’t particularly religious, but participation seemed to be more encouraged by a sense of community than a sense of spirituality. Not doing so would make your family stick out like a sore thumb. It was akin to setting up Christmas lights, but more significant and meaningful to him.

 

Analysis:

For a town in Ohio that doesn’t have much of Spanish community, it’s interesting that he pegs it as a traditionally Hispanic ritual. The tradition definitely involves a lot more setup than just Christmas lights, but provides a much more beautiful display it seems. It’s nice that there didn’t seem to be any element of age associated with the significance of tradition, like a lot of others. It had the same meaning for adults and kids alike, and called for both to take part in set up. Finally, the emphasis on community being the driving factor to participate more so than religion raises the point of how the folklore has changed over time. It likely started as a religious act (since there was no pressure from a community to participate in something that wasn’t done on a repeated basis) and over time shifted to a community ritual as religious relevance faded over time.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Lineage of Names

Item:

“Yep I like it. I get asked to repeat it all the time though like when I order stuff like coffee.”

A friend’s family has maintained a naming lineage for several generations. They possess in the family a large scroll with a family tree dating back to the 1500s. It began with Thor the first, who’s grandson was given the name Thor the second. Flash forward to now, where the informant’s father is Thor the 4th. His father named his children after other Norse gods, and the first of them to have a male child will be expected to name it Thor the 5th. His father maintained the naming because he wanted to stay true to his Scandinavian roots and not betray a long established tradition. The informant doesn’t mind, and says he too would feel an obligation to continue it if he is the first to have a son.

 

Context:

My good friend, the informant, loves the tradition. He and his brothers all have pretty awesome sounding names that are unique. He says it makes him feel like he’s a part of something larger, but also feel unique since he doesn’t meet people who share the same story. He hinted at wanting the Thor naming right, but didn’t seem eager to rush into having children just for that purpose.

 

Analysis:

It’s certainly a unique naming scheme to come across, at least in America – I can’t speak for other regions. The dedication to cultural roots is admirable and impressive when it lasts for several generations. The informant and his father don’t have much with regards to information about the original Thor in the lineage, since the informant’s grandfather passed away very early in his son’s life. In any case, whether or not the original Thor had intention to create a pattern or that was the standard at the time isn’t known by the informant.

Childhood
Narrative

Overnight Resident in Campus Shack

Item:

“There was no way we were going to see what made the sound, we were way to scared.”

The informant went to an elementary school that had a wooden structure in the middle of the playground that held all of the playground equipment. The structure was a bit ominous looking, with a pointed roof and fencing over the windows when it was closed down. The kids would sign up for shift to man the shack, and it was their job to hand out things like balls or jump ropes when other kids would request them. At the end of the day, it was the child’s job to get everything back and put things where they should be. The shack was then closed by fences being pulled over the windows and the door being shut.

There was a rumor among the students that someone would break into the shack and live in it overnight. This was reinforced by their own reports of things being moved around by the next morning after closing it up. The person who supposedly lived in the shack was homeless and came and went when nobody was around. On one occasion, when the informant stayed late for daycare, he and his friends apparently heard a crash sound come from the shack, although they opted to not investigate.

 

Context:

According to the informant, the rumor of the man in the playground hut originated some time around when he was there, so it wasn’t terribly old. But it lasted through his entire time there and didn’t really lose believability among children, even into middle school. The instance of him hearing a noise come from it at night was, he admitted, likely just something falling over, but it was more than enough confirmation as a child for him.

 

Analysis:

The most interesting part of this story is the fact that the rumor didn’t fade as the children got older. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that the story itself isn’t so farfetched that middle schoolers would rule it out as impossible. Something like an axe murderer or magical being living in the shack would lose realism as children got older and rationalized things, but the possibility of someone sneaking onto campus and taking up temporary residence in an unlocked hut is there. It’s easy to say the stuff got moved around just naturally, or someone cleans up the shack at night from the school, but the fact that nothing in the story is “out of this world” makes it even more haunting to a certain extent.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Grandma Walking Stick

Item:

The informant’s great grandmother, a well-loved Argentinian woman, passed away when he was very young — at an age where he could only speak a little bit. He and his mother’s side of the family called her “Abuela Bastón”, or Grandma Walking Stick, for the distinct sound of her moving around with her trusty walking stick. After her death, there was a day where the family was sitting around, and the informant was nearly sleeping lying on his back. Suddenly, he sat up, pointed ahead, and exclaimed “Abuela Bastón! Abuela Bastón!”, claiming he heard the sound of the walking stick. It caused a bit of a reaction especially with his grandmother, who was very spiritual.

 

Context:

The grandmother (daughter of the deceased) was apparently very spiritual. She completely believed the informant was pointing at the spirit of Abuela Bastón only he could see. The rationale was that Abuela Bastón was there to check in on her great-grandson. While the informant doesn’t remember this incident, he does have vague memories of the sound of the walking stick during his youth. He doesn’t believe in ghosts or spirits but does respect the fact that it’s an important part of his family and culture, so he stays pretty objective about it so as not to offend.

 

Analysis:

It stands out the the informant, despite not really believing the spirituality of the situation, is motivated by cultural and familial respect to not refute that it was indeed a spirit. It’s also not quite a “ghost story” — more so a visitation from the spirit or soul of a recently dead family member. There wasn’t anything terribly haunting about it, and there wasn’t a visual component. Plus, it came from the mouth of a young child, although the clarity with which he suddenly woke up and spoke her name was uncharacteristic.

Childhood

The House on the Bus Route

Item:

Me: “Did you ever go to the house in person?”

Informant: “It was on the bus route which was somewhat long, so it wouldn’t have made sense to. But I don’t think anyone would have wanted to anyway…”

A house on the informant’s elementary school bus route in southwest Ohio had a very eerie exterior. The owner had built extra things on to it — weird overhands, banisters, small porches — which led to a unique structure. All the additions were poorly put together, so as a whole, it looked like a bit of a wreck. Kids would always look at it as they passed. Over time things were added to it or changed, but they never saw the owner or someone working on the house. It never looked like anyone was home. The story behind the house among the children was that a drug dealer lived there. If someone stepped on to the lawn, he would shoot them for trespassing.

 

Context:

The informant assumed that there wasn’t a reason behind the story of the man who was there. He had heard it from fellow classmates, who heard it from siblings, but as far as he knew there was not a specific reason that led to that explanation. He still remembered how weird the house looked and that the structure alone was cause for curiosity and a little uneasiness. In us talking about it, he posited that if anything, the arbitrary construction was sort of unnerving as to the mental stability of the owner. I asked if he stopped by the house on foot at any point, but because it was just one location along a bus route, there wasn’t an opportunity to. Nor would he have, he said, since there was just a general fear of it among the kids.

 

Analysis:

Around the age of 12 when the informant had this experience, kids are starting to get exposed to anti-drug education from schools and parents. There wasn’t any basis for the “drug dealer” bit, but perhaps it was created to associate a fear of the unknown with the growing awareness of a negative thing like drugs. It seems most school stories like this have no clear generation or grade where they started, but are simply an evolution that caters to the active issue around that age range. In this case, drug awareness is connected to a mysterious but haunting looking house.

Legends

Xuanzang and Journey to the West

Item:

“I remember my grandma always talking about some Chinese monk and I never really pieced together until like… until I was much older that the show I watched was exactly that.”

The legend of Xuanzang, a Chinese buddhist monk who traveled from China to India on a pilgrimage, lead to many stories, authored works, and even some anthropomorphic tales that became prominent in popular culture. The informant grew up watching a TV show, Journey to the West, based on the legend. It covered the story of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, who was an anthropomorphized version of Xuanzang who went on a journey similar to that of the monk, but with obvious fictionalization for the purpose of the show.

 

Context:

For the informant, watching the show was a big deal. Being born in America but having only Chinese roots created a bit of a clash between cultures, especially at a young age. Hearing the story of Xuanzang from parents and grandparents, and then watching the show provided for her an entertaining connection to her culture. Beyond that, it was also a opportunity to talk to other 2nd generation kids about something they had in common outside of being just that.

 

Analysis:

It’s perhaps appropriate that the popularization and fictionalization of an authored work based on folklore is what it takes to connect some kids to the actual folklore in the first place. A TV show can captivate kids really easily, and then through curiosity they go about connecting with the actual folklore at the same time. Also, a lot of this comes from the 16th century novelization (also called Journey to the West) which can be found here.

Childhood
Legends
Narrative

Herbal Drug Reinforcement

Item:

Me: “Wait you seriously don’t take Advil or Motrin or anything?”

Informant: “No not that I know of haha. I drink really bad tasting herbal concoctions instead.”

The informant grew up with her parents telling her the story of Shennong, who was once a ruler of China. He extremely influential in Chinese agriculture, and even more so in herbal drug creation. He apparently held many closely guarded secrets in this regard. She received a book as a gift that was an illustrated version of a story based out of the Shennong legend. The book detailed the importance of herbal medicine, but at the end, the main character consumes yellow flowers at the top of a mountain and dies. The yellow flowers represented herbs not to be used, and were associated with Western Medicine to stress the importance of genuine Chinese herbal medication and drugs.

 

Context:

Painting Western Medicine in a negative light was something the informant says her parents did / do a lot, especially when she was young. Things like telling a story that subtly puts non-herbal medicine at a lower tier is something that many Chinese-born parents do, according to the informant. And while she recognizes the necessity of a lot of modern medicine for severe things, she still completely avoids smaller things like ibuprofen or allergy medication. It’s not for any reason other than she says that’s just how she was raised.

 

Analysis:

This was actually sort of surprising! I know the informant very well and finding out that someone doesn’t take any western medicine (again the exception being treatment for serious ailments or injuries) caught me off guard. To think that something rooted in someone from their culture, despite not being raised in the country from which that culture is born, would lead them to make a not-insignificant choice like that is very interesting. Also finding out that the parents deliberately used a legend to reinforce their ideology is fascinating. Proverbs seem like a very good platform for this, but at first thinking of a Chinese leader who specialized in herbs, I don’t immediately jump to marking that as a good potential education device.

Game
Legends

Finding Megalodon

Item:

“The lengths people were going to to try to find this thing were so extensive, I didn’t even bother trying to look since I felt like there wouldn’t be a chance I’d find it.”

In Dice Entertainment’s recently released video game, Battlefield 4, there was rumor of a secret hidden somewhere in it that users spent months trying to find. It was a massive shark, a megalodon, that would apparently appear if you do the right sequence of actions and show up at the right place at the right time. Apparently, it was something someone on the development team added for fun, but wouldn’t tell if it indeed was true.

 

Context:

The informant plays a lot of games and loves easter eggs in games — hidden secrets placed by the developer. He says they range from small scale, like the signature of a designer tucked away in a corner, to large scale, like a massive extinct shark that flies out of the ocean and destroys everything in its path. He says he thinks people eventually found it, but wasn’t sure if they cheated to do that or someone faked it. Apparently, people in these communities band together and put in several hours of work to find these secrets beyond what normal players see.

 

Analysis:

In researching further, it turns out the megalodon is real! Players, after months of searching, found the shark, the last known unfound easter egg in the game. It’s unclear when exactly it was added into the game — either it’s been there since it was released, or the company added it at a later date to surprise fans who had been spreading rumors about its existence. The latter is a really interesting scenario — it’s almost like claiming to have found big foot, but you’re literally in control of whether or not big foot exists. To a certain extent it nullifies the possibility of legends or at least an unknown since the control of existence is in someone’s hands, at least if we allow modification of the original games.

Customs
Holidays

Trick or Drink

Item:

“Eventually it got super boring and some dad drank too much and they had to take care of him, so we left.”

The informant’s hometown had a tradition on Halloween catered toward fathers in the neighborhood. Mothers would typically stay home, passing out candy to kids, while fathers would take the children out for drink or treating. However, at each stop at a father’s house in the group, they would Trick or Drink, which involved going into the house and spending a short while having pre-prepared drinks. The dads would usually prepare the drinks at their respective homes before gathering up to go out, and when they got there on the journey with the kids, the moms would bring the drinks out for all the dads. As the drinking sessions got longer and the dads a little less “focused”, the kids would break off and go out alone or with minimal supervision to continue their trick or treating. The starting house was determined simply by cycling through ones that hadn’t been done in recent years.

 

Context:

The tradition started a few generations before the informant. It served as a way for dads to spend time with their kids but also have fun with each other in the process. The informant remembers it being a rather high energy night until the dads slowed down and took longer at each house, to the point where to kids got bored and wanted to go back out on their own. She wasn’t sure what kinds of drinks were being made since she was so young, but just knows there were a lot of them. Other people in the room chimed in when she mentioned this tradition saying they had looser but similar things that would happen in their hometowns.

 

Analysis:

It’s a little funny how formal this tradition is. While other people present for the performance noted similar tendencies from their hometowns, this particular one had ample preparation, planning, and repetition. While it wasn’t the case that this was the only way the dads could be incentivized to go out with their children, it was obvious that making sure their kids had fun and got candy was not the focus of their night. To a certain extent, it’s a night where the fathers can act more like kids, but with the added benefit of alcohol. The fact that every year at least one dad drank too much and had to be taken care of is also a bit humorous. It wasn’t clear what level of supervision the kids had after they abandoned the dads, or why they needed supervision earlier if they were comfortable going out later alone.

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