Author Archive
Holidays

Dia de los Muertos

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in Mexico and currently lives in Brazil. She came to visit me.

Informant: So there is the day of the dead in Mexico. In Spanish, it’s called the dia de los muertos. Basically, it’s a day where you worship… well not exactly worship… it’s a day dedicated to remembering all of the people who passed away and celebrate their life.

Collector: I’ve heard it’s like Halloween. Is this true?

Informant: No, its not like Halloween. On this day, normally you go to the person’s tomb with their favorite food and you place it there like you’re offering them your favorite food. And you also eat it, not theirs but you have a plate of their own.

Collector: Do you eat the food with them?

Informant: Yes you eat it with them on their tomb, and then you decorate their tomb with a bunch of flowers, and everyone dresses up like skull candy, like skeletons but in a fancy way, and then you also save them their favorite alcohol, and you have to drink like your drinking with them, and you play their favorite music, and its like you’re having a party with the tomb.

Collector: Do you pour the alcohol on their grave or do you just leave it there?

Informant: You just leave the cup there with their favorite food. There not actually supposed to be eating it, it’s a more symbolic thing, just to honor them.

Collector: Have you done this before?

Informant: I’ve done it before both in Mexico and in Brazil. But since all of my family is buried in Mexico, I don’t go to the graveyard in Brazil. Instead, I do kind of an alter, like you build an alter for them in the house if you don’t go visit their tombstone, and you can put their favorite food there, and there’s a special bread that you do for that celebration that’s basically a sweet bread. It’s called Pan de Muerto. Bread of the dead.

Everyone kinda gets together during this holiday and it doesn’t really matter who are are, cuz youre celebrating the dead. Who you are and where you come from doesn’t really matter.

Collector: Who have you celebrated?

Informant: I celebrated my grandfathers and Frida Kahlo. It’s not just for family members, you can celebrate whoever you want if their dead.

Collector: Why do you like it?

Informant: I like it because it’s a big party and you don’t mourn them you kind of celebrate them. You look at death with more of a positive attitude. My mother would do it at home when I was young, she would decorate the house and she would celebrate my grandparents. I think its good to remember the people who pass away because sometimes we forget them.

I found it fascinating how in Mexican culture, they have an entire day to celebrate the dead. Generally, when people think of dead people, the thought tends to be accompanied with feelings of mourning. The Mexican culture turns the tables on this feeling, and takes one day out of the year to celebrate the dead and interact with them as if they were living. I also found it interesting that you don’t necessarily celebrate only family members. I would think that when mourning or celebrating the dead, it would be people that you knew rather than strangers, but I think it’s interesting how they really embrace the whole celebration of the dead thing.

Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Swedish Stereotypes

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Informant: There’s a lot of stereotypes of Swedish people. Everyone always says that we are blonde, skinny, tall, and have blue eyes, which is not true. It’s really not true. Most Swedish girls do highlights, which is why everyone thinks we are. Many people are blonde-ish but not like blonde blonde. Swedish girls are said to be like this, but this is only really in the big cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg. People just care more about appearances in bigger cities. In smaller cities, people do not look like the Swedish stereotype. They’re not like that. People are not as high class, people do not really care about being skinny or healthy. People think of these stereotypes because people only go to the big cities and they don’t visit the small cities only the bigger ones, so they see these people and generalize.

Collector: Has this stereotype ever affected you in any way?

Informant: I mean, it doesn’t affect me in a bad way, people think that Swedish people are really cool and pretty and Sweden is known. Everyone used to always ask me why aren’t you blonde? Why don’t you have blue eyes? But people always know that I’m Swedish, they can usually tell with my accent. Also there’s stereotypes of Sweden working well too, with the government and life being easy. Teachers are always asking me questions about Sweden. When they need a good country to compare another one to. I mean, it’s true it does work well, but there are a lot of downsides that people don’t really see, like the immigrants have so many rights, a lot of people are really worried about the amount of immigrants and how they affect our country. Sure, they are acceptive of immigrants, but it’s making Sweden less safe and taking away rights from the Swedes, but all that the outsiders see is that it works so well.

Collector: You sound like Donald Trump.

Informant: (Laughs) No, it can’t be compared. Like the size of the United States is too big compared to Sweden. Like we are very acceptive of immigrants, but it just needs to be regulated, like no one wants to kick them out.

I like that my friend told me about Swedish stereotypes because I have often been the target of Brazilian stereotypes. Not only did she talk about the stereotypes involving physical appearance, but she also mentioned how people perceive the country in general. I think what she said about immigrants is really enlightening because of the situation that is going on in the United States right now with the whole issue of immigration. I think that her perspective – not kicking out immigrants but just regulating it more – would be a great perspective for the United States to take on this issue. It’s really interesting how certain aspects of another person’s folklore and culture can be attributed to current problems in society today.

Tales /märchen

The Windmill in Wawasee

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: We have a lake house in Wawasee, Indiana, and, behind our house, there’s this big like green kind of forest and it drops down into a creek. And there’s a property right next to it, where there’s this big wide patch of green with a windmill in the middle of it, and behind it is this creek, and the place where it drops off into a creek is hard to see, and so the area is not safe around the windmill, and nobody wanted their kids playing there. So this windmill, I could only see inside the windows if I was on my tiptoes. So when I was younger, it was very mysterious to me, and my parents didn’t want me and my cousin playing near the creek because they thought we would fall in. So they told us that there was a witch that lived inside of the windmill. The legend that they told us was that during the day, she wouldn’t live in the windmill, and that was why you couldn’t see her during the day, but at night, she would live in there. And if there were children around at night and she saw them, she would take them and she would eat them. So me and my cousins would go up to the windmill and dare each other to go look in it, and we would take our dogs for a walk and when we would like walk past the windmill, we would have to run by it because we were just so scared. And it wasn’t just our parents that told us, but it was like a thing in the neighborhood, like all of the kids knew that there was this witch that lived in this windmill, and still to this day it’s still there, like the property has never been bought. Nobody knows who owns the property or how the windmill got there, but its been there since before my mom lived there, and like her parents told her about the witch too, and it’s been passed down from her since her childhood. And the older kids would tell me that they would see the witch in the windmill, and when I was older I would tell the little kids. And not until I was older did I realize that the whole point was to protect us from going near this creek at night and falling in.

Collector: Does this story have any special significance to you?

Informant: I think the significance is that even today when I walk past it, I always think of the legend, and when I look at the windmill now, I still get scared. It’s just like stuck with me all of this time.

This story isn’t a well-known national story, it’s just a story that people would tell their children in this small like place in Indiana. In a way, I think that that makes this story even more interesting because it’s cool to see how folklore can be created from mystery and warnings. It’s cool to note how the parents would tell their kids this story to keep them from adventuring into the creek at night, and drowning without anyone to help them. The kids, however, never realized this, and until they were older, it just served as a mysterious story for them. In that way, folklore serves two different purposes: to protect and to entertain.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Camp P________ Secret Ritual

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: So ever since I was a kid, I went to this sleep away camp called Camp P________ (name removed by request). Once you reach a certain level at the camp, a lot of people know you, like a sufficient amount of people, and you can get inducted. So the second week, every two week during campfire, everyone who is inducted, which is a huge secret at my camp, like nobody knows about it, they come to campfire, and they say like please stop what you’re doing and follow us in silence. And then they lead you into the woods, and everyone’s dressed as indians. And you recognize them, but you can’t talk to them, they won’t smile and they won’t look at you, you walk, you all sit in this area, there’s like bonfires everywhere, this woman sits in the middle, and it’s like a ritual. The girls and boys are separate, by the way, there’s no boys around. She starts this whole ceremony and she says all of these native american prayers and does these rituals, and it’s all accurate too. And then, everyone has a specific name at camp, so the lady says “Giggling Chipmunk and Mountain Sunrise, come down from the hills and bring us the one that we shall call Spastic Chipmunk.” That’s my name. And they run and they grab you and they drag you from the crowd, and you have no idea if you’re being taken, you’re blinded and you’re stripped naked, they beat you, and then you get this necklace and it’s this hand painted necklace, and every single one is different, and there’s a rock on the end of it, and it’s a symbol that’s specific to you. So like mine is a sunrise, and that’s how we know that someone’s in the tribe. And if anyone asks about the necklace, you’re supposed to just say “My friend made it for me,” just very casual. And you spend the entire night with the tribe, and there’s this party after, and the next day you act like everything is back to normal, and then you, the next year, get to choose people to be part of the tribe. And it all stems from this indian tribe called the Paioka, and the guys do the same thing, except they wear a necklace that’s just an eagle on it, and it’s a representation of the Monotauk Indian tribe, and a lot of our camp counselors have it tattooed on them. It’s a really spiritual thing at our camp, because those tribes used to live there back in the day.

Collector: It sounds like this ritual was very significant to you.

Informant: It definitely was. They always told us that whenever we feel alone or sad, you just touch your necklace and you can feel the voices of the women in our tribe. (Starts crying) Sorry, I’m so emotional. There’s people that wear it year-round. I probably should. It really means a lot to me.

I never went to sleep away camp, so I never experienced anything like what she is talking about here. However, it was very emotional for me to see her reacting so strongly to her memory of this ritual. Because this is something that is very foreign to me and hard for me to understand, it was really cool to hear her describe it so visually. I could almost feel as if I was there experiencing it with her. I also think it’s really interesting how this ritual stems from rituals of previous Native American tribes, and that they still honor them today.

Customs

Chicago Parking Chairs

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: So there’s this really strange tradition where I’m from in Chicago. And I mean, I don’t know if it’s only a Chicago thing, I don’t know if they do it in other parts of the States too, but it’s very common to see in Chicago. So like, basically, what the tradition is is that during the cold months, when people have to shovel the snow off of their parking spots, they have to remove their cars, right? So what people do is that they will put a chair, sometimes they put other things, but usually it’s a chair, and they will put the chair in their parking spot so that no one takes it. Because parking in Chicago is really hard. And like people will do this for games too. Like I’ve done it before when I went to a Cubs game. That’s a baseball team in Chicago by the way. But yeah, so it’s super popular to go to, and everyone’s looking for parking, so people will put chairs in their parking spaces to reserve it for them.

Collector: Do people actually respect these chairs?

Informant: Yes. I mean, of course there’s some people who don’t. But most of the time, because everyone does it, yes, they respect it. Like you won’t really see someone removing a chair unless it’s their chair, and they’re taking their parking space. It’s just because parking goes so fast there, because there’s so many people. But people tend to be respectful of it, it’s a pretty big tradition there.

Collector: Is there anything that you particularly like about this tradition?

Informant: Well, I always find it funny when I go down the streets and I see a bunch of chairs all over the place. I like it because it reminds me that it’s going to be the holidays soon. But other than humor, I’m pretty indifferent towards it.

I think this story is really cool because its so different from my culture. Where I’m from, Sao Paulo, there are a lot of people and also difficulties finding parking, but if somebody were to put a chair to save their parking space, people would laugh, remove the chair, and park their anyways. I think it’s interesting how this has become such a tradition in Chicago that people respect other people’s chairs and parking spaces. It’s also cool to see how a tradition can arise from external factors such a temperature and spacial arrangement.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: So there’s this bedtime prayer and it goes like “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” When I was younger, I had a doll and every time I squeezed her, she would say that. And when I went to bed, my mom would squeeze the doll, and the doll would say it and I would say it, and then it became a ritual that we would have. And in my mind, as a child, I didn’t think that it was scary until it started being incorporated into American horror movies. So when I was 10 or 11, I remember watching a horror movie, and this very scary doll saying the same lyrics. So now, it’s a common prayer that started to be associated in multiple horror movies, and the origins are definitely from the bible, but it’s not a typical religious saying. In my generation, it was common that stuffed animals or dolls would say it. But now they don’t really sell these things anymore, because it’s turned into a creepy symbol in American culture, and it scares people.

Collector: Who gave you this doll originally?

Informant: My mom gave me the doll. I just remember having it. In my mind, it was like a protection spell, like it protected me in my sleep. Like in my mind, it never registered as something that was scary, until I started seeing it in horror movies, because of the way that they made the dolls say it. It was in such a creepy manner. It still exists in some parts of culture. I’m not saying it’s completely a horror movie thing, but in my perception I’m very scared of it now. The earliest version was from 1711 I think, like it dates back that far. It technically is a prayer, but it turned into this ritual between my and my mom when I was a kid. And I know other of my friends who had that said to them, when they were kids, mostly because I was also raised by a Christian family and went to a Catholic school.

Collector: Does this particular piece of folklore have any special significance to you?

Informant: It has meaning to me because it’s a big representation of my youth. That like, when I was younger, it was this comforting thing to me, and it’s shown me like how, as I got older, my perceptive of the world has changed.

For another version of this myth, see “Standard Publishing Editorial Staff. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. N.p.: Standard Pub, 2011. Print.”

Because I have personally never watched a horror movie, I cannot say that I find this particular phrase creepy. However, I can see why it has been used in multiple scary stories, as it is very suggestive of death. I think it’s interesting how people actually manufactured and bought dolls with this saying inside of them, and I think that might have been something that contributed to the rise of this saying in horror movies. When I actually think about the prayer though, it makes sense as a protection spell, and really isn’t scary at all. Basically, it asks God to protect your soul while you sleep, and if anything were to happen to you at night, then to at least bring your soul to heaven. I think it is the particular phrasing and word choice of the prayer that has made it such a creepy horror icon today.

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Guy Fawkes’ Day

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.

Informant: So in 1605, this dude called Guy Fawkes was arrested trying to blow up the house of parliament in London, and it was likeI’m pretty sure the king and all of the important people were there, and he was trying to kill them, but he got caught and that was on the 5th of November. So every year, on the 5th of November, like schools and families and like clubs and stuff in England make a huge bonfire, and then they make like a doll, like a human sized figure of Guy Fawkes, and then they burn him on the bonfire, and there’s like fireworks and like a barbecue and stuff, every year.

Collector: So you celebrate him or him not blowing up the parliament?

Informant: Well, we burn him every year, so we definitely don’t celebrate him. It’s like a celebration of I guess his failure. It’s a very chill day though, we eat burgers and hot dogs and hang around by the bonfire. Like we don’t have a meal with our family. It’s more like the whole community gets together and there’s like fireworks and stuff. There’s a song too.

Collector: A song? What is it?

Informant: It goes like this

Remember, remember the 5th of November

Gunpowder Treason and plot

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Would ever be forgot

It’s not that big of a deal though, like we don’t sing it around the campfire or anything. It’s just something that people know.

I thought this was particularly interesting because it’s a holiday that revolves around an attempter murder. Albeit the burning of the figure of this murder, but a murder none the less. I think it’s cool how even until today, people remember it, and I think that this might be because the monarchy in England is still in power. I believe that this is not only a fun way for people to celebrate with their family and friends, but also a way to honor their monarchy. It makes me wonder if the holiday began as a way for the monarchy to keep its citizens in line, so that nobody would try to recreate Guy Fawkes’ murder attempts.

Legends

King Arthur

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.

Informant: King Arthur’s a pretty well known story, so I don’t know how much I can say that you probably don’t already know. But it’s a pretty big story in England, like he kinda symbolizes our heritage and stuff like that. And I think we had a real King Arthur too so some people think the story is real, which I think is funny. But basically the story goes like this. Arthur’s father was the king of England, but then like he really liked this other girl that was married to someone else, so he asked Merlin for help. Merlin’s the wizard. And he made himself look like that girl’s husband. And then they had Arthur, but Arthur was raised by a knight and didn’t know that his dad was the king or whatever. So eventually, the king died and like he didn’t have any kids except for Arthur who didn’t know that he was his kid. And then Merlin did this thing where he put the sword in this stone, and he said that the person who could take the sword out of the stone was the king. And then a bunch of people tried but like nobody could do it until Arthur came and did it, and he became the king. There’s a lot that comes after that with like the round table and the knights and all of that, but I don’t really know much about that. Just the sword thing.

Collector: Is there anything in particular that you like about this story?

Informant: It’s like part of my culture, I guess. Even though like everybody knows the story, it’s a very British thing, and we take pride in it. I mean, I don’t care much for that, but I know that a lot of people do. I just think it’s a cool story.

For another version of this story, see “Matthews, John. The Book of Arthur: Lost Tales from the Round Table. Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky & Konecky, 2002. Print.”

I have already heard of the tale of King Arthur multiple times, but I didn’t know that it meant a lot to English people. I thought that it was just a random story that Disney used and made popular, because that was the first time I had ever heard of it. It’s interesting to see how a story that is so well known around the world can have particular significance to a specific culture. Another thing that I think is interesting is that I didn’t know that the story included the king disguising himself to commit adultery. If my memory serves me right, I don’t remember that having been a part of the Disney movie. This is something that Disney has always done – obscure the more intense, not-PG versions of stories, and it makes me wonder what other things Disney has obscured.

Game
Musical

London Bridge

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.

Informant: Do you know the London Bridge song?

Collector: Yes.

Informant: Ah, yes. Well, I guess it’s pretty popular over here too. But basically, it’s a song that goes like this:

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair lady.

I think the actual song is longer than that, but that’s all that people really use. So what we do, it’s usually a kids game, but what we do is we get two people to stand together and hold their arms together like they’re making a bridge, and then people have to run under it, until the last line. And then the people drop their arms and trap whoever is under it, and like that person loses. It’s like a song, but it’s also a game, which is cool.

Collector: Do you have any idea where it might have come from?

Informant: I actually have no idea the history behind the song. I just know that it’s a really old game, and a lot of kids play it. It’s pretty popular. I don’t think the London Bridge has ever really fallen down. I hope it won’t.

I remember playing this game when I was a kid, and it’s interesting to hear that it’s popular all over the world too. Despite mentioning London in part of the lyrics, I didn’t actually know that this was a traditional English song. I thought that the Americans had made it up during the revolution to show patriotism and strength to beat the British. It’s funny to see that I was completely wrong my entire life, and that the song is nothing more than a mere game that people used to play in England, and passed on to the people in America and all over the world.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Swedish Birthday

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Informant: This is like a birthday ritual, that’s very common in swedish cultute. It’s not really anything major, but it’s tradition. So basically your family will wake you up on your birthday very early in the morning before you do anything else. And then the birthday person is still in bed and is woken up by the family coming in and singing happy birthday and bringing presents. And then also you just have some breakfast in bed and open presents and take pictures. We always open our presents in the morning. It’s very Swedish.

Collector: How long have your parents been doing this to you for?

Informant: This has happened to me since I was a kid. I got a bike once, when I was 5 and I was super happy, I opened all of my presents in my bed, and then I walked down and it was something in the living room and it was covered by something and I uncovered it and it was a little bike. It was great, and it made me happy for the rest of the day.

Collector: Do they bring you a cake when they wake you up?

Informant: No, they don’t really come in the morning with a cake. They generally reserve the cake for afternoon or at night. Sometimes, they will put a candle on a platter and will bring something small for me to eat like an orange. We do it for my parents too. My mom will like wake up earlier without waking up my dad if we’re doing it for him.

Collector: So they do it for everyone on every birthday regardless of how old you are?

Informant: Yes, my parents actually made me come home this year to brazil so that they could wake me up like this and celebrate my birthday. It’s always been tradition, so even though we are far away, we have to be together for our birthdays. Also, we sing a special birthday song in Swedish.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s nice, I feel surrounded by love and its your birthday and your parents and your friends and all the attention is on you. I would hate to wait, I love that it’s early and they come in the morning to wake me up, it’s so much better than waiting until a birthday dinner. It’s a really nice time to get together with your family and celebrate your birthday and get attention and love and all of that stuff. It’s very Swedish to be family oriented.

In my family, we always celebrate birthdays at night. That might be because Brazilian culture involves a lot of partying, and partying usually happens at night. I have never celebrated my birthday in the morning. My parents have obviously told me happy birthday when they see me in the morning, but it’s not really a big deal. It’s a much bigger deal at night when we go out for dinner with family and friends, but during the day we go about our day as usual. I think it’s interesting how much Swedish culture differs from my Brazilian culture. My friend loves being woken up early in the morning for her birthday, whereas my parents know that if they woke me up early, I would not be happy. Neither would my parents if the role were reversed. So although birthdays are big things in every culture, I find it cool how the celebration of birthdays differs within different cultures.

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