Author Archives: apasztor

Hungarian Harvest Dance

GP’s family is from Hungary. His father is a first generation American, and his aunt collected Hungarian family traditions that she then passed on to GP. They are no longer practiced by anyone in the family, in fact, they stopped practicing most of them after World War II. However, the stories of the traditions and customs are still passed down to family members, and collected by GP’s aunt. One involves a harvest celebration.

“Around the middle of October a big Harvest Dance is always held.  The hall is decorated–hanging from the ceiling across the entire hall are strings to which clusters of grapes, pears and apples have been tied. There are boys and girls dressed in Hungarian costumes–it is their job to try and catch someone stealing one of the fruits while they’re dancing.  If they do they take them to a special table and they are told how much they have to pay for the fruit (usually a dime in those times). This money went to help out the school and church.”

This is another festival that falls in line with the seasons and the natural harvest of crops, celebrating the bounty. The hanging fruit is a fun twist, especially as a fundraiser that supports the local community and strengthens the community and traditions.

Zhi nv and Niu Lang

“Legend says that there is a Zhi Nv star and a Qian Niu star and they fell in love; but the law of heaven (chinese heaven) forbids man and woman to fall in love, so as a punishment, Qian Niu star was stripped of his “heaven” status and forced to descend to the human world, while Zhi Nv star was forced to make clouds out of the spinning wheel indefinitely. After Qian Niu star was sent to the human world, he was “born” into a farm family and being named “Niu (cow) Lang.” After his family passed away, he went to live with his uncle and aunt who treated him terribly, and casted him out of the house with nothing but a broken cart and a cow. Niu Lang managed to make a living with himself with just that but his life is still very poor and terrible, and then one day the cow told Niu Lang to go to Bi Lian Chi (green lotus pool) and that if he hid the red clothes of the fairy, he can have that fairy as his wife. Niu Lang did that, and so when it’s time to leave, all the other fairies flew away with their clothes, but Zhi Nv, having her clothes hidden, could not leave. Zhi Nv was very embarrassed but Niu Lang told her that he will not give her her clothes back unless she marries her. Zhi Nv looked at Niu Lang once again and realized that he is the reincarnation of the Qian Niu Star that she loved so much so then she said yes to marrying him.

The two then are happily married and had one daughter and one son. Just when they thought they could be together forever, the queen of heaven Wang Mu (direct translation: King Mom) found out about this and sent for heaven guards to go and capture her. At the same time, Niu Lang comes crying to Zhi Nv telling her that the cow has died and that before it died it told Niu Lang that if he skins him, he can use his cow skin to fly to the sky.

The guards came to capture Zhi Nv and thus Niu Lang followed with their children and the cow skin. Just as they are about to reach each other, Wang Mu came and created a sky river that rushed between the two and they can never cross it. Niu Lang and the children cried so hard that eventually Wang Mu was touched by their love and thus allowed the two to meet once on the 7th of July every year. Since then, the two lives up in the sky with a river in between them where they stand on each side and try to look for each other, and the 7th of July became the Chinese Valentine’s day that people celebrate.”

CM says that based on geographic location apparently the stars are actually located that way. Everyone learned this tale as a kid and would celebrate Chinese Valentine’s day, which is very similar to western valentines day. It’s an excuse for people to give presents to each other and go on dates, etc. In Chinese movies they prohibit western holidays so they often use this as valentines day. It’s interesting that it is based on forbidden love, similar but a much less gory story than the western St. Valentine.

Liang Shan Bo and Ju Ying Tai

“Zhu Ying Tai was a girl from a good reputable and well off family; however, she was not satisfied with woman’s lifestyle then and she begged her family to let her dress up as a guy and to attend school, to which her family finally said yes to.

At school, she met a guy named Liang Shan Bo who was gentle and very intelligent, and the two hit it off really well, and in the span of three years, they became the best of friends. Eventually, they parted ways and the next time Liang Shan Bo met Zhu Ying Tai, she came to him in the form of a girl, and they finally realized their love for each other.

Thus, Liang Shan Bo asked for her hand in marriage, but her family has already decided to marry her off to another son of a rich family. Liang Shan Bo despaired so much that he fell sick and passed away. Zhu Ying Tai, who’s been trying to defy this marriage, suddenly agreed to it. She wore her red wedding gown, and went into the carriage, everything was happy and loud till after the carriage landed, Zhu Ying Tai walked out in all plain clothes, and walked to the grave of Liang Shan Bo. She started wailing loudly and a storm came with loud banging noises, until eventually the grave split open, and she jumped in and disappeared. The storm now faded, and a pair of butterflies flew out of the grave, dancing happily under the sun.”

CM learned this folktale growing up in China. It’s somewhat similar to a Chinese Romeo and Juliet, lovers separated by family and dying for each other’s love. The magical element of the loud storm, grave opening up, and butterflies leaving the grave gives it a very mystical fairytale-like edge.

Dad Joke #1

Why do scuba divers fall backwards off a boat? Because if they fell forward they would still be in the boat.

Dudley Town

MR heard another legend about a town 30 minutes away from his Connecticut summer camp.

“Dudley town is right outside a settlement where everyone died mysteriously. Every 7 years, someone near Dudley town spontaneously dies. No one knows why they died, but it’s located in a forest called “Dark Entry Forest.” Very ominous you know. The forest is between three hills, and completely dark inside. I tried to film something there, and got a cease & desist letter from law. People will call police on you if they see you nearby, so there are legends that people are cooking meth there too or that all this shady business is going on.”

Summer camps seem to be a major place where legends and scary stories are spread. They seem to often surround very remote rural towns, and people tend to jump to the conclusion that weird hillbillies are cooking meth as a fallback explanation for suspicious activities.

Masha and Natasha

AD’s grandma is originally from Kursk, Russia, and would always tell her fables and fairytales whenever AD came to visit. She has fond memories with her cousins sitting around her grandma as she would tell these stories in a thick accent. Her grandma would always compare herself to Baba Yaga or make jokes about her, and the stories were a very important part of their relationship. This was the most memorable fable she told AD. It follows many aspects of Propp’s fairytale structure, notable the abstention of a parent, an evil stepmother, a donor (the mouse), a test, and a homecoming. This is then repeated again by the other daughter, Natasha, but unsuccessfully, serving as a moral warning against selfishness.

“Masha is a sweet, prefect girl, a Cinderella type: beautiful, smart and sweet. She lives with her mother and father on farm. It’s nice but they don’t have a lot of money. Then, her mother dies, and her father remarries. The other woman has a daughter, Natasha, but she is opposite of Masha: ugly, spoiled, rude, selfish. Her mother loves her a lot. Masha’s dad loves the mom, plus she has money, which helps. The step mother does not like Masha, and wants Natasha to have all the opportunities. One day, she’s talking to her husband and says, “We cant afford to take care of both of these girls. Masha is smart and strong, she’ll be fine. Take her out in the forest and leave her with a candle and a little kasha (porridge) and she’ll be fine!”

After hesitation he agrees, and takes Masha, puts her in the cart with a candle & kasha. He then takes her into middle of the forest and doesn’t tell her what he’s doing. He says goodbye and leaves her. She’s cold and sad, so shemakes herself some kasha heated by candle. Then a little mouse comes over (“mouth” as pronounced by grandma) and asks

“Oh I’m so hungry, will you share with me?”

“Oh but I only have a little”

“Please, I’ll help you in return”

Masha, being generous and kind, gives him some. She doesn’t know here’s a bear in the forest, but all of a sudden the bear comes over and is like “Get out of my forest”

Mash says no.

The bear says, “Okay, I’ll make a little bet with you. I’m going to throw 3 stones. You are going to run in a circle around this cave. I’m going to close my eyes so I can’t see, and throw stones. If I hit you, you’re dead. if I miss all 3 times, I will give you all the riches, jewels, gowns and wealth you could want.”

Masha looks at the mouse, and the mouse says “Do it, I’ll help you.”

She takes the deal.

The mouse takes Masha’s place and runs in the circle while Masha stands aside.

The bear throws the 1st stone.

“Did I hit you?”


He throws the 2nd stone.

“Did I hit you?”


He throws the 3rd stone.

“Did I hit you?”


The mouse runs away. The bear gives Masha her riches, servants, and a beautiful carriage. The next morning, the rooster is crowing “coocuracoo.” Natasha looks and says “is that Masha?”

stepmom says,  “No she’s dead!”

“No it’s Masha!”

It’s her, returning with all these beautiful things. She has a happy reunion with father.

The stepmom can’t stand that Masha came back with all beautiful things. She wants the same thing for her daughter, and decides to send her out to same place so she can also get riches. Of course they send her with lots of food, lots of stuff, an entire full wagon into forest. The dad drops her off. She sits down and doesn’t know what to do, so she lights a candle and starts making food. The mouse comes over and says “Oh I know you”

“You don’t know me”

“Oh you’re not Masha”

The mouse asks for food, and she refuses to give him any because she’s spoiled.

Then the bear comes over, and proposes same deal he made to Masha.

Natasha takes the deal.

She starts running in the circle. obviously not as fast as the mouse who refuses to help her. He kills her with the first stone.

The next day, the rooster crows “coocooracooo”

The stepmother has been waiting for her daughter to return with the riches in a carriage, but all they see is the wagon coming, carrying Natasha’s bones.”

The Magic Fish

AD’s grandma is originally from Kursk, Russia, and would always tell her fables and fairytales whenever AD came to visit. She has fond memories with her cousins sitting around her grandma as she would tell these stories in a thick accent. Her grandma would always compare herself to Baba Yaga or make jokes about her, and the stories were a very important part of their relationship. One tale she commonly told warns of greed, through the story of the magic fish. The magic fish is an interesting variation of similar magic creatures, genies or the like, that grant wishes in fables.

“There’s a poor husband and wife living in Russia. The wife is nasty woman, and the man is hard worker, sweet, and very poor. They don’t have much money, and he is a fisherman. (fish hard to find in Russia, informant notes) One day they have a big fight, she yells at him “Why cant you do anything, you piece of garbage!” He feels bad and so he grabs fishing gear and goes down to the body of water, sad. He catches a fish and reels him in. The fish says “throw me back in the water, I’m not ready to die.” Surprised that the fish is talking, the man throws him back.

The fish then says “let me repay you for throwing me back and saving me. I’ll grant some wishes for you. What do you want?”

“Well, my wife wants a new house”

He goes home, and has amazing new house.

The wife is amazed, and says “Go back tomorrow and ask for 15 horses.”

The next day he finds the fish.

“What do you want now?”

“She wants 15 horses.”

“Ok, when you go home, there will be 15 horses.”

Th man goes home, sure enough, finds 15 horses there.

The wife says, “This is fantastic, I want you to go back to that fish tomorrow, and tell the fish that I want to be queen, with you as my king.”

“Don’t you think that’s asking a lot?” says the husband.

She gets angry, so he goes back to the fish once more.

“Well what does your wife want now?”

“She wants to be queen.”

“Ok, when you go home wife will be queen.”

The man goes home, and his wife is now the queen. She is getting greedier and greedier, and asks him to go back again to the fish, asking him to “Go and ask for all the wealth in the country, everything!”

So the man goes back to fish and says, “I want you to take everything away from my wife.”

He goes home and has nothing. The wife , furious, asks what happened.

“I don’t know, I guess the fish died,” he explains.

“Oh you stupid man,” she yells. She decides to go to find the fish herself.

“What do you wish for, lady?”

“I want everything.”
“Okay, go home and you’ll find everything.”

She goes home and immediately dies. The man lives happily ever after.


My informant’s grandmother is Russian, and what was a common food in her country became a family tradition for holidays and other get togethers once they moved to the United States and settled in New Orleans. Her memories associated with that side of the family always involve making pelmeni together, giving it a lot of sentimental value. It’s interesting how the tradition is passed down and each person has their own role that they fill, including the younger children being given something to do so that they also feel included.

“Whenever we’re all together, we always make pelmeni, a Russian dumpling. My great grandma would sit down and make everything by hand (dough, meat, etc) and would pound out hundreds of absolutely perfect and soft pelmeni, the most amazing you will have in your entire life. She had 5 kids, the oldest is my grandma and youngest is my Aunt Tanya (a 24 year difference between them). As a little kid, would go to grandma’s house and get little wrappers and sit around the table and make the dumplings. My grandma would give my little sister one tiny piece of dough and meat, and my sister would fix it and say “okay that’s good but I think you could do a little better” with same piece. She would play with same piece of dough and meat for hours while the older kids and adults made the actual pelmeni. My great grandma’s five kids each have several kids who have several kids, so I have tons of super close cousins all living in new Orleans. The torch was passed down from my grandma and my mom is now the honorary one in charge of making them, and it will probably be passed on to my sister later on, since she has the knack for it.”

Merde for Luck

“Merde” means shit in French, and in German theater is used as a good luck blessing before a show. It originally meant something along the lines of “may there be a lot of horse shit outside your theater from all the people coming to see the show.”

The Giant’s Causeway

PL was visiting the giant’s causeway in Northern Ireland, and ran into someone there who started telling her about the legends surrounding the place.

“The giant’s causeway, a natural rock formation, was thought to be the giants’ stepping stones out of the water.

The Irish and Scottish giants didn’t get along, but the Scottish giant was way bigger. The Irish giant heard that the Scottish giant was coming to take over Ireland, so the Irish giant built a big baby crib. As soon as he heard the Scottish giant stomping on his way over, he dressed himself up as a baby and got into the crib.

The Scottish giant took one look at him, decided that if that was the baby, he sure as hell didn’t want to meet the parents, and turned around and went home.”


I love that the natural formations of the area were inspiration for tales such as this. It really does look like giant steps, and is understandable how it plays a large part in the folklore of the area. The tale also very much plays off the idea of the us vs them mentality, with the Irish giant in opposition to the Scottish giant. There’s also cultural pride in that their giant was able to outwit the Scottish one despite the other’s advantage.