Author Archive
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Modern Passover dinner

I asked a fellow classmate if he partook in any traditions regarding a specific holiday, and the conversation was led to the topic of food:

“Every year at Passover dinner my family and I eat the same food. There will always be a traditional Seder plate which will have around 5 or 6 items on it like bitter herbs, egg, and some sort of vegetable. My Nana will also always make her homemade brisket which is what her and her parents did for Passover in Romania where she’s from. And we always have Matzah Ball soup too.”

I then asked how long this tradition has been in his life and where it started in his family:

“I have had this meal on Passover since the first Passover I can remember. And my Nana is the one who brought it to our family.“

 

Background Information: Matthew is a 19-year old male born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Both of his parents are Jewish.

Context: Matthew shared this story with me in a conversation about holiday traditions with our families over coffee.

Analysis: Growing up in a Christian home, it was very interesting to gain an understanding of a cultural tradition, that for me, is unfamiliar and never personally experienced. It led me to think about my own traditions with reference to food and the meals my family will consistently have year after year for specific holidays or events. Attached is a picture the actual Seder plate Matthew’s family provided at Passover dinner this year (2018).

 

The seder plate at Passover dinner this year (2018)

The seder plate at Passover dinner this year (2018)

For more information of a traditional Seder plate served at Passover : https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/1998/jewish/The-Seder-Plate.htm

Customs
Folk speech
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Italian Family tradition

I asked Mae her earliest memories of traveling to Chicago to visit her extended family, she responded:

“My great- great grandma moved to the U.S. directly from Italy so obviously they had a really Italian family and they ended up living in south side Chicago. She owned chickens, and every Sunday she would go into her coop, ring a chickens neck, clean it kill it, and make pasta Bolognese using the meat.”

I then asked, “When did you first learn the recipe or heard about the story?”:

“I must have first made the Bolognese sauce in 4th grade. I know I didn’t hear the story until later because I remember in 9th grade for an art class I did an art painting about my family and I painted a chicken head on the front”

 

Background: Mae is a 19 year old girl raised in Westwood, CA and currently living in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents are originally from Chicago and Little Rock, and she lived in Princeton, NJ briefly as a young girl.

Context:Mae shared this story with me while we were cleaning the dishes in our apartment.

Analysis: It is incredibly easy to overlook elements of someone’s culture that affect their folkloric practices simply by never asking questions. Mae is one of my closest friends, and I had no idea that her grandma immigrated from Italy or lived in south side Chicago. Understanding where someone comes from culturally and geographically creates the opportunity to really understand more about their identity. Hearing this story about Mae’s grandmother I felt like I was seeing a new side of her and gaining a clearer understanding of the origins to her stories she tells every day. I was reminded of recipes I have learned from my family members that have truly become a part of my own identity and my family’s identity like my mom’s banana bread and my grandmother’s scalloped potatoes.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas presents & Christmas stockings tradition

My mother has established a very specific way that we do Christmas presents and stockings in our family and it goes as follows:

Stockings are opened on Christmas morning only with our immediate family (extended family waiting in another room) and takes place sitting on my parents’ bed in our pajamas. We would then go downstairs for the rest of the presents.

As young children, we would receive one big gift from “Santa” that was left unwrapped under our fireplace, and the rest of the presents were found under the tree and were addressed from the respective person who bought them (Dad, Mom, Grandma etc.)

As older adults, we still open presents but we open a couple from immediate family members at Christmas Eve dinner and the rest Christmas morning, without an unwrapped gift from Santa.

 

 

Background: Tamara has lived her entire life in Southern California and moved her family to Malibu in 2001. She is married and has two children.

Context: My mom started this tradition in our family once me and my brother were both born, and we still do it to this day on Christmas. I asked my mom if she came up with the tradition on her own last weekend while we were at a family dinner and she said she started it when she had kids.

Analysis: As a kid, I thought this was customary, and everyone who celebrated Christmas did it in the same way my family did. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized every family had their own unique Christmas traditions, and how much I appreciated my own. This tradition that my mom started years ago is something I will definitely carry on when I have a family of my own, and I am excited at the idea of adapting it in my own way, while continuing my mother’s ritual.

Game
Humor

Oreo Practical Joke

As a practical joke on friends and family Grant as a child would lick the inside of an Oreo out and refill it with white-colored toothpaste. He would then put them back inside the Oreo container and offer them to people.

 

Background: Grant is a twenty-two year old raised in Los Angeles, CA with one younger sister.

Context: Grant told me this joke over lunch talking about funny things we would do as kids.

Analysis: In my opinion, practical jokes are so heavily connected to youth and a lighthearted motive that usually they are just funny and not something to ever get upset over. Especially with the practical joke Grant would play, it is ridiculous to be genuinely mad; more so than getting angry, you just want to get them back with another practical joke. Practical jokes have always been something I find intriguing because I could never think of one off the top of my head or ever have the courage to play a practical joke on another person. I think practical jokes are a compelling element of folklore because the willingness to play a practical joke and which practical joke you choose is a revealing element of someone’s character

Customs
Folk speech
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Friendship Toast

When at a large group dinner with many friends all drinking and eating, Lizzie offers a toast:

“There’s good ships and wood ships and ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships so cheers to you and me”

After she gave the toast, I ask when she uses that particular toast:

“I use it every time I’m with good friends, old or new, to bring everyone together. Regardless of if everyone knows each other or not, it gives everyone a reason to laugh.”

 

 

Background: Lizzie is a recent graduate from USC originally from Riverside, CA and now living in Westwood, CA.

Context: Lizzie will offer this toast frequently when out drinking or eating with friends. I personally heard her say this once at a small party and another time at a birthday dinner. Originally, Lizzie heard it from another friend offering it as a toast when she was 17 years old living in Riverside. She then adopted it as her signature toast and her friends always expect it from her now.

Analysis: Proverbial sayings and in particular short toasts spread very easily since they are usually concise and catchy. In this circumstance, I found it interesting to consider a proverb or toast becoming a part of someone’s personal identity or image to other people like this has for Lizzie. Whenever Lizzie is at an intimate social event, her friends expect this toast from her. It made me consider any phrases or sayings that I frequently use in my daily vocabulary, and if there is a word-based habit that would remind my friends or family of me.

Folk speech
Narrative
Riddle

Riddle

Our conversation went as follows:

Matthew: “You walk into a warehouse and see a man hanging 30 feet in the air from a noose. All you see is a puddle of water and a fan that is turned on. What happened?”

Me: “Is this a riddle?”

Matthew: “Yes, what happened?”

Me: “Did he spill the water?”

Matthew: “No.”

Me: “But he is in fact dead?”

Matthew: “Yes, with a noose around his neck.”

Me: “I’m not sure, tell me.”

Matthew: “He stood on the top of a tall block of ice and put the noose around his neck. He had turned the fan on, so it slowly melted block of ice. After time he is left he’s hanging in the air, melted ice is the puddle of water you see.”

 

Background Information: Matthew is a 19-year old male born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. He is currently a sophomore at USC.

Context: Matthew shared this story with me in a conversation about holiday traditions with our families over coffee.

Analysis: I find riddles very compelling because unlike a joke, they require creative thought to be solved or understood. I never think to use riddles, as I do not know many, so I am always fascinated when someone finds a way to integrate a riddle within their everyday speech. I had heard a very different rendition of the riddle that Matthew said to me before, but it was different enough that I couldn’t initially see the relation to remember the answer. This is another quality of riddles that makes them so interesting: they demonstrate extreme multiplicity, and you will always find different wording to the riddle and answer depending on who is saying the riddle.

Folk speech
Legends

Scary Story

Madison: “Have you ever heard the story about the dog”

Me: “No…what is it?”

Madison: “So there was this woman that, uh, was blind and deaf and lived alone but she had a dog that would help her do things… like a service dog. They like had a great system going and the biggest part of their relationship was that she really depended on him for her comfort and safety in her way of life. If she felt uncomfortable and needed assurance she would stick her hand out and the dog would lick once if everything was okay and twice if there was something wrong. Actually… think she was just blind and not deaf, or maybe she was? I don’t know…but it’s okay. So one night, she went to sleep and she put her hand out like she did every night to make sure everything was good and the dog licked once. She woke up in the middle of the night because she felt movement so she stuck her hand out and the dog licked her once again so she thought everything was okay. However, the next morning when the dog didn’t retrieve the paper form the mailman she thought something was wrong because that was something he did every morning—which is funny now that I think about it because why would she need a paper. So anyways…we’re getting to the good part…she called the cops and they went to her apartment and she and the dog had been brutally murdered. On the wall in her blood wrote ‘humans can lick too.’”

 

Background: Madison is a twenty-year old female born and raised in Malibu, CA. She is currently a sophomore at USC.

Context: Madison is my roommate, and she told me this story one night while we were doing homework in our living room. Somehow, the topic of scary stories came up and she shared that one.

Analysis: Scary stories were a big part of my childhood and were always brought up at sleepovers and camps during my middle school years. I liked to believe they didn’t ever affect me, although the truly scary ones really did; I find the ability of scary stories to affect people emotionally really interesting since we typically don’t have any sort of legitimate evidence that the story is at all true. I’ve grown up with Madison, so hearing her share a scary story now that we’re older immediately brought me back to the sleepovers we had as kids and the scary stories everyone used to tell. It is an intriguing cultural characteristic to analyze that we enjoy hearing and sharing scary stories, and I am curious to investigate when this specific element of folklore began and how it manifests in different cultures around the world.

Customs
Folk speech
general
Musical

Coconut Willy Song

The lyrics to “Coconut Willy” according to Marjie Hughes are as follows:

 

“Coconut Willie lives in a tree,

plenty papuli it’s easy to see,

all the malahinies, think he’s a king,

they come to Waikiki to see his opu swing!

One night when the moon was high,

Willie took a trip to Molokai,

he flew so high he touched the sky,

thought he was a Minah bird and tried to fly.

Ho ho ho ho.

When the tourists  come to town,

Willie treats them with a smile not a frown,

he rubs them with oil so they won’t boil,

he doesn’t like to see a piece of shark bait spoil!

Ho, ho, ho!

Coconut Willie lives in a tree,

plenty papuli it’s easy to see,

all the malahinies, think he’s a king,

they come to Waikiki to see his opu swing!”

 

Background Information: Marjie is a 78-year old women living in Los Angeles, California. Her father was in the navy; when she was 7-years old she moved to Honolulu, Hawaii and lived on base where she learned to play the ukulele (year was 1947).

Context: Marjie is my grandmother and has sung this song for me with her ukulele since I can remember. I most recently heard her sing her version of Coconut Willy this spring while vacationing in Hawaii with my family. I have grown up hearing her play this song, and when I asked her when she first began playing “Coconut Willy” she shared that she learned the song living in Honolulu and continued to play it with her sisters at family gatherings.

Analysis: This song has been a personal part of my childhood, as I was raised hearing it sung as both a lullaby and sung when on vacation or somewhere tropical. Because of that, this song carries a very specific connotation for me, so it was interesting to consider the song from another perspective, since I know many people must perform it in different ways. For my Grandma, this song reminds her of living on the navy base as a child and singing songs while playing the ukulele with her two sisters, one of whom is no longer living and the other with severe Dementia. Songs carry extreme emotional content that is very individual person to person.

Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

Folded Chip Superstition

As she is eating a bag of chips, I notice her shifting the chips around and only picking up particular ones. I asked: “what are you doing?”

She laughs and responds, “If I open any new bag of tortilla chips I will only eat the chips that are folded over. Those are the lucky ones”

 

Background: She is a 20 year old female from Los Angeles, CA and currently a sophomore business student at USC.

Context: This interaction happened in her apartment while we were doing homework.

Analysis: I find superstitious or “luck-driven” behavior like the one described above to be incredibly interesting. I don’t personally hold and superstitious beliefs that affect my everyday actions that I am aware of, but I find it very compelling to consider the behavior we adopt simply by believing something is “lucky” or “unlucky” without any legitimate knowledge of that being true. The first example I think of is throwing salt over your shoulder after spilling salt over to avoid its bad luck. Throwing salt over your shoulder has become a cultural behavior that is unconsciously done because it is so customary and normal. It is intriguing to analyze the origins of superstitions and how they manifest through different behaviors in an individual’s life.

Folk speech
Humor

Joke

“You ever hear what happened to the two guys who stole a calendar? The both got 6 months”

 

Background: Justin is 23 years old and both raised in and currently residing in Calabasas, CA.

Context:Justin used this joke at Passover dinner.

Analysis: Jokes are a very subjective form of entertainment and rely completely on your audience. I never tell jokes, so I always enjoy when someone else knows a bunch off the top of their head. Justin told this joke at a large family dinner, which is, in my opinion, the perfect audience for a quick, witty joke such as the one told. I almost enjoy an audience’s reaction to joke-telling more than the actual joke itself on occasion, because the delivery and timing is so crucial for the joke to be accepted as hoped.

[geolocation]