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Lighting the Christmas Pudding

Main Piece: KC: Every christmas we have a Christmas pudding, which is, y’know, made from fruit… it’s like a gross fruit cake! And for some reason in my family it’s tradition– and I didn’t think it was weird… here i have a video! And basically you pour brandy in a ladle and light it on fire and put it over the cake, and it makes these beautiful flames, and then we sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and then we eat it!


Context: KC’s family regularly performs this Christmas tradition on Christmas Eve after dinner.


Background: KC is very tied to her British roots, as her parents moved from England while her mother was pregnant with her, and so she has grown up with this and countless other British traditions being passed onto her through her direct and extended family.


Analysis: Hearing this part of KC’s Christmas traditions was particularly interesting, as she told it as if it were a completely normal thing– as you can see by her saying “I didn’t think it was weird”. In telling this story, and seeing reactions to her story, it seemed to be her first inkling that this tradition was not something that every family practices. This Christmas pudding is a very regular practice in England, learned upon more research, and it is particularly interesting due to its heavy requirements in the types of fruit involved, the necessary custard, and the quintessential lighting of the brandy on top.


For another version of this Christmas tradition, see The Telegraph, a British news-source.


Sunday Drives

Main Piece: CR: Grandpa worked 6 days a week and Sunday was his only day off. It was important for him to connect with his family. If you stay at home, I’m off playing with a friend or watching TV, or grandma is asking him to clean the garage, so all four of us would load up in the car and we would drive. And we would just go. Sometimes we’d drive to the desert, sometimes to the mountains. But it wasn’t about the destination. Sometime we’d stop and get a meal, sometimes a soda, look at something interesting, but we weren’t driving for the sake of going somewhere, we were driving for the sake of four people in a car, sharing space and talking. And I hated it, because I’d rather be playing with my friend!  But now as a parent, I can see why they did that That was his way of keeping connected with his family every week. When you and I would go visit Aunt A, that was important, because it waa just the two of us, talking and laughing. And then also, your first year of college! I know i would come pick you up and you were always normally not feeling good, and then when we’d be sitting in traffic for 2 ½ hours sitting that we would have some time together. I think those times in cars as being time to connect. I will extrapolate more even! When you were a baby you would talk and talk and talk, and in the backseat, and I’d have to say to you, “no talking in the car because I’m driving, no talking in the car.” And then I did have a point where I thought to myself, “I have to stop saying that because i don’t want you to think there’s no talking in the car because isolated car time is perfect time for interactions!”


Context: Sunday Drives were taken every Sunday, in both CR’s childhood and in her daughter’s childhood.


Background: Sunday Drives were an important part of CR’s relationship with her parents as she was growing up, and so when she grew her own family she knew that this tradition was just as important to her as it was to her father.


Analysis: Sunday Drives are a typical thing in the American culture; the housewife has been home cleaning all week, her husband has been working 9-5 Monday through Friday, and Sunday is his last day off before he goes to work, before the kids go back to school, etc. Across families, this tradition of taking a family trip to nowhere in particular, or driving just for the sake of driving, is a huge piece of folklore in America. For CR’s family, both as she was growing up and as she was raising her own daughter, these regular drives were so important, as they were time when you were sort of forced to be with your family, you were supposed to bond and have conversations and laugh, and you got to spend a whole day together without any distractions.


For another version of this tradition, see CBS News.


How to Cure a Stomach Ache

Main Piece: CR: When I was a kid and had an upset stomach, my mom would tell me to drink flat, like un-carbonated soda, and immediately eat a pickle right after. This was supposed to fix my upset stomach.


Context: This performance was done over the phone, but this practice was done every time CR had an upset stomach.


Background: CR learned this from her mother, who she assumed also learned it from her mother, and used to apply the soda portion of this remedy to her daughter when she was young.


Analysis: Research has shown countless times that there are few, if any, scientific results from drinking a flat soda to cure an upset stomach, and even fewer exist regarding the pickle. But, oddly enough, CR reported that everytime she was given this remedy for an upset stomach, it worked! This is a huge example of the success of the placebo effect: while there is no reason for this to work, the simple idea of it working allows for it to help relieve a stomach ache.


Cure for the Common Cold

Main Piece: KK: My grandma used to say that if you were sick, you should put Vicks on the bottom of your feet… which DOESN’T work, but I still do it sometimes! Because when you’re sick, you’ll do anything to be not sick.


Context: This tradition was used whenever KK or a family member was sick.


Background: KK’s family is fairly low-income, which is of particular interest with folk remedies, as people with less financial stability are more often going to resort to different sorts of ways to cure themselves, as opposed to going to a store and just buying some medicine.


Analysis: Vick’s is used quite often in folk medicine– many times it is put directly under your nose to clear it up. I think this is particularly interesting because KK clearly states that this doesn’t work at all, and yet she still does it. This is an interesting example of tradition in families– even if logically, KK knows that putting Vick’s on the bottom of your feet to make yourself feel better should not work, the thought that her grandma told her it does can often make her do it anyways, as a memory of her grandmother, and because she was raised to do this.


Rockin, Rollin, Ridin!

Main Piece: KK: My mom used to sing this song to us, when we were falling asleep and stuff, and for the life of me I can’t ever figure out where it came from. She went: “Tommy’s at the engine, someone rings the bell, Sarah holds the lantern, to show that all is well, rockin rollin ridin, all along the rails, heading for morning town, many miles away.” It’s about a train, if you couldn’t tell, but I have no idea where she got that song, but she used to sing it!


Context: This song was sung as a lullaby when KK and her sister were young.


Background: KK’s mother learned this from her grandmother, who probably heard the version sung by The Seekers and turned it into a lullaby, much akin to “A Bushel and a Peck”, which is often used as lullabies as well.


Analysis: Turns out, upon research, this song is by The Seekers, and is called Morningtown Ride! So many people I saw said that their mother used to sing this song to them as a lullaby, so somewhere along the way this song turned into a typical lullaby. It is interesting to think about this alongside the issue of Simon and Garfunkel and their “folk” music, because even though this song was authored and created by a band and publicized, the fact that culture has taken it and turned it into a lullaby has changed it into a piece of folklore.


Jinx, you owe me a coke!

Main Piece: KK: My family is VERY strict on jinxes, and if you say something like, “oh it’s been so nice out today, the sun’s been out all day”, or like “we’ve been really lucky today, no traffic!” we have to recount what we say or else we WILL have traffic. Basically, it’s any instance where you say that you’re lucky about something, that’s like bad luck. To fix it, you either have to knock on wood, or say “don’t jinx it!”, you just can’t say it and then not fix it, because if you don’t recount what you said then something bad will happen.


Context: This practice is done frequently in KK’s household, as she said, her family is very strict on curses and jinxes.


Background: KK grew up in a household full of folk medicine, folk songs, and countless fun little traditions, so it only makes sense that this same family would also be extremely superstitious in their actions.


Analysis: Jinxes are quite common bits of folklore, and interestingly enough when KK began to tell this story, she stopped because she said “Oh no, everyone does this, that’s not cool enough,” and I had to tell her that the whole point is that other people should do versions of this as well! Because “jinxing it” is so common in our society, it is easy to forget that it isn’t real, and is actually a piece of folklore, and isn’t just something that humans do.


Easter Eggs– only eggs!

Main Piece: KK: Every Easter, we eat this thing called “Eggs a la Goldenrod”… and it’s a made up name haha. And it’s basically… biscuits with, okay sorry, first, it’s a process, so first you boil the eggs and color them and hide them because its Easter, and once you find the eggs you crack them, take the shells off, and separate the yolks from the whites in two separate bowls and you make an egg gravy out of the whites, and then you mash up the… it’s a hard-boiled egg so you mash up the hard yolk so it’s kinda sprinkly kinda egg yolk. Then you have to put it together a certain way so you open a biscuit in half, on the bottom, you put in the egg gravy and then you put the yolks on top, and then you can either have sausage on it or on the side, and then hot sauce on it, and this is how we always use eggs in Easter. And it’s because my mom’s family was really really big, they had like five kids, so they had to do something with all the eggs! I don’t know where my grandma learned it, but my mom learned it from her that you basically make a brunch that is ONLY EGGS!


Context: This dish is made every single Easter with KK’s family.


Background: KK and her family love to cook, and have a whole slew of recipes they tend to cook with each  other, but this was the very first thing to come to her mind for something that was a traditional meal in their household.

Analysis: Upon further research, KK and I discovered that Eggs a la Goldenrod is a fairly common dish, and other people have made it too! KK thought it was just because her mom’s family was huge, and they had to use all the eggs that were made for Easter, but lots of people make this dish! Because KK’s version of this dish involves her family’s size, and using their colored Easter eggs for it, it is still a piece of folklore.

Good Lord Willing!

Main Piece: SR: My mom used to always say, “Good lord willing and the creek don’t rise”, and everytime I say it now I think of my mom. She would pretty much say it whenever you’re hoping something would work out positively, or you think something would work out positively, like “We’re gonna go to Disneyland, good lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”


Context: This phrase was said by SR’s mother as he was growing up, whenever one wanted to see a positive outcome.


Background: SR remembered this in particular when asked if his family has any sort of proverbs that they used to say; his mother recently passed, and so when he mentioned this he smiled and said that it always made him think of his mom.


Analysis: This proverb is widely used in SR’s family, and throughout the country as well, although SR said he hasn’t encountered a ton of other people who use this regularly. Upon further research, it seems to have originated in pilgrim-age America, where a creek flooding would impede your travel and make your journey much more difficult, or even perilous. I think it is always so interesting to see how literal phrases like this can turn into such meaningless words to toss around– nowadays, this saying has absolutely nothing to do with creek flooding!


Corned Beef & Cabbage, oh my!

Main Piece: My mom is part Irish and learned from her family to eat corned beef and cabbage on every St. Patrick’s Day. I eat it now every year because I like it, but I guess there’s some tradition to it. My wife isn’t Irish, but she adopted the tradition and kept it in our family, and so every year she cooks us corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.


Context: This tradition was done every year on St. Patrick’s Day while SR was growing up, and still continues now with SR’s family.


Background: SR’s mother is Irish, and grew up in a household that practiced many Irish traditions, and so she passed a lot of these onto her children. SR doesn’t feel particular ties to this tradition, but he likes the was the meal tastes, so he continues to practice it.


Analysis: This is particularly interesting because SR doesn’t practice this due to the Irish tradition: he eats corned beef and cabbage because he loves corned beef and cabbage! It is interesting to see how folklore and traditions can manifest, even when someone doesn’t think about carrying it on, or doesn’t have a reason for carrying it on. SR has passed this tradition to his wife, who never ate the meal before and who now cooks and eats it every year; even without meaning to, or without caring about the tradition, SR managed to keep it going.


A Bushel and a Peck

Main Piece: CR: I always sang my daughter “a bushel and a peck”. I’m not entirely sure grandma sang it to me, but I’m gonna assume she did, and we sorta ended up having to make up our own words at the end of it because I don’t think we know what the real words are, but yeah so I sang it to my daughter, and my mom sang it to her too. Our version went, “I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, a hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap, a barrel and a heap and I’m talking in my sleep about you.” I think grandma would sing it “a pocket full of sheep.”


Context: This song was sung to CR as a lullaby, and CR sung it to her daughter as a lullaby.


Background: CR and her husband raised their daughter with lullabies sung to her every night, because that’s how they were raised as well. This was the specific song sung to her daughter by her; her husband had a different song he would sing when he took her to bed.

Analysis: This song was originally published in 1950’s, and adopted as a part of the musical Guys and Dolls. CR’s mother probably learned it from that, or heard it on the radio one day, and started singing it to CR, who then remembered it as her childhood lullaby and passed it on to her daughter. The most interesting part of this story is that CR assumes her mother sang this to her– it may not have been! CR’s mother could very easily have sung a different lullaby, but because CR sang it to her daughter she so firmly accepts that her mother also sang it to her, because why else would she know it as a lullaby? This kind of ingrained idea is so fascinating to discover.