Author Archive
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Senior Speeches” in a Catholic High School

Main Piece

The following is a tradition from the informant’s high school theater group. Before going onstage for a performance, the theater group would pray to all the saints and all “the big guys,” as the informant referred to them, and then they would hold hands and close their eyes. Then, one person would begin an energy circle by squeezing the hand of the person to their left, and the squeeze would be passed around, hence passing  the “energy” around. Next, all the Seniors would do a shot of vodka before finally going on stage. After the show, all the Seniors gave “Senior Speeches.” This tradition is rather long standing, and has been going on at least since the informant’s sister started high school in 2009.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant recalled the whole experience fondly, and the tradition seemed to be something that everyone enjoyed and looked forward to. While the way the tradition carried out was passed down from older students to the informant, the informant looked forward to engaging in the tradition after having talked to her older sister about the same tradition and the theater group in general.

Context

The informant attended a Catholic all girls high school in Staten Island, and the theater group consisted of members both from her school and a Catholic all boys high school nearby.

Notes

The interchange between religious ideology and ‘pagan’ ideas of “energy” is terribly interesting. The informant specified “energy” rather than “the Holy Spirit” or another specific religiously inclined symbol. Given that the informant attended a Catholic high school, this seeming conflict is rather interesting and has much potential to be expanded upon.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Italian–American Proverb about Age

Main Piece

“I was where you are, and you’ll be where I am.”

For a similarly worded proverb with a different usage, see Frederick Hartt. Italian Renaissance Art, Third Edition, 1987, published by Harry N. Abrams, pp 203-4.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island, New York

Language: English, Italian

The informant learned the above proverb from her grandmother. The informant’s grandmother will first state the proverb in Italian, but the informant does not speak Italian, and so the informant’s grandmother will follow up by saying the proverb in English. Hence, the informant only understands the proverb as it is told in English, which is why I have chosen not to include a translation.

Context

The informant’s grandmother says the proverb when any of her children or grandchildren make fun of her for being old or says something along the lines of “Grandma, you don’t understand,” in regards to the grandmother’s technological prowess.

Notes

I have seen this proverb before, but I have only ever seen it as an epithet on gravestones, which is the usage of the example I cited above. In either instance, the informants example or the gravestone, the proverb speaks to the inescapability of time. Most people tend to shy away from such topics, and the proverb helps state the truism in a pithy, approachable way.

 

Game
Humor

Pre–Show Improv Game

Main Piece

Before improv shows, the informant and her improv group play a game where the actors all yell “Give me back my son!” at each other, while trying not to laugh. While it is a game and in some sense a competition, the ultimate goal is to prepare to act emotional while maintaining composure.

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Northern California, Bay Area

Language: English

The informant found the game very bizarre, although she participated and still participates wholeheartedly.

Context

While amateur improv groups play this game, it is also played by professionals. The game is actually based on a scene from the Mel Gibson movie Ransom. The informant didn’t learn the origin of the game until long after she was taught how to play by members of her improv group, and she told me that she was very surprised when she learned where the game was actually from. She was also surprised when she found out that professional comedians play the game.

Notes

It is very interesting that the informant learned the game and the line “Give me back my son” from other improv actors rather than from the film. This interchange is an example of how authored media can become folkloric and have its meaning changed entirely.

 

Childhood
Festival
Foodways
Game
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Easter

Main Piece

The informant told me about Greek Easter and its associated traditions as practiced in Northern California. Greek Easter occurs one week after regular easter, and the celebrations the informant attends are at a local park. Classical Greek dances are performed, as well as an egg cracking game. Eggs are hard boiled and dyed red before they are used for the game. Two people each take an egg, and then the two people hit the eggs together until one egg cracks. The first person to have their egg crack is the loser. Nothing is won or lost. There is also a traditional easter egg hunt for “little kids,” as the informant called them.

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Outside San Diego

Language: English

The informant’s grandmother is “very Greek” and the informant always visits for Greek Easter. The informant commented that Northern California has no Greeks, but even so, about 100 people would come each year. Presumably, Greek Easter is a very important holiday for community building.

Context

The traditions included in Greek Easter are performed only at the specified time of year, one week after the traditional Christian Easter, and only among other Greeks.

Notes

The game with the eggs is perhaps indicative of the importance of strength in Greek culture; you want your egg to be the strong one, the one that doesn’t crack. The influence of American easter “traditions” is also very interesting. The easter egg hunt was invented by corporations, and although it has influenced Greek Easter to a small extent, the participation is limited to “little kids,” which reflects the fact that as the children grow up they will perhaps ‘age into’ Greek cultural traditions.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Italian–American Seafood Tradition

Main Piece

The informant goes crabbing with her extended family for one entire day each year. They always go in August, because that is when the season is best. The crabs and other fish that are caught are frozen and subsequently eaten in a seafood feast on Christmas Eve.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location the piece originated: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant learned this tradition from her family and she, predictably, has a strong sense of family. She enjoys and looks forward to both the crabbing and the seafood feast. Seafood dinner is an Italian Catholic tradition, and presumably this is how the older members of her family came to partake in the tradition.

Context

The informant has a large extended family, consisting of 10 first cousins who “are around every birthday and every holiday.” She typically sees them, as well as her aunts, uncles, and grandparents, at least twice a week. They all live in New York City, most of them in Staten Island, but the crabbing takes place on the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey.

At the seafood feast, the informant’s grandmother makes Aglio E Olio, an Italian pasta dish, along with traditional Italian breadcrumbs. After the dinner the whole family, goes to mass together.

Notes

I find it interesting that the informant and her family go crabbing together, rather than simply buying the crabs and fish at the store. The activity certainly seems like it would bring the family closer together. The act of getting their own food also harkens back to a time when tribes and families were self sufficient and had to get their own food with their hands and not at the supermarket.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor

Family Storytelling Tradition

Main Piece

“If you’re in the middle of telling a story and someone drops something, someone sneezes, anything like that, then you say “the truth” because the universe was conspiring to have that thing happen in order to tell you that that thing that was about to be said is the truth.”

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant enjoys this tradition because it reminds her of her family and fun family gatherings. To them, it is a reminder of the influence of chance on everyday experiences, like telling a story. The informant learned the piece from their family, and only engages in the tradition when around her family.

Context

The piece is only performed during family gatherings. All members of the informant’s family are from Staten Island, New York.

Notes

I have never heard of a family tradition like this before, and I find it to be very interesting. It seems to me that it has potential to create rather comedic situations if the thing being said is intended to be a joke or is sarcastic, such as “You know me, I am the dumb sibling.”

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Musical

Prayers (Grace) at a Catholic Retreat Center

Main Piece

“We do a lot of singing because it’s like…centered a lot around kids, preteens, mostly that and younger. When we do graces before meals, we have them to the tune of things, like spongebob and we will rock you and stuff. The Edelweiss one is traditionally the for first meal of the retreat and the last meal of the retreat and they’ve been doing it for so long, little kids know it but also much much older people [know it].”

The following is the grace, which is sung to the tune of Edelweiss from the film The Sound of Music:

“Bless our homes, bless our friends, come o lord and sit with us, make our hearts, grow in peace, bring your love to surround us, friendship and peace may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever, bless our homes, bless our friends, bless our families together”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Long Island, New York

Language: English

The following is a quote from the informant, which I believe demonstrates her feelings about the grace and the general experience at the camp.

“[When you hear the grace] You know you’re there, and you’re around people who are so loving and so warm…no responsibilities except to care about yourself and your family, but you know it’s sad because you’re about to leave.”

The informant, upon singing the grace to me, began reminiscing about her time at the retreat center. She certainly looked upon it fondly. On the importance of the grace to the retreat center:

“It’s on one of the walls in the dining hall, one copy written in sharpie and another really old cross stitch…hand stitched on a thing. The other graces are on signs but that one’s [the Edelweiss grace] obviously a permanent installment.”

Context

The grace is sung at a Catholic family retreat center in Kate May, New Jersey, which the informant attended once per year. However, someone else in the room during my interview with the informant actually knew the song, despite not having attended the same retreat center.

Notes

The influence of secular media on religious life is not really something I had previously considered, but such an influence is clearly possible and relevant. Some of the young children who learn the grace might not ever have seen The Sound of Music and yet they will learn a song from it, albeit with different lyrics. For comparison, I know there is a grace called “The Superman Grace,” which is also an example of of secular media influencing religious life.

 

Folk Beliefs
Magic

The Virgin Mary and Weather

Main Piece

Religious tradition

“I heard about it when i was in like 4th grade and we wanted our field trip to the Bronx Zoo to not have bad weather. My 4th grade teacher told us about this thing…where you put the Virgin Mary statue facing out in a window. Supposedly it makes…like…good weather, for the next day or something.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Long Island, New York

Language: English

The informant doesn’t think that the practice actually has an effect, but she thinks you should continue doing it as a “trope.” The informant is deeply religious; she said that she believes that, if God wants it to rain, it will rain regardless of anyone’s actions. The informant has never had a Mary statue but has been given them as gifts, she just never kept them or used them. The informant said that she doesn’t feel as strongly as other people do about Mary.

Context

The informant attended a coeducational Catholic school where she learned of the practice.

Notes

The conflict of institutional and non–institutional religious beliefs is an interesting contention. Folk practices such as this are indicative of the importance that people place on different religious figures, like the Virgin Mary, who are perhaps underemphasized by the church. Furthermore, the informant learned the practice from a teacher, but not from the institution itself, which is an interesting distinction to make. When is one acting as part of their employing institution, and when is one not?

 

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

V Day in Russia

Main Piece

“On the 9th of May, we celebrate victory over fascism, because its Russia. [Laughs] There’s a military parade in almost every city with tanks and…how do you say, the soldiers. In Moscow, we have this one major theater, and all the veterans would meet up there. If you want to pay tribute, you bring flowers to that lawn in front of that theater. There are barbeques and pop up shops everywhere. My family tries to go to…I celebrated every year until last year because I had exams, but usually my family goes to this restaurant across the street and has barbeque there. It’s a time to honor history…lots of documentaries are shown. It’s about remembering the people who fought the Second World War.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: Russian

Location: Moscow

Language: English

The informant feels different now than compared to two years ago. For her, two years ago, Victory Day represented strong pride for “my [her] country” and “my [her] people.” She had what she called “personally mandatory crying sessions” due to the stories veterans told. The informant wrote poems about the day and the time [in WW2].

Context

In the last two years, the informant moved first to the UK and then to the United States and has presumably learned about history that lessened her pride in her country. The informant heavily implied but never explicitly stated that she no longer feels as strongly for Russia as she used to. For reference, since moving to the United States she has bought and displayed a large American flag in her room.

Notes

It’s incredibly interesting how national holidays and patriotism can play a role in identity, but it is even more interesting that the informant has had their identity changed so much by living in America.

 

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nowruz: Persian New Year Celebrations

Main Piece

“Nowruz happens on the spring equinox, it’s the New Year so it’s celebrating new beginnings and whatnot. So then you set up a table called the halfsin table, and it has…I don’t know how many… and they all start with S in farsi. and it’s stuff like an apple, which represents…something. You spend time with family, jumping over this fire thing…people light a little fire and jump over it, from the old year to the new one.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: Persian–American

Location: Washington D.C.

Language: English

When I asked the informant what the holiday means to them, they responded with the following:

“It’s interesting because I didn’t grow up in a super Iranian household, but this holiday was a way to connect with my Iranian heritage…I don’t speak Farsi or whatever but this is a way for me to connect with the heritage.”

Context

The informant has one Iranian parent and did not grow up in a strongly Iranian community. However, she still thinks very fondly of Nowruz and engages in celebrating it each year with her father, who is her Iranian parent, and her brother.

Notes

The formation of an individual’s identity is an intriguing process, and it is interesting that the informant feels an emotional bond to the holiday despite not having many other cultural ties to Iran. Regardless of identity, holidays such as Nowruz seem to bind families closer together.

 

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