Author Archives: Daniella Shouhed

La Pasquetta

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. She and I were discussing the upcoming holidays – Passover and Easter – that we planned on celebrating with our families. She mentioned an Easter tradition celebrated exclusively among Italians.

 

Background: The tradition described below is called La Pasquetta or, Easter Monday. My informant explained that the tradition is deeply rooted in Italian history and culture. She was not sure how it began, but it’s been celebrated in her family for generations.

 

Main Piece: “The day after Easter has always been my favorite part of the holiday for me. For Italians, Easter day is more reflective and has a somber vibe to it, but the Monday after is the exact opposite. My dad usually invites his family over, which means like 50 people at our house and we have a big barbeque, him and his brothers cook another feast, and we spend the day outside in the sun. I think the point of having La Pasquetta is to rejoice after a day of mourning. In Italy everyone celebrates it. My dad says everyone would take that day off, go to the park and have picnics. It’s a day to celebrate Easter in a happier way, but also to celebrate spring and being surrounded by family. It’s kind of a staple in Italy and my family definitely hasn’t let go of it even after moving to America. The holiday definitely has some historical aspects to it, but I’m not 100% how or where it started. All I know is that my family has celebrated it forever.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see how one religion’s holiday is celebrated in so many different ways across cultures. In American culture, Easter is typically a happy day, celebrated with family. In Greek and Italian culture, it’s a more somber day, usually spent in church. To compensate for a day of mourning, Italians choose to have their celebration the day after.

Lentils and Pork on New Year’s Eve

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. The piece describes a traditional New Year’s custom for Italians, which is thought to bring good luck and prosperity.

 

Background: My informant has practiced this custom in her family for as long as she can remember. Her family participated in this tradition while still living in Italy, and she and they all continue to practice it after having moved to Los Angeles.

 

Main Piece: “Every year the family spends New Year’s Eve together whether we’re in L.A. or visiting family in Sicily. My dad and his 4 brothers are all chefs so food is definitely a very important aspect of our daily life. On New Year’s Eve, they all prepare a big meal together and we sit down and eat with the whole family, it’s always like 40 or 50 of us. At midnight, we all come back around the table and eat lentils and pork sausage. Lentils symbolize good luck and the pork symbolizes prosperity and good fortune. Eating those foods at midnight is supposed to bring you a year filled with good luck and prosperity, so it’s really important to my dad and uncles that we all take part in it. Food in Italian culture has a lot of symbolic meaning.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to hear how important food is in so many different cultures, and the symbolic meaning it holds. In another interview, an informant explained a Peruvian custom, which requires eating lentils, also to bring good luck and prosperity.

Dayenu on Passover

Context: My informant is a 63 year-old man of Persian descent. The piece is a ritual practiced by Persian Jews at traditional Passover seders, which is a generations-old gathering where specific foods are eaten to remind oneself of the hardships faced by Jews in Egypt. Each food symbolizes an aspect of the suffrage, and is consumed after reading stories and prayers from the Haggadah – the text recited at the seder.

 

Background: The morning after I had a Passover seder with my family, I decided to ask my informant about a tradition almost exclusively practiced by Persian Jews. He explained that they had practiced this tradition while still living in Iran, before they moved to Los Angeles after the fall of the Shah. It remains a staple of Passover seders at any Persian Jewish home.

 

Main Piece: “When it’s time in the seder for the green onions, we do Dayenu. This food symbolizes how we remember that the Jews were beaten and whipped as slaves in Egypt. Persian Sephardic Jews have a fun twist on this to make the seder more fun and enjoyable while also remembering these hardships. After reading the piece from the book and saying the prayer over the green onion, everyone starts singing the Dayenu song and runs around hitting each other with the onions. It’s fun and chaos, and it makes such a long traditional seder a little more lively and bearable. I’m not sure how this ritual originated, but only Sephardic Jews do it usually. It mimics what the slaves went through in Egypt but it also brings a fun and enjoyment to the holiday.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see the distinction between practices of different sectors of Jews. While Orthodox and Ashkenazi Jews take a more traditional aspect to the Passover Seder, Sephardic Jews practice this ritual to celebrate the remembrance while also bringing excitement to the tradition. There is debate about where the custom originates, but it’s typically practiced by Sephardic Jews from Iran and Afghanistan.

 

Red Eggs on Easter

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, but goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: While discussing the upcoming holiday of Easter, my informant described a generations-old Greek Orthodox tradition that she has practiced with her family for years. Her father’s family participated in the tradition in Greece, and she and all of her relatives have continued the tradition after having moved to Miami.

 

Main Piece: “The night before Easter Sunday my parents always dye the eggs red. We used to do it all together when my sisters and I were little, but as we got older we got a little less involved but they always kept it going. My dad and his entire family have been doing this for years in Greece and since his family is very religious it’s really important to him that we keep the tradition going. The red dye on the egg symbolizes the blood of Christ that was on the cross ‘for us’. Then the morning of Easter when we’re all sitting together, we start cracking the red eggs, and that symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection, because the egg represents his tomb, and it also represents new life. Since I moved to New York for school this is one tradition I haven’t kept up with on my own and neither have any of my sisters. Our family definitely isn’t that religious even though my dad is Greek Orthodox, things like this are just traditions we would do as a family to spend quality time and celebrate together. It also kept us really entertained when we were younger.”

 

Analysis: This Greek tradition is an interesting take on the symbolism of eggs on Easter. Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus emerging from his tomb, but most cultures, especially in America, choose to decorate the eggs in colorful patterns to celebrate the coming of spring. This Greek Orthodox take on the deeply-rooted tradition is one of great solidarity with Christ, in order to remind oneself of the sacrifice he made.

 

Warding off the Evil Eye

Context: One night at home I decided to ask my dad for an explanation behind a cultural ritual he had performed almost every single week for as long as I can remember, and was preparing to perform that night. It’s a process using a spice called Esfand.

 

Background: In Iran, Esfand is used to ward off the evil eye. This is a generations-old ritual that has been passed down for hundreds of years. The idea is to burn the spice, and the smoke and popping sounds from the burning are said to burn away the evil eye.

 

Main Piece: “Persians are very superstitious people. Iranians have always been very successful for the most part and it’s a little natural for us to think someone would want to curse us if we are doing well or better than them. Most of your friends from growing up are Persian too so I’m sure they know all about it too. Persian people are a lot of the time looked at as being very flaunty or extravagant, and they are sometimes, but as a culture most people are very conservative about sharing achievements or very exciting news. It’s looked down upon to brag about good fortunes that you are having. I don’t think you even notice but sometimes when our family is out or at parties and someone was giving you or [your siblings] a certain look or a compliment me or mom would say a little prayer until we could get home and do Esfand. I think it could be a myth that there are people that really have an evil eye. But I think there are definitely people who act a certain way but inside don’t mean well for you, or give off a very negative energy that you shouldn’t have around you. So you burn it away. I put the esfand in my hand and I start with a prayer. I circle it around my head, mom’s head, and all of your heads a few times, chanting the same prayers asking for protection. I wave it all around the house. Then I take the foil and put it over the stove, and I put the esfand from my hand on it, and I let it burn until it’s done. It burns the negative eyes and thoughts from others.”

 

Analysis: The concept of the evil eye is definitely not tied specifically to the Persian culture. It’s interesting to look at how each culture or religion carries out their ritual against this superstition. Some knock on wood, some throw salt, some wear evil eye jewelry, but Persians choose to physically burn it away.

 

Annotation: For more on the notion of the evil eye in Persian and Middle Eastern culture, reference to:

Spooner, B. (2004). 15. The Evil Eye in the Middle East. In Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (pp. 311-320). New York, NY: Routledge.

Name Days

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. While discussing how she celebrates Easter as a Greek Orthodox, she mentioned another tradition that caught my attention.

 

Background: The tradition is referred to as Name Days, and has been a custom of Greek Orthodox culture for centuries. My informant explained that she and all of her siblings celebrate their name days, as they are all named after saints.

 

Main Piece: “For Greeks, your name day is more important than your actual birthday. Your name day is the birthday of your icon, or the saint that you were named after. Me and my siblings are all named after saints, and the same goes for my more distant relatives. Greek Orthodox people are really into using generational and famous names that are important in their history. So I’m named after Saint Katherine, so my name day is some time in November, but my actual birthday is in May. Obviously being in American culture now, my birthday is equally as important, and I celebrate it with my family and friends, but my name day is still a huge deal in my family. On my name day my parents always go all out with the presents, we have my whole family over, and it’s just a big celebration. The same goes for all of my siblings. It’s pretty great because it’s like having two birthdays every year that are equally as celebrated. I also see how important it is to my grandparents especially that we celebrate name days so it’s something I definitely want to pass on to my kids too.”

 

Analysis: I found this tradition very interesting, as I had never heard of Name Days prior to this encounter. After doing additional research on this ritual, I learned that they are actually celebrated in many countries across Europe and Latin America. It’s a nice way to celebrate yourself, as well as the historical icon that you were named after.

 

Coin in the Cake

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. She wasn’t able to go home for Easter this year, as she usually does, but she described a tradition that her family practices every year on Easter.

 

Background: She explained that this tradition normally takes place in Greek tradition on New Year’s Eve, but that her family celebrates it on Easter instead, as she and her siblings usually spend New Year’s with friends.

 

Main Piece: “So this is usually done on New Years, but we always do it on Easter since that’s one holiday Greek Orthodox people take very seriously, so we’re almost always all together as a family. We’re always separated on New Years so this is just the best time to do this tradition I guess. Basically, my mom or grandma will bake a cake, and they bake a gold coin into the cake itself. They put it in the oven, take it out, and then they cut it all up and serve it. The person who gets the piece with the coin in it is supposed to have the luckiest year out of everyone else. Essentially it’s going to be like their golden year. It kind of defeats the purpose that we do it in April of every year, but Easter also represents rebirth and whatnot so I guess it kind of works when you think about it.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see how much a culture’s folklore can be taken into interpretation. The meaning remains the same, but the tradition is made flexible. I found it compelling how many different traditions there are throughout cultures to ensure a lucky or prosperous year ahead.

The Night Before Greek Easter

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. She and I were discussing her Easter traditions and whether she still celebrates her Greek Orthodox traditions despite being away from her family.

 

Background: The following ritual is deeply rooted in the Greek Orthodox tradition and takes place the night before Easter Sunday. My informant can’t place the exact root of this ritual, but it’s likely to have been performed since biblical times.

 

Main Piece: “In Greek Orthodox tradition we follow the biblical Jewish calendar, so pretty often Greek Easter doesn’t fall on the same day as American Easter. Like this year it’s the week after American Easter. The night before Easter, we go to church at around 11pm, and we wear all black to mourn Jesus’ murder. We go the night before because it’s the night before Jesus’ resurrection. Everyone lights a candle, and we say a few prayers. Then at midnight everyone starts walking around the church chanting christos anesti, which means Christ has risen. Since coming to school, it’s hard to go back home to celebrate with my family, so my parents make me go to a Greek Orthodox church in Downtown L.A. This is the biggest holiday in Greek Orthodox tradition, so it’s really important to them and honestly for myself that I keep it up even while being away from home.”

 

Analysis: It was interesting to learn that Greek Orthodox culture follows the old Jewish calendar. As a Jew I follow the same calendar in regards to holidays, the New Year, and so on. But I wasn’t aware that other cultures still follow this historical timeline as well.

 

The Chuppah

Context: My informant is a 37 year-old Jewish woman who recently moved to Los Angeles from Toronto. She was preparing for her upcoming wedding when she began to discuss what Jewish traditions she planned on incorporating in her ceremony. In the piece, she is identified as J.T. and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: The Chuppah is essentially a canopy in which the bride and groom and their family members stand under in a Jewish wedding ceremony. The tradition can be traced back to biblical weddings in Jewish culture, and is deeply rooted in its’ history and religious customs.

 

Main Piece:

DS: “You mentioned your fiancé is Christian, are you still going to have a traditional Jewish wedding?”

JT: “Definitely. My family is fairly religious, and he’s in the process of converting right now, so his family is open to keeping it more traditional too.”

DS: “What are some of the traditions you’re going to include?”

JT: “Well, pretty much everything. A Rabbi is speaking at our ceremony, we’ll be reciting the seven prayers and the blessing over the wine, the chuppah, and of course breaking the glass at the end of the ceremony.”

DS: “Do you mind elaborating on the importance of the chuppah a bit?”

JT: “Sure! The chuppah is pretty much a canopy, and it represents the home that the bride and groom will build together. Couples usually decorate it beautifully for their weddings. I’m planning on having mine strung with vines and white roses. It’s supposed to stand with all four sides wide open, to represent a home with open doors that’s welcoming and loving. Hospitality is something that’s highly regarded in Jewish culture, as I’m sure you know.”

 

Analysis: Since I come from a reform Jewish family, I’m aware of most traditions, but I don’t have much background knowledge on the meaning behind them, so it was interesting to hear the symbolism behind this tradition in particular. Having attended quite a few Jewish weddings, the Chuppah is always the staple of the ceremony, and is always decorated beautifully.

 

Annotation: For more on Jewish wedding customs and the history behind the Chuppah, reference to:

Goldman, A. L. (2000). 3. Weddings. In Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today (pp. 69-86). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

The Royal Toe

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. We were discussing a folk tale that she had heard while studying abroad in London in the prior year.

 

Background: My informant expressed that she was unaware of how the tale or myth began, but it was one that she heard on several occasions. There are many different myths regarding what the different length of fingers or toes mean, but this one in particular involves the royal family.

 

Main Piece: “The myth is, if your second toe is longer than your big toe, you come from a royal bloodline. There was a similar one that said you were related to Princess Diana specifically. I was sitting at dinner with a few friends one night, and one girl was wearing open toed shoes. She had this special toe apparently, and our waiter pointed it out and told her it meant that she comes from the bloodline of the royal family. I just thought it was kind of strange, so a few of the times that I was in a conversation with a local I asked them about it and all said the same thing. I couldn’t tell if anyone really truly believed it, but everyone definitely knew about it.”

 

Analysis: I had never heard of the myth of the Royal Toe, so after doing some research I learned that many famous statues exhibit the “royal toe” as well – one famous example being the Statue of Liberty. It’s interesting to see the different symbolic meaning identified to the length of a digit, and how it’s manifested in different cultures and countries.