Author Archive
Customs
Festival
Game
Holidays
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Megilah Reading

Every Purim Jews congregate to listen to a reading from a book called the Megilah which features the backstory of Purim. It’s the most outwardly religious part of Purim. The congregation is encouraged to be active and loud, reacting verbally to every single mention of the characters’ names in the story. Mordecai and Ester (the Jewish heroes) get jubilant cheers every time their name is read while the bad guy Haman is booed. The congregation is even traditionally encouraged to drink so much that they can’t tell whose names to boo or cheer.

Again, this is the religious part of Purim but the encouragement to chime in makes it stand out from other Jewish holidays in a way that fits the extra cheerful celebration of Purim. While this folklorist’s congregation doesn’t drink during the reading, it does fit the rest of the relatively lax nature of the event.

Customs
Humor
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Stamp Out the Name

One tradition of the Jewish holiday Purim is to take measures to stamp out the name of Haman, the man who tried and failed to kill all Persian Jews in the Purim story. This manifests in other little traditions but one of the most literal involves people writing Haman’s name (in English or Hebrew) on the sole of their shoes so then they walk about stamping out the name throughout their day. Sometimes this is even paired with secondary events to maximize stamping such as a footrace.

While never personally observed by this folklorist (my synagogue doesn’t do this) this tradition stands out as a humorously obvious interpretation of the idea to stamp out the man’s name and ergo very believable. It’s an ancient, international holiday; someone has to have done this. The humor is assuredly intentional and adds to the joyous vibe of the rest of the holiday.

Childhood
Musical
Myths
Narrative

Arky Arky

This is a song that was taught to L.D. as a child in Catholic school. It teaches the biblical story of Noah’s ark and the flooded Earth that lasted 40 days and nights.

Lyrics:

The Lord told Noah
There’s gonna be a floody, floody
The Lord told Noah
There’s gonna be a floody, floody
Get those children out of the muddy, muddy, children of the Lord
The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky
The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky
Build it out of gopher barky, barky, children of the Lord.
The animals, they came, they came in by twosies twosies
The animals, they came, they came in by twosies, twosies
Elephants and kangaroosie, roosies, children of the Lord
It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies
It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies
Almost drove those animals crazy, crazy, children of the Lord
And so on for a few more verses L.D. forgot. They even taught basic choreography for the kids to perform with the song, such as two fingers held up peace sign-style for the “twosies, twosies” line.
The existence of this method of teaching a “kiddie” version of a myth (especially one so apocalyptic) shows the given church’s priorities in making sure children grasp and retain these tales from an early age. The song is also usually performed after a few rehearsals by the kids for the adults, making it a task for the kids to remember it and turn them into the storytellers. It all helps the myth pass on to the next generation basically.
Customs
Folk Dance
Musical

Up You Men

Official pep song of the Aleph Zadek Aleph (male Jewish teen youth group). Commonly started by president/board member/event leader drawing out the first word before everyone jumps in and forms a mosh pit.

Lyrics (More shouted than sung): Up you men and sing to AZA

Time will pass and we’ll be on our way

As the years go by there will be

Happiest of memories (Ra ra ra!)

Stand and then

We’ll sing this song again

All you loyal men

Sing the praises of our order

Sing up you men of AZA

(Once it reaches this part the song usually winds down with everyone matching a “heartbeat” rhythm pattern on their chest.)

 

The song is a shortcut for whatever peer leader is running a given meeting or event to bring up the energy in the group and get them to pay attention in one fell swoop. The lyrics themselves serve to hype up the group and its individual members in a way that’s somewhat jingoist. No official origin is known, but the full lyrics are included in the official AZA handbooks which speaks to its deep history and significance to the folk group. The organization’s origins (also detailed in the handbook) as a very pro-American group which contributed to the nation’s WWII war effort probably explains the jingoist vibe of the piece. Little details such as the second verse present in the handbook being absent in favor of the heartbeat rhythm (explained to me once with “Every Aleph’s heart beats the same way.”) as well as the mosh pit aspect (the handbook doesn’t comment on dances for the song) indicates that the song is still a living, breathing folk tradition that defies standardization and continues to evolve in use.

Customs
Folk speech
Humor
Musical

Airforce Ranger

An off-the-books traditional AZA (Jewish teen youth group) call and response chant, with one person shouting each line before the entire group repeats it back. Sometimes different leaders will switch off and alternate rhymes, especially the more taboo stuff towards the end.

Lyrics: I want to be an airforce ranger

I want to live a life of danger

I want to drive an ocean liner

I want to pull a sixty-niner

And here’s to the woman that I love best

The many times I sucked her breast

F***** her standing, f***** her lying

If she had wings I’d f*** her flying

Now she’s gone but not forgotten

I’ll dig her up and f*** her rotten

Though she’s gone, I’ll surely miss her

I’ll call her up and f*** her sister

 

This song is an exercise in playing with taboo concepts and language in a childlike way that’s reminiscent of what Jay Mechling called obscene play. It’s usually performed in a relatively isolated setting, either inside the meeting room (usually some side room in a synagogue) or elsewhere separated from the adult advisors that represent the org legally. (That’s what separates the group from just loitering teens I guess.) It’s performed in this isolated, just teens setting alongside other similarly sexual vulgar songs in a kind of group catharsis act. The lyrics employ lots of shock humor that comes from all this extremely explicit material being unabashedly used in a public group in a public setting, especially one that is ostensibly a religious group. It basically signals to new members “We’re not prudes.”

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Burbank Parrots

A flock of vibrant green parrots are known to roam the skies of Burbank, settling down in any tree large enough to hold the entire flock while filling the morning air with a chorus of squawks that make residents wish they could wake up to songbirds chirping for once. T.T. doesn’t know exactly where they came from but has heard different stories. All say that the birds were smuggled in as illegal pets but escaped to inhabit the wild concrete jungle. Some say it was just a few birds who escaped from the singular smuggler, and then proceeded to breed . into the flock that exists today. Others claim the smuggler brought a bunch of birds and was able to sell them, to spread them out and then a bunch of those birds individually escaped. Either way the current size of the group (tens upon tens of “loud hecking birds”) suggests that the birds have been around and reproducing for some time.

The parrots stand out to people who live in Burbank for being so obviously foreign. Burbank is a suburb with sparrows and squirrels. The most exotic animal sightings are usually coyotes up in the mountains. In that environment bright green parrots stand out, and they don’t even try to hide. Their flock conspicuously chases off more outnumbered ravens and whatnot that people are more used to seeing around Burbank, and again they are very loud. If they hang out in your neighbor’s tree that morning, you’ll know. The fascination with the parrots speaks to a deeper cultural fascination with exotic, outside things. For all its social liberalism, Burbank is still a very white, sizably old population so the interest in exotic birds being imported by plane (the city has its own busy airport) probably ties into an unspoken interest, possibly an anxiety, surrounding the different people from all over the world constantly arriving by plane. Of course Burbank doesn’t exist in a vacuum so this local legend also exists in personalized forms for other places in Southern California such as Pasadena, which can be found here: https://laist.com/2018/07/10/pasadenas_parrots_are_annoying_af_but_may_save_their_species_from_extinction.php

Folk speech
Humor

Wig Snatching

In LGBT+ communities saying someone or something “snatched your wig” means you’re shocked by whatever happened. It comes from a drag performances where sometimes in more dramatic moments drag queens will literally take off another queen’s wig. Sometimes there can be another wig under the wig, making the whole event entirely premeditated spectacle, but usually the queen whose wig is pulled isn’t prepared and they have their actual hair revealed by the wig snatch.

This particular lingo speaks to the in-grouping found in LGBT+ communities. It’s a phrase referring to a specific act in a genre of show specifically produced, performed, and attended by a mostly LGBT+ folk group. The internet has spread the phrase around to become more mainstream but the nature of its origins shows how insular the environment it came about in was. The exact syntax is also flexible, with all sorts of small variations from “My wig? Snatched!” to sometimes just “Wig,” which makes sense given the LGBT+ communities general position as pioneers of evolving “archaic” language such as gendered pronouns.

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