Author Archive
Customs
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tradition – Sweden

“Each Christmas the house is decorated with statues, pictures, and ornaments.  Our family from Sweden always brings gifts, and over the years they have always brought the wicker animals… with the red ribbon wrapped around them.  They look like goats, or horses, and come in all different sizes.  We put out the tiny ones for decoration.  Every Christmas, someone would hide one of them and you girls [my three cousins] would try to find it.  And then whoever found it would get a chance to hide it and that’s how it went on.”

After I interviewed my grandma, she called my Swedish relatives to find out more about the Julbock.  They told her that the Julbock (the Yule Goat) has long been a part of Swedish tradition.  Sometimes made from the last straw of the harvest, the Julbock has often been associated with farming and represents hope for the new year (hope for good crops and prosperity).  One of my Swedish cousins said that it is possible that the game of hiding the Julbock was a way of integrating a Pagan holiday ritual with the more formal Christian traditions that occur during Christmas.  However, most people in my family are not religious and are not trying to unite their religion with pagan traditions.  In fact, most of my family, including myself, did not know why we hid the Julbock, even though it has been a tradition in our family for many generations.  I always figured my grandma made up the game to keep my cousins and I out of trouble and to give us something to do in between unwrapping presents and eating Christmas dinner.

Also, in our family we do not even call it a Julbock; my grandma usually refers to it as “the goat”.  Since my family knows so little about the tradition of hiding the Julbock, I asked my grandmother why we continue the tradition every Christmas.  She said that she liked seeing my cousins and I playing together, and that it reminded her of when my dad was younger and would also try and find the toy animal.  Therefore, it seems like even though my family may not know the historical origins of the Julbock, the tradition has great importance because it brings our family members together during the holidays.  Also, it helps establish our family as a unique group with our own identity, since not every family hides a Julbock during Christmastime.

Festival
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Festival – St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Northridge, California

“Every year the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church has a big Greek festival as a fundraiser for the Church and its services. Not only do they have booths with different types of Greek food such as souvlakia, pastries, loukamathes, calamari, and gyros, but also game booths for the kids and many booths with different Greek cultural items such as clothes and jewelry. My family has been a part of it every year and about five or so years ago my dad started his own booth, the souvlakia booth.  Every year there is a competition to see who sells the most and every year we have been able to sell out by Sunday, which is awesome for the church. It is a very culture filled weekend (memorial day weekend) because there are also many different activities going on around the booths such as Greek dancing from the Golden Greeks and others along with Greek music from a live band and Greek cooking lessons on top of all that. This festival is mainly as a fundraiser but also made to share the Greek Orthodox culture with the community and get everyone involved in the different aspects of Greek life out in Los Angeles. The Greek community is really big around the valley and our Church isn’t the only one that has festivals and everyone from different churches comes and supports each Church during their festival.”

The Greek Festival in the San Fernando Valley helps strengthen the bond between Greek members of the church, and also allows the general public to experience some Greek traditions that are not commonly seen in everyday activity.  Kaitlin said that the Greek festival put on by her church brings Greek Orthodox members from other churches, too.  This clearly brings together a unique cultural segment of Los Angeles so they can celebrate their heritage.  However, the festival also allows the non-Greek Orthodox public in order to show the community what traditional Greek culture is like.  Though the festival has some aspects that involve more “authentic” Greek traditions, like the Golden Greek dancers that dress in traditional dancing clothes and perform dances that have been around for centuries, many of the food booths sell modern Greek food that many of the church families eat on a regular basis.  This blend of old and new gives the public a more encompassing view of Greek culture and may spark some interest in people that have never been exposed to this culture before.  It also shows how original Greek traditions are changed as they are transmitted through generations and altered to fit life in Los Angeles.

This festival takes place each Memorial Day Weekend.  Kaitlin said that there was no cultural significance behind this.  She said that since the festival takes place during a three-day weekend, a lot of people are able to come to the festival, at least for one day.  People can focus on food one day, and get involved in dances and other activities on another day.  Also, the three days makes it easier for Greek churches from other cities (and even states) to come and participate in the festival.

Kaitlin has been involved with her church’s Greek festival since she was a little girl because her parents run a booth every year.  Kaitlin said that she looks forward to the festival because it is a fun experience, and there is a vast amount of delicious Greek food to eat.  Even for someone that is Greek like Kaitlin, the festival is a special occasion because she does not get to enjoy some traditional aspects of Greek culture on a daily basis.  Going to the festival reminds her of her family’s roots, and also gives her a chance to connect with other members of her church.  In addition, it has given Kaitlin the opportunity to bring friends to the festival who are unfamiliar with Greek culture.  By doing so, she exposes them to Greek life and some of her family’s traditions.

I have gone to the same Greek festival that Kaitlin’s family participates in since I was a little girl.  My next-door neighbors are also members of that church and told my family about the festival, so every Memorial Day weekend I make sure to go to the festival.  I love going because it has been a tradition, and also because I really like the Greek food and music.  Even though it is held in front of the church and clearly does not look like Greece, I feel like everyone at the festival is separate from the rest of the world for the weekend.  Also, everyone at the festival shares this common experience, and it is easy to feel like you are actually a part of the Greek community.  Therefore, it seems like festivals, regardless of what culture they are celebrating, help bring all members of the community together by linking together people who share a similar heritage, or even similar interests in a certain culture.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition/Ritual

“Before every soccer game I’ve played since I started playing AYSO, I have put my socks on starting with the right foot.  My best friend and I did it when we played AYSO.  I’m not sure if other people did it, maybe they were older than us, but we definitely always did it before every game, every time.  Even when I played club and played for the high school team, I always put my right sock on first.  It just became a habit, and I knew I would have a horrible game or something really bad would happen if I didn’t put that sock on first.  Obviously, I didn’t win every game, but it just would be wrong if I didn’t put my socks on in that order.”

Rachael told me that she put her socks on starting with her right foot ever since she started playing soccer.  Since that time, she has formed an association between putting socks on in a specific order with performing well on the soccer field.  In Rachael’s case, putting on socks is both a superstition and a tradition.  Although she said that usually only she and her best friend would put on socks in a specific order, Rachael knew older teammates that followed the same tradition.  When asked if seeing other teammates put on socks in a specific order provoked her to do the same, Rachael could not remember because she has been playing soccer since elementary school and does not know when the tradition began.

Like Rachael, many athletes have certain pre-game rituals that are associated with superstitions.  Whether it involves putting on socks, or going through a certain locker room door, or saying a certain chant three times, various teams have developed traditions that must be performed before they can play.  When an entire team has a certain ritual, it seems like that kind of activity would reinforce team unity and help the team to feel connected before they face an opponent.

In Rachael’s case, however, the rest of her team did not put on socks in a given order.  For Rachael, following this superstition made her feel more in control and like a better player.  Like she said, without the right sock order, things were “wrong.”   Even though it seems unlikely that breaking this sock tradition would actually impact Rachael’s soccer ability, it is possible that the ritual gives her the extra boost of confidence she needs to perform well on the field.  Also, performing the ritual allowed Rachael to focus on other things.  If she did not put on her right sock first, she would feel like she was not going to play well and would dwell on the sock issue instead of the game.  Thus, even though superstitions may be deemed silly or insignificant, they actually can impact they way a person thinks and feels if there is a strong belief in the superstition.

general
Humor
Narrative

Joke – Canada

Joke-  Question: How do you kill a Fox?

Answer: Tell it to run across Canada.

This joke refers to Terry Fox, a Canadian man who attempted to run across Canada but died before he completed his mission.  Terry Fox was an athlete until he was injured in a car accident and discovered that he had osteosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in his right leg.  He was forced to have his right leg amputated at the age of 18, but decided to run from one coast of Canada to the other in order to raise money for cancer research.  Unfortunately, Terry Fox only made it to Ontario when doctors found that the cancer had spread to his lungs.  In June of 1981, Terry Fox passed away.

Paul said that this joke has been around for a very long time, and he has heard it since he was a child.  He said that it is inappropriate, but funny in a strange way.  He thinks that the reason the joke has stayed relevant might be due to the fact that Terry Fox is an iconic Canadian figure, and charity events like the Terry Fox Run and other cancer research organizations that use Terry Fox are still visible to the public.  Since he is still known to the public, it makes it easy for the joke to continue to be passed around.  When asked if people ever get angry when the joke is told, he said that among his friends or people his age and younger there was no stigma attached to telling this joke.  However, some adults are offended when this joke is told.

It seems as though the younger generation does not have a real connection to Terry Fox and his untimely death.  Because Terry Fox is still remembered and honored, younger people are aware of his story and tell the joke, but probably do not realize the significance of his death or his mission.  However, for adults and people who were alive when Terry Fox died, the joke is probably less humorous since they have a greater emotional attachment to that event.  Also, it seems like when the joke was first created, it might have been used as a coping mechanism or a way to make sense of Terry Fox’s tragic death.  However, in more recent times, children or teenagers probably use the joke just because they know it, not because of any deep connection to the story of Terry Fox.

Childhood
general
Life cycle
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tale

Once there were two animals, a frog and a scorpion.  Both were standing on the edge of a river, looking to cross to the other side.  Although the frog could easily swim to the other side, the scorpion could not.  So the scorpion asked the frog if he could ride on the frog’s back in order to get across the river.  The frog was suspicious at first, and said “How do I know that you won’t sting me if I help you?”  The scorpion replied, saying, “Why would I sting you?  Then we would both drown and die.”  Believing this to be a reasonable explanation, the frog allowed the scorpion to get on his back, and they began to cross the river.  Once they had almost reached the other side, however, the frog felt a sharp pain in his side and realized that the scorpion had stung him.  “Why would you do that? You said you wouldn’t sting me!”  the frog cried.  Jumping off of the frog’s paralyzed body and onto the shore, the scorpion said “Because I can” and walked away, while the current of the river took the frog’s body.

Unlike many fairytales that have a “happily ever after” ending, this folktale has a more serious resolution.  The moral of the story seems to be that someone’s innate character cannot be suppressed, and it would be foolish to assume otherwise.  In this story, the frog thinks that despite the scorpion’s reputation as a known killer with its poisonous sting, the frog will be safe since the scorpion promised not to sting him.  Unfortunately, the frog learns a fatal lesson when he is stung and killed, and not even out of spite or vengeance, but merely because the scorpion can kill the frog.

In other versions of this folktale that I have heard, the scorpion stings the frog when they are only half way across the river, and both drown in the swift current.  This version further emphasizes the idea that dangerous creatures (or people) should not be trusted, under any circumstances.  It seems to say that if someone is willing to be so dangerous, they may not even care about their own self-preservation as long as their destructive behavior continues.

The simple structure of this folktale seems to indicate that this story is intended for a young audience.  The moral is easy to pick out and understand and the entire story is fairly short, so children listening to the folktale should not lose interest easily.  By gearing this folktale toward children, it is possible to see how the values and ideas of a society can be transmitted from the older (wiser) generation to the younger (presumably naïve) generation.

Although Kathryn’s father learned this story from his mother, who is fully Mexican, it was told to him in English and he passed on the story to Kathryn in English, too.  I thought that the folktale might have been unique to the culture Kathryn’s grandma was raised in, but Kathryn also heard this story later in life from people of different ethnic backgrounds.  Thus, perhaps the story does have some cultural values that are transmitted through the telling of the story, but these values are upheld by many different cultures.  Kathryn said that her dad told her this story when she was about six years old, during a car ride to school.  She said her dad would always tell her a story in the car, and she was especially interested in stories about animals, so this tale had a deep impact on Kat.  She said she felt sad the rest of the day because the frog died, and to this day can recall exactly how she felt when the story was told to her.  Thus, it is clear that passing on stories to children can have a profound impact on them.  Even though Kat said she was affected by hearing the story and learned a moral as a result, she would not want to pass on the story to her children because she said it was almost too traumatic, and that other stories would be more appropriate for little kids to hear.

Digital
general

Internet Folklore

The Bumper Sticker application on Facebook is a program that allows people to search for different virtual bumper stickers that can be added to their profile or shared with friends.  The Bumper Sticker application has categories ranging from “Witticisms” to “Gangsta” to “Cute Animals”.  You can also view the most popular bumper stickers (the most popular has been sent 5,436,346 times), newly popular bumper stickers, and recently added bumper stickers.  Though the makers of the application created some of the bumper stickers, the majority of bumper stickers are created by Facebook users that upload them to the application.  Most bumper stickers are not specific to a certain individual (or if they are, it is a widely recognized person), but there are bumper stickers that are meant to be understood only by a select group of people.  Also, bumper stickers are constantly being created as events take place in the world or as pop culture phenomenons take place.  For instance, one very popular type of bumper sticker is the LOL Catz.  There are dozens of different pictures of the “catz” that you can share with your friends or add to your own profile.  Another popular type of bumper sticker involves the Greek fraternity/sorority system.  Recently, there have even been bumper stickers created about bumper stickers.  One such bumper sticker reads “Wow. The amount of bumper stickers you are sending me is beginning to get ridiculous.” and then in small print at the bottom says “and of course I love it”.

On the surface, it seems like the Bumper Sticker application is a fun way to waste time on the computer.  There are thousands of bumper stickers to browse and send to friends, in addition to the ability to create your own bumper sticker that you can upload and share with others.  However, the bumper sticker application is so revolutionary because it is a digestible piece of pop culture that can be spread instantaneously.  For instance, as the democratic candidacy race has intensified during recent months, there has been a large amount of bumper stickers that feature people from the Democratic Party.  One memorable bumper sticker shows the faces of Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, and underneath reads “Bros before Hoes”.  Like many bumper stickers, this one is humorous yet vulgar, and clearly aimed at a fairly young audience (teens through early twenties).  Despite the crudeness of this bumper sticker, it’s popularity shows that this audience still cares about political issues but has a unique way of conveying this.

Bumper stickers are also used to share jokes and similar interests with friends.  There is an entire category of bumper stickers that feature “life lessons” quotes, and it is very popular for friends to send these to one another as a testimony of the strength of their friendship.  An example of this is the most popular bumper sticker shared on facebook, which reads “My friends are the kind that if my house was burning down, they would be making s’mores and hitting on the firemen.”  Again, this bumper sticker illustrates the common theme of humor mixed with a bit of truth, which makes it especially fun to share with friends.  As a result, many people have a wide variety of bumper stickers displayed on their facebook profiles that are from different friends and contain various inside jokes, funny images, or even a beautiful scenic image.

Especially since the Bumper Sticker application allows users to both share and upload their own creations, the application can be considered a means of transmitting cultural values and establishing individual or group identity.  People display quotes or images that they feel represent their personality, and also keep bumper stickers sent by friends that have a special meaning.  By looking at a person’s bumper sticker collection, it is possible to learn something about the likes and dislikes of a person, as well as their sense of humor.

I have a fairly extensive bumper sticker collection, and I really enjoy finding bumper stickers that remind me of my friends.  I love the feeling of reading a bumper sticker and saying “That is so true!”  I think that this feeling is shared by other users of the application, and helps explain why it is such a popular feature on Facebook.  Also, since the primary users of Facebook are in their teens and twenties, the application is especially popular because it appeals to the tastes of that audience; bumper stickers are easy to find and send, there are both images and text, and bumper stickers are small and do not contain a lot of information on any given image.  As a result, bumper stickers have become increasingly popular and have even become a topic of conversation outside the realm of facebook.  I have had multiple conversations with friends about a hilarious bumper sticker, or about an idea for a bumper sticker that has not been made yet.  Although the application may seem trivial, it actually has served as a unifying force when talking with friends or even people I have just met.  Also, it has helped distinguish my group of friends from other groups because we all share certain bumper stickers that display group interests and inside jokes.

Game
general
Kinesthetic
Narrative

Hand-Clapping Game/Rhyme

Miss Suzie had a steamboat/?The steamboat had a bell (ding ding!)/?Miss Suzie went to heaven/?The steamboat went to/?Hello operator,?Please give me number nine/?If you disconnect me?I’ll kick you from/?Behind the refrigerator there was a piece of glass/?Miss Suzie sat upon it and cut her little/?Ask me no more questions/?Tell me no more lies/?The boys are in the bathroom zipping up their/?Flies are in the meadow/?The bees are in the park/?Miss Suzie and her boyfriend are kissing in the/ D-A-R-K, D-A-R-K, DARK DARK DARK/ Dark is like a movie/?A movie’s like a show/?A show is like a TV screen/?And that is all I know!

Sarah said that she would sing the “Miss Suzie” song when she was younger while playing a hand-clapping game.  She said she would do it for fun and would play the game with other girls her age during recess.  Although the clapping itself was fun, Sarah told me that the main reason she enjoyed playing the game was the play on words in the lyrics.  As a little kid, she said that she felt sneaky and cool when she would almost say the word “ass” but instead actually would say “ask”.  Also, Sarah noted that even though she did not actually use any cuss words, she would try to avoid singing the song in front of adults because she did not want to get in trouble.  However, whenever older kids were around, Sarah said she would try to play with them because she wanted to be cool and sing the song with them.  Once Sarah graduated to middle school, she stopped playing the game but to this day still remembers all of the words to the “Miss Suzie” song because she used to sing it so much as a kid.

The “Miss Suzie” song clearly seems to be a way for younger children to experiment with more “mature” concepts like intimate relationships and faux-vulgarity of words that sound like cuss words.  Technically they are not saying anything inappropriate, but they come very close, which emphasizes how immature singing the song is, since genuinely mature people would not sing such lyrics.  The childish nature of the song is further illustrated by its simple rhyme scheme and use of repetitively spelling out words.

Sarah said she liked to sing the song when older kids were present, thus showing how the song was used as a method of being accepted by others in the community.  For Sarah, being deemed “cool” by older kids was something desirable, and she felt that the play on words in the song would help her achieve a higher social status.  Her position within her group of friends was very important to Sarah as a child because it helped her form her identity and establish herself as a member of a certain group of people.  As Sarah grew up, though, she no longer needed to rely on acting cool via hand-clapping songs in order to make friends and eventually stopped signing those types of songs.  Even so, the song is such a memorable part of her childhood that even today she can recite the words.

I remember singing this song when I was younger, and like Sarah, I felt cool to almost say cuss words and be able to get away with it.  Most importantly, I remember this song made me feel like a part of a special group, since only certain people knew the rhyme and the clapping game that went with it.  The song contributed to the formation of my identity in elementary school and helped connect me with others that could sing the song with me.  Also similar to Sarah, as I grew up, I found other ways to form bonds with people (and I also realized that it was not very cool to sing clapping game songs) so I abandoned the practice of playing these games.

Digital
general

Contemporary Legend/Prank

“There was this website online called Bonzai Cats that was really controversial for awhile.  No one could tell whether it was a practical joke or not, but basically it was about this Japanese guy who was selling pets called Bonzai Cats.  These cats were treated horribly, put in cages and fed through tubes, and given muscle relaxants and then shoved into different bottles so they would morph into these really bizarre shapes.  Then the cats are sold as souveneirs.  Some people got so outraged by this that a huge petition was created to stop the guy from making Bonzai Cats, even though no on even knew for a fact if it was even possible to do something like this.  The problem was that there were pictures posted online that show what a Bonzai Cat looks like.  But no one could determine whether the pictures were Photoshopped or edited to make them look like they were being mistreated.”

The controversy over the Bonzai Cats hoax shows the power and dangers of the internet.  Because everyone with internet access could view the Bonzai Cat site, it quickly became a topic of conversation (and anger) for many people.  However, because it was online and not able to be viewed live, no one could actually verify if such a practice actually existed.  Even so, the shock and outrage that many viewers of the website shared united people and actually led to the creation of a petition and legal action against the alleged Bonzai Cat operation.  This group formation eventually exposed the Bonzai Cat hoax, which was actually run by a group of MIT students.  While this hoax is pretty clever and humorous on one hand, it is also dangerous because it convinced so many people of something that was not true.  Also, it may have opened the door for copy-cat hoax websites that could potentially manipulate audiences into believing in something that is not true.  Fortunately, in the case of Bonzai Cats, the public was united in order to fight against animal cruelty.  This shows how society values fair and humane treatment of living creatures and is willing to stand up and fight if those values are violated.  However, it is interesting that the people who fought against Bonzai Cats did not invest more time verifying the legitimacy of the website and company before creating a petition.  Perhaps this is because Bonzai Cats was created a few years ago when technology like Photoshop was relatively new.  Many people probably thought that images could not be manipulated in extreme ways and considered the photos concrete proof of animal cruelty.

Dylan said that he first heard about Bonzai Cats when he was at a friend’s house and his friend showed him the website.  He said that the pictures looked very realistic, but he still could not believe that it was physically possible to deform the cats in such a drastic way without killing them.  More so than that, Dylan doubted the cats could legally be sold as “art”, since it was such an obvious demonstration of animal cruelty.  For Dylan, critical analysis of the website allowed him to make a rational judgment that the website must be a prank.  However, many viewers were less sure and believed that Bonzai Cats actually existed.  This varying level of belief shows how the website was able to perpetuate this prank and turn it into a legend that was not readily verifiable.

Like Dylan, I was initially shocked when I saw the Bonzai Cats website, but then decided that it must be fake.  Even though a part of me was fascinated by the idea of growing cats as decoration, I could not actually believe that something so cruel would actually be posted online and used to generate sales.  I think that the younger generations that are more familiar with computers had an easier time discriminating this site, whereas adults and people that had not used a computer often were more likely to be convinced by the images posted online.

Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition/Folk Belief

Superstition- If your nose itches that means that someone is thinking of you or talking about you.

Annie was told this by her mother, who was told by her mother.  I am unsure if this matrilineal transmission of the superstition/belief has any significance.  It is possible that since the traditional role of the mother is to raise children and teach them how to behave well and become successful members of society, it may also the job of the mother to also pass along cultural superstitions and beliefs as part of a child’s informal education.  However, it is just as possible that Annie’s mom and her grandmother passed on the superstition randomly and not because they felt it was important to teach their children about the belief.

The context of this belief is clear; if you tell someone your nose itches, they might tell you that someone is thinking/ talking about you.  The reasons why someone would say this is less obvious.  One reason might be that people want to bring as much structure to their lives as possible, including strange bodily functions.  If someone’s nose inexplicably itches, the idea that someone is thinking of them might be reassuring.  Also, it gives people a sense of control that they can explain what is going on inside themselves and in their lives, so believing in this superstition adds to that sense of control and knowledge of one’s body.

I have heard this superstition before, but a slightly different version.  I have been told by friends that if your ears are ringing, someone is thinking/talking about you, and that if your nose itches, you are going to kiss a fool.  The different versions of the superstition illustrate how these superstitions are not grounded in verifiable fact and can easily be altered and still sound correct.  And since these superstitions cannot really be proven, they continue to exist and be passed on to other people.  Also, belief in these superstitions is strengthened if the saying actually comes true- if someone’s nose itches, and then a friend calls and says “Hi, I was just thinking of you and decided to call…”, that will reinforce a person’s belief even if it may have been a pure coincidence.

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tradition – Polish

“During Christmas on my dad’s side of the family we celebrate it Polish Christmas style, meaning we eat a ton of fried food consisting of haddock, perogi, halushki, and lots of cabbagy stuff called kaputsa.  Also, it’s the Polish tradition to break this wafer-like thingy before we all sit down to dinner and so we say grace and then everyone has to break a piece off from the other people’s wafers.  I have no idea what the significance is to this, but my best guess would be that we break the bread just like Jesus broke the bread at the last supper although Christmas is a celebration of His birth, not the last supper, so I don’t know.  My family never really explained it.  It’s just something we do.”

Annie’s celebration of a Polish Christmas seems to show the combination of different traditions within one holiday.  During Christmas, Annie said that she sang Christmas carols and watched Christmas movies like “Elf” or “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, both of which are very mainstream holiday movies.  In addition to these activities, though, Annie and her family would experience Polish rituals during the holidays, especially in terms of food.

Annie said that her parents wanted her and her brother to be aware of their Polish heritage and actually experience it instead of hearing stories from family members.  Annie does identify herself as being part Polish, and noted that participating in a Polish Christmas helped connect her more to these origins.  However, Annie said that even though she eats Polish food during Christmas and engages in some Polish rituals like the breaking of the bread, she does not know the significance of all of these traditions.  Since she was raised Catholic and is actively involved in the Catholic Church, it makes sense that Annie would try to make sense of the Polish traditions by drawing on her Catholic upbringing.

In order to learn more about the origins and significance of the bread breaking, I researched the topic and learned that there are connections with this tradition and the Christian faith.  The wafer-like bread, called oplatek, is traditionally broken in pieces and shared with everyone at the table.  The bread is very similar to an unleavened, unconsecrated bread used during the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church, and it is often stamped with religious images.  The sharing of the bread serves as an act of good will and hope for success in the new year (Cantoski, “Treasured Polish Christmas”).  Therefore, Annie’s assumptions were correct; this Polish tradition is very similar to Jesus’ breaking of the bread during the last supper, since that too was a profound act of kinship with others.  Thus, Annie’s Catholic upbringing compliments the Polish Christmas she celebrates, since the two have many things in common.  Because the two traditions do not clash, it makes sense that Annie’s family continues to participate in both types of celebration.  It allows her family to enjoy a unique holiday that establishes a special family identity, and also allows her family to grow closer as they share this experience.  This is further emphasized through the breaking of the bread, since that specific ritual is especially designed to unite people during the onset of the new year.

Although sharing food often brings people together, I think that the specific tradition of breaking bread is especially significant because of its religious implications and the power it has to unite people.  The tradition may have a different meaning for families that actually live in Poland, since they are more directly immersed in their culture, whereas Annie’s family has been removed from some of the other Polish Christmas traditions.  Even so, the central meaning of the ritual remains the same; uniting the family during the holiday.

Annotation: Contoski, Josepha K. Treasured Polish Christmas Customs and Traditions: Carols, Decorations, and a Christmas Play. Minneapolis: Polanie Co.

[geolocation]