USC Digital Folklore Archives / general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tradition of Gift Giving- Christmas (Cali, Colombia)

During Christmas, it is, really common for people to make a lot of breads and pastries in Columbia to just give to surrounding neighbors. The more popular treats would be empanadas which are a pastry in which the inside is filled with different type of sweet pastes. The sweet pastries are a form of telling your neighbors to enjoy the festivities and have a great time, basically a good omen for the holidays. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people. This seems like a great way to start the holidays with gifts, as how usual Christmas goes in the United States.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ferias De Cali

Cities are important to the location, each city has its own party, they call it ferias, the feria de Cali just happens to be during Christmas time , the carnivals are in Barranquilla Carnival. These carnivals are huge festivals in which the Colombian people showcase different sets of parades and a lot of other different stands just to show off their different type of foods or even toys for the kids to have fun with.These carnivals last for many weeks sometimes in order to celebrate through the time change of the seasons.Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people


Latino Floor

The Latino Floor at USC in Fluor Tower has a Mural from the 1990’s showing an Aztec Pyramid and the Eagle that is on the Mexican Flag. It was a gift from older Latino Floor Alumni to show what the floor represents as a community and residence to First-Generation Latino-Students. The potrait also has the signatures of a lot of LF alumni to make their name and add it to the legacy left behind by the first of the floor.


Eloisa is a Michoacan born lady who has lived in Arkansas since she has been a little girl. She used to be really religious, but after being opened up to human rights, and mostly women rights, she has taken a step back and tried to analyze everything to decide on what she can really identify as part of her.


How to avoid curses and witchcraft – Nigerian Americans

The subject speaks on the way members of her Nigerian church in NYC protected against curses and witchcraft.

I went to Nigerian church every week and Nigerian church is its own thing let me tell you [laughs]. For Nigerians, and West Africans in general, you don’t want to tell someone you’re pregnant or that you got a promotion or good news because if you tell them, they could do voo-doo on you or something, you know?

So is it impolite in Nigeria to ask if someone is having a baby or to ask about someone’s health?

It’s not impolite. But Nigerians don’t ask because they know nobody will answer. For example if someone asks me if my dad is on a trip to Nigeria I can’t say, “yes.” I have to say, “well, he’s not here.”

And is the reason for this fear other people or fear something else like a demonic spirit?

No, it’s other people. It’s because you want to make sure people don’t have enough information to do witchcraft on you. But really you only have to be afraid of other Africans [laughs].

I would always here these stories in my church of these things happening. A lot of stories from our pastor’s wife. There was this one story that at a wedding a woman came up to the bride and waved her hand over [the bride’s] stomach. And then for three years the couple couldn’t have children. And they had to track down this woman and ask her “did you make us infertile.”

And the woman said, “yeah it was me.” And because they found the source they could have kids again. I heard stories like that in church every week.


Omens of bad luck for Nigerian Americans

Interview with the source, speaking on signs of bad luck her Nigerian American family in New York taught her:

Nigerians have things that are bad luck. Nigerians don’t go near cats because they have the devil in them. And Nigerians aren’t left handed, it’s considered evil.

What happens if a Nigerian kid is born left handed?

They’ll have to switch. Their parents would never let them stay left handed. That’s why I don’t know any left-handed Nigerians. And it’s considered bad luck to use your left hand to do things, like if you hand someone a cup, you have to use your right hand. 

Who in your family taught you this?


Your brothers and sister too?

Yes, everyone. Everyone.

So, do you still believe it?

No, no I don’t believe that it’s bad luck or the devil. But I still hand people things with my left hand because I don’t think it’s as polite. It’s not as respectful I think to use your left hand. 

Would your parents visit someone’s house if they had a cat? 

Sure, they wouldn’t care. But they would not get a cat as a pet themselves. Well also because I’m allergic and they wouldn’t do that to me.


Christmas Cookies

The subject describes a simple tradition his mom started. This year was the Christmas year after his mom died.

Oh! We did have one Christmas tradition in our family. Every year my mom would have her friends over and they would make Christmas cookies together. 

And this year my sister and I had our friends over and we made cookies together, so it’s like we’re carrying on that tradition.

What kind of cookies do you make?

Well normally my mom made sugar cookies but my sister and I need to find a better recipe. The one we used this year wasn’t very good.

What’s the significance of this tradition to you?

It’s significant because it was something our mom did every year. It would feel strange to do Christmas without doing it.

Even a simple tradition takes on greater meaning once a family member dies. This tradition transformed from being an annual gathering with friends, to an annual gathering of friends that celebrates the life of a passed-away loved one.


The Golden Screw

The source and several other friends told ghost stories on a camping trip to Joshua Tree. This was told as if it was going to be a ghost story.

This is a true story. In the late seventies, in Seattle, a baby was born with a very unusual condition. Where his belly-button should have been, there was a golden screw—just the head sticking out. The doctors couldn’t make heads or tails of it. They ran x-rays and tests; they tried gently pulling the screw out; but they had to conclude that there was no way to remove the screw safely. The child would live with the screw and his mother was just thankful that he seemed to be healthy otherwise.

Well this boy—his name was Dave—grew up and he began to realize he was different from the other children. He was embarrassed to take his shirt off in the school locker-room and at the pool. And when they found out the other kids teased him and called him ‘screw belly.’

Dave decided that as soon as he was 18, he’d venture out to find out why he was so different from everyone else.

I’ll abridge this part of the story. Dave sets off to find an answer, ending up deep in the Amazon Jungle at a mysterious clearing and climbing down a giant stone funnel to reach an underground golden room.

In the middle of the golden room was a golden pedestal and on top of that was a golden screwdriver. Dave knew what he had to do. He took the golden screwdriver and lifted his shirt. It fit perfectly into the screw in his belly. Slowly, he turned the handle and to his amazement the screw began to come out. Turn after turn, the screw unwound. One inch… two inches. It was longer than he ever imagined. Finally, with a final turn, the screw fell out of Dave’s belly.

And then his butt fell off.

This is a classic example of a shaggy dog joke, a story that takes a lot of time to get to a silly punchline.

On the web, I’ve found many different versions of the joke – with the same punchline but different details in the middle:


The Power of Garlic

This story is told by a high school teacher who observed the actions of several school janitors in Gary, Indiana.

“In Gary, Indiana where I taught in a mostly-Black high school, the cleaning staff was comprised of white Southern Europeans.  They were mainly Greek Orthodox, and they firmly believed that placing garlic chunks in rooms, drawers, behind stacks of books, on top of doorjambs, etc would keep evil spirits away.  One day I went in our book storage room and threw away all 40-plus pieces of garlic I found.  Within a couple days, it was all back.  Each year when teachers arrived to set up their rooms, there was always at least one piece of garlic in each desk.  Everybody just accepted it – remember this was in 2004 – because the whole Southern European culture in our community so strongly believed in the practice”

Analysis: His story reveals the prevalence of Southern European culture and folklore practices in Gary, Indiana in 2004.  The Orthodox Greek janitors believed that Placing garlic pieces in particular places in a building would keep the evil spirits away.  Although he did not directly speak with the janitors, the other teachers provided an oral history of the old tradition of the janitors placing garlic unusual places and replacing the cloves when needed.  My old high school teacher, Curtis, is an atheist so he was quite skeptical about these superstitious practices, yet there was nothing he could do to stop the overflow of garlic into the school.  The janitors’ will to rid the school of evil spirits was much greater than Curtis’ will to rid the school of garlic because the janitors were so frightened by the potential of evil spirits.






The Number 4 in Vietnam

The following story is told by my old high school teacher regarding his life in Vietnam:

“My Buddhist friends will NEVER write the number 4 – not for any reason. Nothing is priced at 4 dollars, and nobody will accept 4 dollars for anything or give it in change. Some people don’t leave the house on the 4th, although that does not seem to have spread to the 14th or 24th much”

Analysis: He collected these observations overtime by living in Da Nang, Vietnam and making friends with the locals.  He completely immersed himself in Vietnamese culture and started getting involved at a local orphanage where he interacted with and financially supported children in the orphanage.  This helped him connect to Vietnamese culture and helped him learn first-hand of many of Vietnam’s folklore practices such as their superstitions regarding numbers by hearing stories from locals and observing everyday activities.  This piece of folklore serves as a classic example of number superstition in Vietnamese culture.  However, it is important to note that the superstition is only about the number 4 by itself; numbers that include the number 4 are fine.  It is interesting because the Chinese have a similar superstition about the evil of number four.  In both Vietnamese and Chinese, the number 4 in their respective languages is very similar to the word death in those languages.  This trend is also observed in other East Asian languages including Korean, Japanese, and Cantonese.


The Lucky Number 8 in Vietnam

The following story is told by my old high school English teacher who used to live in Vietnam:

“Ads in Vietnam puts items on sale for 88% of their original price.  The 8th, 18th, and 28th of each month are lucky, and on those days, fake money is sold in the streets to be burned for luck.  People get married on those dates.  Some people even pay to have their phone numbers include the number 8 to gain respect from their customers.”

Analysis: These folklore practices in Vietnam are because they believe the number eight to be lucky in Vietnamese culture.  This idea stems from the Vietnamese language much like the superstition about the number four.  In Vietnamese, the word for the number eight is almost identical to the word for “develop.”  Since development is viewed positively in Vietnamese culture, the number eight is celebrated.  It is very interesting that although four is an unlucky number, 14 is not, whereas the number eight is a lucky number and so is 18 and 28.  My old teacher learned of this lucky omen through his interactions with local Vietnamese people during his time in Da Nang, Vietnam and observations of everyday life.