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.


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.


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.


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:


Bar Ghost Story

The following ghost story was told by a friend in a personal interview:

Interviewer: “Would you mind retelling me the story of when you detected those spirits in that bar in Washington?”

Shannon: “Of course! We had just gotten back to our hotel from a day-long horse show and wanted to get a drink so we decided to change and head into town to look for local bars.  We found this one dive bar near our hotel and went in to check it out.  There were no people in the bar but it was open and the bartender smiled at us as we walked through the creaky door.  Immediately I detected some paranormal activity”

Interviewer: “Have you ever detected paranormal activity before?”

Shannon: “Oh yes! Plenty of times! I can tell as soon as I walk in the door most times.  I have detected spirits during underground sewer tours, in old barns, houses, and even some kitchy little shops”

Interviewer: “So you were sure there was a spirit in that bar?”

Shannon: “Yes a chilling sensation overcame my body and I was immediately aware of another presence in the room.  However, I was not scared because something was telling me that the spirits were friendly”

Interviewer: “Something was telling you?”

Shannon: “Yeah I just had a gut feeling and in most cases my gut is not wrong.  So I asked the smily bartender if he had seen anything strange in the bar and his jaw dropped to the floor.  He said that every night before closing, he would turn all the bottles facing forward and clean up the bar.  When he would return the next morning, the bottles would all be spun around and various other things would be out of place like chairs that he had stacked the night before.  After reviewing the security camera footage it became clear that a human being did not mess with the bar and it was a supernatural entity”

Interviewer: “Were you ever scared of the ghost?”

Shannon: “Oh heavens no! I could tell that it was a younger spirit and perhaps he or she was just playing pranks on the living.  I’m sure the afterlife isn’t too exciting and so spirits create other ways to pass the time including messing with living humans”

Analysis:  Although I was skeptical of Shannon’s story at first, I believe she felt a spirit at that old bar.  There are a lot of common ghost story motifs in this particular ghost story including the old bar, security camera footage detecting the moving bottles but no human or ghost.  This is especially interesting because it is unlike any ghost stories because the spirit detected was identified as friendly and young; most ghost stories tell a ghastly tale of an evil spirit haunting a mortal human but this story remains upbeat and lighthearted as Shannon concludes the activity is just young, friendly  spirits goofing around.


Mauritius Sega

The following history is told by my friend I met on vacation this year from Mauritius Island:

“One of the biggest pieces of folklore in Mauririus is the art of dance!  Everyone dances in Mauritius, it’s our way of life!  Traditionally the people of Mauritius dance to Sega music which is music sung in our native language of Creole and play traditional instruments such as the ravanne, triangle, calebasse, and the maravanne. The ravanne is a percussion instrument that is made from a wooden hoop and a piece of goat skin stretched over the top.  The triangle is the same as the triangles we use in the United States and makes the same sound.  It’s a triangle shaped piece of metal.  The calebasse is a string instrument much like a guitar and the maravanne is a wooden box containing sand and seeds.  We use these instruments and the songs of our people in our language to create beautiful music the whole island dances to.  Originally the Sega was sung by slaves, but since then we have preserved our culture and turned it into a musical celebration used to tell stories.  We use Sega dance to express our desire for joy and happiness while at the same time expressing the heartaches our people have experienced overtime.  I especially love Sega dancing because of the traditional costumes we wear.  The women wear long colorful skirts and the men wear open-neck shirts.  It’s truly a wonderful sight!”


Analysis:  Dance is an extremely important part of Mauritius Island culture and no traditional Mauritian celebration would be complete without Sega music.  The songs tell the deep history of the people and they dance to express themselves in present day life.  The dancing is African style with lots of movement in the hips.  This is an interesting piece of folklore because I love dance and believe music and dance is one of the purest ways a person can express themselves.  More information about Sega music and dancing can be found on the Republic of Mauritius’ government website proving how vital this piece of folklore is to the entire culture of the island.


Yiddish Proverbs

The following proverbs were recited by my grandfather:

“Whomever looks for easy work goes to bed very tired.”

“One fool makes a lot of fools.”

“Better the child to cry than the father.”

“Sorrow makes the bones grow thinner.”

“A meowing cat can’t catch mice.”

“We know when we start out; when we’ll return, we know not.”

‘Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.”

“Let God worry about tomorrow.”

“Don’t depend upon others — do it yourself.”

“The boaster gets stuck in the mud.”

Analysis: The proverbs my grandfather remembered were told to him by his mother at a young age and throughout his life she referenced them.  Growing up with a Jewish family, these proverbs are still very relevant in today’s society.  My mother and aunt normally provide me with a proverb while giving me advice much like my great-grandmother did with my grandfather.  These pieces of folklore are particularly interesting because they have remained mostly constant throughout history.  Previously, they were translated from Yiddish to English but some proverbs still contain Yiddish words that Jewish people still commonly use today.  This collection of proverbs all has themes of working hard, living in the present, and focusing on oneself rather than others.  These themes sound very familiar to me because my mother and grandmother try to give me similar advice today.  This is one of my favorite pieces of folklore because I knew about these proverbs before this class and it has personal relevance in my life.