USC Digital Folklore Archives / general
Childhood
Festival
Foodways
Game
general
Holidays
Material
Myths
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Afikoman: Jewish Holiday Folk Game

Context: AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions
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Performance:
MW: So what do you know about the Afikoman?
AW: The Matzah, the bread we eat during Passover, because it represents the fact that when the jews had to flee Egypt and slavery. They left in such haste that the bread did not have a chance to rise, that’s why we have matzah.
AW: So, we eat the matzah all week so that we remember what happened to us, and during the seder…the person that leads the seder
[AW flips through her Passover Haggadah]
AW: explains to everyone…REMINDS not explains, what the bread means to us as a people
AW: they break it in half, one half to be eaten, and the other to be set aside for later. Traditionally that half is hidden by the oldest person at the seder for the children to find after the festival meal.

MW: Do you have any, like, special house rules?
AW: So we make rules, first the Afikoman has to be hidden in the house. Depending on the age of the children, if they’re very young it has to be in one specific room in the house to make it easier for them to find it. If they’re older it’s anywhere downstairs. It’s usually hidden by the person who led the seder.

MW: Ok
AW: Someone says “on your mark get set, go” and the kids race to find it, if there are young kids we hide it again so all the kids get a chance to find it.

Meaning
MW: So what does the Afikoman mean to you?
AW: It’s just part of the festival, it’s nice, you know what it’s nice because I remember the nights where we were all to grown up to do it. So it’s comforting to see the next generation carrying on our traditions.
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Analysis:
The Afikoman is wrapped which serves the practical purpose of keeping it, a dessert item, separated from the rest of the food. But the wrapping also serves a symbolic role as mimicking the way Ancient Jews would have wrapped their matzah as they fled Egypt. This mimicking is key to the overarching theme of Passover, that all Jews see themselves as having been liberated from Egypt, not just their ancestors. So in repeating the wrapping behavior modern Jews inhabit the role of their ancestors. The Talmud, a commentary on the Torah states that “We snatch matzahs on the night of Passover in order that the children should not fall asleep.” Thus, Afikomen hunting becomes a way to engage children with short attention spans during what is a fairly long religious event.
Likewise, the matzah is split in half during the seder. This might represent the delayed nature of Jewish salvation, the matzah eaten during the Seder representing the exodus itself, while the Afikomen matzah, hidden away and eaten only after the Seder ends, represents either the Mosciach, or Messiah’s final redemption of the Jewish people, or perhaps their eventual return to their homeland Israel after 40 years in the desert. For alternate uses of the Afikoman in Jewish households as a pendant for blessing see What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish

Ochs, Vennessa. “What Makes A Jewish Home Jewish?” What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish?, an Article by Vanessa Ochs, in Cross Currents, the Quarterly Journal of Opinion Covering Religion and the World., www.crosscurrents.org/ochsv.htm.

Childhood
Folk speech
general
Humor
Narrative

Alouette: French Nursery Rhyme

Context CW, with a mug of hot tea sits, on my couch after an afternoon of doing homework and recounts stories from their childhood CW was raised French and attended a French immersion school. The atmosphere is calm, the air is calm and the room is mostly quiet in between stories.
———————————————————————————————————————Background: CW learned Alouette in preschool, from their teachers. It’s meaning is rooted in a nostalgic warmth for their youth, also they think the song is “pretty cute I guess, but it’s kinda fucked up”. CW doesn’t necessarily like it so much as believes it is very deeply ingrained in their person.

Performance:

CW: Alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais la tête/ je te plumerais la tête/ et la tête et la tête/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le bec/ je te plumerais le bec/ et le bec et la tête/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le cou/ je te plumerais le cou/ et le cou et le bec/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais les ailes/ je te plumerais les ailes/ et les ailes et le cou/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le dos/ je te plumerais le dos/ et le dos et les ailes/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais
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Translation

Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your head/ let me pluck your head/ and your head and your head/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your beak/ let me pluck your beak/ and your beak and your head/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your neck/ let me pluck your neck/ and your neck and your beak/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your wings/ let me pluck your wings/ and your wings and your neck/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your back/ let me pluck your back/ and your back and your wing/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/

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Analysis: The song is something of a memory game, that used to teach children in France new words like neck, back, beak, and head. Much like the hokey pokey, this song serves the dual purpose of keeping children occupied and teaching them the language to express the parts of their own body. The song appears in lists across the internet like “5 Magical Songs For Teaching French To Preschoolers” indicating that as globalization has spread the ability to teach and learn language so too has this element of folklore spread into countries where French isn’t the dominant language to serve as a teaching tool. The way the song burrows its way into the mind of the performer too allows for its performance to gain meaning as a cultural object, the knowing of Alouette, a marker of exposure to French culture and a way to connect with other people

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

The Ursuline Casket Girls Of New Orleans

Storyteller:

“Okay, so there’s this convent and off the top of my head I don’t remember it but if you google like “New Orleans Convent Vampires” you’ll find like a version of it. So that’s when New Orleans was being like built into a new city and there were all these traders and fur trappers or whatever. So women, so they has women brought over from Europe who were essentially going to be mail order brides for these men. So there are crude jokes of it being like early human trafficking and the women were like exposed to the sun on the trip over on the boat so they got like severely sun burned so the men like freaked out when the women got off the boat and rejected them. So they took the women in at the local convent and they like turned the top floor into the places for them to stay. But somehow because it’s New Orleans and this is what happens, people started saying that the women up there can’t be exposed to sunlight, they must be vampires…and it turned into this whole legend about the vampires of the convent. So like if you go on the voodoo tour in New Orleans, you will go to this convent and be told the story.

Me: That is so interesting, wow.

Storyteller: It is crazy! I mean the stuff in New Orleans…like who thought that was true and you know…it’s New Orleans so who knows if it’s true…you never know there.

Background: The storyteller is from New Orleans so she had a couple stories to pick from but decided to share this one. She told me that although she couldn’t remember the exact name of the story (I later looked up the real name and titled this post with it), she knew that because of the weird history of New Orleans, an ancient event turned into a creepy legend.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me a few stories…one is this legend. I drove back home to meet her for some coffee before diving into the interview (along with another storyteller who is interviewed in a different post).

Thoughts: I have come to realize that there are many legends and ghost stories that come from the south. The reason for this is probably because of the south’s horrible history especially with slavery and the general mistreatment of black people and women. I think that whether or not this legend is true and the women actually were vampires (even though it seems unlikely), it is interesting to me how easily skewed a simple story can become in New Orleans. It seems like the city has a rich culture and likes to accumulate as many interesting stories as it can. It makes it unique.

Folk Beliefs
general
Narrative

Great Grandmother’s Murder House

Storyteller: “So my mom’s entire family is from New Orleans, which is essentially the most haunted city in the world…like there is so much tragedy and everyone…like if you grew up there you kind of believe in ghosts? Like you pretend you don’t but you do. No city can have that much tragedy and death and not have stuff wandering around. So my great grandmother had this really nice house. And I remember like being…sort of with it enough as a kid to be like ‘we are not rich, how did she afford this really nice house.’ And it was because it used to be a brothel and there was a murder there and so my family got it really cheap. So it was a murder house right? So the story was that one of the women that worked int he brothel was married. And her husband came in and dragged her up to the attic and they had a huge fight and he killed her. And there were these dark stains on the floor up there that everyone said was blood stains…that would not come out. Whether they were or not I don’t know, but that’s what I know this story was. So, basically they would always tell us that ‘Herald’, essentially, used to live in the attic because it’s where he killed his wife. And we were like ‘yeah whatever. Ha ha. Very funny.’ So my cousins and I are upstairs one day and we are playing in the attic and all of this weird crap starts happening. Like a door slams and a window that like…things like open and not a problem open and like weird weird stuff. And so we were like ‘oh you know what it is. It’s uncle M, he’s trying to scare us…because my uncle was notorious for scaring the kids all of the time. So we were like, ‘it’s just him.’ And then we were like ignoring it and then I looked out the window and my uncle M was downstairs. And we literally screamed and ran downstairs as fast as we could [laughs]. And to this day…NO explanation for what was happening in that attic. We were like ‘maybe it was like the uncle? or whatever…’ but could never prove that it was another human in our family.” [seeing my disturbed face she adds] “Yeah…it’s very upsetting! [laughs] I did not enjoy that! But yeah, that is the story of my great grandmother’s murder house.”

 

Background: The storyteller is from the south (specifically New Orleans) and she got to spend a lot of time growing up there. As a result, she not only has a lot of knowledge on the stories people told about the city, but she also had her own personal experience with a ghost in her great grandmother’s murder house.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me three stories…one of them included this first person narrative of her experience with what she still to this day believes was a ghost. I met up with her and another storyteller for coffee to go over the details.

Thoughts: Like the storyteller already pointed out, New Orleans is famous for being one of the most haunted places in the world. There really is so much tragedy that has occurred in that city throughout the years that it is not hard to believe that there are many ghost stories and legends that derive from it. It is scary to hear and see things out of the ordinary especially when we cannot figure out the realistic cause of it. Many people refuse to believe in such things as ghosts and live in denial with the fact that they may be real. Some things that cannot be explained frighten us.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Civil War Ghost of Brighton, Michigan

Civil War Ghost of Brighton, Michigan

The following informant is a 19 year-old USC student from Brighton, Michigan. They attended the Interlochen Arts Academy for 2 years before moving to Los Angeles. Here, they are describing a ghost story they recall hearing about a Hartland High School friend; they will be identified as S. The subjects of his story will be identified as O and D.

S: There was this kid that I used to know in high school, his name was O, he was two years older than me, and he had a brother that was a year younger than me, and they lived on a farm. They lived on a farm, and their house was built in a, a long, long time ago, I think during the Civil War, actually.

We lived in a suburb, but he lived in, like, the farm, farmland part of Brighton, which is tractors, cows — he even had sheep, one was named Luigi. Anyways, no, since the house was so old, the owner, or someone that either lived in the house or was involved in the house, they just, obviously died, and Logan always said this type of “spook” just lingered, it was always there. It wasn’t a harmful, or like, it wasn’t harmful, I’ll leave it at that.

But it was, like, the typical things would be found out of place. Apparently it used to definitely linger around D [his brother] more. It would be, like, they — D would clean in his room, or whatever, and the closet door would be shut, and then they would leave, and then they’d come back from going to the store, or from playing outside, or something, and then the closet door would be open and some things would be out of place.

Just a sense of someone’s in the room with you but when you know you’re alone, just like eyes are on you, and hairs on your neck stick up, and it’s kind of like a cold presence. Something is in the room with you, some spirit or something. That’s the “spook” of S’s house.

Context

The informant is my younger sibling, and O was a friend of mine in the same class. I don’t recall hearing this story, but the informant was relatively close with the individuals described in the story. The performance took place in our apartment a few blocks away from USC, and I was the sole listener. Not to take any sort of credence away from the informant, but it would seem a noteworthy amount of emphasis was placed on the term “spook” during the telling, as if this alternative (and less common) term for “ghost” or “spirit” was the reason behind their remembering of the account.

My Thoughts

The area of Brighton, Michigan (where we were primarily raised) is an interesting one — there are plenty of Civil War artifacts and graveyards, and the town’s buildings retain an “old fashioned” style. Lots of our friends’ houses (those we would often visit) were older houses, and, as is characteristic of the houses in Brighton and its bordering areas, most had large yards surrounding them.

This combination surely lent itself to many paranormal interaction stories that were told as we grew up. I am less inclined to believe this story, purely based off of the informant’s performance, due to the lack of evidential exposition; perhaps a parent moved the objects, or closed the closet door. I’m sure a memorate influenced this narrative.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Dogman in Traverse City, Michigan

Dogman in Traverse City, Michigan

The following informant is a 19 year-old USC student from Brighton, Michigan. They attended the Interlochen Arts Academy for 2 years before moving to Los Angeles. Here, they are describing an urban legend they recall hearing about a dog creature while attending high school in Northern Michigan; they will be identified as R.

R: A popular urban legend is a, this creature called the Dogman, it’s right where we went to high school in Traverse City. This dog-creature, it wasn’t a werewolf and it wasn’t bigfoot, it was like a hairy many with the head of a dog.

But, no, you’d see him roaming around the woods in the north, it was said this, like, DJ in the 80s said, “I made up the legend as an April Fools joke,” but there’s definitely incidents found from the 30s and 1800s — it’s just, there’s been a tax? I don’t know if there’s videos. Obviously there’s going to be people that fake this, but the guy claimed it’s a joke, but there’s been actual, actual records behind it, and that is Dogman.

Context

The informant is my younger sibling, and the two of us attended the same boarding high school in Northern Michigan (near Traverse City in a town named Interlochen), though not at the same time. The performance took place in our apartment a few blocks away from USC, and I was the sole listener. The school was built on top of Native American burial grounds (there were many signs around campus providing a history of the land), and many paranormal encounter stories are told.

My Thoughts

Traverse City is much different than Brighton, Michigan, where the informant and I grew up; it is much more dense in forests, and simply sounds different, in part due to the many surrounding lakes and Great Lake. I am sure that this has an effect on the local folklore, as much of the stories I recall being told as a kid in Brighton involve farmland and the Civil War.

I never heard this story, but it sounds like a typical urban legend. Many of the creatures described in these sorts of Michigan legends involve animals — this may very well be a result of the woods, forests, and wildlife that are a part of everyday life.

The informant heard this story while attending high school near Traverse City; this story fits into the type of stories I remember hearing and exchanging at night time after classes on campus, especially while sitting with friends near the surrounding lake and enveloped in the ambience produced by the moving water, wind blowing through trees’ leaves, and wildlife (particularly the large population of loons that inhabited Green Lake).

Childhood
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Korean Goblin Tale

Korean Goblin Tale

The following informant is a 21 year-old musician from Seoul, Korea, currently residing in Los Angeles. Here, they are describing a standard Korean tale that has been passed down; they will be identified as M.

M: It’s like Korean version of genie. So instead of genie, goblin. Instead of a lamp, it’s a, like, bat. A goblin bat. I don’t know the exact story of it, but there was a guy, he was very good at singing, but he got a very big tumor on his face, and he was singing at the night, and suddenly out of nowhere, two goblins came, and they loved his singing, and they asked, “what’s the secret of your voice and the singing,” and he was so scared, but he noticed that they loved his singing, and he was very poor before that and then he just lied to them. “oh it’s all from the tumor, this one.”

The face tumor — it was a big one. The goblin trusted that, and said, “do you want to sell it to me, or trade it? Lets trade.” He said, “oh, why not?” For a bunch of gold, and then the goblin swing the bat, and a bunch of gold appeared. and they give it to him, and the goblin touched the tumor, and it just cut it. He become rich, and there was another guy, he was already rich but a very greedy person and got a similar tumor. There was two goblins, so only one got the tumor, and believed “now i’m good at singing,” but the other go to that rich person, but the first goblin told the other that it was a lie, “I figured it out,” but this goblin went to the rich person, they asked him about the secret of singing, but he heard about the previous guy, so he tried to lie and did the same thing.

The goblin figured it out, and was very angry, so they swung the bat at him, so the previous guy’s tumor was on his face, so he had two tumors. And he was already rich, but they took all the money from him and ran away. The greedy guy lost everything. So, the moral is “don’t get greedy.”

Context

This interaction occurred on campus in a dining facility. I was sitting with informant M, as well as other Korean students from both USC and UCLA, whom provided additional contributions. During M’s performance, other individuals provided verbal and gestural affirmation, while one was not too familiar with the tale.

My Thoughts

There is a lot to unpack here. For one, this Korean tale, most likely told to children, is alike to many Western tales that we tell our youth; the root is fear, whereby children will refrain from lying or becoming greedy out of fear of goblin-inflicted punishment. This differs from, say, Native American cultures, where humor is often used instead of fear. It is also interesting how they compared goblins to genies — this, perhaps, demonstrates a cognate relationship between the figures.

For further relevant information, I read and recommend:

Jong-dae, Kim. “Dokkaebi: The Goblins of Korean Myth.” Korean Literature Now, vol. 35, 5 Apr. 2017, koreanliteraturenow.com/essay/musings/dokkaebi-goblins-korean-myth.

In this, Jong-dae shows relationships to Japanese folklore figures; this is interesting, as part of a conversation that occured this day between the informant, their friends, and myself pertained to Chinese linguistic and cultural influence over Asian countries and cultures, and how these “stories” may be related.

 

Customs
Folk speech
general
Initiations
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” Swearing-In

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” Swearing-In

The following informant is a 21 year-old student from California, currently residing in Los Angeles and studying at the University of Southern California. They have been a part of the weekly cast of Los Angeles’ “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” tradition for at least a year. Here, they are describing a the swearing-in of new members of the community; they will be identified as Z.

Z: At the beginning, it’s like “Raise your right hand, or the hand you masturbate with,” and then people would raise both their hands, “and repeat after me,” and everyone says “after me! after me! after me!”

And then the chant is, “I state your name, pledge allegiance to the lips of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ And to the decadence, for which they stand, one nation, under Richard O’Brien, on top of Patricia Quinn, with sensual daydreams, erotic nightmares, and sins of the flesh for them all.” That’s like the induction speech, or whatever. It’s a lot.

Context

The informant is my roommate, and I am friends with this individual. This bit was told to me in our room. They have been a part of the cast of the Santa Monica weekly performance of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for at least a year, but have attended the performance for a longer period of time.

My Thoughts

There are layers to this tradition. First off, it is lampooning the swearing in process that is typically held in judicial or political office. While this jokingly places the “induction ceremony” in a substantially more serious light than it rightfully deserves, there is no doubt that this film has become a sort of folklore, and acts as a canon for this community of “followers,” who have clearly come up with their own traditions, jokes, and beliefs as they relate to the film (genres of meta-folklore).

They are also, in ways, playing with the long-used term of “cult following” regarding “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” almost reclaiming the idea of a cult. In my opinion, it is a means of waving goodbye to the already-there establishment, and creating their own “legitimized” community — this is consonant with the overall tone of the film itself.

To read more on this topic, feel free to read:

Tyson, Christy, et al. “Our Readers Write: What Is the Significance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show? Why Do Kids Keep Going to It?” The English Journal, vol. 69, no. 7, 1980, pp.60–62. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/817417.

 

Customs
Festival
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Los Angeles Swedish Festival

Los Angeles Swedish Festival

The following informant is a 21 year-old student from Sherman Oaks, California, currently studying at the University of Southern California. Their stepmother was from Sweden, and included the informant in traditional Swedish holiday festivities. Here, they are describing memories of attending the Shrine Auditorium, and a belief they recall. They will be identified as X.

X: My stepmom was from Sweden, and so, obviously her heritage was very important to her, because she was living in a different country, but she’s Swedish.

I guess Christmas time in Sweden is a big cultural thing, and they have all these different traditions than what we have over here. So, the Swedish community in Los Angeles puts together an annual Swedish Christmas fair at the Shrine — it’s basically like every Swedish person in LA is in the same room at the same time, and they have all the vendors selling things from Sweden, all the clocks and all the food, they’d have Swedish meatballs and spiced wine, which they make around Christmas time.

They’d also have the Santa Lucia celebration, I think. It’s like the blonde girl with candles on her head, like a candle crown. They’d sing a traditional folk song, which I still kind of know the melody — I never learned all the words.

It was beautiful, they’d turn the lights down, and all the girls would come in and, their white gowns with little red accents on it, because that’s the Christmas colors. Santa Lucia would have the crown of candles on her head, and everyone else would have a little wreath on their head — it was really pretty.

They have these little Christmas elf characters called tomte, and they’re little wooden creatures, with little beards and hair, and made of sheep’s wool, I think, but it’s really soft. They all have little red caps on, like Santa hats. But the story goes, the tomte are little older men type characters, like elves, and they’re the size of a small child, and they would either live in the barn or the pantry of the house, and their job was to take care of the animals.

You’d feed them porridge, leave it out for them and they’d eat it. And the way you know you have a tomte living with you is if you have a tidy house and tidy barn, that means there’s a tomte there. We still have our tomte decorations that we put out every year, now it’s become just a part of Christmas.

Context

The informant is a friend of mine who studies in the same program. I asked them if they recall or would be willing to share any special holiday traditions or rituals that they or their family takes part in annually.

My Thoughts

All of what the informant shared with me is factually accurate, as far as I can tell. It is interesting how there are small variations in holiday celebrations; instead of what I know of as elves in Western culture and Christmas celebrations, decorations, and stories, the Swedish Christmas holiday includes tomtes, which I have found stem from Nordic tales, and do in fact resemble gnomes.

It is nice how this almost foreign version of something has become a staple of Christmas for the informant; it is a means by which they might reconnect with their stepmother and show appreciation for their relationship, even without her being there.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pasadena and the “Suicide Bridge”

Pasadena and the “Suicide Bridge”

The following informant is a 25 year-old who was born and brought up in the San Fernando Valley of California. Here, they are describing a local urban legend that they had heard about a specific bridge in Pasadena; they will be identified as J.

J: There’s a bridge in Pasadena, where a ton of people commit suicide. Apparently it’s haunted. Google it, it’s a thing. I think the legend spurred people to commit suicide there, so the legend kind of fed itself. It’s definitely a thing.

Context

This interaction took place at a family gathering for a friend that I had been invited to; the informant is the cousin of the friend who invited me along.

My Thoughts

I tried looking up this particular urban legend online, with much luck. There is truth behind the Colorado State Bridge being the site of numerous suicides. There have apparently been “thousands” since 1919. There are also numerous well-known ghost sightings and haunting stories that can be easily accessed. I find it interesting, though, how the folklore behind the bridge has potentially spurred people to commit suicide at its location.

For more information, visit:

Weiser, Kathy. “Suicide Bridge – Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, California.” Legends ofAmerica, May 2017, www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-suicidebridge/.

 

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