USC Digital Folklore Archives / Material
Customs
Foodways

Nutcrackers, Alcoholic Drinks, on Coney Island

Context:

The subject is a white male and a lifelong New Yorker from Manhattan and Queens. He is my twin brother and we attended the boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. Before this we were discussing what New York had begun to mean to us when we moved out to school, how we always heard stories and how it became a party location that we returned to when school was let out. I love this idea of New York teen folk culture because we could not have a overculture because what we were doing was illegal. The knowledge of nutcrackers was folklore because it was passed on through person to person because it was illegal and the practice of making nutcrackers is also folklore because there is no formula recipe.

 

Piece:

“Nutcrackers are, oh this is totally folklore yeah. On Coney Island there are guys that walk around with big garbage bags full of small bottles of what is obestinbily juice and alcohol, I think it’s Capri Sun and rubbing alcohol, if I was to guess. But yeah it’s like 5 bucks and you give ‘em 5 dollars and you get fuckign wasted on Coney Island so yeah. Teens generally do this, cause you, we aren’t 21. Thats-that’s definitly how I go wasted first few times I did. That’s how it went down, pretty easy way.”

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Italian–American Seafood Tradition

Main Piece

The informant goes crabbing with her extended family for one entire day each year. They always go in August, because that is when the season is best. The crabs and other fish that are caught are frozen and subsequently eaten in a seafood feast on Christmas Eve.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location the piece originated: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant learned this tradition from her family and she, predictably, has a strong sense of family. She enjoys and looks forward to both the crabbing and the seafood feast. Seafood dinner is an Italian Catholic tradition, and presumably this is how the older members of her family came to partake in the tradition.

Context

The informant has a large extended family, consisting of 10 first cousins who “are around every birthday and every holiday.” She typically sees them, as well as her aunts, uncles, and grandparents, at least twice a week. They all live in New York City, most of them in Staten Island, but the crabbing takes place on the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey.

At the seafood feast, the informant’s grandmother makes Aglio E Olio, an Italian pasta dish, along with traditional Italian breadcrumbs. After the dinner the whole family, goes to mass together.

Notes

I find it interesting that the informant and her family go crabbing together, rather than simply buying the crabs and fish at the store. The activity certainly seems like it would bring the family closer together. The act of getting their own food also harkens back to a time when tribes and families were self sufficient and had to get their own food with their hands and not at the supermarket.

 

Childhood
Festival
Foodways
Game
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Easter

Main Piece

The informant told me about Greek Easter and its associated traditions as practiced in Northern California. Greek Easter occurs one week after regular easter, and the celebrations the informant attends are at a local park. Classical Greek dances are performed, as well as an egg cracking game. Eggs are hard boiled and dyed red before they are used for the game. Two people each take an egg, and then the two people hit the eggs together until one egg cracks. The first person to have their egg crack is the loser. Nothing is won or lost. There is also a traditional easter egg hunt for “little kids,” as the informant called them.

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Outside San Diego

Language: English

The informant’s grandmother is “very Greek” and the informant always visits for Greek Easter. The informant commented that Northern California has no Greeks, but even so, about 100 people would come each year. Presumably, Greek Easter is a very important holiday for community building.

Context

The traditions included in Greek Easter are performed only at the specified time of year, one week after the traditional Christian Easter, and only among other Greeks.

Notes

The game with the eggs is perhaps indicative of the importance of strength in Greek culture; you want your egg to be the strong one, the one that doesn’t crack. The influence of American easter “traditions” is also very interesting. The easter egg hunt was invented by corporations, and although it has influenced Greek Easter to a small extent, the participation is limited to “little kids,” which reflects the fact that as the children grow up they will perhaps ‘age into’ Greek cultural traditions.

 

Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Cookies

Main Piece

“At Christmastime we make these very specific Christmas tree cookies, they’re almond cookies and we make them with a cookie press which squishes out dough into the shape of a Christmas tree. My family makes just a ton of them, and the cookie press we use has been in the family a greater part of the century. The weird thing is, if you make them any other shape, they don’t seem to taste the same. Instead of making chocolate chip cookies and putting those out for Santa, we put out these.”

Background

Informant

Nationality:  American

Location: Connecticut

Language: English

When I asked the informant what they thought of the tradition, they responded with the following:

“The cookies are really damn good. We make them with my mom’s parents, and aunts

and uncles on that side of the family. My more extended family send cookies to each other, and those are the cookies that we send to other relatives…it’s a traditional sending…family recipe cookie.”  

Context

The informant and their family only make these cookies around Christmas Time, and only with their grandparents.

Notes

My family has our own cookie making traditions, and so it was nice to hear about another family’s traditions. The cookies we make are also almond cookies, but we make them into candy cane shapes and we don’t use a cookie press.

 

Foodways
Game
Humor
Material

“Thumper”

Main Piece

The following game is called “Thumper.”

“You all get around a table, and you go like this…”

The informant then did a drumroll on her thigh before imitating a call and response using two distinct voices:

”What’s the name of the game?”

“Thumper!”

“Why do we play it!”

“To get fucked up!”

I asked the informant to explain the rules, and she said the following:

“You all have symbols, you do like a fight on or something, and you do the symbol while you’re drum rolling, and you do a symbol while looking at someone and they have to do another symbol and look at someone else, and if you do a symbol that doesn’t exist or you mess up, you have to take a shot.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Los Angeles

Language: English

Context

The informant learned the game at USC from other USC students.

Notes

I had never heard of this game before, but I find it interesting that there are so many diverse different drinking games with the same, ultimate goal: to get everyone extremely drunk.

 

Earth cycle
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions he shared with his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, which I think underscores the great importance of Chinese New Year for him; the fact that he travels to convene with his family while not being intimately close with them shows how much the tradition matters to him. The subject gave me a general overview of the traditions associated with Chines New Year but did not elaborate on specific details.

Main Piece

“For Chinese New Year’s it’s a huge deal for our family so we’ll have a meal together, but, like, it’s supposed to be a time where everyone goes home, so I try and do that as well. And, um, there’s a lot of Chinese cultural traditions associated with that: like the types of meals you’ll cook, how you eat them and like getting money from elders.”

Customs
Foodways
Material

Birthday Traditions

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. The tradition of giving special foods or sweets as gifts is interesting because it reflects the family’s emphasis on not valuing material goods over kindness. The tradition of wrapping their birthday presents in comics is also a reflection of the family’s income level and how fiscally conservative they were in order to have enough money to send all of their kids to college.

Main Piece

“When we had birthdays we—my mom we didn’t have a lot of money first of all, so my mom would just get stuff that we could share ‘cus she wanted to teach us that we could share our gifts. So they would give us candy like licorice, cashews, Andes mints, or sometimes a box of sugar cereal—like cookie crunch or something like that—‘cus we usually didn’t get sugar cereal so we would get, like, candy or something like that that we could share and we could keep it in our room, but after dinner we would have to bring it out and share and the birthday person would bring it out and, um, it was always wrapped in the comic section from the Sunday paper which was always colorful ‘cus my mom didn’t want to spend money on wrapping paper that would be ripped off and thrown away [laughs] so it was always wrapped in the comics.”

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Material
Protection

Pre-Race Breakfast

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about some of his experiences at USC; particularly, I asked him if he knew of any strong traditions at USC (aside from the obvious ‘Fight On’!). The subject is a member of the USC Triathlon team and is very active and involved on the team. He described one of the strong pre-race traditions as having a regular breakfast before the grueling, hours-long race. Different teammates have different foods that they eat, but each individual on the team always eats the exact same thing before every race. Though I’ve categorized this as a tradition, this ritual also has elements of folk superstition as well—even though the athletes might not necessarily personally believe that eating the same pre-race food is lucky, it implies that it is a special ritual for them.

Main Piece

“Traditional foods that we’ll have for, like, breakfast, like, it’s not really routine as in like more traditional and meaningful. My food is pretty lame—it’s just oatmeal—but it’s sort of a comfort, like a pre-race food. And like everyone has that. Some people have like PB and J.”

Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Saint Patrick’s Day Food

Context & Analysis

My roommate (the subject) and I were sitting in our dorm room talking about how our families celebrated different holidays. The subject’s family is relatively large and extremely tight-knit, as reflected in the subjects emphasis on “we always always do [it]”. Most of her extended family live within an hour radius, and they value family gatherings. Though this is the case, the subject only celebrates St. Patrick’s day with her immediate family members. I thought it was interesting that the subject’s family celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, considering no one in their family is of Irish descent. Additionally, I thought it was interesting how the family doesn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s day in a traditional sense (i.e. celebrating by drinking or gathering with extended family); instead, I believe the incorporation of images from the Dr. Seuss story, “Green Eggs and Ham”, reflects the nurturing and supportive environment of the family and the encouragement of uniqueness.

 

Main Piece

“On Saint Patrick’s Day—my family and I—we always make green eggs and ham, um, it’s not really specific to St. Patrick’s day, it’s a Dr. Seuss book, but, um, we have everything green for that breakfast. This year my dad even made the butter green so the bagels look really wonky [laughs], that was a little gross, but, um, we always always always do that, and if it’s not breakfast or we can’t be together for breakfast we’re together for, um, dinner or something, and we’ll like dye our Indian food green [laughs].”


 

Customs
Magic
Material

Pre-Test Ritual

Subject: Tradition. “Dress your best to test your best”.

Collection:

“Interviewer: Can you talk about going out to buy that dress my sophomore year of high school… the first time we ever did dress your best to test your best?

Interviewee: So, when I was growing up my mom would always take- when I was taking tests even through college… and buy me something to make me feel… uh… special. And to put me in the best state of mind for my tests. And then when Emerson was taking her first AP test we went out and got a dress and it’s her- was called her AP dress, from that day on… but like I- you- you started not wanting to- a dress, but like we would buy a shirt or some shorts or something. It was always like just dress up, get yourself in the best state of mind to take your test”.

Background Info: C. Taylor grew up in Southern California. She had a close relationship with her mother and paternal grandmother who first introduced her to this custom. She passed it down to her daughter when the tests being taken became significant. She currently lives in San Clemente, CA with her husband and one daughter.

Context: This tradition was shared over dinner with her daughter and husband when talking about various traditions passed down through the women in our lives.

Analysis: While this custom appears indulgent, the principles behind it are simple and could be easily enacted without much pomp and circumstance. This tradition centers around the individual while simultaneously asserting a sense of belonging and responsibility within the family structure.

First, the specific action being performed, shopping and then wearing new clothes to the test, is designed to make the person taking the test feel good about themselves. By putting on the clothes, there is an attempt to feel in control of the situation, even though they may not be. This evokes a type of sympathetic magic in which the practitioner makes themselves physically appear and feel their best to then trigger the best possible results from the test. Hence, it is all about the success of the individual and an attempt to control an indeterminant outcome. Furthermore, the practitioner is physically changing their appearance to commemorate the event, an outward statement that the test is important and deserving of the highest levels of dedication.

Secondly, the build up to dressing your best to test your best presents an opportunity for mother and daughter to go out and perform a self-serving activity that is out of the normal. By performing a distinct activity and making the day a special occasion, an additional level of bonding is introduced. The positive feelings of the bonding trip are then commemorated by the apparel that is donned to make the tester feel confident and supported going into their test. It also simultaneously produces a sense of duty of child to parent, the parent has made an investment in the success of their child and so the child must perform well.

In this way, this ritual is not unlike wearing a pair of lucky socks before a basketball game. A physical item is applied to the body to produce a desired outcome; only in this case, it is the newness of the item that gives it its special powers.

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