USC Digital Folklore Archives / Material

Japanese New Year’s Ozoni

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM described to me some of the basic traditions her family has for New Years Day, especially the cooking of “ozoni”:

“Ozoni is just a soup made with chicken broth, green onion, shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, chicken and mochi. My Auntie Kazuko would make it for us every year when we were growing up, and it’s always the first course of a New Year’s Day meal. All of [my mom's] siblings and my cousins would get together at [Auntie Kazuko's] house and while most of the day would be, you know, just a family gathering, we would all sit down together to eat the ozoni. It’s only cooked on New Year’s and you have to go to special Japanese markets to find the ingredients.

“Now with my siblings and kids and nieces and nephews, we get together at my sister’s place – she’s married to a Japanese man, and his mother makes the ozoni. The holiday is pretty similar to how it was for me, where everyone just gathers at someone’s house to watch football and eat food, but the making of the soup and eating it together is like one concrete tradition we do every year. I’m not sure who will keep making it after [my sister's mother-in-law] passes away though…”

My analysis:

The most interesting part of this food tradition for me is the shared background of the family members who actively carry it out – KH told me her Auntie Kazuko was most connected to their Japanese heritage, which is why she insisted on making the soup every year. Similarly, her sister’s mother-in-law is from Japan, and she is the one who facilitates the tradition. It really reveals how certain customs make it overseas when families would move to America, but also how fragile they are. KH isn’t sure anyone else in her family is motivated enough by their Japanese traditions to continue the laborious process of making this particular food. Traditional holidays tend to become more Americanized (in this case) over the years they’re observed away from their roots, and unless enough people are committed to certain customs, they can easily die out.

For more information about ozoni, see:

“Ozoni (Zoni) Recipe.” Japanese Cooking 101. 2016. Retrieved from

Eating All the Rice Out of a Bowl

Background: M.W. is a 18 year old student at USC studying History and Japanese. He was born Tarzana, California and grew up in Phoenix, Arizona as well as Eugene, Oregon. His mother is half Chinese half Japanese, and his father is Russian. M.W.’s grandmother on his mother’s side is Chinese, and his grandfather is Japanese. His upbringing has been composed of a mixture of both European and Asian influence, and he highly values both sides of his family history.


Main Piece:


M.W.: My grandmother taught me that whenever we had a bowl of rice we had to finish each and every kernel. The running joke amongst the family was that if you didn’t, you’d marry someone ugly or you’d have bad luck. But the truth behind it was that my great grandfather grew up in a very poor village and they were taught that if they didn’t finish the rice, that they would not be allowed anymore for the next meal because they didn’t have enough they didn’t always have enough rice for the next meal. But we do it now because it’s respectful.


Q: How often do you practice this?


M.W.: Honestly never because rice is way too much to eat usually.


Q: Does your mom or grandmother always practice it?


M.W.: Not usually. However, they will often joke about it.


Performance Context: You would perform this when eating rice. It is particularly prominent in Asian cultures and in poor families.


My Thoughts: Rice is an important food in many Asian cultures, as it is abundant, easy to get, and can be eaten with many different dishes. Therefore, it is understandable that a tradition of eating all the rice in a bowl used in the past not to waste food and to save money would be passed down through the generations. Over time, eating all the rice in a bowl has even changed meaning – it is now a familial and cultural tradition done to be respectful, when in the past it was done to conserve food and money.


Feasts Natalae

Background: A.S. is a 22-year-old student at USC studying Occupational Therapy. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, and both of her parents are professors at USC. The informant’s mother told this story to the informant multiple times, especially when describing her childhood or her favorite holiday. This was her mother’s favorite time of the year, because it was the one time that she could be all together with her family and celebrate, even though they were Jewish and the tradition revolved around a Christian holiday.

Main piece: “My mom was born in Rome but grew up in New Jersey. Her mother was Italian and she was also Jewish…which is interesting since there aren’t too many Italian Jews. Anyways, she still celebrated Christmas because her father was raised Catholic. So my grandmother would prepare a traditional Italian meal for Christmas in the house when they lived in New Jersey. It wasn’t like other Christmas dinners in the states…it was like specifically Italian. So they would have a bunch of courses, seven I think, because of the seven sacraments or something, and almost all of them included some sort of fish plate, but no meat. I think my mom told me it was called um.. oh it was called Feasts Natalae. It was traditional in Italy to have the dinner on Christmas eve but it was still called Christmas dinner I think. Each course was fish because it’s like a kind of fasting…they just don’t eat meat. My mom said this was a really special time for her because she knew her family would be together. And it wasn’t even about the holiday or religion or anything, it was about being with her family.”

Performance Context: I interviewed the informant while we were both together, sitting on a couch, in the house where she lives on west 28th Street in Los Angeles. Feasts Natalae would typically be practiced on Christmas Eve, and is a prominent tradition in Italy. This tradition would be practiced by Anna’s mom’s family every year.

My Thoughts: I think that this story is representative of the fact that each culture and each family has a different way of celebrating Christmas, both culturally and religiously. Each nationality and each individual family has a way of making the holiday special for them. There are a lots of Christmas traditions around the world that aren’t officially coming from the church, but are still important to families and have to do with Christmas.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Mexican Christmas

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).

K- “For Christmas every year my family makes tamales and posole. My mom’s side makes tamales and my dad’s side usually makes posole. We celebrate it Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Depending on the family since we interchange every year. One day we have posole and the other we have tamales. When it comes to opening the gifts, we always wait until 12 midnight. We basically start on Christmas Eve and end at midnight. If we have little kids, we let them open their presents up at 10. And that’s it, only the little kids. Everybody else has to wait until 12.”

What is a tamale and posole?

K-“Ok a tamale is like maza (corn dough) with meat inside, or it can be cheese and chile, or sweet with pineapple or strawberry. Posole is like a soup with grano (white hominy) and we make ours red because there is usually red, white, and green. We always do ours red. You can put cabbage and onions and chile if you want, lemon, or radish.

How long, that you are aware of, has this tradition been going?

K-“Since I was born. Before I was born. “

Analysis- This Christmas tradition gives some background into the way the informant’s culture functions. They are a culture centered around family that likes to maintain its traditions. They like to include everyone by switching families every year. Even though the family is no longer in Mexico, they continue to have the traditions that they grew up, which will be later adopted by their children. They also belong to a culture that likes to celebrate and enjoy every moment together. It is very good that everyone is part of the tradition, even the small children.


Faherty Irish Bread

Folk Piece:

Recipe for Faherty Irish Soda Bread

3 cups flour                        1 cup raisins
½ cup sugar                      ¼ pound butter (less 1 tbs) – room temp
1 shake nutmeg                 2 eggs
3 tsp baking powder        1 cup milk
3 tsp caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and lightly flour 8” round cake pan.  Mix all ingredients together by hand or bread hook (if using machine).
Bake for 55 minutes.

Background Information

From the informant: I learned the recipe from my mother Rosalie Faherty.  She learned it from her childhood friend’s Mom.  The recipe originally was in terms like a saucer of this and a pinch of that.  She had to convert it to cups and tablespoons. I first made the Irish bread in high school, and since I have made it every St. Patrick’s Day that I can remember.  My mother used to make up to a couple dozen on St. Patrick’s Day, but now me and my eight siblings make it and make about thirty collectively each year.”



My mom taught me this recipe, too, but I never cooked it on my own this year. I never even had the recipe written down until I asked my mom for the formal one – it’s often taught from person to person. I thought it would be perfect for this project, so I asked her a bit more about it. It’s widely known in my family as our go to family dish.



I grew up eating this Irish bread each and every year on St. Patty’s Day. Living north of Boston, other neighbors would leave Irish soda bread on our porch, and we would leave some on theirs. I would take it to class, my parents would take it to work, and it really signified the Irish holiday of St. Patrick’s Day. This specific recipe was taught to me by my mother when I was in high school, and I would occasionally help her cook it. Similarly, her mother, my grandmother, taught it to her when my mother was just a child. Interestingly, even after all this time, I had always just thought that the recipe originated with my family. This class made me speculate that wasn’t true; recipes don’t just appear out of thin air. After my interview I found out that my grandmother actually learned it from her friend, and my grandmother was the one to translate this “folk dish” into an actual measured recipe.

Therefore, the dish that my family feels identifies ourselves is actually only two generations removed from another family. Additionally, while it was my grandmother that authored the recipe, she herself is not Irish. In fact, she’s the only grandparent of mine that isn’t 100% Irish; that I associate my Irish identity with a recipe that was from another family, authored by a woman who isn’t at all Irish, just shows how folklore can change hands and mediums every year and every generation. For an added bonus, see below the Irish bread I made this year, brought into work just like my parents.




Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Warm milk with honey

As a child, my father was frequently given warm milk with honey mixed in as a sleeping aid when he was feeling ill. I asked him to describe his experience of this folk medicine:

“That was a sleeping aid and of course my—I mean, again, it’s a combination of the personal and the impersonal. When, when my Mom gave it to me, it was unbelievably precious, even then it was unbelievably precious. You would be awake, you would be taken downstairs sometimes, you know, in other words, it would feel very special and private. And the memory brings back the light. In other words, the 50’s—the 1950’s lightbulb—they were just different from what we have. And it brings back the softer light and all that kind of thing.”

My informant is my father, a 62-year old English professor in New York City. He was given this remedy during his childhood, but rarely gave it to my brother and I. Recalling warm milk with honey brought this thought to his mind:

“But there was a double sense. There was a sense that this is the way things are done in your house but that they’re going on all over the place too. And that you’re part of a larger world that does this. And it always surprises me that milk and honey is not in everyone’s lives.”

I think my father enjoys this folk medicine because it brings up memories of his mother, who died 25 years ago. But I find it really interesting that he did not pass it down to me. I imagine some folklore is so tied to specific people that it feels more like a treasure shared with him or her rather than something to be passed on. In this case, warm milk with honey may have been something my father wanted to preserve as a special thing between him and his mother. It may not have even occurred to him to pass onto his children, because it was so connected to the child within him. After all, it is milk and honey, two of the sweetest, most nurturing substances fed to baby. They tap into the baby within us all. So, this may be a piece of folk medicine that taps into only the baby within my father, and not the parent.


Matzo ball soup recipe

The following is a matzo ball soup recipe my father learned from his mother.

“The recipe is simple. It’s six eggs, scram—you know—um, stirred. Uh, and then, um, six tablespoons of schmaltz, chicken schmaltz, which is just chicken fat turned into a kind of butter. And then, um, one, and this was her point, and I have it written down, scant cup of matzo meal. In other words—matzo meal was just crumbled matzo. Scant means that’s there just a little less of the bread stuff and there’s more of the juicy stuff, ok? It’s a cup, it’s a little less. And she was very proud of that proportion. She was also very proud of a trick—and this really does make a difference—because you tasted it all your life—she was proud of a trick where you—the chicken fat is usually just melted and then put it into the stuff, but if you cook onions in the chicken fat, if you cook sliced onions in the chicken fat, that fills the chicken fat with flavor. Then you strain it, so that the onions aren’t in it anymore. And then when you pour that in with the matzo meal and eggs, it’s bringing this rich onion flavor, ok? My mother’s other trick is she was proud of boiling the matzo balls not in water, which is the standard procedure. Remember, they fill up. They swell up. Um, she boiled them in chicken soup from a can. And that actually filled them up with flavor in another way because they swelled not with water but with chicken soup.”

My informant is my father, a 62 year English professor in New York City. He doesn’t have any specific memories of eating this soup as a child, but he assumes that he did. Every Passover, he cooks matzo ball soup using this recipe. I asked him to describe how he learned the recipe:

“My Mom, once, on the phone, very long ago, dictated to me her matzo ball soup recipe. What interests me about it is that it clearly was not her mother’s recipe because the matzo balls that I make from my mother’s recipe taste completely different from the one from her mother’s recipe, ok? So my guess is my Mom’s recipe may have come from my father’s household, because there they make a fabulous matzo ball that tastes a lot like this. But in any event, that recipe is sacred to me and I took it down on just a random scrap of notebook paper. I like looking at that piece of notebook paper. I’ve looked at it for years. It’s got my handwriting and I can remember the phone call. It brings me back in touch with her, especially her voice.  And I can always pretty well remember it because it’s in very specific proportions.”

I asked him if he’s changed the recipe at all, to which he replied:

“By now, it’s become so much mine. I actually have improved it. In other words, it’s got my touches in it. It’s got things I figured out…And I just did what I usually do which is to depend the involvement of flavors, something like that.”

I believe my father enjoys this recipe so much, because as he says, it vividly recreates his mother’s warmth, personality, and knowledge. I imagine he likes sharing the recipe with my brother and I because we never had the pleasure of meeting her. My father has since altered the recipe, but still regards it at his mother’s. This is a wonderful example of the way that folklore can change greatly over time, but because of nostalgia, love, and respect, stay tied in people’s minds to what they perceive to be the originator.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Choice of a Lifetime

Main piece:

In Korea we have this thing where on the baby’s first birthday, it’s called Dol, what we do is we put various items in front of the baby. Classic items include yarn, pencil, money- and people put other stuff, they cater it so like they’ll put fruit or something, they’ll generally cater it. And you put them in front of the baby, and whatever the baby chooses, it predicts their future. So, each item represents a different future. The yarn represents longevity. The pencil represents academic prowess. Money represents wealth. Sometimes food can represent always being food, or like fulfillment.


Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

My family. I have siblings, so for my siblings’ first birthday, we did that. I wasn’t alive for my sister’s, but… we did that and we have photos. It’s a huge thing. I’m pretty sure it was the biggest birthday party of my life and I don’t even remember it. I like it the same way that people like horoscopes. I think that having some sort of prophecy is really intimate especially if it’s about yourself. Personally, it feels like our family’s results were pretty correct in the sense that my sister got yarn, and she’s very dedicated to being healthy. She’s the health nut in our family. My brother picked money, mostly because my dad like pushed it towards him, but he’s very frugal. And i picked the pencil, and I really like writing, so I like it because to me, it’s something I share with all my siblings and it’s something that korea has been doing for a very long time. It originates from when korea was really poor, so baby’s wouldn’t make it to their first birthday. So when they did, the whole village came together and everyone provided a dish of some sort. Having a lot of dishes and food is integral to Dol, and for me, growing up, when I look at the photos, there’s not a lot of food, but there’s still a lot in comparison to what I usually had. So it was a very special occasion because it represented a day where i guess my family could go all out. It’s something I want to do with my kids, definitely. It’s a tradition that resonates with my country’s history, my family’s history, and possibly future. It’s a cute celebration of life, and possibility.


Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

The ritual is done in a home, or now a lot of rich families rent out venues for it. If you know any rich korean families who have a child that is about to turn one, you should know they’re going to have a party and kind of invite yourself to one. Family, really close family, or friends who are as close as family are invited. But oftentimes, some rich families will invite a lot more people, expecting gifts. Some families, they might put something down that represents marriage, and it would be sort of great if a girl picks that one because it means she won’t be a widow or an old maid. I don’t know anyone that’s done that, I think it’s a pretty old one.


Personal Analysis:

Korean culture is very much centered around family, both the making of a family and the upkeep of the reputation of the family. From the start, knowing what your baby will become or what interests they may have would readily equip the parents for the future. Parents then could plan around the choice, giving their child a lifestyle catered to the object they chose. I believe it’s rather soon to decide the fate and future of a child, but since I am an outsider to the culture, my values are not aligned to the Korean family dynamic.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Tales /märchen

The Story of Pina (Philippines)

Michelle De La Cruz

25 Years Old



The Story of Pina


“There is an old story my grandmother use to tell me, it was about pineapples and working hard. I’m sure the details vary, and I am positive the names were ones my grandmother chose because it was names from her favorite books as a child I think… these names were familiar to us in a lot of her stories. It loosely went something along these lines: Once in a mystic jungle near the beach on the sands of the Philippines lived a man and a woman named June, and Mara. They weren’t very rich, they weren’t very powerful, but they were two of the hardest working people in their village, and everyone loved them for it. Every day they would farm and work hard to keep a healthy livestock, to sell back to the village, and the village appreciated how hard they worked. One day, while sitting in their hut, enjoying dinner, Mara turns to June and says (I have great news, you’re going to be a father!) “aking mahal ako ay may magandang balita , ang iyong pagpunta sa maging isang ama” They cried tears of joy, and for the first two years they lived in pure bliss with Pina, their new baby girl. Sadly June grew sick, and when Pina was only two they lost his light from the family.

“Poor Mara had to continue without him. She was a hard working woman who always did what she had to make sure little Pina never grew up without a thing, she worked to always put food on the table and made sure the house was always clean for her daughter. Though she never asked for much from Pina, Mara rarely complained, because she was always willing to do what was needed to have ends meet. As the years passed she began to do everything for Pina. So much that Pina never wanted to do anything for herself. She grew lazy and refused to look for things. Mara would ask Pina to help her with sweeping the hut, but Pina said she could not find the broom sitting right in front of her. Mara asked Pina to wash her clothes, but she said she couldn’t find the soap. Pina was so lazy, she said she couldn’t find things sitting right in front of her nose.

“One day her mother because very ill. So ill she was stuck in bed, crying from pain. She yelled for Pina to help. “Pina, please help me, I am took sick to do it my self and I am so desperate for porridge. “ Pina heard but did not reply. After several minutes of silence Mara grew angered and called for Pina to come to her room. “I’m too weak Pina, please, I need food.” “That’s so much work, I don’t want to make you food,” Pina replied. “Don’t be lazy Pina, all you have to do is put water and rice to boil, and stir it with the ladle every so often. I just need food to eat. Please Pina, I am too weak to make it myself. “ Pina didn’t like hearing she was lazy, so she ran into the kitchen and began banging around drawers and pots. “I don’t see the ladle. This is too hard for me right now. Its not fair!” “It’s in the drawer Pina, it’s always right there! Just look! Please.” Mara sighed and cried to herself, “I wish you would grow a thousand eyes all over your head! Then you can find what you’re looking for. Maybe then you won’t have any excuses!” an hour went by and Mara suspected Pina had been too quiet- she must have run away to play with a friend. Mara pushed herself up from bed and sluggishly went to the kitchen and began cleaning up the tantrum Pina had left behind. She slowly looked around at the mess and sighed, “She probably went to a friend’s house so I wouldn’t make her clean all this up.” She made her food and went back to bed.

“She slept with a fever all night, and in the morning when she woke, her fever was gone. She walked outside and called for Pina, but still no response or Pina. She looked out into the backyard and saw a tree growing from the Pina’s favorite play spot. For weeks she mourned over the thought of her daughter running away because she thought she was so terrible, she vowed she would never make Pina do another thing again. She broke her back cleaning the house, and every night she made Pina’s favorite food, in hopes she would forgive her and come home. One day, she was sweeping the backyard where Pina used to play, for months now the strange plant had been growing and by this time the leaves of the plant had fully opened. Inside, she saw this strange yellow fruit that resembled a child’s head with a thousand eyes. Mara shrieked as she walked towards the fruit remembering what curse she wished upon her daughter. From this day on the Magical fruit was named Pina or Pineapple, celebrated as a reminder to always work hard and not be lazy. As well as reminding you to never wish harm unto others, and learn to control your temper when mad.”


“Sometimes I think I work really hard and really put my all into things because I the back of my mind I don’t want any one turning me into a lazy pineapple. As a kid I enjoyed eating pineapples, this story made me feel like when I did I was eating lazy kids. Didn’t really freak me out though, and to this day that is why some times I am myself lazy, because I ate too much of it right out of pineapples as a kid. My grandma would always joke, pineapples aren’t before work food, they are an after work treat for that reason. If you eat them before you do your work, it will never get done. She used to always say that because pineapple have so many eyes they are good for you to see better… so she would say “Chelle, clean your glasses off and eat some pineapple, maybe then you will see…” it was always a weird thing to my friends, but I still relate this story to why pineapples are my favorite fruit and why I always think of it as a fruit to eat in celebration of a job well done!

“My grandma used to tell us these stories while we cooked. And this was one she chose when ever we wished harm on one other of if none of us helped out she would threaten to wish us into pineapples. Also some times when we wanted to eat pineapples we would make her tell it so we could joke about eating kids and being lazy cannibals… my cousins and I are really weird haha! I can remember most the words in fluent Tagalog, but as the years passed and I grew less fluent it became more and more English .. except for that one line I remember verbally in Tagalog. My grandma would always say that line as if she was saying it to grandpa. I know for sure my grandma changed stuff because she always gave character names but I remember another friend at church told me she had heard of it when she was young. So I think the story exists in other families too. I don’t think my grandfather’s side has that story, though. I remember we talked about that at her funeral reception.”


Origin: as far as Michelle knows, there are many stories based on fruit in the Philippines.


Analysis: This seems to be a cautionary tale for children, as well as an entertaining one that explains the origins of a popular fruit. It is a good bit of narrative family folklore, and although the names were chosen at will by the grandmother, the story itself is fairly well known in the Philippines. As they were immigrants, it was a helpful way to keep oral traditions alive and tie them back to the community they had left. It is a fable, as it tries to impart lessons onto the children that they carry with them: do not be lazy and don’t wish harm unto others rashly.


For another version of this story, please see Philippine Myth on the Origin of the Pineapple, online at

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sunken head remedy

Iliana Cuellar

“When I was a baby, the soft spot on my head caved which I guess just means dehydration. But my mom is very spiritual and she thought that she could take me to a “curandero” which is a spiritual healer (kind of like a witch) who then held me upside down by my ankles, poured honey on my soles, and smacked my feet which is said to be the cure for the sunken head.”


Background: This happened in El Salvador, and as many people cannot afford doctors and hospitals, folk remedies and spiritual healing are the most common forms of treating illness.


Analysis: This is a ritual combined with folk remedy. It is not so much mixing ingredients together for homeopathic remedies that might work physically, but more a ritualistic healing. Holding the baby upside down might have been a somewhat logical response to a caving of the head- sending more blood to that extremity. However, pouring honey on soles does not seems to have much meaning beyond ritualistic and spiritual, and smacking feet also the same in that respect. Lack of access to formal doctors and medicine drive parents with sick children to witch healers.