Category Archives: Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese High School Military Training

Context: All across China students join a mandatory military training for two weeks to a month before officially entering a public high school. The training usually takes place in the school. Students live in their dormitories together, and parents are not allowed to visit. Trainings are conducted by soldiers and head teachers. 30 to 50 students in the same class are trained together to learn basic marching techniques and military formalities. Trainings also include disciplinary housekeeping, for instance, military standards for making the bed are enforced. However, actual combat techniques are not taught.

The interviewer and the informant went to two different high schools in Qingdao, China.

Interviewer: Did you guys sing or chant during the military training?

Informant: Yeah, yeah, that was probably the only fun thing during the two weeks. It was kinda intense though.

Interviewer: Yeah, I’m wondering if it’s the same for your school.

Informant: Did you do the 1234567 one? hahaha that’s the only one I remember. I feel like they’re all the same no matter which school you go to…because the officers are all from the same troop hahaha.

Interviewer: Yeah that’s the one! Can you do it for me? Was it between two groups of students?

Informant: Yeah, yeah, but I think you do it with the officer, it’s like a “imaginary enemy” situation. So the officer yells things at you, the goal is to get you excited, then you guys [the students] yell back at him.

Interviewer: So you yell back at the officer, but you’re actually talking shit to another groups of people that are not there?

Informant: Yep. It’s basically shit talking. It’s called “pull the song” (拉歌,la ge), but it’s actually not a song. ok, here we go.

original script: 

officer: 对面唱得好不好?students: 好!

officer: 再来一个要不要?students: 要!

officer: 让你唱! students: 你就唱!

officer: 扭扭捏捏! students: 不像样!

officer: 像什么? students: 像大姑娘!

officer: 一二! students: 快快!

officer: 一二三! students: 快快快!

officer: 一二三四五? students: 我们等的好辛苦!

officer: 一二三四五六七? students: 我们等的好着急!

officer: 一二三四五六七八九? students: 你们到底有没有!

Phonetic (pinyin) script:

officer: dui mian chang de hao bu hao?

students: hao!

officer: zai lai yi ge yao bu yao?

students: yao!

officer: rang ni chang!

students: ni jiu chang!

officer: niu niu nie nie!

students: bu xiang yang!

officer: xiang shen me?

students: xiang da gu niang!

officer: yi er!

students: kuai kuai!

officer: yi er san!

students: kuai kuai kuai!

officer:  yi er san si wu?

students: wo men deng de hao xin ku!

officer: yi er san si wu liu qi?

students: wo men deng de hao zhao ji!

officer: yi er san si wu liu qi ba jiu?

students: ni men dao di you mei you!

Transliteration:

officer: Opposite singing good or not?

students: Good!

officer: Another one yes or no?

students: Yes!

officer: Make you sing!

students: You should sing!

officer: Looking coy!

students: Not like anything!

officer: Look like what?

students: Like a girl!

officer: One Two!

students: Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three!

students: Quick Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three Four Five!

students: We are waiting very hard!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven!

students: We are waiting anxiously!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine!

students: Do you have it or not!

Translation:

officer: Is our opponent’s singing good?

students: Good!

officer: Do you want another one?

students: Yes!

officer: Make you sing!

students: You should sing!

officer: Coy and sissy!

students: Not like other things!

officer: Like a what?

students: Like a girl!

officer: One Two!

students: Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three!

students: Quick Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three Four Five!

students: We are waiting very hard!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven!

students: We are waiting anxiously!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine!

students: Do you have it or not!

Analysis: The chant is taught by the training officer to students. It’s performed often during breaks, when officers and students from different classes can mingle with each other. It softens the training atmosphere and boosts morale in a lighter tone. The chant is fairly rhythmic and easy to follow. The fact that it’s chanted between a class and their officer implies that the chant is performed to show aggression, but rather to foster the unity and identity of the class itself. It does not specify who the opponent is, and in fact the identity of the opponent does not matter. The pure existence of an opponent framed in the chant leads to emphasize that the class is an entity and it might face obstacles from the outside environment. 

“Like a what—Like a girl!” This detail shows another element of identity formation in teenage students. The military training happens at the liminal point of when a child is separated from their parents and absorbed into a completely new, pre-adulthood collective. The format of the military training, with the hyper-emphasis on order, obedience, and aggression, reinforces the patriarchal social order. Thus the liminal period of adolescence is enforced with patriarchal social expectations. 

The one being emasculated becomes the weak and the oppressed, and emasculation then becomes an act of aggression.

Ghost Story in Primary School

Background: The interviewer and the informant went to the same primary school together in Qingdao, China. Interview asks the informant to retell a horror story that was very popular in their primary school. 

Informant: So next to the gate there was this statue of a woman, she’s playing a harp. And a long time ago there was this girl who stayed in school for longer than usual, cuz you know, she was on duty to clean the common areas in the hall. She was about to leave and she’s the only one left, and when she passed by that statue, she saw the statue woman blink. Then all of a sudden she really wanted to pee, so she went back into the building, to pee of course. Ok she didn’t go into the building, she went to that small restroom near the playground, you know where that is. She got in there, saw a janitor, and that person was wearing a hat and cleaning the floor. She didn’t bother and went in to pee. Then when she’s finished, she couldn’t get out! There was an air wall that blocked her way. Then… she never got out.

Context: This story was really popular in this particular primary school. Almost every student who went there has heard of the story. The interviewer and the informant first heard of the story when they were in second or third grade. Some people heard it from their classmates, and a few heard it from the older fifth and sixth graders. 

Analysis: The statue mentioned in the story was situated near the school gate and near a small school garden. There is a very shallow pool in the garden, and first and second graders are usually prohibited from going into the garden. I think this story serves as a cautionary tale masked with a mysterious, horror element. The physical location of the statue is at a liminal point—beyond the statue is prohibited and possibly dangerous. The girl in the story is in danger when she sees the statue, and when the impact of this terror is translated into real life, young school kids may be deterred by the statue and areas around it. This explains why the story was popular especially among younger kids. For the fifth and sixth graders, the garden and the school gate are no longer dangerous to them. The mystery and threats in the garden lose their attractions, and subsequently the tale is no longer scary. 

Scissors on the bed during pregnancy

HK: When I was pregnant my mother in law said that I shouldn’t have scissors on the bed because then that will make you have a miscarriage. So don’t cut anything on the bed, don’t put anything that can cut on the bed. Related but not the same, it also means no remodeling, no hammering, no knocking down walls or anything. 

MW: And what did you think of this?

HK: Well…you don’t wanna believe it but when they tell you stupid shit like that…it’s like walking under a ladder. You know nothing’s gonna happen probably, but now you wonder about it. And then it leaves this little scab in your heart when you do do it, because now you’re like, ah, well, what’s gonna happen to me? It just always makes you wonder, you know? So annoying.

Context:

The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. This story was collected over a Zoom call when she was talking to my mom.

Thoughts:

The “little scab on your heart” that the informant mentioned is interesting because it makes me think that that must be how superstitions get perpetuated. While people might not believe on an intellectual level that it will happen, if you do it it will still stick with you, like a residual fear that clings to your mind; so because of that, it’s easier to just not do it in the first place. I think that’s important to realize, because sometimes the negative effect of the superstition might just come from your own guilt (or at least be related to it).

Indian Wedding Traditions – Stealing Shoes

Background: 
My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage.  (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:
NS: At Indian weddings, the youngest bridesmaid..ok so..have you ever been to an Indian wedding?

SW: Nope.

NS: Oh. Well the bride and groom…they do a thing where they walk around a fire 7 times, and each time represents, like, the first one might be commitment, or the second one represents love. They walk around 7 times, and then the youngest bridesmaid will steal the shoes from the groom-

SW: The groom’s shoes?

NS: Yeah, so she steals the groom’s shoes, and it’s always expected, like, Indian men will take out cash, like over $100, before their wedding day because they know they have to pay for their shoes back. And basically, it’s like a sign of wealth. The groom shows that he has the money to buy his shoes back, even if he doesn’t need to. It’s supposed to be, like, a way of showing that he can support his wife and family, financially. 

Thoughts: 
I’ve never been to a wedding before, and talking to NS, my best friend, always makes me want to go to one, especially an Indian wedding. They seem to be a big affair, with hundreds of people there, including extended family and friends. Walking around the fire reminds me of a more symbolic way of reading out your vows, which I like. NS also mentioned that she’s been to a few weddings where her Indian cousins marry someone who is not Indian, and because they’re not Indian, they don’t quite get all the Indian traditions that make up the wedding. So NS, often being the youngest bridesmaid (as she is the youngest cousin), has dealt with the family of the groom being less than understanding. She’s had people she hardly knows get angry with her and tell her to return the shoes, or the groom will give her $10, clearly not understanding the significance of the custom. It makes me sad that so many people won’t even consider trying to understand a culture different from their own. 

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

Elementary School Riddles

Background: 

My informant, NK, is 19 years old and of South Korean descent from both her mother and father’s sides of the family. Her grandparents live close to her, so she spends a lot of time with them. She is very passionate about cooking. Even though she is majoring in biochemical engineering at UC Berkeley, she has always been, and remains to be, extremely interested in conspiracy theories. While she may not necessarily believe them, she enjoys hearing lore from across the world. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

NK: I remember there used to be a lot of riddles from when I was a kid, like you describe a situation, what it looks like after something happened, and you have to guess what happened. There’s only one I remember, where you go into an empty room. It’s 4 walls blocked off and the only way in or out is like teleportation, and there’s a guy hanging in the middle of the room, like dead, and there’s a puddle of water below him on the floor, so what happened?

SW: Um..I’m not sure. What’s the answer?

NK: So, he stood on a block of ice with the rope around his neck, so as it melted he was hanged and he died. 

SW: Oh. Very dark.

NK: Yeah, I feel like I remember most of those were pretty messed up.

Thoughts: 

It was interesting to hear about these riddles that kids would tell, because as NK was describing them, I realized I remembered hearing similar riddles when I was in elementary schools. I think kids liked to one-up each other and prove how clever they were by stumping the other kids, or solving their riddles. I didn’t realize how dark these riddles were until now looking back and I wonder how we were so casual about topics like suicide at 8 or 9 years old.

Facebook Senior Names

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: For as long as I can remember, it’s been tradition at our high school to make a fake name on facebook for senior year. Everyone would make a pun based off their name, referencing a movie or celebrity. When it first started, it was to protect people’s identities, so that of prospective colleges looked up students on facebook, they wouldn’t find their page. By the time we were seniors, there wasn’t really a need to do this because it was general knowledge that colleges didn’t really care, but our grade kept on with the tradition anyways.

Thoughts:

It’s interesting to understand where some aspect of folklore comes from, and to see how its meaning has changed over time. What started as a superstition morphed into a tradition that stood to be a rite of passage. Kids as early as freshman year would begin to think about their senior name, anxious to be done with high school and on their way to college. Senior names were a way of expressing yourself, while also engaging in a unifying experience across the grade.

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

Interviewer: So how did it get started in your home town?

Informant: My parents started off just making a couple of gallons with a couple of friends, I’m not sure exactly who they picked it up from. And I think they may have done that in the house before the Bury. Or right around that time, anyway. Probably around 60 years ago (2020). There have been more Elderflower Festivals than my parents have been present for.  There was one in 1967? My parents went on sabbatical to America and their friends broke in and made Elderflower anyway. There was another one when they sailed one of their boats down to the south of France and my brother and me hosted it on our own. I’m pretty sure my brother has been at every Elderflower Festival.

Interviewer: Does it only happen one time a year?

Informant: It has to take place when the flowers are in bloom, usually in the first or second week of June. It cannot be delayed, the flowers do not stay out for very long. It is an event driven entirely by natural forces and the need for alcohol.

Interviewer: What typically goes into the festival preparation wise?

Informant: Well the deal is something around 40 guests are invited and they’re asked to pick Elderflowers so when they arrive they can deliver their flowers. We spread the tarpaulin on the backyard and lay the flowers on it to dry and be shredded. And in return for their labor, the guests are fed a huge buffet lunch. There are a number of elements of that lunch that are obligatory. Coronation Chicken, Roast Beef, Deviled Eggs, Roast Turkey, Potato Salad, and Garlic Bread and there’s always a rice of some sort. There’s a late morning snack of sausages done on a barbecue because we have a late lunch, because we don’t have lunch until we reach a quota of flowers. After lunch, the afternoon is devoted to games, ‘gassing’ (talking), and drinking wine. Because my parents were teachers a lot of the guests were faculty or students. It’s just a thing a lot of Cambridge educators do.

Interviewer: Is there a recipe then that one has to follow to make Elderflower wine?

Informant: There is a certain amount of citrus fruit that needs to be peeled and squeezed and that is combined with boiling water poured through the flowers in a muslin shiv. With a large amount of sugar to feed the yeasts. My father used to be the viter but now my brother does it. Fermentations takes place in large Demi-johns and it takes about 3 months to the point where the wine can be decanted and bottled. Elderflower wine has an unusual ‘nose’ which takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant.

Background: This festival takes place either the first of second week of June, it is a time sensitive celebration that must occur during that time or not at all. Luckily it is also during the summer break for most British educators, so it is an excuse to see each other outside of work and get drunk together.

Context: My informant and I were discussing whether or not there would be an Elderflower Festival this year due to the Corona Virus. This would be the first time since it’s conception that the Elderflower Festival would not be held, but my informant believed it would be for the best since a majority of attendees are rather old and would be at risk.

My Thoughts: I’ve attended the Elderflower Festivals before and they are a riot! There’s a lot a family and friends who attend and at the end, people are gifted a bottle of last year’s batch. The festival has grown over the time I have attended from just 30 people to closer to 60 or 70. People keep bringing friends to come celebrate, which means a lot more time is put into prepping the meals and getting a supply of flowers to shred.

While not directly a festival celebrating life cycles, the festival is based entirely on the production of turning blooming flowers into wine, so there may be some form of symbolism there.

British Celebration of Guy Fawkes Night

Interviewer: So why do you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?

Informant: It was a big part of my childhood. I remember going to Bonfire Night Parties. So the month prior to the 5th of November, the actual date, families and friends would gather old furniture and sweep up leaves, a lot of fallen leaves, and anything else that could be burned. And we would stack it into a huge bonfire. And then on the night of the 5th of November the community would come together and there would be fireworks and we would light the bonfire. But also during the month prior children would build a ‘Guy’ and a ‘Guy’ consisted of old clothes, that were stitched or pinned together and stuffed with newspaper and leaves to resemble a person. The ‘Guy’. Guy Fawkes. This ‘Guy’ would be carried around the community in a wheelbarrow or old pram, going door to door begging for pennies. “Penny for the Guy”. These children would then take these pennies and purchase fireworks.

Interviewer: That’s kind of irresponsible.

Informant: I know! I was wuss and I hated loud fireworks, so I always purchased sparklers. There was always traditional food served at bonfire night parties: mugs of soup, oxtail, or tomato soup, and sticky Parkin Cake (Ginger cake). Adults always lit the fireworks and the bonfire, but you could throw things on the fire, basically we were pyromaniacs for a night and it was socially acceptable. Another thing that was a tradition, the dummy you made, you would always put a mask on it of a political figure. Typically one you disliked. Part of my memory of the thing, is that you stood as close as you could to the fire so your face was almost blistering and your back was wet and freezing, cuz this is England! Guy Fawkes night was THE THING for us, Halloween was ‘eh’ but Bonfire Night was it, cuz it had fire!

Context: An earlier conversation that was discussing a different English Tradition made my informant remember this part of her childhood.

Background: The informant learned the tradition from her community, there was no one person who taught her about it. She enjoys it because it’s fun. “It only gets remembered if it’s fun”. To her it’s a little “encapsulated perfection” part of her childhood and it captured what it was like to grow up in rural England.

Thoughts: It sounds like a very interesting holiday, the informant seemed to go back to the high energy and joy of that holiday. I personally wish to be able to go to her home town to see this tradition myself.

The Ritual Game: The Midnight man

Informant: It’s some ritual that was apparently used to punish bad people somewhere in Europe. The ritual starts at 3 AM and you need a candle, a piece of paper, and your front door. You write your name on the piece of paper then put it outside the door under a lit candle. Knock on the door 12 times and make sure it is EXACT, and make sure to get the last knock to stop at 3AM. Then open the door, pick up the paper and the candle and the game has begun. It lasts until 6 AM, so it’s only three hours but you have to keep your candle lit for all that time. The Midnight Man will try to blow out the candle or scare you into dropping it. Your candle is your only source of light so it’s pretty easy to get super scared. If your candle goes out and you cannot relight it within 5 seconds then surround yourself in a circle of salt and sit there until morning. Do not under any circumstances turn on a light! Both of these things are ways of forfeiting the game but that doesn’t mean the Midnight Man leaves. He haunts you until you complete the game.

Interviewer: So what do you get for winning the game?

Informant: I think you get to make a wish and it will comes true.

Interviewer: So what happens if you lose?

Informant: He kills you, obviously. [laughs]

Background: My informant had done research into different dark ritualized games such as this for a film projection she was doing. She did not end up using this game as the final inspiration for her movie.

Context: My informant and I were staying up late on the night of the 19th, just finishing playing video games together. We were walking through the house in the dark and she tried to scare me with this scary ritual, saying that she was going to do it.

Thoughts: I imagine the combination of sleep deprivation, lack of light, and the general atmosphere of being in an empty house would make for a fun time. Apparently this can be played with multiple people at one time so you could probably mess around with each other a great deal. With that in mind, I suspect this actually could have been a punishment ritual, though I am unsure where it would be used. The game could be turned into a form of psychological torture to get people to confess to crimes by making them think a demon was coming to kill them anyway.