USC Digital Folklore Archives / Rituals, festivals, holidays
general
Initiations
Legends

The Legend of Camino Hall

The following informant is a 22 year old student from the University of San Diego. In this account she is describing a legend about one of the buildings on her campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: There is this urban legend that someone, umm… like killed themselves in either the Camino bathroom. Thats like one of the residence halls but you know also where the administration building is. Umm… yeah so apparently, she had gone to class, this was a girl, and she was going through a hard time and she just like went to the bathroom, like in the middle of class. And people were like “what the fuck, why did she not come back” and then they were like “oh she is probably still in the bathroom”. So they went to the bathroom and she was just like hanging from the ceiling. So like it may or may not have happened, most people believe it, but like some don’t.

K: So when did this happen?

S: Like right when the school opened, like around that time, the school was established in 1949

K: How did you hear about it?

S: oh, just people were randomly talking about it when i transferred, like that first semester, and i was just like what the heck why are we talking about this right now. It was the older students telling the new ones, it was very random, and i don’t know if it was to scare us but i was just like “thank you so much for this information, what do you want me to do with it”

K: did they ever say why she killed herself?

S: no one knows why she killed herself

K: What did you take away from this?

S: I was kind of just like taken back, because i had just transferred, and so i was kind of like um so why are you telling me this. but i had not thought about it since they told me, so… yeah, its not something i think about often.

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. I was visiting the informant at USD, and after providing a different collection of folklore, she launched into this story. As we were in a public space, people overheard the conversation and a few even nodded in agreement, like they were validating what she was saying.

Thoughts:

This is a particularly interesting legend for a couple of reasons. One is that out of my own curiosity I tried to do some research to see if there are more details on the internet and the search came up empty. This by no means insinuates that what she is saying is false, especially because the group of not so subtle eavesdroppers seemed familiar with the legend. But in the age of the digital realm, it seems odd there is no account of it only. The other interesting aspect is how the legend is used now. She explained that the older students tell it to the new students while they orient to the new campus. This seems like a mild form of hazing, in that in order to complete your transformation as a student of USD, you have to get mildly scared by the older students first.

general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Senior Speeches” in a Catholic High School

Main Piece

The following is a tradition from the informant’s high school theater group. Before going onstage for a performance, the theater group would pray to all the saints and all “the big guys,” as the informant referred to them, and then they would hold hands and close their eyes. Then, one person would begin an energy circle by squeezing the hand of the person to their left, and the squeeze would be passed around, hence passing  the “energy” around. Next, all the Seniors would do a shot of vodka before finally going on stage. After the show, all the Seniors gave “Senior Speeches.” This tradition is rather long standing, and has been going on at least since the informant’s sister started high school in 2009.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant recalled the whole experience fondly, and the tradition seemed to be something that everyone enjoyed and looked forward to. While the way the tradition carried out was passed down from older students to the informant, the informant looked forward to engaging in the tradition after having talked to her older sister about the same tradition and the theater group in general.

Context

The informant attended a Catholic all girls high school in Staten Island, and the theater group consisted of members both from her school and a Catholic all boys high school nearby.

Notes

The interchange between religious ideology and ‘pagan’ ideas of “energy” is terribly interesting. The informant specified “energy” rather than “the Holy Spirit” or another specific religiously inclined symbol. Given that the informant attended a Catholic high school, this seeming conflict is rather interesting and has much potential to be expanded upon.

 

Holidays
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

4/20: Origins of the Stoner Holida

Context:

The subject is a white, gender non-binary individual who is a native Angeleno. They have been smoking weed since age 13. We celebrated 4/20 a couple of days before I interviewed them and so I asked them to describe the holiday to me. Stoner culture is folk culture because for so long it was illegal to smoke. So the group is tight knit. I do not think a lot of the culture has been documented by academics so I wanted to look into it.

 

Piece:

“4/20 is a sorta a holiday, like you can define it as a holiday. It’s when all the stoners celebrate, basically you smoke ridiculous amounts of marijuana. Fucking inject that. The actual, the most, what people think is the most truthful reason why it is a thing is pretty much there was a group of high school kids, somewhere in Northern California, where I do not remember, who pretty much their slang term for weed was four twenty because everyday after school they would meet up at 4:20 to smoke. And pretty much when the um, Grateful Dead were travelling around, they had the whole Deadheads following them too and pretty much at one point these deadheads met these kids, they use that slang and the slang simply got spread. And now it is THE number of weed. It was pretty much localized slang.”

 

Here is an article which lists several other folk beliefs on the origin of 4/20 and asserts this verison as true: http://www.laweekly.com/news/mythbusting-420-its-one-true-origin-and-a-whole-lot-of-false-ones-4177495

 

Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hippie Hill: Stoner Festival

Context:

The subject is a white, gender non-binary individual who is a native Angeleno. They have been smoking weed since age 13. We celebrated 4/20 a couple of days before I interviewed them and I knew they had gone to this event, so I asked them about it. Stoner culture is folk culture because for so long it was illegal and now that it is legal this festival is being encroached on by corporations which is fascinating.

 

Piece:

“Hippie Hill is a tradition where at the Golden Gate park, at 4:20, on the day 4/20, stoners meet up, thousands of stoner’s meet up there and just smoke ridiculous amounts of weed together and it’s been going on for decades. So I went and it was fun and there was ridiculous amounts of people. I don’t know exactly who started it, probably Deadheads back in the 70s or 80s or something. It opened at 9am, there was not a lot of people there. But pretty much these people hanging around this park and there were these booths were like there was like a lot of like bougie weed companies promoting themselves. The amount of times I heard the phrase “UberEats for weed” was ridiculous. And they were giving away swag and stuff. And uh but then there was also all these really ghetto people that were like selling weed but like, I don’t wanna say really ghetto, but they were really ghetto. And it was like slowly over the course of the day more and more people showed up and there was like area that was like munchieland where they had all these foodtrucks. It was organized by this one weed company which specializes in growing, but like it used to be super underground. It’s only been medical for like a little bit and this is the first year it’s been recreational. I don’t know when the companies started hoppin’ in, but the festivals been going on since the Deadhead were a thing. I have no idea, this was my first year.”

 

Festival
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Modern Folk Festival

Context:

The subject is a white gender non-conforming individual from Brooklyn, New York. This interview takes place a couple days after the subject and I attend a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show together. I would describe the experience as a weekly or monthly folk festival. People, usually teenagers and usually members of the LGBT community watch this 80s flop movie while poking fun at the film’s ridiculousness. When I talk to them, the subject identifies as gender non-binary, I ask them about their first time going to Rocky as well as what the experience is like. Their first time going was a different cinema in New York City, where they’re from, they reference the differences between that and the rituals we saw in Los Angeles, showing multiplicity and variation. I find these midnight screenings fascinating as they are interacting with a piece of authored work but turning it into their own folk customs. While each place does similar things, there is always variety.

 

Piece:

“Um, so you’re….um so my first time going, sorry if this is not allowed, but you get really wasted before hand, is the idea. Um you dress as revealing as you want to, which is normally a lot, especially for me. Uh, and I went with a bunch of my friends and the lines pretty long but you get through it and then you write, if you’re a virgin meaning that you’ve never gone before to the show you get a V drawn on your forehead with red lipstick. And uh, so I got a V drawn on my forehead cause I’d never been before and we, and then, they yell a bunch of stuff when you get there like “Welcome to the Ro…” OH! It started out with a dance party, that’s what’s fun, they don’t do that in LA, or atleast at the NuArt, but in New York they start with a dance party so they get everyone up in front and everyone dances together and it’s super fun. They do a bunch of other weird shit at the front, just some fun intro games and stuff. Uh, I don’t remember those, it’s just like them yelling things and being silly and doing really short bits. But then, they have all sit down, and they’re like “Oh if you’re a virgin”, meaning that you’d never been to Rocky Horror before, come to the front. So I went to the front, and they like pick out of the people who go up there, and they choose me, as well as a bunch of other people. And they were like “ok, what you guys are going to do is your best orgasm noises”, this is technically a secret, virgins aren’t supposed to know before they go to Rocky Horror but I’ll let you in on it. Um so, we all did our best orgasm noises, and I won actually, I won Best Orgasm Noise, by like audience participation, like so they like clap for, you know, like the loudest clap, my friends screamed a lot for me, so that’s why I won. And my prize was I got to be in the show, which they also don’t do in LA, but they do in New York. So, so what I got to do is be in the married couple, thats like in the beginning because you know how Brad and Janet are at a wedding. So I got to be uh, I think I choose to be the bride, they let you choose though because Rocky Horror is very queer and genderfluid and its whatever the fuck you want. And my hus… yeah, my groom was this very hot person, uh, so they were like “hi, we’re getting married” and like flirting with me and I was like “I can’t handle this, I’m too fragile and gay”. Um, but yeah, I got to be  the bride to their groom and we went up there and I through my bouquet and Janet caught it and uh that was my bit and then I got to sit in the audience. And, uh, then Rocky Horror ensues, which is just like, do you want me to describe it? Ok, so it’s this really shitty movie from the 80s that’s really out there and wild. Uh, and basically how they do it now is they do it live and they like a shadow cast perform the same thing they’ll perform the same thing thats happening onstage [I think they mean onscreen] but like sillier with jokes and more ridiculous and usually very queer. Like the person playing Brad was a…. woman, the person, as far as I could tell, was a woman, the person playing Rocky was a woman, Frankenfurter was a woman. It’s very cool and exciting , very sexual. Um, so I can only remember LA’s calls and responses, but youre, whenever Brad introduces himself on screen you’re supposed to yell “Asshole” and whenever Janet introduces herself on screen, you’re supposed to yell “Slut”. Um, you’re also supposed to make fun off, there’s this one guy who shows up sometimes in between and he has no neck so people will just shout at him about how he has no neck, um. Some more fun call and responses, uuuhhm, badibaba, I’m having difficulty remembering. There’s these people who walk p and down the aisles, I think they’re tech slash security, and they’ll yell things like “Oh Rocky show us how you masturbate” and like on screen Rocky, just like in the movie, not knowing people have said this in real life, will go like. He’ll shake his arm or something. [They demonstrate a arm-shaking movement] Um, just fun stuff like that. You’re also supposes to call out when people start stripping onstage or having sex. The lips! You’re always supposed to go like “ow ow” at like you know, cause you know in the movie is just lips talking, but in the live version, I mean the shadow cast, they’ll have like a dancer which is really fun. Uuuum, yeah it’s stripping, yeah I’d call it burlesque, usually what goes down. It’s a passed on tradition, they people that go the most they’re like dedicated fans and those who go only once in a while, they enjoy what the dedicated fans are doing.

 

Contagious
Game
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Baby Blue

Context: I was teaching a class of sixth graders for the Joint Education Project (JEP) in a middle school near USC.

Discussion

Instructor: So, after learning the differences between myths, tales and legends, can anyone give me an example of a legend that they have heard of? (A number of different students interjected to corroborate to the first student’s story, they have been given aliases to protect their identities)

Angel: Baby Blue! (Announced loudly)

Instructor: What or who is Baby Blue?

Angel: It’s like uhm you go into the bathroom and look into the mirror and uh fold your arms, and if you feel a weight in your arms its Baby Blue and you gotta drop it!

Maria (interjecting): No no no, you gotta go into the bathroom by yourself and turn the lights off and cradle your arms like you’re holding a baby and say ‘Baby Blue’ in the mirror three times. If you feel a weight in your arms like you were holding a baby, you gotta pretend to drop it in the toilet and flush it before it gets too heavy.

Instructor: Or else what happens?

Maria: The baby will haunt your family.

Daisy (interjecting): No if you don’t flush the baby, her mom will turn up behind you and scream at you to give it back and kill you if you don’t. (Other students nodded along or exclaimed ‘yeh’ as if her version was the most well-known)

Instructor: So, who is baby blue?

Maria: Its like a evil baby that will haunt you if you don’t get rid of it I think.

Instructor: And who is the women?

Daisy: Some kinda evil spirit I guess.

Instructor: Have any of you done this?

Daisy: I tried it once with my big sister.

Instructor: And did the woman show up?

Daisy: No but I felt a weight in my arms and through it in the toilet so maybe I did it before the baby grew too big.

Instructor: Was it a scary experience.

Daisy: Yeh I guess, me and my sister ran outta the bathroom straight after flushing the toilet.

Analysis

This is a very interesting legend. It is very much like Bloody Mary accept with a baby involved. After some research I discovered that some people think that the mother who appears is Bloody Mary and that Baby Blue is her child that she murdered. The legend seemed fairly well-known throughout the classroom of thirty students but some new it better than others. It is clear that Angel was more of a passive barer of the legend and had not participated in the legend quest. Those that did had a better knowledge of the backstory to the legend, which was usually learned from older relatives. The students did not seem to be overly scared of this legend and approached it as more of a game. They were adamant that there was a right way and a wrong way to do this pseudo-ritual.

There are theories that the Bloody Mary legend is related to young girls’ oncoming period cycle. The legend is most common with girls aged 8 to 14 and takes place alone in a bathroom where you see a bloody woman appear behind you. This could be some kind of folk ritual, beyond the knowledge of the participants, to prepare girls for the oncoming changes to their bodies’ which takes place near this age range and usually alone in a bathroom. This intense bodily change might be more easy cope with when compared with the extreme of seeing a creepy woman covered in blood behind you. I think that the Baby Blue legend is a continuation of this theory. It is in someway ingratiating girls to the idea that if you feel a baby growing heavy in your arms (which are cradled at your stomach) that you should somehow get rid of it, or else it might haunt you for the rest of your life. This seems to be suggesting to the girls that take part in this pseudo-ritual, on a deeply subconscious level, that if you get pregnant at a young age (as pregnancy tests usually take place in the bathroom alone) that you should somehow get rid of the baby before it stays with you forever. If this is the case, this legend has an extremely dark aspect to it. Obviously because of the fact that this deeper meaning operates on a subconscious level, boys take part in the legend too. This is for the surface reason that it is scary and thrilling which is probably why the girls do it too but it may be communicating a deeper message to them specifically.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fruits of the New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Okay so, when I was at your house, you have grapes? over the…

CS: Mhm

ZM: What are those about?

CS: So um, it’s like a, I think it’s an Asian thing, it might just be a Filipino thing, but it’s like um…At the beginning of every year, fruits are like symbols of like Mother Mary and her bearing the fruit of Jesus. So, it’s sort of to bring good luck. So, you always have like before the new year comes in, in every, like, living space, you have to have a bowl of twelve fruits. So, in the kitchen, in the living room, you have to have a big bowl of twelve fruits. Twelve different fruits.

ZM: Why twelve?

CS: Each month of the year.

ZM: Okay.

CS: And then above each entry into a room you have to do twelve grapes to symbolize like the same thing. So like, it’s supposed to bring you like good wealth and good luck into the new year and it’s like a symbol of Mother Mary and like how she was blessed because she was gifted with like the fruit of the womb of Jesus or whatever.

ZM: That’s cool.

CS: Yeah. So my mom always has to go out and buy like twelve different fruits. It’s a struggle.

ZM: Yeah, how do you get twelve different fruits.

CS: We have grapefruits in the backyard, lemons in the backyard. Sometimes if she can’t find more, she cheats and she gets avocados. (laughs) It’s always like melons, like she’ll get a watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a honeydew. And then like, apples, peaches, and then the ones in our backyard, and then like, if she’s really tryin’ it she’ll like get a lime and a lemon.

ZM: Do you leave the fruit up all year?

CS: Yes! And it gets DIsgusting. Absolutely gross. Like one time, the grapes started falling on the one over, like going outside to the patio thing, like, the atrium, back there. We have one over there, and I was like “The grapes are falling. Like, you need to fix it.” My mom grabbed saran wrap, and then she like (laughs) she like made a saran wrap bag and then pinned it there and then when I was taking them down towards like… You usually change everything towards like, Thanksgiving/Christmas. So you don’t do it like right before the new year. You like start preparing for the new year around like, after Thanksgiving, like before Christmas. As we were changing them, I took down the bag and it’s like MOLDY, cause like usually they’re just out in the air. So it’s like, they just turn into raisins, but like this one had a bag because she was keeping all of the ones that fell and it was literally wet and moldy and it was like green and white mold, and I almost vomited, and I was like “This needs to never happen again.” Yeah you keep it the WHOLE year. If it falls down you HAVE to keep it up there somehow.

 

Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed fruit hanging from the doorways. A few days later I asked her about them and this conversation was recorded then.

 

Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.

 

Analysis:I thought this was a very interesting tradition. I have heard of fruit being a sign of fertility, but mostly in spring, but this tradition takes place around the new year.

 

 

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.

 

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