USC Digital Folklore Archives / Rituals, festivals, holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Predictions

The source of this folklore describes a tradition her family does every year: writing down predictions for the next year at Christmas. It’s something the source’s mom did with her own mother as a child and passed down.

We write down predictions on a piece of paper at Christmas. We don’t read them until the next year. And usually you forget what you wrote. One year we all predicted if we’d be living in the same house in a year. I predicted we would and my brother predicted we wouldn’t. He was right.

Are they are predictions about the whole family or are some of them personal?

Some are personal. You write personal ones on one side of the paper and on the other side it’s usually a question we all ask each other and try to guess–like about the house.

Do you share the personal ones with the other people?

Umm… I don’t. You don’t have to. My mom definitely doesn’t either. Actually we all keep the personal ones to ourselves.

What’s the feeling you have when reading them?

I usually think my handwriting looks really weird. Like how much it’s hanged in a year. [laughs] I guess that’s not a feeling.

Well… sometimes things turn out better than you predicted or something really good happens that you would have never predicted, and you’re happy.

But sometimes things don’t go as well… you know… What’s the feeling? That’s hard to answer…

Of course. But it’s not an insignificant thing?

No, no. Right it feels very significant. Yeah for sure. It’s always felt very significant to me.


Tales /märchen

The Drop Bears of Camp Orkila

Artist's rendition of a drop bear

Artists rendition of a drop bear

The summer camp councilor describes the legend of the Drop Bears at Camp Orkila, a traditional overnight summer camp on Orcus Island, WA.

When I was in middle school I went to Camp Orkila three summers. And the second time I was there, we had this councilor called Jim who had me completely convinced that drop bears are real.

Drop bears are a dangerous cousin of the koala bear. Jim described them as looking like koalas except with razor-sharp teeth. They live in trees and at night they drop onto your head, knocking up unconscious. Then they eat you. And he wore this skate helmet at night for protection. He warned us not to leave the cabins at night without a flashlight and he said even with a flashlight we still might be eaten. 

The source explained that the story was that the bears had been brought to the island by the Seattle Zoo in the 1930s after the zoo couldn’t contain them. The helmet is what convinced the source that the councilor wasn’t lying. After all, why would he bring a helmet and wear it every night if the threat wasn’t real.

All the other boys in our cabin didn’t believe Jim at all. They knew he was them but I totally bought it and I was really convinced and I would argue with them about it.

Well long story short, last summer I was the lead Grey Wolves councilor at Orkila—councilor for boys aged ten to thirteenand I brought my bicycle helmet and I told them all about drop bears.

Did they believe you?

[laughs] Well… they said that they did not but I know I scared some of them.

From internet research, it’s clear that drop bears are usually are typically an Australian story. Typically, Australians tell foreigners about drop bears as a prank. The drop bears at Camp Orkila function exactly the same way. The camp councilors and experienced campers are in on the joke and they try to trick newcomers. Because original camp councilor brought a helmet with him a prop, it’s possible that he heard about drop bears on the internet or elsewhere and planned to bring it to Camp Orikila. The camp is an ideal place to spread folklore of this kind because the campers are away from home in an unfamiliar place without access to cell service or the internet, making them much more likely to believe. As with other pranks, the drop bears story at Orkila can also serve as an initiation, or a mild hazing of newcomers.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

The White Foul Line

Baseball is rife with superstitions, my informant is a long-time player and as a pitcher he describes to me the longest-stranding baseball taboo.

“You don’t step on the white foul line when taking the field, ever, not just pitchers, but all players, but especially pitchers. When I go out to the mound I jump over it with my right foot, and always my right foot. It’s bad juju if you step on the line, nobody steps on the line, it just isn’t done. It’s bad luck. It’s always been that way. I don’t know who I learned it from, it’s just always been done as long as I can remember.”


Baseball superstitions, rituals, charms, and taboos usually are surrounding those circumstances which are not totally in the player’s control, that is pitching and hitting usually. This particular superstition is not stepping on the foul line when taking the field. It is quite an old superstition that has no particular origin with a certain player, but one players of all caliber pay attention to. It is supposed to prevent bad luck in a game when one play can change the entire game. Because it is so old and established as a taboo, players simply adhere because all those players before them have done so, so it must work, and the players will do anything that works. One bad pitch or one great hit and the game could turn for the worse. A pitcher can do all he can to play perfectly, but he cannot control the batter’s actions, therefore this leaves a lot of room for superstitions. It is human nature to want to control one’s surroundings and this is just a little taboo that allows a player in his mind to control the outcome however small.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dragon Boat Festival

There was once a poet called Qu Yuan. He witnessed his country falling apart. With full patriotism, he committed suicide by jumping into the Yangzi River. People commemorate him nowadays by celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival. Celebration includes dragon boat racing and dumping rice dumplings into the water.

This is an interesting festival, and I can’t think of any American festivals or holidays that celebrate someone committing suicide.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Bear Statue

At Interlochen in Michigan. There was always a statue of a bear on campus, and it was a tradition for everyone just to pee on the bear. Usually just done at the end of the year cause it’s usually snowy during the rest of the year. Started by academy kids, no idea how it really started. I actually did it once. It was funny because sometimes people who didn’t know would sit on the bear, and it was really gross.

There is a really weird tradition, but it makes sense that it would come from a bunch of kids at an away-from-home school.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fighting Blueberries

At my high school before I got there, there was a soccer team named the Fighting Blueberries because it was an art school and nobody did sports. And then a group of latino men wanted to reform it and named it the Rainbow Twinks. They were very proud of it. It was a tradition to give the soccer team a silly name every time.

This is funny, as most of my experiences with high school sports teams have been pretty serious names.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Throwing Pennies

At summer camp—there’s a horn solo in Liszt Les Prelude. People in the orchestra supposed to throw pennies at the horn player. Camp has been around since the 1800s. Heard about it from other people in the orchestra, but I never saw it happen.

This took place at the informant’s high school, Interlochen.

This seems like a really bizarre tradition, and it’s kind of strange that it was talked about and passed along by students, but never followed through during my informant’s time there.

Rituals, festivals, holidays


The following is from an interview between me and my friend, Brie, while I walked with her to the grocery store. She told me about a tradition in her family of telling stories called “Whoppers”, which were kind of like campfire stories. Her grandfather, or “papa”, was the one to mainly uphold this tradition within the family.

Brie: “In my family we always told ‘Whoppers’, so we’d always tell, like, stories around the campfire.”

Me: “‘Whoppers’, it was called?”

Brie: “Whoppers. And basically they’re just not true stories. And… he was really good at that, my papa…”

Me: “Can you give me an example of a Whopper?”

Brie: “The Green Monster…”

Me: “The what?”

Brie: “He would always say, like, The Green— or, what was it…? The Shadow… my papa would do this voice, like (raspy), ‘The Shadow,’ and it was like… I’m trying to remember. It was just terrifying. But… hold on, let me think real quick…”

Me: “How do you spell ‘Whopper’?”

Brie: “‘Whopper’? Um– I think, like a– you know, like a ‘Double Whopper’.”

Me: “Oh ok, like Burger King?”

Brie: (Laughs very hard) “Yep. No, it was just a thing in my family, telling Whoppers. I never was good at it, but my cousins would come up with really good Whoppers.”

Me: “Do you know where–uh– where your grandfather got, like, the term ‘Whopper’ from? Did he just make that up or what was it?”

Brie: “So he grew up in, like, South Boston… one of eight kids, and… you know, Scotch family, Catholic, um… he… I don’t– I think it was his dad that began the Whoppers.”

Me: “What made a good Whopper?”

Brie: “A good Whopper was, like, got you on the edge of your seat, like… you know, it was kinda scary, kinda suspenseful, but also, like, funny and far-fetched. So a little of, like, all of that, kinda.”

It was really cool to see that, basically, just by assigning a name to the more general idea of campfire stories, Brie’s family created a kind of tradition that was all their own.

Life cycle

Filipino Birthday Tradition


June is from Chicago, Illinois and is a current junior in college.


So a family tradition that we have is for all of our birthday’s um instead of baking a cake, my mom would cook a traditional filipino dish called pancit. It’s basically like noodles with like vegetables, chicken meats. All the things you would want. It’s a very healthy dish and it’s supposed to be that instead of a cake which is very fattening and sugary um something that’s healthy so you can live a longer life. There are various i guess different noodles you can use, but my parents always use i guess these same very thing ones.

Collector’s thoughts:

The idea of eating healthy food at one’s birthday in order to guarantee another year of good health is an interesting idea that makes a lot of sense. Not only does the yearly meal work as a good luck charm for good health, but also connects the informant back to his filipino heritage.


Howard University Graduation

Informant: My sister spent a semester as a transfer student at Howard University.

Original Script: At Howard University it is declared as the Mecca for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. At the Mecca graduating senior must sign their name on the clock tower on the 12th floor of the library. Venturing out to find the clock tower in the library is half the battle but getting up there is worth the journey and the view is amazing. Every midnight the day before graduation seniors find their way to the tower write their names and chant “ HU you know!”

Background: My sister and seniors that went to Howard were taking about what their traditions were when graduating.

Thoughts: I like the tradition of the university because it bonds together the students that made it  through the 4 years of college and you are apart of a ritual that is shared from those in the past. Traditions create memories that can be passed down to generations of students to keep the positive attitude to make it through the 4 years of college, so you can join the tradition.