USC Digital Folklore Archives / Signs
Folk Beliefs
Game
Gestures
Magic
Protection
Signs

Baseball Superstition

  1. The main piece: Baseball Superstition

“It’s kinda a superstition. When we used to play baseball there would be…. Uh… so the rule, um, was that when you walked on to the field at the inning, you don’t step on the chalk line. You step on it, bad luck, you’re gonna lose the game, we’re all gonna die in a miserable hellfire. So a lot of people overemphasized that they weren’t gonna step on the line… like, they jumped as high as they could over the line, made a big show of it, otherwise it’s bad luck.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? The context of the performance?

The informant learned it from the kids in his neighborhood, and the kids in his community and public school. He said that it became increasingly prevalent as he went from middle to high school, and sports became more playful but more intense. There were big consequences for those who stepped on the chalk line.

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This baseball superstition seems similar to the folkloric theories of conversion magic, in which counteracting something that is considered evil or bad luck reverses that bad luck. Since the consequences of stepping on the chalk line were so greatly overexaggerated, making a show of how far from the chalk line players were made them feel as they were going to play even better since they were so far from the chalk line.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a 22 year old American male and grew up in Tiburon, where he spent lots of time with his father and grandfather, as well as the other kids in his tight-knit neighborhood. His primary language is English, and he currently resides in Los Angeles.

Customs
Folk speech
Foodways
Magic
Protection
Signs

Lunar New Year Traditions and Precautions

  1. The main piece: Lunar New Year Traditions and Precautions

“So a lot of the traditions we have are based on earning money and wealth and things like that. So one thing that we do is we get red envelopes right. The reason they’re in red envelopes is because red is a lucky color right. And you put the money in red envelopes and you sleep on them…

“And yeah, so we sleep on the money. And another thing that we do is, uh, we cook the fish and we leave half of it raw, so that it lasts outside the fridge until the next day. Because you’re supposed to keep the fish out from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day, because there’s another phrase, it’s called ‘nian nian you yu’, and that means every year you will have money.

“So you clean everything in your house and when you sweep, it you sweep out of the house, and you have to take out all the trash in your house. And so on Chinese New Year’s day, you can’t use knives or scissors or even like nail clippers, because that’s like cutting things, and cutting things symbolize cutting your life. Some people eat long noodles that have never been cut, because cutting them is like cutting a lifeline.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

The informant learned about the different traditions and precautions for Chinese New Year from performing them every year with her grandparents and mother. She somewhat resents how people see it as quaint, telling me instead that some of the preparations and precautions are tedious and mundane. The informant expanded on this by saying, “It’s annoying to have to do all the cleaning and lucky color stuff, but it kind of made me closer with my sister over complaining about it.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

The informant’s traditions and precautions for Chinese New Year involve a lot of symbolism. Sleeping on money and keeping a fish both before and after the new year both seem symbolic of continuing one’s good fortune throughout the year. Cleaning the whole house and sweeping everything specifically outside could be symbolic of starting the year afresh and with a clean slate. The aversion to using any sharp objects, from knives to scissors to even nail clippers, is symbolic of preventing violence and not cutting one’s own life short—this would be an example of conversion magic, or reversing bad luck into good luck. The phrase ‘nian nian you yu’ matches the description of a dite, or a folk saying, because it is commonly said specifically on this holiday to confer good luck.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18-year old Chinese-American female. While she grew up in the southern California area, she spent more time with her grandparents than her parents growing up, and felt that learning their Chinese traditions and language was the main way she bonded with them, while her younger sister never had that experience because her parents were out of school by then.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

Chinese Homonyms

  1. The main piece: Chinese Homonyms

“Oh, okay, so homonyms. The way the Chinese language works, there’s four ways you can say every sound, basically.

“So. I feel like all the sayings I do know, they’re homonyms, and the reason they’re prominent is because they sound like other words that are either good or bad. So like, the number 4 sounds like the word for death, and that’s why the number 4 in China is like the number 13 in America. Like in China, a lot of buildings don’t have a fourth floor. They don’t like having 4 in their phone number, license plate, things like that. On the other hand, the number 8 is lucky because it sounds like the word for treasure. And the word for red sounds like fortune or treasure or something like that, so that’s why we use those red envelopes.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“I’ve only been to China once, for a class trip over spring break. My parents and grandparents don’t know much Chinese, but we know most of these…homonym rule things because they’ve kinda been, like, the little bit of Chinese that has been passed down from, like, my grandparents’ grandparents. So it’s cool, I always feel a little more, like, Chinese when I follow these rules because they’re some of the Chinese things I actually do know.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

Because the word for the number 4 sounds like the word for death, it seems that this number has become a taboo in Chinese culture. The extent to which it is a taboo shows just how much folk beliefs that are not backed by any science are still extremely believed in by the people, so much that it has been removed from daily life as extensively as possible—building floors, airplane rows, phone numbers, and license plate numbers all try to exclude the number 4. The extent to which nonscientific folk beliefs are valued in society is also shown in the positive connotations of the color red and the number 8. Just like the number 4 is removed everywhere, the incorporation of red and the number 8 as much as possible show that these folk beliefs are rooted in the people from the time that they grow up.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18-year old female of Japanese and Chinese descent. She grew up in Oahu, Hawaii in a family that had moved there five generations earlier, and explained how none of her parents or grandparents knew any Japanese or Chinese. Celebrating Japanese and Chinese cultural traditions helped her feel more connected to her heritage growing up, because she felt that her parents and grandparents were very disconnected from the culture other than with these traditions.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Chinese New Year

Main Piece:

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

ZM: What do you do for Chinese New Year?

HH: Umm… In terms of when I’m here in college or when I’m back home?

ZM: When you’re at home.

HH: When I’m home um my parents would clean the house, like um frantically because we need to be clean for the new year and we also can’t wash our hair on the first day of New Year’s too because if you wash your hair, you’re washing your luck. Yeah. Very interesting. Um, it’s nothing really special, it’s just being with your family, um… The whole day you um… Do you know what Yum ta is?

ZM: No.

HH: Like going out for morning tea, like with dim sum…

ZM: I’ve never heard of that. I don’t, I don’t know.

HH: Okay um so uh we do yum ta, which is like going to um a local, um a nearby restaurant around our house and inviting all of our relatives and…

ZM: Is that New Year’s day?

HH: New Year’s day yeah. Um, and all of our relatives will come and we exchange um red envelopes with money inside and um its umm… If you’re married you give, you give a red envelope to the kids so…As long as I’m not married I can still receive them.

ZM: But you don’t give any?

HH: I don’t give any until I’m married. Yeah it’s a perk. (laughs) Uhhh yeah and then um on the day, or like… Chinese New Year goes for like a few days like up to fifteen days. It depends on how long you want to celebrate it. Umm, like the first few days um either relatives and friends come to your house or you can go to their house and you bring gifts like oranges or like crackers or whatever to uh to bring to their house and you get to exchange gifts, and you guys talk and drink tea and all of that.

ZM: Do the oranges have any significance? Like why oranges or…?

HH: Umm… I feel like they do, but I don’t know (laughs) Uh that’s pretty much what we do. And um we eat chicken. It’s for a reason, but I don’t know why also. But, chicken is like a good kind of meat like… Um you always want um, like for dinner you always, for like the first few days, my brother’s in-laws and us we all eat together as a big family. Like a sign of um, a union. Um, so we have like up to ten dishes for like not even ten people. Like, um it’s very lavish dinner with like chicken, umm duck, fish, all kind of veggies, noodles, noodles really important as a sign of longetivity in life. So, yeah.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.

Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.

 

Analysis: I thought it was interesting that you only begin giving red envelopes when you are married. Even if you are an adult and you are not married, you do not have to give the envelopes, you only receive them. But, if they’re married and they don’t have kids to give envelopes to they exchange red envelopes between husband and wife. While marriage and adulthood would’ve previously been equivalent, in today’s society they can be very separate, and this changes the tradition a little bit.

 

Childhood
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Dandelion nose

Main piece:

We had this thing we’d do as kids… Like, young kids though like maybe 10 years old! So, you’d find a dandelion and pick it, then pressure one of your friends into doing this thing where you look at someone you have a crush on – then you bury your nose in the dandelion.

If it comes away yellow, we’d ooh and ahh and say that it meant you guys’d get married some day or somethin’. And the person’d look over, of course, and see someone looking at them completely embarrassed with yellow all over their nose. Then they know and the… middle school tension grows?!

I don’t know. It seems so weird now but I can remember so many times when we did this!! And dandelions are so gross too, but it was fun. And it didn’t always come away yellow.

Context:

Ritual described by Bree Tschosik, born and raised in Decatur, IL.

Background:

This ritual continues today among schoolchildren in the rural Midwest, of course with some variation. At an age where male/female relationships are still somewhat awkward, it provides an expressive and entertaining ritual for participants.

Analysis:

The chance element of dandelion rubs is what makes it so entertaining! Because it doesn’t always leave a yellow mark. And of course, the social relationships of participants is the main factor in entertainment value of this ritual.

Signs

The Boys

Main Piece: The Boys

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about a folk art, which is a tattoo that has been passed down in her family. She is marked as NM, and I am marked as DM.

NM: Well this tattoo first started as just a regular tattoo um that of course his mother didn’t want him to get and I took him to get it so shame on me but um I took him. He got it. He came home showed it to his mom and his mom kind of like smacked him a little bit but then she was okay with it. A couple of maybe after that maybe be about a month or two months passed and he actually was uh uh murdered shot in front of his house and uh for everybody that was around him including family friend they um they uh the way they decided to show their love was to uh use this piece of art or tattoo um everybody tattooed themselves and right underneath they put rest in peace they put his name. I would say like most of the family and a couple of close friends of him has it.

DM: Now did some of them get variations of them like did they add certain things to it or have it in different parts of their body?

NM: Well some of them actually uh the original tattoo was it’s a looks like two ink men playing basketball. I did see that some of them took out the basketball and then they added their name um it wasn’t uh most of them have it on their arm but yeah

Background/Context:

The participant is thirty-eight years old. She is a Mexican American registered nurse with the Los Angeles County. She told me about how her family has been passing down the same tattoo after the first person to get it passed away.    

DM: Why do you like knowing that your family has this one piece of art that kind of bring them together?

NM: Uh well our family is very very close and uh we have a lot of love for each other that is kind of uh significance that uh we are paying tribute to him.

DM: And where or who did he get this tattoo idea?

NM: We actually went to the tattoo artist which he is one of my friends and he was looking through some books and he saw that and since they are very they are all they always they love playing sports and he saw that the little ink men were not like normal and they were holding a basketball so that’s what he liked about it  

DM: Why is this tradition important to you?

NM: I truly believe that everybody getting this tattoo was just a tribute. If I were to ever get this tattoo, it would be for him.

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

This tattoo was done by the same artist every time, but everyone did not get the same exact design as the original. Some of them added their names and the tattoo was not always in the same place. These few changes make something into folklore, which is exactly what happened with this piece of art/tattoo. In this specific tattoo below, there is no basketball and his name was added.

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Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Door Knocking Superstition

You must knock on doors to rooms nobody is in, so to not surprise the spirits when you enter. If you do, you can acquire a type of bad karma.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection
Signs

Friday the 13th

Informant Info: The informant is an 18-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a freshman studying Public Policy at USC.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: With it being Friday the 13th, do you have any fears or superstitions regarding it?

 

Interviewee: I don’t like superstitions like Friday the 13th, because 13 is just another number. But, I will say I do believe in other superstitions, and I couldn’t tell you why.  For instance, I refuse to walk under ladders, I think I would curl up in a ball and cry if I broke a mirror, and I always throw salt over my shoulder if I spill it. Again… I don’t know why, but I guess just because we grow up with these superstitions all around us and it’s better to be safe than sorry in my book!

Analysis:

 The informant names many of the common superstitions in America, even though she started answering the question be saying she doesn’t like superstitions. Her response seems to be properly in line with many individuals who question the truth/logic behind superstitions by stating that “it is better to be safe than sorry.” A similar response is often found in Ireland when people are asked about the fairy folk.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
general
Homeopathic
Magic
Signs

Morning Rituals

Informant Info: The informant is a 20-year-old female who was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Her mother is Caucasian, and her father is Hispanic. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and works for Walt Disney World.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: Do you have any rituals that you perform? Whether it’s a family tradition or something you have to do for luck or positivity – anything of the sorts?

 

Interviewee: Do morning routines count? Because they are something I take very seriously! It’s like you and coffee!

 

Interviewer: Sure, go ahead!

 

Interviewee: Morning routines are something I take very seriously. As an individual I like to think of myself as spontaneous and very outgoing but before I can do that I have to complete my morning routine. Very contradicting– I know!…. Spontaneity but orderly. It’s a good mix. So, at night I set two alarms. One 3 hours before I have to leave and one 2 hours to allow myself time to fully wake up. Once awake I turn on my shower to get it nice and hot. Then I brush my teeth and put my contacts in. Then I wash my face and take a shower. Once I’m dressed I call my mom while I make my lunch (I think she’s the most essential part to my morning routine). Then I’m off to work but before I go in I have to get Starbucks or some form of coffee. I don’t want to say I’m addicted, but I’m addicted. My day goes horribly wrong if I don’t have it in my system. Then I’m off to conquer my day and I do it all again the next.

 

Analysis:

This does not seem like a traditional ritual, but the informant’s morning ritual is a ritual nonetheless, just on an individual level. Parts of her ritual can also be classified as superstitions that she holds it extremely dear to her daily life. For instance, her belief that her day goes horribly wrong if she doesn’t have coffee is superstitious. There could be many reasons or coincidences as to why her day might be good or bad – not just whether or not she had coffee. (But as someone else who loves coffee, I completely understand where she is coming from).

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Magic
Signs

Happily Ever After – Server’s Edition

Informant Info:   The informant is a 26-year-old female who was born in raised in Hickory, North Carolina. For the past 3 years, she has lived in Orlando, Florida and has worked for Walt Disney World as a Status Coordinator.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: You’ve worked for Disney for the past 3 years, almost 4 now. Have you ever encountered any traditions within locations that are outside of the realm of general work operations?

 

Interviewee: Well, I think I have one for you. When I was at Be Our Guest, there was a giant mosaic at the entrance of the restaurant. Every morning when opening, we would follow general opening procedures and then have the normal pre-shift meeting that all locations have… not that you would know since you were always closing at Satu’li (laugther)! Anyways, the mosaic, in case you don’t know, is one of the scenes of the Happily Ever After between Belle and the Beast. After pre-shift, we all had to walk outside to greet guests and drop the rope. But before doing so or starting any shift, every server would walk up to the mosaic and touch it. To them, it was like a good luck charm. In order to have a good shift, they needed to touch it and by doing so they would get lucky and have their own happily ever after by getting good tables and tips. Otherwise, without touching, they would likely have a bad shift. It sounds stupid, but it’s something I always witnessed them doing!

Analysis:

It seems almost natural that workers (or cast members, as they are called) are deriving their own superstitions off popular folklore. The mosaic that she is referring to in the story reflects the ending scene in Disney’s version of The Beauty and the Beast. It is a depiction of the ballroom scene of Belle and the Beast dancing, and the red rose blossoming in the background. This scene in the movie symbolizes the happy ending for the two, as the Belle and the (now) Prince can spend the rest of their lives together after the curse has been lifted. The superstition among the Disney servers just reflects variation on this by, as Kim points out, serving as a lucky charm for their own happily ever after… by the method of good tips!

BeautyBeast

 

Citations: Trousdale, Gary and Kirk Wise, directors. Beauty and the Beast. Walt Disney, 1991.

Photo from Google Images

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