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

Life Cycle/Celebration

I asked one of my good friends from school if he had any celebrations in his family that he was proud of and wanted to share. What he told me was very interesting and related to my family as well.


Jo said that, “My great grandpa was a German exile, and traveled to the east coast near New York and New Jersey area. That is where he primarily grew up. When he got older, he wanted to open a restaurant so he opened a steak house near where he grew up. His signature dish was the T-bone steak, and whenever he would eat it, he would grab the T-bone by the top of the bone and eat it with his hands, it was his way of celebrating the meal and celebrating life. He passed away a while back, but my whole extended family and I always go to eat at the steakhouse which is still there once a year. What we will do is order one T-bone, and pass it down the table for everyone to take a bite from it while holding the bone in their hands, it is our tradition of celebrating my great grandpa as well as celebrating being together in that moment at a family owned restaurant.”


Background Info: Jo’s family is from the New Jersey area, but his great grandpa is from Germany so he has ties to parts of the country. His family still owns the steak house and he still partakes in this tradition/celebration every year.


Context: Jo told me about this fascinating family celebration during lunch between classes.


Analysis: This was one of my favorite collections from my 20 that I gathered. I think that the celebration is cool to pass on, but I was very fascinated by the bigger meaning of the behavioral action of eating the T-bone with your hand, the meaning of celebrating life and freedom as done by the care free action of eating with your hands.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ching Ming Festival

Interviewer: Do you have any traditions or ceremonies that you and your family perform or engage in? Any holidays that are unique to your culture that you celebrate.


Informant: The celebration is Ching Ming festival. And I have been doing it with my family since I was born.  And basically you go to the cemeteries in which your ancestors or your elders are buried, sometimes they aren’t directly related to you.  But there are specific days in Chinese culture when you go to the graves and do this, but my grandmother chooses a different day for our family because she doesn’t want to go when it’s too crowded. But we bring things for the grave, fake and real flowers, we normally do yellow rose and red roses and we have a system of who we see first.  We go to the grave and we clean it and replace the flowers and then you bow in front of the grave.  We start with my grandmother’s side first and then continue to my grandfather’s side.  And at the last grave, which is traditionally my grandfather’s parents, we have a meal.  Some families have their meal like in the car at the cemetery or in another location that isn’t the literal grave, but my family eats directly at the grave because it’s my family, my uncle’s family and my grandparents. And we usually have a little celebration and lay the food out and we bring a pot and put fake money in it and we burn the fake money and incense and then we have small firecrackers.  And then when you bow at this grave you say something to your elders or the people you are honoring.  And then we eat.  Usually it is a wide variety of dim sum including different dumplings and dishes that we order before and bring.  When we finish eating at the grave then we go out to lunch or early dinner and eat again.  The whole process takes the whole day.  And each year it is a different day and that day is somewhat mandatory, like you don’t not go.


Interviewer: Did your grandmother do this when she was young?


Informant: My mom used to do it when she was little and then my grandparents immigrated from China so I’m not sure if the process is the same in China but this is our version.


Interviewer: So what does it mean to you?


Informant: Well I haven’t met all of the relatives or elders that we visit, but you bow anyway as a sign of honor.  So it’s more about respecting and honoring the dead because they are a part of you and watching over you. And my great-grandmother recently died and now when we do this ceremony we include her in the graves that we visit.


Background: Amanda Fornataro is a Junior studying at USC and is my roommate.  Her grandparents immigrated from China and brought many traditions with them.  She consulted with her mother and grandmother when giving the account since it wasn’t possible to see the ceremony live. This ceremony is very meaningful and she is usually home to experience it with her family and flew home in February to celebrate.  It is an important belief and cornerstone of Chinese culture to honor your ancestors.

Context: I interviewed Amanda during the week after hearing about the ceremony in previous conversation.  She first started the ceremony when she was small and has carried it on to today and even as her older relatives pass on, they too become part of the tradition. It has traveled from her grandmother to her mother to her.

Analysis: hearing about the ceremony was very interesting.  I have seen and heard about variations of the tradition before but it was great to hear about it from someone who actually performs the ceremony. It also exemplified a belief in the importance of generational traditions and how the variations make more unique to each family.  Like how there are designated days for this ceremony but that Amanda’s grandmother likes to go when it is less quiet is something that makes the tradition even more special to her own family.


Happy New Year!

Main Piece: SM: Do you do the thing on New Years, where your parents throw a bunch of money on the floor, like coins, near a door actually, and all the children kind of rush for it and try to collect as much money as you can, because it like symbolizes like good fortune, you’ll get rich, and it promises wealth. Also, when it strikes 12 you’re supposed to jump a lot, like try and touch the sky, and it promises you’ll grow taller. Both of these are LIES.  Still do it though, even though I don’t believe it, I still do it.


Context: These are two traditions, followed by Filipino cultures on New Year’s Eve.


Background: SM grew up in a fully Filipino household, and so these typical traditions surrounded her as she was growing up, and she still continues to practice them.


Analysis: Upon further research, New Year’s Eve traditions are huge in Filipino cultures. Her tradition of jumping to get taller is fairly unique, but the money one is pretty common. Most stories I found of this are the same, where the parents throw a bunch of coins and the children try to collect as much of it as they can to promise good fortune in the new year. I think SM’s tradition of jumping probably stemmed from the fact that she, and her whole family, are fairly short, and therefore to make her feel better about her height, her parents promised her that if she jumps right at midnight she’ll grow more!


Tales /märchen

Rockin, Rollin, Ridin!

Main Piece: KK: My mom used to sing this song to us, when we were falling asleep and stuff, and for the life of me I can’t ever figure out where it came from. She went: “Tommy’s at the engine, someone rings the bell, Sarah holds the lantern, to show that all is well, rockin rollin ridin, all along the rails, heading for morning town, many miles away.” It’s about a train, if you couldn’t tell, but I have no idea where she got that song, but she used to sing it!


Context: This song was sung as a lullaby when KK and her sister were young.


Background: KK’s mother learned this from her grandmother, who probably heard the version sung by The Seekers and turned it into a lullaby, much akin to “A Bushel and a Peck”, which is often used as lullabies as well.


Analysis: Turns out, upon research, this song is by The Seekers, and is called Morningtown Ride! So many people I saw said that their mother used to sing this song to them as a lullaby, so somewhere along the way this song turned into a typical lullaby. It is interesting to think about this alongside the issue of Simon and Garfunkel and their “folk” music, because even though this song was authored and created by a band and publicized, the fact that culture has taken it and turned it into a lullaby has changed it into a piece of folklore.



Why do we have Christmas Lights?

Main Piece: SR: So when I was growing up, we put Christmas lights on our house every year, and my dad told us the reason you do it is because Santa then knows that there’s kids in your house, and the houses without lights don’t have kids and so he doesn’t go to those houses!


Context: This tradition was practiced every Christmas.


Background: SR’s family was big on celebrating Christmas, as they were a big family with lots of kids and lots of grandkids, and so the amount of Christmas traditions, specifically Santa related, were abundant.


Analysis: I love this piece especially. Christmas lights are very common around the holiday season (and even a little too long afterwards sometimes!), but never before have I heard a reason given for Christmas lights. I love that Santa is brought into every aspect of SR’s Christmas– from the usual tree and presents and cookies to the less common Christmas lights! It also provides explanation for the houses that might make your kids sad with no lights– they’re not rude, they don’t hate Christmas, don’t worry! They just don’t have any kids so they need to make sure Santa knows not to come!


Old age
Tales /märchen

Grandpa and the Friendly Ghost

Main Piece: CR: So, I’m not sure if the ghost came with the house in Winchester because after I finally told Grandpa about the ghost he then told me that the house I grew up in also had a ghost, so I don’t know if its a new ghost or like a continual ghost, but um, yeah there was the two specific things that happened! So we had bookcases in the den, built in bookcases that had books and knick knacks, so one day sitting in the living room I can see the den, out of the blue one of the knick knacks, a little fairy, literally falls off the bookcase on to the ground. No animal had walked by, nothing had happened. So I went to pick it up, and I put it back and I thought “well, maybe it was just learning funny, maybe it got bumped and finally fell off” so I put it back. I sat back down. Within a couple of minutes, from that same area on the bookcase, a book fell off and hit the ground. That’s the one that freaked me out because there’s no way a books just gonna fall off and hit the ground from the same area that that fairy was! In addition, things would go missing forever, we’d look and look and look for something, and a week later bam it’s just sitting there where we had looked 47 times, and I also would notice little peripheral lights in certain areas, and i’d look and it would go. So that’s when I made a deal with the ghost, I said “you can stay, but you cannot freak me out!.” and so I feel that when we moved to the first condo, I feel it came with us, because I still had the lights and things would still go missing, BUT when we moved to the second condo was within a few months of grandpa dying, and I have had very little issues at the new condo, so I don’t know if Grandpa is running interference with us with this ghost.


Context: These ghost sightings were noticed years ago, in an old house which happened to live in a city with a lot of Native American culture.


Background: CR tends to believe in these things: she meditates, she collects healing crystals, and she firmly believes that this ghost was real. She just as firmly believes that her father, after he died, has sent signs to her and has possibly protected her from this ghost.


Analysis: Ghosts are always interesting, especially when dealt with from the perspective of someone who firmly believes in ghosts. It seems difficult to find any sort of logical explanation for CR’s items falling off of her shelf other than a ghost, as books flying off shelves just isn’t something that regularly happens. The most interesting part of this story, however, is when CR mentions her father; it is definitely worth noting that her father died around the same time that her ghost stopped making problems for her– perhaps the ghost was tied to her father, since he mentioned that they definitely had a ghost in her childhood house. Perhaps the ghost was helping her recently deceased father get situated. Or perhaps, as she said, her father is out there, protecting her from this ghost that just wants to knock things off of shelves. Her firm belief in the presence of this ghost, and the relationship of the ghost to her father, is what makes this story truly unique.




  1. The main piece: Pickle

“This is a game that happened in my neighborhood every summer growing up. We called it ‘Pickle.’ All the kids get together, you need a tennis ball and a group of people. Two people are selected…it’s kinda like monkey in the middle but more violent. So the two chosen people are playing catch with tennis ball in air. Everyone else starts running and the throwers try to hit them. A tennis ball doesn’t hurt that much, so it’s fine. No need to be worried.

“Actually, you know what, it’s the opposite of monkey in the middle. Hmm, interesting. Yeah cuz you’re not trying to be in the middle, you wanna be running. We would play for hours and there’s no score, no winners, losers, anything like that, just a fun thing to do. We only played it during the summer, I don’t know why. Kinda had all the kids in our neighborhood, all the different age groups, genders. You’d see a 4 year old playing with a 15 year old.”

  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? Etc.

“No origin, just something I played growing up. I guess the kids in the neighborhood were already playing it when I was born. It was just happening, no person whose idea it was. It already existed. Happened in Tiburon, CA. It’s a city near San Fran.”

  1. The context of the performance

“Well, I guess it’s kind of like controlled violent outbursts. It’s a way to blow off steam for kids bored during the summer.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This game sounds like a friendly neighborhood tradition that ends up arising in many closer communities. It provides a way for children of the neighborhood to build relationships independent of age, background, or gender because everyone learns it from the vernacular tradition. Just like siblings often have physical games and altercations when they are young, a violent game like pickle naturally draws the players together and gives everyone a sense of belonging when they are all running from the ball.

  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.

Life cycle

Sari Ceremonies

  1. The main piece: Sari Ceremony

“It is the first time they tie a sari for a little girl. It’s just the first time that a little girl gets a sari, and the family makes a big event out of it. Maybe it was, in the olden days, you know, very very olden days, people got married when they were 9 or 10. This was when the girl was 6 years of age, so maybe people were letting them know.

“And by the way, there’s an equivalent boy’s ceremony. A dhoti, or pancha ceremony. Boys’ cloths are called dhoti, or panchalu, and this is from the Andhra people south of India. So it’s the same thing for boys also.

“Usually, we do it in odd years. 5, 7, 11. But you know, all Indian things are like that. We always give odd numbers of money as gift. And then, you just invite near and dear. That’s it.”

  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? Etc.

“You know, I went to some of my friends’ sari ceremonies growing up, but I never had one. So I thought, okay, when I have my own daughter, I’ll have a nice sari ceremony for her. So we visited India and we had one for her, and we had her grandparents and aunts and uncles there, and it felt, what is it in English? Complete.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

The sari ceremonies in Andhra Pradesh, a state in South India, are examples of coming-of-age ceremonies. In the very old days, they would have indicated that a girl’s childhood was complete, and that she was now available to be married. While the marriage connotation has definitely faded, the sari ceremony is still a marker of transition from helpless child to young person capable of decision making and responsibility. Wearing a sari requires a number of complex steps, and the sari ceremony also announces the girl has reached a certain level of maturity. The informant mentioned that her daughter’s sari ceremony brought many members of her family together, showing that sari and dhoti ceremonies have also transitioned into large community events.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American female. She was born in India and grew up with her two sisters in a small town near a holy river in Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari River. After moving to the United States and raising her children there, she enjoyed reminiscing on her childhood in India and sharing stories of it with her children, so that they could see the differences in their upbringings and learn about their Indian heritage.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Iranian Weddings

  1. The main piece: Iranian Weddings

“So there’s multiple ceremonies. So once the man asks for permission from the to-be bride’s dad, there’s a mini celebration just between the intimate family members. And then, following that, there’s kinda an engagement party. So kinda similar to Nowruz, there’s different items that are symbolic. Like honey: both the groom and bride dip their fingers into honey. That’s symbolic of life being sweet, fruitful.

“Following that is the actual wedding. That’s usually a big production. There’s this special veil thing, kinda like this really long lacy scarf thing. Both the bride and groom walk under it and it symbolizes them starting a new life together. Walking under that is like your rite of passage into adulthood and married life. They’re not as religious. I think there’s a religious one and a normal one. Like my parents got married in a park, by a lake or something.”

  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?

“Um… well, I’ve never actually been to an Iranian wedding. But I’ve been to prewedding ceremonies. I always saw them growing up and heard about my parents’ park wedding, and I had this grand image of me when I was a grown up, walking under the long white scarf with my future husband. I think it’s an adulthood kinda thing just because they used to get married so young there.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

I think that it is interesting that there are so many ceremonies involved, with different levels of guests invited. The number of events and variety of guests at each show what a big transition marriage is, from the merging of two families to a large community event. The emphasis of general Persian traditions over religious customs in these weddings is unusual, as most weddings tend to have a religious component. This shows that the role of the community is the highest, higher than any God, in this coming-of-age, rite-of-passage style ceremony. It also shows that the Iranian culture has adapted to view religion less and shared heritage and community more as religious heterogeneity increases. Moreover, symbolism is shown to play a large role again in such community, transitional life events, in order to cast protective and good omens before entering the next stage of life.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18-year old Iranian-Canadian female. She was born in Iran but moved to Canada as a young child, then moved again to southern California as a teenager. Learning about her parents’ Iranian culture helped her feel a sense of continuity throughout the different moving experiences she had. They also helped her feel more rooted and attached to her place of birth.



Main Piece:

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

ZM: Do you believe in ghosts?

CS: Aha! Bitch. Ha! I believe in ghosts hella! Do you? Look at that scratch. Look at that scratch. Look at those DOTS! (Shows me several marks on her arm) Where did these come from?

ZM: Your nails. (She has long nails)

CS: What nails make four dots that look like that?

ZM: That is weird. I don’t know. You should look at astrology, like…

CS: I’m haunted. Um, there’s like a Filipino ghost that I’m like lowkey scared of.

ZM: What do you mean?

CS: His name is Asuang. It’s fucking scary. So, um, what I was told was that, he eats children that stay up late, but it’s like a real thing.

ZM: Asuang? Does it mean anything or is that just a name?

CS: No, it’s just like they named it that. And, (lowers voice) Asian people really like, like scary movies and I’m just really fucked up about this. But, um, so, it’s like a, like a shapeshifting monster that like if you’re out past your bedtime, like if you disobey your parents, they’ll like leave you out in the cold and he’ll… He like has… Like what I was told, is that he has like a giant tongue and that he’ll like creep up on you. You’re not supposed to… He’ll like knock on your door, you’re not supposed to answer it. If you answer it, he’ll like… sort of like an anaconda, just like… get you. What is…? Not anaconda.

ZM: Oh, it’s like… um constrictor. Boa constrictor.

CS: Yeah! Like a boa constrictor with his tongue. And he like appears as like different things cause he’s a shapeshifter. So if you do anything bad, or like you disobey anybody, or like you’re just like sinning, he’ll like, he’ll befriend you in normal life. And then he’ll HAUNT you AT NIGHT. Cause he’s a SHAPESHIFTER! And it’s literally, so scary. Ugh! It’s so scary. (Pulls up a picture) LOOK! LOOK AT THAT TONGUE BITCH!

ZM: Ohhh no.

CS: LOOK AT THAT TONGUE BITCH! They love children, Hoe. They love children.

ZM: Asuang?

CS: No, yeah, so my ass stayed in the house. Past ten o’clock? I didn’t leave. I didn’t even go downstairs. I stayed in my room. I was literally. fucking. petrified. And like, my dad would like joke around with me, like he would literally like, we’d be upstairs in our room in the Philippines, cause like they (Asuang) don’t come to America. They’re only in the Philippines.

ZM: Asuang?

CS: Yeah. Like, it’s only there. They only haunt the Philippines. So when I was… I used to go a lot. Umm, my dad would play. He would be like… I would be upstairs in my room. Cause I have a room there. Cause I was there a lot. And I’d be in my room, chillin, in bed, 9:45, I’m out, like I’m not going downstairs. I’m not going in the dark. You got me fucked up if you think I’m gonna go downstairs and fuck with that demon. And my dad went, “Go get me ice cream, from the kitchen.” I’d say, “No. No no no. You can go get yourself ice cream.” And then he’d leave, close the door, and he’ll leave and start banging on it. Or he’d like make really loud footsteps, or he’d go like this (rapidly scratches table) He would really fuck with me. He really like… He didn’t like me. (laughs) He tried to kill me. Like I swear to god. I was like shivering.

ZM: So is it only kids? Like could he (the dad) go down and like totally be fine?

CS: No, yeah. He only, he only eats kids. Once you hit like, teens, you’re good. So I’m not scared anymore. But, they’re real.

ZM: No longer scared of Asuang (laughs)

CS: THEY’RE. REAL. No, cause like the thing is, I used to have nightmares about this. Like, I imagined Asuang as like…giant white tongue, and like sort of like Slender Man, like black everything like super like nondescript figure except very distinct white tongue that would just come and then like wrap around you and take you away and eat you. And like thing about it is like, they eat your heart first. They go for the heart. And then they just leave you to die in the forest.

ZM: Dang. I’m scared of Asuang.

CS: But yeah, that’s the shit that I was scared of. Asuang fucking murdered my whole childhood. No, like I would legit… Like if I was in the Philippines I would have like nightmares because I wasn’t the greatest kid. Like, I’m not kidding you, my grandparents, if we would go shopping and there was glass around. Like if we were in like the food section, I was the only child who was mandated to walk like this (folds both arms behind her back) I wasn’t allowed to touch shit. Like, and I was… Me and my brother were the only ones. We had to…If there was anything breakable, we’d have to walk in the store like this. So, I wasn’t a great kid. So they said, “Asuang’s gonna get you.”

ZM: They told you all the Asuang stories.

CS: They told me all the time! They were…Every night, they were like, “Oh you better behave. Go up, go to bed by your bedtime tonight. Do you want to die?” And, yeah. So, that’s how my childhood was ruined by my grandparents, and my parents, and my older cousins, and everyone who wanted to fuck with me. Cause I believed that shit. And I still believe that shit. But, I’m too old now. They can’t get me. I’m 20. I’m 20 bitch. I’m invincible now. (laughs)

ZM: (laughs) Asuang comes and gets you…

CS: (laughs) Don’t. play. I’m not a kid anymore! The thing is, the younger they are (children) the more they (Asuang) like them. So like, they’re more pure. So like, fetuses… That shit’s good. They like fetuses.

ZM: But they’re innocent tho… So, isn’t that like kinda counterintuitive?

CS: I think, I think it’s also part of the reason like why like miscarriages, like it was… Sort of like…

ZM: Like Asuang came and got their…

CS: Like the parent did something. So like if you’re a parent whose caring for a child and you fuck up… You’re kinda fucked. But, they can’t punish you. So, they punish your kids. Fuck that, right? I’m not having kids. Cause my kids…Aha! Dead. I won’t get through one pregnancy, Hoe. (laughs) But, yeah. So, the younger they are… So I was like five. Prime time Asuang hunting season. I was between the ages of like three and six. They love that age. Soooo…. Clllkk. I was almost dead. I swear to you, I almost died. Fuck, Filipino culture’s kinda wild.


Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed gold coins laying around on various coffee tables and such. A few days later I asked her about them and this continuation of the 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: The story of Asuang was pretty terrifying. I can’t imagine being told this as a child. From the use described by CS it was mostly used by parents to keep their children in line. I was fascinated by how even though CS acknowledges that it was a story of manipulation used by parents and that she is now too old to be eaten by Asuang, she is still very afraid of him. Unlike other horror stories that kids usually grow out of later and realize that they’re made up stories, she still firmly believes in Asuang. His mythical characteristics do not shake her belief, it only makes her more afraid of his capabilities.