USC Digital Folklore Archives / Earth cycle
Earth cycle
Foodways
Holidays
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions he shared with his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, which I think underscores the great importance of Chinese New Year for him; the fact that he travels to convene with his family while not being intimately close with them shows how much the tradition matters to him. The subject gave me a general overview of the traditions associated with Chines New Year but did not elaborate on specific details.

Main Piece

“For Chinese New Year’s it’s a huge deal for our family so we’ll have a meal together, but, like, it’s supposed to be a time where everyone goes home, so I try and do that as well. And, um, there’s a lot of Chinese cultural traditions associated with that: like the types of meals you’ll cook, how you eat them and like getting money from elders.”

Earth cycle
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Easter Egg Traditions

Context & Analysis

My roommate (the subject) and I were sitting in our dorm room talking about how our families celebrated different holidays. The subject’s family is relatively large and extremely tight-knit. Most of her extended family live within an hour radius, and they highly value family gatherings. The dying of the Easter eggs the night before is a tradition carried out only by her immediate family, suggesting that this tradition might not be shared with her extended relatives. It is also interesting to consider that the family chooses to celebrate Easter despite not being religious themselves. Additionally, the subject and her sisters are all high school age or older, so I think that it is fascinating that their mother maintains the façade of the Easter bunny hiding the eggs. It appears that the tradition of the performing the event in the exact way it has “always” been is a way to preserve an important part of girls’ childhood.

 

Main Piece

“On Easter, we always do an Easter egg hunt and the night before we always dye hard-boiled eggs. And my parents always hide the eggs and it’s funny because they keep the façade of ‘Oh, the Easter bunny hid it over there, wow he’s so sneaky!” but its them, it’s like—but my sisters and I are (all three) old enough that we know that, but, like, it’s funny that they still keep that. My mom won’t shop for Easter bunny stuff in front of us, she’ll like—my sister pointed out some stuff to her at Target like “Oh mom, look those are cute baskets for everyone “ and she’s like “No that’s Easter bunny shopping, the Easter bunny will come back later” [laughs], so she attempts to like keep that going, but it’s funny and it’s always been that way.”


 

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk speech
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year

  1. The main piece: Chinese New Year

“Um… so, Chinese New Year is also called Lunar New Year and it’s… I don’t really know why they celebrate it, I guess because they used to use the lunar calendar. But basically, there are 12 cycles of the lunar year or something like that, and each of them has an animal, and the animals cycle through in rounds of 12, and so each year is the year of the something. It’s not super relevant anymore, so I don’t really know what it’s supposed to mean, but every person is born in the year of the something, and I was born in the year of the rabbit. And that’s supposed to indicate certain traits about you, but obviously that’s fake [informant laughs].

“Other things about Chinese New Year, the festivities last two weeks in China and you’re supposed to wish for good fortune and good luck. That’s why people say “Gong hay fat choi.” That’s Cantonese for good luck. Or, not good luck but congratulations on your money. That’s basically what it means.”

  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?

While the informant doesn’t necessarily agree with the folk beliefs surrounding Chinese New Year, she still faithfully celebrates it every year with her mother, sister, and grandparents. She learned it from her grandparents while her parents were still in school, and it means more to her because she was closer to her grandparents than her parents during this time. After they moved in with her family in later years, it became even more important to the informant to strictly adhere to the rules of Chinese New Year.

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

I think that this festival is interesting, because it is an annual festival or celebration, yet the assignment of a year and resultant traits to each person makes it a uniquely individualized annual celebration. Since it follows the lunar calendar and is also known for celebrating the coming of spring, this festival probably originally began as a celebration of a renewed growing season for crops. It could have became more personalized as societies grew less agricultural and needed a way to highlight their differences while still celebrating their unity.

  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.

For another version of this folk festival, see:

“Chinese New Year 2018 – Year of the Dog.” Chinese New Year 2018, 2018,

chinesenewyear2018.com/.

Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Magic
Narrative
Signs

Aboriginal Myth about “Dreamtime.”

The informant is my friend (referred to as CM) who is Australian. She is 20 years old and grew up in Brisbane Australia and lives in Sydney now and has moved to Byron Bay. I was enquiring about the Aboriginal people and if she knew any stories. Below she discusses an Aboriginal myth about “Dreamtime.”

 

CM: “Yeah the Aboriginal people are so beautiful. They’re not as much in Brisbane or Sydney but in places like New South Wales and Queensland. Yeah growing up my best friend was Aboriginal and her mother would always tell me about the belief system of the ‘Dreamtime.’ She would say that the earth was created by all of these spiritual beings who physically were the land and sea and the animals on the earth. Everything that was in the natural world was kind of like, a representation of the spiritual aspect of the world. Dreaming exists before you’re born and after you die.  Your spirit or I guess dream spirit, exists when you can’t humanly perceive it. A lot of aboriginal myths and stories are just so beautiful, but there is still a lot of racism and hate. They’re the oldest people on Earth. They know so much.”

 

I have been to Australia three times myself now and I think that this is such an interesting concept expressed by the aboriginal people I have found that mainstream Australian culture is deeply rooted in spirituality. Along the streets of Byron Bay and Sydney, there are crystal stores, dream catchers, tarot decks and so many “spiritual” healing objects that I find it so surprising that the aboriginals are actually treated so horribly and disregarded. So much of the Australian spirituality culture is rooted in this idea of the Dreamtime, and I definitely see that in all of my Australian friends.

Earth cycle

Spa on New Year’s Eve

Background: Iris Zhang is an 18-year-old student living in Los Angeles, CA. She is a student at USC. She was born in Diamond Bar and raised in Arcadia, California.

Original script: “Ever since i was young, my family and I have had this tradition of going to a Korean sauna on New Year’s Eve. It’s weird because most people have New Year’s Eve parties with their friends but my family spends the entire day together at a spa. My parents told me it’s because they want to wash away all the dirt of the past year and literally start fresh into a new year. It’s some sort of cleansing ritual for them and makes them feel good about starting the New Year off all sparkly clean ”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: there are a couple of holidays that her family celebrates and insists on spending together: 4th of July, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Years. For each holiday, her family has an annual tradition to follow.

Thoughts about the piece: This superstition sounds like it’s a great way to bond with your family as well as start off the New Year clean. Aside from the symbolic sense, I feel like it must be nice to just go and bathe yourself one last time in the year with your family before the New Year starts. It seems to be a very important family tradition for Iris.

 

Earth cycle

Mid Autumn Festival

Background: Anna Lim is a 21-year-old student living in Los Angeles, CA. She is a student at USC. She is currently studying electrical engineering.

Original script: “Hmm.. festivals that I celebrate with my family? Honestly the first one that comes to mind is the Mid Autumn Festival. It’s held on the night of a full moon but just being real with you, I don’t really remember the significance behind it. I just know that it’s a night that I go out with my family, and you know, party it up and play games and eat lots of good street food. It’s just like a carnival, but there’s something a little magical about it because it’s a full moon. My favorite part of it is the lighting of lanterns. I used to make my own lanterns with my family and go to Redondo Beach and let them go. We would write a wish on the lantern on the inside and then we weren’t allowed to tell anybody what we wished for because it wouldn’t come true if we did. I always asked for money. Never got it. And then after letting the lanterns go we would eat mooncakes!! Always super excited about the mooncakes. But yeah, it was probably my favorite holiday as a child.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Her family always celebrated the Mid Autumn festival as a full day event. The family would spend time together in the day and then go to a local festival at night.

Thoughts about the piece: This holiday sounds like so much fun! I actually went to the Mid Autumn Festival in LA for the first time with my roommate this past year and it was a lot of fun, with live music, games, and delicious food. I’m pretty sure it was not truly authentic because it’s LA and it’s such a huge conglomeration of cultures, but I still was able to experience a lot.  

 

For another version of this holiday please see https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/mid-autumn.htm

Earth cycle

Holi

Anshika is a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara. She went to Whitney High School in Cerritos, CA, which was a small public high school that was #1 in the nation.

Original script: “There’s a festival called Holi that we celebrate with my family. It basically translates to ‘festival of colors’ and people use the holiday to celebrate the coming of spring. We have these chalk like colors that we throw around with each other. People wear white shirts coming out to the celebration so the colors show up better. My mom told me it basically is supposed to look like a flower field of different colors all around. It’s supposed to be a family celebration but it’s grown quite popular throughout the years. Last year, I invited my friends who weren’t necessarily Indian and we just ate Indian food together and then threw colors at each other afterwards. It was awesome.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: My informant has celebrated Holi with her family every year. It is a huge family tradition and she invites all her extended relatives as well. Family friends are also welcome to the event. It is mostly the children that participate with the throwing of colors.

Thoughts about the piece: I have actually attended a Holi before with one of my friends and I can personally attest to how fun and celebratory this festival is. It’s fun for everybody regardless of what religion or ethnicity you are.   

 

Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

French Candlemas

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background: 

My name is Keveen. I grew in the South Western part of France, a little town called Brive located between Toulouse and the coastal city of Bordeaux.

Piece:

Another tradition that I remember celebrating every year is “La Chandeleur”, French Candlemas. An early February commemoration of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple that French culture embrace by making Crepes and lighting the house only with Candles, that day being called as well the day of the light marking the end of the Christmas period. I remember making crepes with the family during that time, until I moved out of the house after High School. The tradition of crepes comes from the fact that being round they represent the sun (day of the light), easy to make and cheap, required a bit of agility (flipping them and succeeding at it means the household will be prosperous for the rest of the year. My Grandma never did that but a lot of families keep one crepe, place a coin in it and leave it in the closet for the rest of the year to bring money to the household. Also if you’re able to flip the crepe 6 times in a row you will get married that year.

Piece Background Information: 

Growing up atheist but with a catholic Grand mother from Paris who ended up raising me while my parents were working, I took part of a few religious traditions specific to the French culture, each region having their own interpretation of them.

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Context of Piece Performance: 

In person, during the day at informant’s house in Highland Park, Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Upon further research, I found that French Candlemas, which takes place in December, is generally supposed to utilize the remainder of the harvest from the year on the crepes to symbolize completion of the cycle of the sun (as noted by the informant himself- the roundness of the crepe is similar to the roundness of the sun). I consider this folk belief to fall under homeopathic magic as there are thought to be real world effects (a great harvest in the year to come) due to the similarities between the crepes and the sun. Additionally, this ritual falls within/ is coordinated with the Earth cycle too.

Customs
Earth cycle
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Vishu

My informant is a young Indian-American woman who takes great pride in her cultural customs and retains a strong connection to and knowledge of these practices. She told me about a practice known as Vishu, a New Year’s celebration specific to Kerala (but different variations are practiced in other regions).

The new year in Kerala is the day of the spring equinox. The preparations for Vishu are performed by the head woman/matriarch of the family, usually the grandmother or mother. She goes and makes an arrangement in the puja (prayer) room of the house, which is where a shrine usually is located. A core part of this arrangement is a metal mirror. Other components include fruits (specifically jackfruit, mangoes, and an open coconut as these are native Indian fruits) to signify a bountiful harvest, a little bit of money, and uncooked shelled rice.

The god in the shrine tends to be either Vishnu or Krishna, but sometimes they can be the regional South Indian deity Ayyappa. The ceremonial plate that holds all of the puja items is made of tin and is very flat with raised sides. There is also a lamp, flowers, vermillion (kumkum) for bindis, and turmeric which is also applied to the neck and forehead.

After the preparation is complete, the woman who prepared it will sleep overnight in the puja room, so that the arrangement is the first thing that she sees when she wakes up. There is a specific time frame that she is supposed to wake up between, as it is auspicious. My informant had trouble remembering the exact times, but she believed the time frame was between 3 or 4 and 6 am. After she awakes, she will pray at the shrine. Then, she goes around the house and wakes up each family member one by one, blindfolding each family member and leading them to the puja room so that the arrangement is also the first thing that they see.

In Malayalam, “vishukani” essentially means “the first thing that you see”. My informant told me that Vishu has a distinctly calmer and more laid-back tone than most other Indian holidays, focusing on being happy with family rather than loud community celebrations. Vishu is also more of an astrological than religious holiday, as it centers around the spring equinox rather than a specific Hindu date.  Other customs surrounding Vishu are the practice of wearing new clothes, occasionally giving money to the children, and popping small firecrackers. Also, there is a traditional meal that is supposed to have every kind of flavor (ie. sweet, sour, bitter, etc.). Sometimes there is bitter mango, or this one sweet that has coconut milk and rice flour.

I love the idea of purposefully setting up an elaborate and auspicious arrangement so that you can begin the new year with a vision of beauty and prosperity.

Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Romanian Bear Dance

My informant is the daughter of Romanian immigrants. She has spent much of her childhood visiting relatives in Romania, in an area that she describes as “Romanian hick country”.

There is a traditional Romanian dance known simply as the Bear Dance, in which Romanian men dress themselves in real bear skins and dance through the streets of their town. This tradition takes place some time between Christmas and the new year, as a way to ward off evil spirits and welcome in a safe and prosperous new year. Everyone in the town comes out and watches this dance, even though it is the dead of winter and freezing cold. Romanian winters are similar to Russian winters, and these people are not dressed in the heaviest of clothing. My informant speculates that this was most likely a pagan celebration that has over time become “Christianized” as a holiday ritual.

I’m curious as to how these people acquire so many bear skins – I asked my informant and she admitted that she had no idea.

[geolocation]