USC Digital Folklore Archives / Earth cycle
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

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.   

 

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

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.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

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.

Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Garba

My informant is a young Indian-American woman who is well-versed in the customs of her culture and frequently participates in these traditions. She told me about Garba, a traditional Indian dance.

Garba is a non-choreographed dance celebration usually performed during the festival of Navratri (based on the Hindi words for nine + nights). Garba is typically performed by North Indians and Gujaratis but is sometimes celebrated by Punjabis.

Garba usually celebrates the Hindu goddess Durga, who is considered to be the main mother of creation. It consists of two circles, one in the center of the other, with an idol inside the inner circle. The inner circle is supposed to represent the womb of the universe, while the circles represent time because the Hindu concept of time is cyclical due to reincarnation. The dancers are always switching dance partners, so they are constantly moving.

The traditional outfit worn during Garba is a chaniya choli: a top that sometimes has a vest or jacket, with a long skirt and a scarf. People come to this celebration dressed up in bright colors and the women wear lots of nice jewelry – essentially people choose to come dressed up and looking their best.

The version of this dance that my informant is familiar with is called Dandiya. In this dance, each dancer wields two wooden sticks roughly 2cm in diameter and 1.5ft in length. Sometimes these sticks are decorated but they are usually plain. Two people act as dance partners and hit each other’s sticks together: first one stick, then the other, then both, then they spin, and then move on to the next person. This is the basic movement, but people tend to improvise in fancier patterns so their partner has to keep up (my informant jokingly told me that this is why North Indians tend to be good dancers). This style of Garba (also known as dandiya-raas) is associated with Krishna. “Raas” means play/dance. This style is supposed to imitate a sword fight.

I am glad that my informant knows so much about the symbolism behind this dance, as it adds so much more depth and beauty to the understanding of this practice. I also find it interesting that there is a rendition that combines the idea of creation and the flow of time with battle.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Wren Day

Background Information:

Informant is 54-year-old woman living in Dublin, Ireland. She was raised in rural southern Ireland. This festival called Wren Day is celebrated on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26th. It is not a custom I have observed in Dublin, and seems to mainly be confined to rural areas, particularly in the south but it has also been seen in the Nordic countries. Wren in this tale is pronounced like “wran,” owing to the southern dialect. She learned of this festival from experiencing it, and she didn’t particularly enjoy it as she found the costumes scary. She is signified in this conversation by the initials C.D.

Main Piece:

C.D.: Wren Day is always celebrated on St. Stephen’s Day at home. It’s not so much a festival that everyone celebrates, rather there are a few people that celebrate it and try and drag the rest of us into it. It involves men, usually, dressing up in straw outfits and masks and parading through the town singing songs. Back home, they’d work their way around the mountain and would knock on your door and sing a song – sometimes it had words, and other times it was just sounds, like the Native American chants – and they’d expect a penny in return. I always thought they were terrifying, dressed up like giant haybales and shouting in the front garden. In the village there would be a kind of parade, where the marchers would hold up these long wooden poles with nets on the top, that was supposed to symbolize the catching of the wren. I think they used to actually catch a wren sometimes, but maybe that’s gone out of fashion over time.

A: Do you know what the wren symbolized?

C.D.: It was meant to symbolize the old year being put away and the new year coming in. You’d only find the wren in winter, so by caging it and putting control on it the people are sort of forcing in the spring, maybe like a Groundhog Day style thing?

A: And do you remember the kinds of songs they’d sing?

C.D.: Like I said, I was usually too scared of them to really listen to what they were saying, but when they’d come to the house they’d end their songs in “If you haven’t got a penny then a hapenny will do,/ If you haven’t got a hapenny then God bless you!” That’s usually when my mam would hand them a penny or two, as they wouldn’t go away until you gave it to them.

Performance Context:

This piece of folklore was related to me over the phone, as I am in California and she is in Ireland. I asked her about any festivals she had at home and she said that this was the strangest one she could think of that she actually experienced.

My Thoughts:

The wren is an interesting bird, as it is found in both the Catholic and Celtic traditions. In the Celtic tradition, the wren was a sacred bird that sang through the winter. In this sense, it symbolized enduring life through the harshest months. By sacrificing a wren at this time of year, the people ritualistically “killed” winter and ushered in the path for the spring birds. In the Christian tradition, the wren is thought to have betrayed St. Stephen, revealing his position whilst he hid from his enemies. This allowed for the tradition to endure through pre-Christian times until now, and explains the current dating of this festival to St. Stephen’s Day. This festival, then, projects the human and religious calendars onto the natural year cycle by eliminating winter and ushering in the Spring. Also, the idea that it is mostly men that participate in it speaks to the Catholic patriarchy in Ireland at the time that this tradition was prevalent.

Earth cycle
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Qing Ming Festival

Background of informant:

My informant LWQ is a 47 years old Chinese artist. She was born and lived in southern part of China, especially Nanjing for many years before she moved to the north, Beijing at age 36.

The conversation is in Chinese.

 

Main piece:

LWQ: “This is the day that we go to cemetery and pray to the ancestors. In total, there’re four day in a year that people pray to their ancestors, but each day has different name and each of them is different. In winder solstice, that day, it’s the first one. And April 4rth on the lunar Calendar, which is the one that is coming, is called QingMing Festival. Then is July half, also on the lunar Calendar, is the Festival of the Dead. And then is the New Year Eve day. These are the four. There are commons among these four days, that people burn those money made from paper, the money that is only efficient in the ghosts’ world, not our human world.”

SH: What kind of money?

LWQ: “We have a piece of paper in the shape of normal RMB, but the portrait of Mao is changed to the God in the ghost world on the paper. And also, there’re paper money in the shape of ancient Chinese copper coin, which a hole in the center. And also some in the shape of Chinese shoe-shaped gold.”

LWQ: “For the differences of the four days, I think… the most recent one, on April. 4th, we bring some green plants or flowers to the deceased family members tomb. That’s why QingMing festival is also called ‘Tomb-swiping Day’. We need to revitalize the ancestor’s tomb because spring is coming. [laugh] I remember when I was little, I followed my parents to ancestors’ tomb on the day QingMing Festival, and it’s a day to play and enjoy the warm weather for me and my other little friends. Now, I will go to my grandparents tomb on this year’s festival next week, and it is now to me a day to reunion with my family, because my brothers and my parents will be there too.”

 

Context of the performance:

My informant LWQ told me one day that she will travel back to her hometown recently because the QingMing Festival was coming. This conversation was done two weeks before the festival day.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

My informant said that the day of QingMing festival is an official holiday set by the government, so it’s a day off for everyone in China. Respecting to ancestor is always a major focus in Chinese traditional culture, and there’s a huge emphasis on family lineage and bounding between family members. However, this emphasis was neglected once around 1970s in China. Now, for the recent 20 years, the traditional focus on lineage is recollected and reemphasized. Since the festival is highlighted to the public as an official holiday, this is another example of how institution helps revitalize folklore.

Adulthood
Earth cycle
Festival
general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Karva Chauth

My informant M is my 49-year-old mother. She follows many Hindu traditions and religious holidays even though she lives in America. She has found a community of friends who also celebrate many of the same traditions as well.

In this piece, my informant goes into great detail about the history of a one-day festival called Karva Chauth. She also explains her extensive experience celebrating the tradition with it to me (AK).

M: (Reading this from a website) Karva Chauth is a one-day festival celebrated by Hindu women in many countries in which married women fast from sunrise to moonrise for the safety and longevity of their husbands. … The festival falls on the fourth day after the full moon.

M: Well this is correct, I just fast until I can see the moon.

AK: Do you remember how long ago you started doing this?

M: I have done it ever since I was married because this tradition is for married women and done for their husbands.

AK: Can you tell me anything about how this tradition started or was created?

M: Sorry I don’t know the story that well. I can try though. It’s about a woman named Karva who was devoted to her husband. The husband was killed by a crocodile and after the wife threatened Yama, the God of Death … I think he sent the crocodile to hell and brought the husband back to life. That’s all if I remember it correctly.

AK: Wow, that’s a really great story.

I distinctly remember this tradition because I remember as a child I would love to help my mom look for the moon. Some years, if the sky was especially cloudy, it would be very difficult to locate the moon, and I remember feeling like it was my duty to seek out and find the moon.

[geolocation]