USC Digital Folklore Archives / Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

May 9th Russian Holiday

Alexander is a 20 year old student at USC. He is currently a freshman, and is old for his grade because he spent an extra year in Russia, where he grew up his entire life. He said life there was very different and while he is good at English, he still struggles slightly as he is very new to the country. He talked about one holiday that Russia has that the US does not have:

May 9th is victory day, like the Russian victory in WW2 when Russia went in to Berlin. Basically government spends a lot of money, its always sunny because government puts money and puts chemicals in clouds and clouds disappear, we do fireworks and major parades. Troops walking around in beautiful clothes, and military cars and planes fly on the main street. People also go out, and president gives speech. Young guys like me buy flowers and give to veterans to thank them”

He said this was a big holiday for them and it is something that he loved growing up because he got to see his military honored for their victory in the war. I find this holiday very intriguing, not the actual holiday itself but what he said about it always being sunny. I wonder if the government actually somehow affects the clouds there, or if it just always happens to be sunny and that is what they tell people.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Guyfawkes 5th of November celebration in London

Michael is a 23 year old from London, England. Michael grew up In London with an American mom and a British father. He said a lot mainly translated from England to here, except for a few holidays. One holiday he spoke of was the 5th of November.

Song “Remember, remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder treason and plot, I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot”

“He tried the blow up houses of parliament, and guards caught him last minute, and he was hung drawn and courted, hung by neck but not until dead, then cut down, cut his innards out, and got ripped and got spread to all 4 corners of the campus. Every year we build a scarecrow, and build “Guyfawkes” and burn him.

Michael said this was a very defining thing to do, because their country is bound upon parliament, so anyone who attacks it is viewed negatively. He said many people would do this as it was more of ritualistic act. I see this as a form of propaganda almost, that they symbolically burn someone who tried to burn down their parliament, which could almost create an image in their minds at a young age that their parliament should never be questioned. I think this is a cool tradition nonetheless.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dale, Dale, Dale – Piñata Song

Informant: Maria Burguete. 20 years old. Born and raised in Mexico City

Informant: “Mexican parties are very fun. If there is a piñata involved we all sing a specific song while the person hits it with a stick. Once the  song is over, the person stops hitting the piñata”


“Dale, dale, dale! no pierdas el tino,

Porque si lo pierdes… pierdes el camino;

Ya le diste una!

ya le diste dos!

ya le diste tres!…y tu tiempo se acabo!!”



“Hit it, hit it, hit it! Don’t loose the aim,

Because if you loose it, you loose the way;

You already hit it once!

You already hit it twice!

You already hit it three! and your time is up!


Collector: “Do you recall when you first heard this song?”

Informant: “No, this song has literally been in my life forever. When I was a baby and I could not hit the piñata, my dad would carry me and everyone would sing it. Over time, this song has stayed with me and everyone I know. It is really part of our culture.”

Thoughts: This song is really important in Mexican culture. Whenever there is a piñata at a party, everyone immediately sings. It really has been engraved in the culture forever. Piñatas are an important part of a celebration in Mexico and although it usually involves kids, adults also partake in the activity.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

中秋节 (Mid-Autumn Festival)

Informant: Hannah is an 18-year-old student, born and raised in China before moving to Los Angeles for college. Her parents now live in Japan, but they return to China to visit family during the summer.

Main Piece: “For the Mid-Autumn Festival, we all eat mooncakes and stare at the moon and think of our family. The circle, like the full circle, symbolizes wholeness. When you’re staring at the moon, you’re all thinking about the same moon, so you can send your love to each other.”

Background Information about the Performance: The informant still performs this tradition, even though she now lives in the US. She considers it important since she lives so far away from her family. She learned it from her parents and grandparents when living in China.

Context of Performance: The festival occurs in the middle of autumn on the lunar calendar, around late September to early October.

Thoughts: This festival reminds me of other harvest festivals around the world, such as Holi or Thanksgiving, in which the intent is to promote togetherness.


Bonfire Night

Informant: Valerie is a 61-year-old, born and raised in Dorking, England. She moved to Pennsylvania at 40, and to San Diego at 45. She still regularly visits England, where all her family still live.

Main Piece: “Back when I lived in England, we would celebrate Bonfire Night every 5th of November. Every Bonfire Night when I was growing up, my family would go out to the center of town and there’d be a big celebration. It was all about remembering Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot and celebrating that he was caught. We’d set off fireworks and burn an effigy of him, and have a big…almost a party, with loads of food. Kids would go around dragging big…scarecrows dressed like Guy Fawkes. It was very important to my mum.”

Background Information about the Performance: The Gunpowder Plot was an attempt by Guy Fawkes at destabilizing the British Government in the 1600s. Bonfire Night celebrates the fact that he was caught before the Plot was executed. For the informant, she remembers this piece because of how important it was to her family at the time. The informant still celebrates Bonfire Night in San Diego by cooking a special meal that night.

Context of Performance: The piece was performed annually on the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.

Thoughts: Upon further research, I have found that the celebration of Bonfire Night has dwindled significantly since the time the informant lived in England. However, she continues the tradition, although in a much more subdued manner, in the United States.


Ghost Month

Background Information: Ghost Month, or “Hungry Ghost Festival”, is something I have seen being celebrated among Chinese families in Singapore, around houses and apartment buildings. The majority of Singapore’s population lives in public housing units under the Housing Development Board (HDB), and it is primarily around these buildings that the rituals take place. I interviewed Amanda about this festival. Amanda is a Chinese Singaporean, and she and her family grew up in Singapore.

Ankita: Can you describe this festival for me a little?

Amanda: Um, it’s like a month starting in August… the whole month of August is considered Ghost Month, um for Chinese people, at least in Singapore. So there’s kind of like, a lot of superstition involved, because its considered the month where the gates to hell have been opened, and so ghosts from the… other world, I guess, flood our physical world. And so, if we have ancestors who are dead, which most of us do, haha, um then we need to like, burn things for them, because we believe that if we run things like joss paper like money, or like little paper houses or something, they will be able to receive it in the afterlife. Um, and we also leave food out for them. So this is like the kind of thing where you see shrines, or not really shrines, but like small little offerings by the side of the road or whatever, um, you’re not supposed to step on it because it’s the dead person’s property.

Ankita: Is it mostly in these like everyday urban spaces that you’d find them? Like sides of the roads?

Amanda: Mostly on the side of the road, on the outside of houses, like outside gates and stuff… like most people live in HDBs in Singapore, so mostly on the walkways leading up to the apartments and shit. And there’s like these specific burning kind of garbage bins, where people burn joss paper, so it ends up being smelly

Ankita: Is the burning itself a big thing? Like do people get together to do it or something?

Amanda: My family doesn’t do it, because my grandmother’s like, not that superstitious, and my grandfather just doesn’t give a shit. So we don’t do it, but I see a lot of Chinese families in HDBs do it. I don’t think they do it like as a big occasion, but like a couple nights a week someone in the family will go down and burn something. But. There’s also like, a lot of other superstitions, and I think because Chinese people form the majority in Singapore, and it’s such an invasive sort of ritual, haha, like really smelly and all that…that it ends up being like, everyone acknowledges or everyone in Singapore knows that it’s ghost month, so even though there’s no like banners or festivities or whatever, everyone knows that the moment it turns 1st of August, there are specific superstitions that you can choose to follow or not. Like, never stepping on these sorts of things. Or, actually you cannot go swimming, because apparently there’s going to be a ghost in the water… Never shower at night for the same reason… Never walk alone at night, or too late at night. Um, and… stupid things like that.

Ankita: Do you know of any differences in the practice, like, for people in Singapore as opposed to let’s say, Chinese people in China?

Amanda: I’m not totally sure, but I just know like, that is the time for families to take care of their dead. Probably Chinese people in Malaysia would do it differently too.

Thoughts: It is interesting how the rituals or customs of a particular culture can offer insight into the worldview of that particular community. For example, from Amanda’s description of Ghost Month, it becomes evident how death and the afterlife are a significant presence in this culture. A person, after death, does not cease to be a part of a family or the community as a whole, and festivals or superstitions exist to remind people about them and to be wary of them, or as Amanda said, to take care of them. 

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year

Background Information: Amanda is a Chinese Singaporean in her 2nd year of college, and she and her family grew up in Singapore. Her family celebrates Chinese New Year every year, which is a country-wide festival in Singapore, where Chinese people make up the majority of the population. Usually, it is a four-day holiday, and there are specific ways in which Chinese families celebrate it. I interviewed Amanda about how her family spends it.

Amanda: Chinese New Year is a holiday, I think it’s 12 days, where Chinese people celebrate the Lunar New Year. It’s in February every year, because the Chinese follow a different calendar than the Gregorian one, and I’m speaking from experience as a Chinese in Singapore, because Chinese people in China and in other places celebrate it very differently. We have a Chinatown that’s usually decorated in red lanterns, with these large banners we call couplets because they always come in a pair and they have some kind of prosperous saying on it that we read from right to left and it’s usually 8 words broken up into 2 phrases wishing people good fortune, luck, things like that. But because Singapore is predominantly Chinese, Chinese New Year almost always ends up being a national celebration, and we get a number of days off school and work.

Ankita: What does your family usually do to celebrate?

Amanda: Usually what my family does is visit friends and extended family, so on the first day my grandma always invites her family over, so that would be my grand-aunts and uncles, my parents’ cousins, things like that, and this is all on the paternal side of my family. She would cook a nice, big lunch for everyone with some traditional things like sharks’ fin soup, which I object to but my grandfather buys sharks’ fin every year anyway, or sometimes she substitutes it for fish maw, and also fried chicken wings which everyone likes, some broccoli mushroom with gravy type thing, and bamboo shoots because my dad likes those. And in the mornings, she’ll always cook these, they’re not noodles but they’re weird shapes made of flour, I can’t really describe them because she molds them by hand, but yeah so she’ll cook those in a thick white soup with a lot of cabbage and carrots, and it’s delicious. Then after that we go over to my aunt’s house on the maternal side of family, and then the next couple of days, usually it’s over the weekend, we go to my parents’ friends’ houses. Oh, also the biggest thing about Chinese New Year, and I think the most recognizable and widely celebrated thing is angpao, or hongbao (红包), which literally translated means red packet. Basically, the elders, typically those who are married and those who are working, give the younger ones, those in school, children, etc, red packets with money inside, and the money is always an even number. And in return, the young ones give the elders a pair of oranges, which is supposed to symbolize some kind of fortune, I think because of the Chinese name of oranges and how it sounds like gold – a lot of things that are considered prosperous by the Chinese is because they sound like prosperous things in the language, since there are so many words in the language that sound exactly like each other but are just written differently. I would still be considered a young person, so I do still get angpao every year and my parents keep it for me, just because I’m not out of college yet. I think it’s quite a formal thing too because my parents and grandparents will give me angpaos, and the people who are closest to you tend to give you more money, like I get $100 from each of them every year, which adds up to a lot of money. But I’ve seen my parents budget for angpaos before and it seems like a really stressful thing… like, people can give $100 or even hundreds of dollars…

Ankita: Are there like, typical decorations and stuff involved?

Amanda: When we were younger, the house would always be decorated for Chinese New Year, we’d have a lot more sweets out, I know friends who’ve gone to Chinatown to buy flowers and lanterns and things like that. And we used to also follow the pre-Chinese New Year rituals a lot more like spring cleaning, which was supposed to help usher in good fortune by purging all the things we don’t want. So it’d be a big family thing where we cleaned the house together and donated all the things we wanted to give away, and we’d always go shopping for new clothes, kind of keeping in line with the ushering in the new sort of mentality. During Chinese New Year, we’d always wear new clothes to these sorts of house parties, and we even used to buy new jewelry, like my grandma would give us these gold fish necklaces and my parents got us gold bracelets with our names engraved on them. But I think it was after the first recession in 2009 or something like that where my parents’ income decreased, because it was around that time that both my parents changed jobs that had substantially lower incomes, we started saving a lot more money, and that cut back our spending on Chinese New Year substantially. We’ve since kind of bounced back financially, but Chinese New Year has never been celebrated the same way, and I don’t think it’s just for us, but also it does feel like less and less people are committed to making it to the house parties even, because I don’t see the same people as often. I don’t know if these elaborate sort of social gatherings and rituals are things my generation and I would bother to keep up with, because I feel like it’d be too much of a hassle for me to, and it’s also difficult now because we’re all overseas so it’s not like we can really meet up with each other.

Thoughts: While Amanda’s experiences and memories of celebrating the festival are specific and individual to her, she describes the commonalities in how the general population does things. For example, the exchanging of hongbaos and oranges, and the family visits, seem to be common. I have encountered friends exchanging stories on these family gatherings, which generally happen once or twice a year on such a large scale. Some basic customs, stories, and rituals, therefore, seem to be in the collective consciousness of the community, and everyone knows to do it. It is also interesting to note her description of the slow shift in traditions, and in how many people (in her family at least) do not celebrate the festival as extravagantly anymore, or how she does not show up as often to gatherings. Perhaps because of the fluid nature of folk practices, it is often subject to change, and what is commonly practiced or accepted shifts with social or economic context, as Amanda has described.

Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Japanese Bean Tradition

Type: Folk Tradition/Superstition

  1. “When we lived in Japan, we learned about this tradition. On the last day before spring, you get a can of beans and throw them out the window, or just anywhere outside. Everyone did it and we were VERY confused at first, but after we asked around, by the second year we were living there we picked up on it. The idea is that you are throwing out the bad spirits. This tradition goes back hundreds of years. If you throw beans out your window at home for instance, that would signify removing the bad spirits you’re your home specifically.”
  2. I obtained this piece of folklore from my mother, who spend two years living in Japan as a child. Her father, my grandfather, was a psychiatrist in the air force and they were stationed in Japan, in the city of Tachi Kawa. They lived on an army base but they made many Japanese friends that living in the area. My mother obtained this folklore by first observing it and then eventually, her parents asked around. She remembers being incredibly confused about it as a child—seeing beans all over the street outside the base.
  3. No one in my family knows or remembers why beans, or the context behind the tradition. All they knew was that many Japanese people did that, and so many people believed that it worked. My grandparents have been back many times since the 1960’s when they left, but they have never been back in the spring and so they essentially forgot about it.
  4. I love this tradition. I think it has a lot of character and it is unique. I have never really heard of anything else like it. I am also drawn to the idea of purifying places from bad spirits which are believed to bring back luck and bad health. It might be a placebo effect but it would still make me feel better about my life and those around me.
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bandi Chhor Divas- A Sikh Holiday

Informant is a USC student from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her family practices Sikhism, one of the major religions of India that is practiced primarily in the Punjab region in the Northwestern part of the continent. This holiday is one of the main reasons that the Sikhs celebrate the larger Indian celebration of Diwali.

What’s the story behind the holiday?

“This is the reason why Sikhs celebrate Diwali. So basically, a long time ago, the Muslims put 52 Hindu princes, into a prison because they would not convert to Islam. So, Guru Har Gobind, 6th of the 10 major Sikh gurus, went to the Muslim emperor and asked him to release the princes from captivity. The emperor agreed on the condition that only those who could hold onto the guru’s clothing as he walked out would be set free. The guru, being very wise, attached 52 threads to his clothing so that each of the princes could hold on and be set free. The holiday was established as part of the Diwali tradition to celebrate the freeing of the princes.”

How is this holiday celebrated?

“It’s a festival of lights just like Diwali. The temples are all lit up and people leave candles all over their houses, as a way to direct the princes back home. People at home will pray and set up shimmering lights, and it’s an important time for prayer and being with family. At larger festivals, people will shoot fireworks and hang lights everywhere.”


Collector’s Comments:

I had known before that Diwali was a very large holiday in India, but I did not realize that the different religious groups had different reasons for celebrating the same holiday. This story is interesting because it involves multiple religions of the Indian continent, showing that these religions are aware of the other belief systems around them, and that the associations are political as well as spiritual.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tet- Vietnamese New Year

Informant is from San Jose, California, a city with a very large Vietnamese population.

“So in addition to the regular January 1st New Year that everyone in the US celebrates, my family and I also celebrate the Lunar New Year, which is called Tet in Vietnamese. Basically, it is usually in late January or early February, and is when the new lunar cycle begins, which marks the beginning of the year in many Asian countries like Vietnam. During Tet, there are a few superstitions and traditions that everyone follows to have good luck for the next year, and there is a ton of food and gathering around with family.”

Tell me about some of the traditions.

“Well, my parents always told me that whatever you do on the first day of the year, you will do for the rest of the year, so you’re supposed to practice good habits and be clean and all that. Uhh… Oh, also, you aren’t supposed to work or do any cleaning around the house, as people believe that you will sweep away any good luck. One of the big traditions, and my favorite tradition, is giving out red envelopes with money to all of the children, which is supposed to be a sign of fortune and good luck. Other than that, there is a lot of good food, and there are Tet festivals in San Jose and I think in Orange County too.”


Collector’s Comments:

The Lunar New Year is commonly celebrated in many Asian countries, and this is a variation of that celebration. Some of the traditions seem to be the same across the cultures, such as giving out the red envelopes and the feast. However, the no-cleaning rule is very interesting, in that it seems to imply that luck can be brought in and out of the house, which is something that I haven’t heard before. This is a holiday that is familiar, yet unique, to many different peoples.