Category Archives: Festival

Quinceanera celebration

Main piece: 

The following was transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer.

Informant: A tradition… that all families, all hispanic families celebrate, or all families do is a daughter’s 15 year old birthday. They call it a quinceanera. All families do it. The 15 year ceremony is very important because the dad presents his daughter to society… because umm…  because she stops being a girl and becomes a young woman. 

Interviewer: What do you do in the quinceanera? 

Informant: The most important part is mass to give thanks for her 15 years of living. Godparents are chosen for the ceremony. After mass is the party. And in the party there is a lot of food… eh there are different types of you know ehh platters depending on the region. There’s dance, wine, y around 10 in the night, the waltz is danced with the dad, the brothers if any, and the rest of the males in the family including grandparents, uncles, and cousins. After that there are other dances, the one that the quinceanera likes and she dances with her “chambelanes”. They change attire and after the dancing, there is one last ceremony. The madrina gives her one last doll, the last doll she’ll be given because she stops being a girl and the madrina crowns her with a crown and replaces her shoes with slippers. Once that’s done, she’s officially considered a princess and a young woman. 

Background: The informant was my mom who was born in Mexico City. She was raised in Mexico but came to the U.S. about 20 years ago. She still goes back during the summer to visit family and that sort of thing. She has learned about this tradition since she was very young because all her cousins and sisters went through the quinceanera so she knows the ceremony very well. However, she did not have one because instead of a party/ceremony, she wanted a car so she got that instead.

Context: I was in the kitchen with my mom and I needed one more collection piece from her so I asked her straight up what’s another tradition that she knows really well because I needed one more. She told me the importance of the quinceanera as I was helping her prepare food and I had my phone out to record our conversation.

Thoughts: I know the quinceanera is a big tradition because I lived it with my sister when she turned 15. I’m not a good dancer, or even like dancing, but I had to for my sister’s ceremony in order to keep with tradition. I can tell it’s a special moment for them because like my mom explained, it is the transition from a girl to a young woman. Everyone in the family enjoys the ceremony and it’s a fun time overall. The girl never forgets her quinceanera because of how grand the spectacle is.

The Day of the Dead

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer. 

Informant: The day of the dead for example. This one is very popular throughout Latin America too. And it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor… everyone celebrates November 1st and 2nd. There are festivals in the streets and everyone buys those skulls that your mom has as decorations. Some make them and paint them. And they’re very colorful. You can paint them any color you want and add a bunch to it so it looks nice. 

Interviewer: Do you make them or buy them? Or how do you celebrate it? 

Informant: We set pictures of them. We prepare their favorite foods and drinks. We get openwork paper and we adorn with sugar skulls and tequila… every family sets at least one bottle. Umm. bread too. Candles and wine and there. And that’s set before the 1st. And it’s there the 1st and 2nd. And on the 3rd day you don’t throw it.

Interviewer: Do you eat it? 

Informant: Yes, it basically means that your dead are sharing their food with you so you can eat. 

Background: My grandpa was my informant. He was born and raised in Guadalajara and did not travel to the U.S. until a couple years ago. He has lived in Mexico for about 70 years so he knows of a lot of Mexican traditions. He has been celebrating this one every year from as far as he can remember and that it’s a special day for him because he is able to feel the presence of his dead. 

Context: This conversation was held on the patio. I was playing basketball and I came to sit down and rest and my grandpa had been watching me and I asked him about a big tradition he does. I’m really close to him so it was easy to ask him for more information about a tradition or festival he celebrates for part of my collection project. He was very happy to help. 

Thoughts: I personally haven’t celebrated it but I know it’s a big tradition across hispanic cultures. Even in my family my grandparents are big on it and my mom to a lesser extent too. They make very good food and drinks and have a very nice and colorful set up these two days. They never talk to the spirits but it’s a way for them to remember their dead and welcome them for a family dinner again. Some people might think it’s spooky but it’s not. The dead are not mourned but actually celebrated. 

Joint Marriages in Gujarat

Context: The following is an account from the informant, a family friend. She told this during a conversation at a get-together.

Background: This information was regarding the wedding customs of her village in the state of Gujarat in India. She had firsthand knowledge from her family and her own wedding.

Main piece: 

Informant: In our village, it is common and customary to have big joint weddings. Families will get together and plan to have five or six different couples getting married at the same time. 

Me: So do they know each other, or are they just random couples from the village?

Informant: Since most people in the village are either related to each other at least distantly or know each other well, people can coordinate without much difficulty. Everyone gets together to help, and my own grandfather helped cook the food in traditional cauldrons. Usually it ends up working well, and is much more economical since multiple marriages happen at the same venue, and the attendees who would have otherwise had to have been invited separately can all come at the same time.

Me: Wouldn’t there be extra attendees because there are so many families?

Informant: No, most of the villagers will come to any wedding that is happening anyways, so the number is about the same as there would be for just one couple getting married.

Analysis: This is a unique way of performing the wedding ceremony that seems to work well mainly due to the close-knit nature of the village, especially since many of the families of those getting married are actually relatives, whether close or distant. It seemed surprising at first because usually weddings are considered to be a special event for the couple, but this style of marriage seems to have more of a social aspect.

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Me: Could you tell me about the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival? Was it always a festival or was it originally just… tulips! (Fakes jazz hands)

Informant:  When I was in high school, there was no festival. In fact, the tulips themselves were considered waste, because it was from the Washington Bulb Company. They grew the tulips to get the bulbs. They didn’t want the flowers. In fact, they wanted you to come and take the flowers. So, for… student elections, which normally happened around when all the flowers were blooming, we’d go out with garbage bags, and take all of the blooms off the tops of the flowers. Snip off just the buds, put them in garbage bags, and you’d have a whole truck full of garbage bags of just blossoms, no stems, and take it back to school and you could write your name in blossoms, giant piles of blossoms, on the front lawn. So you’d come into school and your name would be spelled out in flowers. Every year. Call them up, and say, “Where should I go to get my blooms?” And they’d tell you which field was in bloom, and you’d go and fill up your truck full of – literally, full of just blossoms.

Me: When did it become an actual festival?

Informant: After I left high school. I was in college. I wasn’t really around. The Chamber of Commerce just decided. Trying to make people come. 

Me: Is there anything associated with the festival or is it just a festival in name?

Informant: No, there are activities that go on the entire month. Probably the best one is the salmon barbeque. The local Kiwanis club hosts a salmon barbeque every weekend – maybe even every night – during the tulip festival. The salmon is actually caught by the members of the Kiwanis club. So that’s good. You just go and have a nice dinner. They get hundreds of salmon, probably go through dozens a night, and they build a giant barbeque out of wood. There are guys who are just in charge of getting the firewood to fire the giant pits where they barbeque the salmon. You eat salmon, coleslaw, corn, and baked potatoes. Potatoes from the farms nearby, corn… ehhhhh… depends on the year. 

Background:
My informant is my father. He is in his mid-fifties, and grew up in a rural farm town in Washington State called Burlington, which is the home of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, the festival described in the above piece. I grew up going to see the tulips every year with my parents and my whole extended family, so the festival is quite important to me as well.

Thoughts:
I’ve attended the tulip festival almost every year for as long as I can remember, even if it was just to drive by and see the huge fields of tulips. It’s one of my favorite things about being from Washington state, getting to go to this tulip festival. The salmon barbeques are a huge community gathering, and it’s a chance to see your entire extended family, all of their friends, all of their friends’ extended family, and so on and so forth. Even if you don’t live there, you feel like a member of the community. The festival itself is very important to me, and I had to miss it this year due to the pandemic, which is devastating. 

Til gul gya, goad bola on Sankrati

Piece

Original script (if applicable)

तील गूळ ग्या, गोड बोला

Phonetic (Roman) script

Til gool gya, goad bola

Transliteration

Sesame jaggery get, sweet talk.

Full translation

Eat sesame jaggery candy and talk sweetly.

Background

This is a Marathi phrase that is said on a holiday called Sankranti. It is spoken to everyone on this day while feeding each other Sesame and Jaggery candy.  

Context

My mother told me this piece of spoken folklore when I asked her about traditions specific to my people: Maharasthraians. This holiday is specifically celebrated by Hindus in honor of the Sun God, Surya. The day is also called Makar Sankrant or Makar Sankranti. It is said that you are supposed to reap benefits from your business or life if you eat the “til gul” (sesame and jaggery rolled into a ball)

Thoughts

    On asking my mother why sesame and jaggery were used specifically, she told me it is because the two ingredients help the body maintain heat in the winter. Sankranti is celebrated in January, one of the coldest months. It varies according to the lunar calendar but the point is that the people of Maharashtra consume sesame and jaggery to keep their body temperature up in  these cold months. In addition to that, this is the beginning of spring and the end of winter which foretells a new harvest. 

Korean Mid-Autumn Festival

Main Piece:

This is a summary of mid-autumn festival in Korea that I talked to my mom about.

Mid-Autumn festival is August 15th on the lunar calendar and falls around mid-September to October. It is called “Chu-seok” and is kind of like Korean thanksgiving in that it is a seasonal holiday that celebrates harvest. The whole family gathers around and make “songpyeon” together, which is a half-moon shaped rice-cake with filling inside. The shape and filling vary from household and region. Some put in mashed beans or chesnuts but a more popular filling for children is combination of sesame seed and sugar.

My mom says she grew up eating the sesame seed and sugar songpyeon and had the mashed beans filling for the first time when she married my dad. The rest of the food eaten at chu-seok is similar to those eaten during lunar new year—meats, savoury pancakes.

Background:

I knew about Korean mid-autumn festival from participating in them when I was younger but didn’t know the exact details of the celebration and thought I would ask my mom to see if she had any insights about the tradition.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I thought it would be an interesting collection for this project because different countries celebrate Mid-Autumn festival differently.

Thoughts:

I don’t think mid-autumn festival was very big in my family. We had songpyeon but that was about it. I’m not sure if there are any activities that we do like sebae in New Year (refer to this post on Korean Lunar New Year for more information about this activity). I think traditionally, there were activities, but they haven’t really been kept today. Instead, I think Chuseok is about spending time with family and celebrating the year’s harvest.

Vietnamese New Year

This is a conversation with my friend, identified as C, about Vietnamese New Year. I am identified as IC in this transcription.

IC: When is vietnamese new year? What is it called—is there a vietnamese name for it?

C: It’s called Tết and takes place on the first day of the first month of the lunar year, so usually late Jan or early February

IC: What kind of foods do you eat?

C: My family doesn’t celebrate super traditionally. We usually eat potluck style with a mix of foods. Someone usually will bring a pig, and there’s Gỏi cuốn, which is spring roll with peanut sauce. Also, there’s Chả giò, which is basically an egg roll, Bánh cuốn, rice flour with meat and Chả lụa, which is pork sausage. Most of them are eaten with Nước mam, a diluted fish sauce. We usually have that with a mix of maybe duck, vegetables like green beans or Brussel sprouts or a casserole, sometimes potatoes, a fried rice dish, fried chicken wings.

IC: Is there a reason for eating certain foods?

C: No, not that I know of. There might be but my family isn’t super traditional so I’m not sure.

IC: Are there any activities that you do?

C: Yeah, the older people give the red envelopes with money to younger ones. We call it lì xì. I think there are also other activities that people traditionally do, but we don’t do them so I’m not sure.

IC: That’s cool, Korea has a similar tradition where elders give money to younger ones.

C: Yeah, it’s probably a similar tradition in Asian cultures.

IC: Are there traditional Vietnamese clothes that you wear?

C: My grandma wears the Vietnamese dress called áo dài and people like the colour red, which represents good luck.

Background:

My informant is a 22-year-old half-Vietnamese and half-American who was my roommate last year. Although she doesn’t celebrate it very traditionally as she mentioned, she agreed to answer a few questions when I mentioned this project and asked her about it.

Context:

This was collected over a casual conversation on FaceTime, as I couldn’t meet with her in person since she went back home to the Bay Area amidst the current pandemic situation.

Thoughts:

I didn’t know anything about Vietnamese New Year and hearing about the foods they eat and traditional clothing they wear was interesting to hear. I found the similarity of the money envelope in Korean New Year celebration fascinating. It shows that while traditions are different around the world, some of them have similar roots.

Chinese New Year

This is a transcription of an interview with a friend from high school, identified as A. In this piece, I am identified as IC.

IC: So, tell me about Chinese New Year. Where does it come from?

A: Lunar New Year is something that happens at the beginning of every calendar year and so it’s also often referred to as the spring festival. There are 12 animals that represent each year and how this myth came to be is that there were these animals who were basically told to engage in a race to determine who would be symbols for each year. The twelve animals in order are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. The rat is first because it rode on the ox’s back and cheated.

I heard about a variation that the cat was tricked out of the race by the mouse which is why they hate each other. I forget exactly how the cat was tricked out, but this supposedly also explains why cat chases the mouse so much.

IC: What does your family does to celebrate? Like what do you eat and what activities do you do?

A: And so one of the things that we eat every year is this thing called 年糕 (nin gou) which translates to new year cake and so it’s this It’s like not really a cake it’s like a slice of it’s like glutinous. We also eat 蘿蔔糕 (lo baak guo) which is like a radish cake and it’s my personal favourite. Then there are traditions associated with it and the most popular with children at the very least is the giving of the red package.

IC: Yeah, I remember those.

A: Yeah, so it’s married couples, and only married couples, give away red packets to the younger generation.

IC: Why is it red?

A: It’s a symbolism of colour because red a lucky colour in Chinese culture and that’s why you see in Chinese brides wear red during weddings, simply because it’s a very lucky colour. So, by giving red package, the deal here is that you’re helping give them luck for that year.

IC: How much money is in the envelope?

A:  That depends on the person giving the envelope. So usually newlyweds give less because they won’t have as much money and also, they don’t want to build high expectations. But the tradition is called拜年 (bai nian) and first you go to your father’s grandparents place to pay respects for the new year and then you go to your other grandparent’s place. I think that’s the order but I’m not really particularly sure about that because my dad’s parents live in LA, so I usually just go to my mom’s side of the family for that. It’s just going there spending time with your grandparents and like wishing them well for the new year.

IC: Are there any specific things that you’re supposed to do to pay respects or is it just like talking to them and spending time with them?

A: Well, this applies to the whole festival in general actually but there are a lot of four-word sayings that you say.  They are blessings that you say to people. Some examples are 年年有餘 (nin nin yau yu) which means “may you be prosperous every year” and 快高長大 (fai gou zheung dai) which means “grow up well”. The main one is 恭喜發財 (gong hei faat choi) which means “happy new year”.

IC: Yeah, I remember that phrase. Are there any other foods that you eat? Like aren’t you supposed to eat fish or something? That’s what I remember from Chinese class in high school.

A: Are we? I don’t know… I don’t think we do that.

IC: Oh, okay. I mean, I guess it’s different for everyone. Like you don’t have to eat everything you’re supposed to.

A: Oh, there is this one thing where Chinese households have a candy box during New Year. I don’t know why but there’s a box of candy and sweet stuff in every household.

Background:

My informant is 23 years old and she is my friend from high school, which was in Hong Kong. Though she is American, she went She went to New York for college and graduated last year. She is currently working in Hong Kong. She knows about this tradition because her family is from Hong Kong and celebrates Lunar New Year.

Context:

I asked her about this tradition because I vaguely remember learning about Chinese traditions for Lunar New Year during Chinese class in high school. I thought it would be interesting to ask someone who comes from a Chinese/Hong Kong background to ask about the specifics since I don’t know much about it. All I knew was from textbooks designed for speakers learning it as a second language.

Thoughts:

Hearing my friend talk about how her family celebrates it and the traditions that she knows about was interesting to hear as different countries celebrate it differently. It was informative to learn about some foods that she eats and sayings other than the popular phrase that means happy new year.

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival and Myth about the Moon

This is a transcription of an interview with a friend from high school, identified as A. In this piece, I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about Mid-Autumn festival?

A: Okay, so Mid-Autumn festival is a festival that is closely tied to Chinese traditions of celebrating the harvest. It’s in the fall, typically in late September or October usually September. And so, a large part of the Mid-Autumn festival is the celebration of family gatherings as well because the roundness of the moon is supposed to be symbolic of everyone sitting around the table at family gatherings. There’s also another huge component, which is moon worship that comes from a Chinese myth.

IC: Okay, can you tell me about that myth?

A: Yeah, so there was this man called Hou Yi who was really good at archery. One day, there was a huge drought because there were ten different suns in the sky, and he shot down nine of the suns and left the only last one up so we could still have sunlight.

IC: Wait, I feel like I’ve heard this before.

A: Yeah, you probably heard it in like high school.

IC: Probably. Anyway, continue.

A: Right, so this immortal was impressed by Hou Yi, so he gave him an elixir for immortality, but he didn’t want to be immortal without his wife and it was only a one-person kind of deal. He decided to not take it and instead kept it and have his wife, Chang’e be the keeper of the elixir to guard it. But one day when he was out doing something official like, official business or whatever, Chang’e was approached by Hou Yi’s apprentice who demanded that she give him the elixir. Instead of handing it over she took the potion herself and became immortal. Then, she ascended to the moon and so now people worship Chang’e as a kind of goddess of the moon to commemorate her bravery and quick thinking.

My family doesn’t worship her, but I guess it depends on other people or what you believe in, like I’m sure many people still worship gods in China, especially in more rural communities.

IC: What does your family do in mid-Autumn festival to celebrate it?

A: So, we gather together as a family and a popular tradition in China is eating mooncakes. Mooncakes are like… I’m going to call them pastries or like cakes that are made with really dense white lotus paste and most of the traditional ones have an egg yolk in the middle. Recently, there have been a lot of creative kind of recreations over the years. For example, recently, there have been mochi ones and like sesame flavoured ones.

IC: I miss mooncakes, like the ones without yolk. The ones with yolk are gross. Is there anything else your family does?

A: Same, we’re the minority. Uh, not really. It’s just mostly a nighttime celebration but lanterns are a part of the celebration, I think. When I was younger, I would go outside with an electric paper lantern and play around and hang them up. The reason why lanterns are important is not very well known. It seems to be that lanterns have become a symbol of the festival.

Background:

My informant is 23 years old and she is my friend from high school, which was in Hong Kong. She went to New York for college and graduated last year. She is currently working in Hong Kong.

Context:

I asked her about this tradition because I vaguely remember learning about Chinese traditions for Mid-Autumn Festival during Chinese class in high school. I also remember eating mooncakes in Hong Kong, even though my family didn’t celebrate it the same way. I thought it would be interesting to ask someone who comes from a Chinese/Hong Kong background to ask about the specifics since I don’t know much about it. All I knew was from textbooks designed for speakers learning it as a second language.

Thoughts:

Hearing my friend talk about how her family celebrates it and the traditions that she knows about was interesting to hear as different countries celebrate it differently. It was informative to learn about the story of Hou Yi and Chang’e and although worshipping the moon goddess is something everyone does, it was still interesting to learn about the tradition and the importance of the moon.

Korean Lunar New Year Traditions

This is a summary of lunar new year traditions in Korea that my mom told me about.

Lunar New Year is based on the lunar calendar so it’s either late January or February. It changes every year based on when January 1st is on the lunar calendar. It is called ‘Seol-lal”. In Korea, you eat rice-cake soup because it is believed that you get a year older when you have the rice-cake soup. There are also other foods, like savoury Korean pancakes and meat dishes like bulgogi or galbi. Traditionally, meat was expensive and rare, so it was a saved for special celebrations like new year.

Children also do “sebae” to elders, which is a traditional Korean bow reserved for new year. It is done out of respect and to wish them luck in the new year. In return, elders give them money along with words of wisdom. The words of wisdom often wish them well on their studies and work.

Traditionally, people used to wear “hanbok” a traditional Korean clothing but it’s less common now except for young children or newlyweds.

Background:

I knew about Korean Lunar New Year celebrations from participating in them myself, but I thought I’d ask my mom about it to see if she had any insights to why we eat what we do and any reasons for celebrating with sebae.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I thought it would be an interesting collection for this project because different countries celebrate Lunar New Year differently.

Thoughts:

Having spent a part of my life in Hong Kong, where lunar new year traditions are very different, I always stuck to Korean traditions with my family. I think it’s fascinating that different cultures celebrate it differently, even though it’s at the same time of the year. I haven’t been able to celebrate with the whole family in the past few years since I wasn’t home in Korea, but I still try to eat rice-cake soup if I can. If not on lunar new year, I’ll try to eat it on new year, like January 1st. For some reason, most Korean restaurants in the US are open during New Years while other restaurants are closed.