USC Digital Folklore Archives / Game
Childhood
Game
Humor
Magic

Childrens Magic Trick: The Disappearing Bracelet Knot

Background: The performance is a magic trick, a form of slight of hand that uses a hair scrunchie or similarly elastic bracelet, the informant (RW) learned it on the playground from one of her friends.
RW: It’s so cool!
MW: What do you like about it?
RW: When you do it right everyone gets really excited!
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Context: Informant(RW) is a 12 year old student who’s interests include spending time with family, and riding bicycles. RW shared this particular magic trick with multiple members of her family during their annual Passover Seder, in this case RW, her sister, and I were getting paper from the garage so that RW’s father could teach us to make paper airplanes when she asked to show me a magic trick.

Performance:
RW: Ok, ok, so first you twist the rope like an 8 on your wrist
RW: You do that and you see this part? [RW points to the loop formed by her bracelet]
RW: The under part [she gestures to the under side of the bracelet], and you pull that part into the little circle but not too tight.
RW: If you flick it really fast the knot disappears!

Steps to reproduce:
1)Twist a section of the bracelet into a loop
2)Take the underside of the bracelet a pinky length away from the loop and pull it through to make a knot, loosely
3) Flick the end of the bracelet that sticks out of the knot and it disappears
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Analysis:
The trick is a way to “get one over” on one’s peers and even adults. Thus the child demonstrates “magic” that they know to be a reflection of their own knowledge. The informant’s pride is the key marker here, this piece of folklore is a performance passed from person to person for the benefit of the people around them. Likewise this is a display of trickery, the goal is to fool, and thus in harmless deception traverse the social taboo of lying. This gives the performer the space to engage in a behavior that is generally seen as wrong in a way that will actually net them praise.

Childhood
Festival
Foodways
Game
general
Holidays
Material
Myths
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Afikoman: Jewish Holiday Folk Game

Context: AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions
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Performance:
MW: So what do you know about the Afikoman?
AW: The Matzah, the bread we eat during Passover, because it represents the fact that when the jews had to flee Egypt and slavery. They left in such haste that the bread did not have a chance to rise, that’s why we have matzah.
AW: So, we eat the matzah all week so that we remember what happened to us, and during the seder…the person that leads the seder
[AW flips through her Passover Haggadah]
AW: explains to everyone…REMINDS not explains, what the bread means to us as a people
AW: they break it in half, one half to be eaten, and the other to be set aside for later. Traditionally that half is hidden by the oldest person at the seder for the children to find after the festival meal.

MW: Do you have any, like, special house rules?
AW: So we make rules, first the Afikoman has to be hidden in the house. Depending on the age of the children, if they’re very young it has to be in one specific room in the house to make it easier for them to find it. If they’re older it’s anywhere downstairs. It’s usually hidden by the person who led the seder.

MW: Ok
AW: Someone says “on your mark get set, go” and the kids race to find it, if there are young kids we hide it again so all the kids get a chance to find it.

Meaning
MW: So what does the Afikoman mean to you?
AW: It’s just part of the festival, it’s nice, you know what it’s nice because I remember the nights where we were all to grown up to do it. So it’s comforting to see the next generation carrying on our traditions.
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Analysis:
The Afikoman is wrapped which serves the practical purpose of keeping it, a dessert item, separated from the rest of the food. But the wrapping also serves a symbolic role as mimicking the way Ancient Jews would have wrapped their matzah as they fled Egypt. This mimicking is key to the overarching theme of Passover, that all Jews see themselves as having been liberated from Egypt, not just their ancestors. So in repeating the wrapping behavior modern Jews inhabit the role of their ancestors. The Talmud, a commentary on the Torah states that “We snatch matzahs on the night of Passover in order that the children should not fall asleep.” Thus, Afikomen hunting becomes a way to engage children with short attention spans during what is a fairly long religious event.
Likewise, the matzah is split in half during the seder. This might represent the delayed nature of Jewish salvation, the matzah eaten during the Seder representing the exodus itself, while the Afikomen matzah, hidden away and eaten only after the Seder ends, represents either the Mosciach, or Messiah’s final redemption of the Jewish people, or perhaps their eventual return to their homeland Israel after 40 years in the desert. For alternate uses of the Afikoman in Jewish households as a pendant for blessing see What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish

Ochs, Vennessa. “What Makes A Jewish Home Jewish?” What Makes a Jewish Home Jewish?, an Article by Vanessa Ochs, in Cross Currents, the Quarterly Journal of Opinion Covering Religion and the World., www.crosscurrents.org/ochsv.htm.

Customs
Earth cycle
Game
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Peruvian New Years Tradition: Run the Suitcase Around the Block

AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons. AS grew up in Texas after her family moved there from Peru.
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AS: My family had a lot of traditions for New Years, I’ve heard a lot of people do this one though

AS: We fill like a like a suitcase of some sort and we run it around the block and that’s supposed to represent like good luck in traveling and like safe travels and all that stuff.

AS: So my mom makes me do it every year cuz you yeah gotta have that good luck

MW: Do you have any particular attachment to this?

AS: I mean I would still do it if I didn’t live in South Central LA and that’s dangerous

AS: I guess it’s it’s it’s kind of just like a superstitious thing to me

AS: Or it’s just like it’s a cute tradition that makes New Year’s feel different than what like normal people celebrate even it doesn’t have like a very deep impact I guess it also fills me with nostalgia for things you did as a kid so you feel like you should do it anyways.
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Analysis:
The symbolism of running around the block mimics the cyclical nature of the calendar year and separates it from the idea of linear time. The suitcase is also filled, meaning that the carrier takes home with them when they travel and provides a direct connection to home and family life. Likewise, the fact that you run around the block and return to the starting point sort of carries the message that no matter where you go you can always return home, this centers the importance of home even in a tradition that’s all about travel. The desire for safety also reveals anxieties about leaving the home. Travel to new places is scary, a journey into the unknown thus the hope for good luck works in combination with the carrying of the known with you and the promise of a safe return to that known space.

Customs
Festival
Game
Holidays
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Megilah Reading

Every Purim Jews congregate to listen to a reading from a book called the Megilah which features the backstory of Purim. It’s the most outwardly religious part of Purim. The congregation is encouraged to be active and loud, reacting verbally to every single mention of the characters’ names in the story. Mordecai and Ester (the Jewish heroes) get jubilant cheers every time their name is read while the bad guy Haman is booed. The congregation is even traditionally encouraged to drink so much that they can’t tell whose names to boo or cheer.

Again, this is the religious part of Purim but the encouragement to chime in makes it stand out from other Jewish holidays in a way that fits the extra cheerful celebration of Purim. While this folklorist’s congregation doesn’t drink during the reading, it does fit the rest of the relatively lax nature of the event.

Festival
Game
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tug-of-War

Text:  KT: We have a giant tug-of-war, like literally a million people pulling at a single rope at a time. It happens every year, just for fun.

AT: To symbolize what, were you celebrating something?

KT: No idea, maybe we were. But every year there is a rope that is about 3 meters in diameter, and there are offsets of ropes that pull out. And it’s literally a million people, and they shut down the biggest freeway on the island and they see which side wins. And you can just pick whatever side you want. There’s people climbing on the ropes and shouting, it just gets really crazy.

AT: Does someone usually win?

KT: Oh yeah, every time. And there’s usually like three deaths every year. They just don’t give a shit. Five-year-old me was terrified, it’s very dangerous.

Context: KT was born in Okinawa, Japan and lived there with his Japanese mother and British father for the first nine years of his life. Though memories of his time in Japan are fading as KT ages, he still remembers specific things about life in Japan that were ingrained on his young mind during his early years. The folklore above was shared over lunch one afternoon during which I asked KT if he thought he had any folklore he could share with me from Japan. Most of the material he remembers is because he either got in trouble for going against the superstition or his involvement in the practice scared him. In this case, the practice scared him. 

Interpretation: KT doesn’t remember the specifics of this festival due to his young age during the time of his participation. He remembers the practices of it, not the festival’s purpose, which is understandable for a child. KT did a good job of providing a primary account of the methodology that goes along with fighting over the largest ropes in the world. Though he thought the people of Okinawa were participating in this large-scale game just for fun, the festival has actually been around for hundreds of years. Tugs-of-war were once held throughout the island to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and to pray for rain. Everyone in the community took part in these rituals symbolizing Okinawa’s spirit of yuimaaru (cooperation). It can be assumed that the festival isn’t as important to the harvest as it used to be, but it still exists as a symbol of Okinawan community.

 

Customs
Game
Humor
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Indian Wedding Custom: Stealing Shoes

Text:

BH: “So one of the wedding rituals that all, or like most, of the Indian weddings have, is the joota churai [shoe stealing] of the groom, so basically the [to-be] sister-in-law that uh, whenever, so Indian wedding require you to remove your shoes whenever you enter into that pandar [ceremonial area] where the groom and the bride [perform the official religious marriage rituals] – they have to remove their shoes because shoes are considered to be something dirty and they’re entering into a pure religious place and that’s why they are asked to remove the shoes. So, as soon as the groom removes his shoes, it a battle, or kind of like a battle, between the groom’s side and the bride’s side because the bride’s sides – the sister-in-laws – are supposed to steal the groom’s shoes and at the end of the wedding [ceremony], the sister-in-law will present the shoes back to the groom in exchange for some money. It is like a ritual which shows the relationship between a sister-in-law and – like a very friendly relationship – between the groom and his sister-in-law, it kind of helps them bond.”

MS: “Have you yourself ever been involved in the stealing?”

BH: “So basically what happened – there’s a varmala ceremony [bride and groom exchange “necklaces” made of flowers, similar to leis, similar to the exchange of rings] that happens in Indian weddings. So the groom was [lifted] by his brothers onto their shoulders so that he could put the varmala on his bride. And during that time, all the sister-in-laws – because he was at a height – they, uh, removed his shoes without him knowing and we ran away and we hid them in a car and the whole time when he had to pose for pictures, he was just barefoot and then he had to go for the ceremony [where he would have had to remove his shoes anyway] so it didn’t really matter. But it was a good ice-breaking session for us, that allowed us to bond. Because then we had to uh – so once the wedding ceremony was over, we came to him with his shoes and we were basically bargaining with him for how much he’d be willing to buy his shoes for. Since there were a lot of saliyans [sister-in-laws], we negotiated to a high amount and in the end, it depends on the groom and his family as to what uh amount they want to give and that is split equally among the sisters…It helped us make – uh, it was an ice-breaking thing for us, because the next time I met him [the groom], I was very comfortable because I had led the negotiation earlier because I was the closest sister-in-law so it was very easy for me to maintain a good rapport with him later as well.”

MS: “Does it matter where you hide the shoes?”

BH: “Not really. You just have to make sure you hide them well because if the groom’s side takes the shoes, then you will not get your money. So we usually hide them in the cars so we aren’t really bothered during the long ceremonies that we have in Indian wedding that the shoes might be stolen back by the groom’s side.”

[Talking more about the negotiation over the shoes]

BH: “It’s a very very hard negotiation, so all of the bride’s family and the groom’s family come in to support both of them, though the bride doesn’t say anything even though she is pressured to say something, she will not say anything because she does not want to take anyone’s side…In the end, we just take – as the sister-in-laws, we just take whatever the groom is willing to give and whatever his capacity is to give and that is equally – but it helps because we make jokes about it in the future. Because a sali’s [sister-in-law’s] relationship with her jija [brother-in-law] is very fun and relaxed – it’s like friend-cum-brother so they should be able to have open conversations and this is one of the ways to establish that.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India. The conversation was in response to my question about any wedding traditions that the informant has been involved in or seen in the past. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. Certain key terms have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

This was a very culturally dense discussion that took for granted a basic understanding of how Indian weddings work. Focusing specifically on the one ritual of stealing the groom’s shoes, it seems to be, as the informant says, a means to establish a relationship between the groom and the sister-in-laws. But it is also notable that the entire family joins the discussion about how much the groom is going to pay for his shoes, whose side you support becomes an identifier of whether you belong to the groom’s side or the bride’s side. In the same vein, the bride is not supposed to partake in this discussion because she is now supposed to be a part of both the groom and the bride’s sides. The exchange of money itself is also interesting and may have some historical basis in the fact that traditionally the expenses of the wedding ceremonies were paid for entirely by the bride’s side of the family – this seems to be one of the place where the bride’s side can some monetary and symbolic compensation.

Also interesting is the change that the informant implicitly mentioned from the traditional “battle” like nature of the ritual, where each side is supposed to steal back and forth from each other, to the more modern “we just hide them in the car and forget about them till the end of the ceremony”. Even though the practice has changed, its social significance persists.

Game
Gestures
Kinesthetic

“Black and White” Chinese Children’s Game

[The subject is MW. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: MW is my grandmother, who was born in Shanghai and then lived in Hong Kong later on in her youth. She moved to San Francisco as a young adult and has lived in the Bay Area for the last six decades. She is a native Mandarin speaker, but is also fluent in English. I sat down with her and asked her to talk about some stories from her childhood. Before this, she had mentioned a “black and white” game that she played with the other kids, and I asked her to return to that subject and explain it to me.

ME: You mentioned a “black and white” game earlier that you play with your palm.

MW: Yeah, yeah.

ME: Could you explain to me what that is?

MW: Nothing. Oh this? [Holds out hand, palm facing up] Just, we play…

ME: How do you play it?

MW: So we say… and then it’s like, [holds hand behind back, then moves to hold it out in front of her, palm facing up]. You play, it’s the game, right? And then we play game like everybody go, [holds hand behind her back] and only you [holds out hand, palm facing up] is white, is good. Right?

It’s like, we always go like this [holds hand behind back], and then sometimes I go like this [holds hand out, palm up]. Right? That means… I won.

ME: Could you explain why that means you won?

MW: It’s like, we play, who will do okay? If the game, if you throw the ball. Who will be the first one to do it. So we don’t let them know [moves hand back behind her back], and ‘one, two, THREE!’[brings hand back out, palm facing up], right? And with three people, then it’s like we all white, and then this one, this [turns hand over so that palm is facing down], is black.

ME: So ‘white’ is your palm facing up and ‘black’ is your palm facing down?

MW: Yeah.

ME: So how many people do you play it with?

MW: You play it about three people.

ME: If everyone has their palm like this [I have my palm facing down], what does that mean?

MW: Then it’s nothing. But if it’s ‘one, two, three’ and one is out [puts out palm facing up], then he won.

ME: Then why can’t you do this [palm facing up] every time to win?

MW: Because one can start, and then the other ones can follow you, I don’t know. So it’s everybody, like this [palm facing up], then that’s fine, but it should be [flips palm, facing down].

Thoughts: This game stood out to me when MW first mentioned it in passing because I had never heard of a hand game like this, and she called it “Black and White,” which was interesting because the two opposing colors seem to appear a lot in folklore. From what I gathered by my grandma’s description/demonstration, three children play the game and they start with their hands behind their backs. Then, on the count of three, they all put out their hand with it either facing palm up (white), or palm down (black). This part I am the most unsure of, but I think that the goal of the game is to be the only person of the three to have the “white” hand or the “black” hand. Thus, neither “black” or “white” is better, instead, the winner would be the person who chooses how they place their hand uniquely. This is surprising to me, because typically in children’s stories with the colors black and white, one signifies good and the other evil, but in this game they are only meant to signify opposites.

Game
Holidays

Easter Egg Game

[The subject is SA. His words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: SA is a friend of mine, and a sophomore student in college. He has lived in Michigan for his entire life until coming to USC. His entire family is Armenian, though he is the first generation to be born in the United States and his only language is English. Here, he is explaining a game with dyed eggs that he and his siblings have played on Easter for as long as he can remember:

SA: So, on Easter we play this game, where, um, we dye a bunch of eggs, like, how you would normally dye Easter eggs, um, and, like, you basically play against each other, where you take turns, where one person will hold their egg while the other person, like, cracks, like, tries to crack it. And if both sides of your egg would be cracked, like, you’re out, um, and, like, whoever has the last egg wins… the big prize.

Thoughts: After asking SA more questions about the story, he told me that this is a game that exists outside of his family and he believes it is Armenian, although it could exist in other cultures. I found the game interesting because most Easter traditions we are familiar with in the United States involve eggs, and one of them is dying eggs, which he says is the first part of this game. I was not aware until now that it was popular for other cultures celebrating Easter outside of the United States to dye eggs. The part that I had never heard of until this interview was the cracking of the eggs against one another to see which egg was the strongest. I wonder if this game originated in Armenia, or if it came out of the blending of American and Armenian tradition.

Game

Hitori Kakurenbo – Hide and Seek Alone

The informant is marked IN.

IN: It’s kind of like a cult game, like in the same genre of the Ouija board, but like different…. And it’s called, like, Hitori Kakurenbo – Hide and Seek Alone. And it’s like, this elaborate ritual where you invite this ghost to come play hide and seek with you. And to do so you need to do like all this crazy shit. Like you need to get this doll, take all the stuffing out, and then you need to stuff it with rice, and they you need to put, like, a .. you need to put like blood, or a fingernail, or like a hair trimming into the doll. Like connect it with your spirit. And then you, what is it you have to like drown it in a bathtub and tie it with a string? Which are all elements of like, there’s some in Japanese folklore culture I believe. I know the rice has something to do with life, which makes sense cause it’s like, a carb. And i have read online that people did it and nothing worked. But then others say they did it and like, the TVs were changing. Apparently a korean version called living  doll, where like you take a doll – and I forgot to mention that in the original, Hitori Kakurenbo, it’s important that you get this stuffed animal that doesn’t look human-like. Because if you get one that looks human it has more power or something like that, which i guess kind of makes sense, like I don’t know? But living doll, you get a real ass doll, and then you invite it to like come, I don’t know, turn your lights off or eat you or something. And apparently people are like scared at shit that happened.

Context: I met the informant for lunch and she brought up an old game she heard about from her friend.

Background: The informant is a second year student at USC who is Korean-American. She heard about this game from a friend in Saint Louis, where she grew up. She believes her friend read about this game online on a website, likely Reddit.

Analysis: This was intriguing to me because it’s like a very ritualistic version of Ouija, calling out a spirit but adding in a physical voodoo-esque doll. It’s also interesting that people out there are willing to try this out in hopes of meeting or playing with a ghost.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Game
general
Myths
Protection
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

American Street Crack Superstition

Main Piece:

“Step on a crack and break your mom’s back”

Context and Analysis:

The informant claims the superstition is common knowledge. When asked when she first heard it she insisted not knowing when she picked it up, she just assumed it was common knowledge, “Everyone knows that when you are walking, you are not supposed to step on a crack it’s just what everyone says.” The informant does not know where the superstition originates from. The informant does not believe this superstition is true and therefore she does not apply it to her daily life. The informant states, “I know it is not true because I have stepped on a lot of cracks and nothing has happened.”

Like most superstitions, this one uses the threat of something valuable to encourage people to follow it. If something valuable is at stakes many times even if people do not believe in the superstition they will follow it to avoid any potential curse. This superstition emphasizes the dangers of stepping on a crack which can lead to breaking your mother’s back.

It is interesting to note the informant’s belief that this superstition is known worldwide. Often when someone does not know the origin of where something comes from or if they heard it at an early enough age, they assume everyone is familiar with the same things they are. Due to the understanding my informant has of the superstition I want to infer she heard it when she was in her early childhood years.

I also think it is important to note my informants reasoning as to what makes this superstition relevant. She states ‘everyone’ knows this. By emphasizing the use of a lot of people following a tradition or employing a saying, this gives any work reliability and validation.

There also seems to be a correlation with how difficult the superstition is to follow and how many people follow it. Many people follow superstitions when it does not inconvenience them. Therefore, when you have a superstition like this where it takes a lot of effort to avoid cracks everywhere one goes, it is less likely people will follow it.  Among children, this superstition can act as a game where a child will aim to avoid the cracks on the pavement and if he fails the punishment is the belief that his or her mom’s back will be broken.

[geolocation]