USC Digital Folklore Archives / Holidays
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Praying for a Good Harvest: Indian Festival of Lohri

Text:

S: “Lohri is basically celebrated in Punjab and Haryana [states of India] and also in other parts of the country but has different significance you know across the country… So basically it’s the time when you uh sow the fresh crop…But so what we do for Lohri is we burn a bonfire kind of a thing and uh the auspicious thing to eat and to throw into the fire is uh groundnuts, revdri [specific food item], and uh popcorn – so these are supposed to be auspicious and then you pray to this pious fire, the bonfire, and pray that this harvest is good. And so the crops are supposed to be harvested in April and this festival is in January so you basically want the next harvest to be good because you’re now sowing for that round of harvesting essentially. And also it marks the going away of peak winters, and the coming in of spring, and like just like the going away of cold weather.”

S: “It is also like celebrated with the neighbors, like it’s a community thing. And the first Lohri of a child or of a newly married couple is very important – the family hosts that Lohri and calls all their relatives and friends over and then you know serve them dinner after they all sit around the bonfire and offer their prayers and everything. And everyone has dinner around the bonfire and eats together and it kind of brings in a lot of social interaction also.”

S: “And if it’s not like your first Lohri, then people just get together and they do like potluck, and they bring like one-one dish – you still have to organize it – but people just get one dish and do it together.”

S: “You also have these specific songs associated with Lohri, I don’t remember them but um, the kids are supposed to be going to everybody’s house and singing those songs and asking for Lohri – like you do in Halloween – and people give them money. I mean we used to do that when we were kids but I don’t think people do it anymore.”

S: “So this day is very auspicious, 13thJanuary, or 12th, it’s very auspicious, and with the Hindu calendar, it’s the beginning of the month of, I think it’s the month called Makar, I’m not too sure about that. But the thing is like, so the Hindus everywhere celebrate it but in their own way so I think it’s called Pongal in the South [South India] and Bihu in Assam [another Indian state] and it’s called Makar Sakranti in UP [another Indian state]. And then they have their own ways of celebrating it, like the Haryanvis [residents of the state of Haryana] celebrate it by eating kichdi and ghee [specific dish] and UP people celebrate it by having til ke ladoo [another specific dish]and I don’t know about Bihu, how they celebrate it but, so basically that day is auspicious in the Hindu calendar so it is celebrated in various ways in different parts of the country.”

 

Context:

The informant is a middle-aged doctor from India. This conversation took over the phone around the time of the festival mentioned. The informant mentioned to me her plans for the weekend involved celebrations related to this festival, and I was curious and asked her to elaborate more on what the festival was. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses. Certain key terms that were originally in Hindi have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets.

 

Interpretation:

Sowing and harvest festivals are pretty common globally and are especially prominent in an agrarian society like India. The unpredictability of the many factors that are needed for a good harvest leads to folk traditions like this one. However, their influence expands even to those who are not part of the community of farmers and in this context the meaning and function of the festival changes to be about regional cultural heritage. The informant mentions how the same festival is celebrated across India under different names, and with different specific practices even though all its variations are about praying for a good harvest. In this light, the details of how you celebrate the festival tie you into a particular community – for the informant, it is the community of people from Punjab/Haryana. The informant also mentions this emphasis on community, and how the festival is especially important to establish entry into the community by new members – whether by birth or by marriage. Further, the ties of the earth cycle (which is at a period just before spring) to the life cycle are also seen through the focus on children and the Halloween-like tradition of going door to door and asking for money. It is also interesting how the symbolic foods to throw in the fire have evolved to include foods that only exist in the modern world – namely, popcorn – and the informant spoke of them with the same reverence as the more typical foods that are groundnuts and revri.

 

Annotations:

For a more detailed description of Lohri, including an example of the songs the informant mentioned, refer to p. 26 of the book Let’s Know Festivals of India by Kartar Singh Bhalla (2005, Star Publications).

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Legends

Leprechaun Traps

The following is a folkloric tradition that my informant participated in when she was young. My informant is a 45 year old women with Irish heritage. The informant will be referred to as M.

Text:

M: When I was young my brother and I used to set up traps for leprechauns and try to trap them. We would put out chocolate gold coins, and set a combination of traps for leprechauns. Some were holes with false tops, so the leprechaun could fall in and not get out, others were boxes that fell on top of the leprechauns when they went to grab the gold. We never caught any leprechauns, but the traps were often set off, and much of the gold was missing, as if the leprechauns always outsmarted us. I made these traps when I was about 5-7 years old.

Context: M got the idea for her trap from her grandmother, who was from Ireland. M’s grandmother told her that she had often seen leprechauns in Ireland and M was inspired to try and catch a leprechaun. M said that this activity was one of her favorite things as a child, the idea of imaging a leprechaun and catching one enthralled her. M thinks the message behind this act is allowing children’s imagination to thrive and grow. M also emphasized that is was a good way to share culture, because a lot of non Irish children also wanted to make leprechaun traps and catch a leprechaun. M says that for her entire childhood she always wanted to go to Ireland because she thought it would be much easier to see leprechauns there, just as her grandma said.

Analysis: I relate to this story especially well. When I was in kindergarten my teacher helped every student in the class create a leprechaun trap out of a shoe box on Saint Patricks Day. Similarly to M, when we came back in the morning, all the traps had been set off but there were no leprechauns to be found. The teacher told us that when she came to the classroom that morning, she had seen the leprechaun running off. All of us in the classroom went crazy looking for the leprechaun all day. Similar to M, this was one of my fondest memories from childhood. This idea of setting a leprechaun trap, shows the imagination, and creativity of children. It represents children as pure and having wild imaginations, believing things without question. It also shows parents and older adults trying to help cultivate and encourage this creativity and imagination. 

Customs
Holidays
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cutting Hair for Chinese New Year

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

ME: Can you tell me about a Chinese New Year tradition?

MW: Chinese New Year, or Chinese New Year eve, we will put the whole table. Mother cook, or have the servant cook, all kinds of goodies, but we cannot eat first. But they still put the wine and the chopstick, and the whole table, but that’s let the ancestor come, ancestor, I mean we don’t see them- the people already pass away like my grandma, or grandma, you know? My mother always, we cannot- the kids eat later, just have to let them, still, put the best food, all warm, but we cannot touch the chair. It’s grand-grandpa, and grand-grandma, let them eat first. And after the time, bring the food back to the kitchen, and then bring it back and then we can eat.

And then also, in Chinese New Year, we have to go to have a haircut, the kids all have to go have a haircut.

ME: Why is that?

MW: It’s like for a new year, then you have to clean up the whole thing. And the next day, we have to go to, for our auntie, and grandma, those kowtow. And then they give us a red envelope.

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 traditions and stories she remembers from living in China.

Thoughts: I am half-Chinese and have lived in the United States for my entire life, so while the tradition of eating a big dinner on Chinese New Year is familiar to me, but the less common tradition of getting a haircut for the new year was not. I believe that this tradition could be associated with Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic, because the chopping of the hair seems to represent chopping off what you no longer want to hold onto from the last year, and creates good luck going forward.

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.

Folk medicine
Foodways
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nepali Winter Holiday Food

Background

Informant: S.S. - a current Senior in college in Indiana, originally from Nepal.

Context

S.S. entire family still resides in Nepal and he always felt very connected to his heritage through food and by cooking the traditional meals from his home country. The collector has personally enjoyed S.S. meals and has observed the performance of Nepali culture and heritage while cooking with S.S. When prompted about special holiday meals or dishes in Nepal, the informant shared this which I have transcribed below:

Main Piece

“So we eat something called Kwati which is like a soup/stew. And it’s made out of 9 different beans- black eyed peas, cow peas, black lentils, chickpeas, adzuki, fava beans, soybeans, Mung dal, green peas. They’re all soaked before and cooked for an hour and a half along with garlic and ginger paste. We usually add momos to the soup too which are Nepali dumplings. And you can eat this anytime, especially in winter because of its high protein value and health benefits but during the holiday of Gun Punhi (Goon Poon-he) we make it and it’s a delicacy too. We add a tempering oil to it after it’s done cooking, which is basically heated oil or ghee and you quickly fry ajwain (carom seeds) and pour the mix into the kwati. So in my family and Newari culture, when the soul is served, before eating we have to look at/for our reflection in the soup and then only we can begin to eat it. This is like a ritual significance to show that eating this cleanses your soul and also rids your body of negative energy but it’s also very healthy so a way to tackle the winter.

Thoughts

From my relationship with the informant, I have learned that food is incredibly important in Nepali culture and that Nepalese people feel very connected to the idea of the clarity and pureness of their soul through the food that they create and consume. Much of the food made in Nepali requires a deep understanding of the rituals of cooking, meaning that each step in the making of the dish is specific and has a purpose. For example, the washing of rice multiple times prior to boiling it, from S.S. telling, serves a dual purpose. One is obviously the practical need to wash the rise of dirt before preparing it, but also the idea that cleaning the rice is important for the body and how the body receives it. Often, there are very specific steps and timing involved in the preparation of the meal, adding things at certain times and this requires a very intricate knowledge of the culture and the meaning behind each step from a spiritual understanding.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

French New Year Traditions

The following is a piece from a friend whose parents are French immigrants.  I am represented by K and the informant is represented by I.

Piece:

K: Go ahead and tell me about your tradition.

I: So, in January, the start of the new year, there’s a tradition called Gallete du Roi, which translates to… uh, King’s Cake… and… one person will start by hosting a party in which… uhm, we make dinner, and you invite your group of friends over, and then you make the King’s Cake, which is usually almond paste and phyllo dough on top, with a little ceramic baby Jesus or baby Mary or baby lamb or something inside, and then… uhm… you cut the- you cut the pie, and the youngest person at the party like goes under the table or hides or something, and they dictate who each piece goes to.  So it’s … non…biased.  And then… uhm.. and then you eat the cake and whoever gets the baby is the King or the Queen and they choose their King or their Queen to host the next party with them and the guy brings the wine, the woman makes the food- bakes the cake- which is just really.. not… gender… equality… if you ask me, but uhm, and then the party keeps going all throughout January, and there’s another tradition we do!- Well, it’s not really a tradition, it’s like uhm, on the first day of January, so it’s like the first day of the new year, uhm, you hold a piece of like- like a gold coin in your hand. Uhm, or anything that has gold in it, like real gold… uhm, and you make crepes and you flip the crepe with the gold in your hand, and if it lands well and doesn’t break, you’ll have prosperity in the new year, and if it breaks or it doesn’t happen… you’re… gonna be poor.

K: And where’d you learn this from?

I: My momma.

Context:

We were sitting outdoors in a shaded area by a couch, working on a group project, but only the informant, one other member of our project, and I were there.  I asked the informant if she had any traditions or interesting pieces of folklore she would want to share and she readily agreed.  It was a really nice day out and the conversation felt very natural.

My Thoughts:

 

Her family is from France and she very strongly identifies with her French roots.  I thought this tradition was pretty interesting because it’s very religious, and my friend isn’t that religious, really, but she considers it more of a cultural tradition.  I know that this tradition is also very cultural, as well.  My family calls it Three Kings Day, but we don’t really celebrate it.  I went to Catholic school growing up, though, and I know we always had the cake in our of our classes, but the cake we ate was different than the one the informant described.  In Latin culture, this holiday also involved leaving shoes out, which my dad has told me about.  I think it’s cool to see the evolution of this holiday based on ethnicity.  It’s interesting to watch how it changes from place to place and how there are little cultural differences.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Holidays
Initiations
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Eating Almonds at Persian Weddings

Description

“Whenever someone gets married, it’s a tradition to eat almonds at the wedding so that the wife becomes fertile. I first saw this at the first Persian wedding that I went to when I was, like, eight years old. They put little bags of almonds underneath every single guest’s seat during the ceremony. At the end, when they marry each other, all the guests take out the almonds and eat them. Obviously, I was confused when it first happened, and my mom said, ‘Oh, you do this so the wife becomes pregnant.”

Context

I was with friends when the informant offered this piece of information. We had been talking about how people our age (early 20s) are getting married very quickly, which then devolved into a conversation about weddings, both traditional and not. The informant learned about this custom, as outlined in the description, through weddings she celebrated with her own family, and she learned through observation.

Analysis

I think small details like these within larger events or celebrations are very interesting. In high school, I learned a lot about fertility charms, such as the fertility goddesses made of stone. The act of eating almonds raises a lot of questions for me, questions aimed at wanting to know why almonds, why eat them, etc. I’ve not been to many weddings, but my first thought when I encountered this ideal was — what happens if someone is allergic to nuts?

 

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

12 Grapes for the New Year

Main Text:

DC: “On New Years at 12:00 am you are supposed to consecutively eat one grape each second for a total of 12 grapes in 12 seconds for good luck in the new year.”

Context: 

Although I collected this from a Mexican woman who is my boyfriend’s sister-in-law, I also witnessed and performed this tradition on New Years of this year while at a New Years celebration at my boyfriend’s family’s house. To give context, we all counted down along with the timer on the T.V. and my boyfriend’s mom was rushing around trying to give us all 12 grapes off the vine. It ended up being a mess with everyone dropping grapes and stuffing our faces while trying not to joke, but it ended with us all laughing and enjoying the company of each other. I asked DC why she thinks this tradition and folk belief has been passed aline within her family and others and she speculated that grapes is some cultures must be seen as lucky.

Analysis:

Recent articles say that the practice of eating grapes on New Years goes back to as old as the 1880s. In the 1880s, the bourgeoisie of Madrid were said to have celebrated the ending of the year by copying the French tradition of eating grapes and drinking champagne. This tradition then grew over time and led people tp believe that they needed to eat 12 grapes to have luck for all of the 12 months to follow in the New Year. Over time, this practice was used in order to mock the wealthy bourgeoisie and the ‘common’ people of Madrid began eating grapes to make fun of the practice that was performed by the wealthy middle class. Subsequently, this custom caught on and more and more people began to do it because they thought it would bring them good financial like if the Bourgeoisie of Madrid were doing it.

With the known history of grape eating as way to celebrate the end of a year being revealed, the belief in financial gain was probably a big pushing factor to many and encouraged them to share this belief and continue the custom. I feel too that media coverage also has encouraged the adaptation of said belief by larger parts of Europe, people in the United States and Even people in Mexico City. On New Years, the camera for the main national tv centers on the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. Announcers then tell the instructions to all of the people in the audience and they then begin eating the 12 grapes. Centuries ago, TV was not around and these traditions had to be purely face to face, but that feudal folkloric model. With the introduction of tv and the Internet, people are now able to share cultures and practices all over the world in a way like never before even with people they have never met and will never meet in person. This new folklore model creates a world in which folklore can be spread all throughout the world to those with access to TV and internet in such ease that more and more people begin adopting and creating variations of other people’s traditions, like what I believe has happened here with the eating of 12 gapes on the New Year.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Drown the Shamrock

Main Piece:

Interviewer: “So did you learn any drinking-related traditions while in Ireland?”

Informant: “Yes! Drinking was so much fun there. My favorite tradition that I learned is called drowning the shamrock.”

Interviewer: “What is that?”

Informant: “So you only get to do it once a year on St. Paddy’s Day and at the last call for the night. So basically, everyone orders a shot of whiskey at the bar and then together everyone puts the 4-leaf clover pin from their clothing in their shot and then shouts ‘To St. Patrick!’ and then takes the shot. Then the clover pin is thrown over your left shoulder”

Interviewer: “Why throw it over your left shoulder?”

Informant: “I have no idea. I think it’s like for good luck or something”

 

Background:

Informant is a 21-year old female USC student who comes from New York City. She was told this tradition while studying abroad in Ireland.

 

Analysis:

The idea behind drinking traditions has been around since the invention of alcohol, so it’s not surprising that the Irish have a drinking tradition to end St. Patrick’s Day. The idea of putting a lucky object into a drink and drinking it appears to express a want to be lucky and to have good fortune. The throwing of the clover over the left shoulder most likely symbolizes the start of a new beginning and the clover represents sending good fortunes to your future self.

 

See also the following link for another example of Drowning the Shamrock.

http://archivalmoments.ca/2019/03/14/drowning-the-shamrock/

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Saint Nicholas Day

Main Piece

“Saint Nicholas is like Santa Claus, but in Germany he’s still Santa. His day is December 6thand umm, the night before, you leave your boots out for Saint Nicholas. I don’t remember what the story was, but I remember the traditions that we would do.

So, you leave your biggest pair of boots out, and like, you know – however big your boot is how much you’re going to get. So, you want to leave really big boots out. And he leaves oranges, is like the big thing he leaves. And candies and chocolates and small toys in your boots. So, you leave them out the night before and you get your boots. But I remember oranges being the big thing.”

 

Context

The informant told me this story while we were exchanging fun things we used to do when we were little. We got on the topic of Christmas and told each other traditions we participated in when we were younger. After some research, the oranges are supposed to represent the gold balls that St. Nicholas would throw at children. St. Nicholas day is December 5th and children put out their shoes/boots that night so they can collect them the morning of December 6th.

 

Background Information

The informant was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. She comes from a family where both of her parents are lawyers in the military (jags). She has lived in Germany, Kansas, Virginia, and goes back to Oregon every summer to her family’s main home. While living in Germany, she spent Christmas there and her family participated in the Christmas tradition there.

I have heard of Christmas traditions such as “Elf on the Shelf” and leaving out your stockings to be filled with gifts and candies on Christmas Eve. My Christmas traditions never included these, but we would bake and leave cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve. I have never heard of leaving out boots so early before Christmas, and wonder why Santa giving oranges was such a big deal.

[geolocation]