USC Digital Folklore Archives / Holidays
Customs
Foodways
Holidays

Feasts Natalae

Background: A.S. is a 22-year-old student at USC studying Occupational Therapy. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, and both of her parents are professors at USC. The informant’s mother told this story to the informant multiple times, especially when describing her childhood or her favorite holiday. This was her mother’s favorite time of the year, because it was the one time that she could be all together with her family and celebrate, even though they were Jewish and the tradition revolved around a Christian holiday.

Main piece: “My mom was born in Rome but grew up in New Jersey. Her mother was Italian and she was also Jewish…which is interesting since there aren’t too many Italian Jews. Anyways, she still celebrated Christmas because her father was raised Catholic. So my grandmother would prepare a traditional Italian meal for Christmas in the house when they lived in New Jersey. It wasn’t like other Christmas dinners in the states…it was like specifically Italian. So they would have a bunch of courses, seven I think, because of the seven sacraments or something, and almost all of them included some sort of fish plate, but no meat. I think my mom told me it was called um.. oh it was called Feasts Natalae. It was traditional in Italy to have the dinner on Christmas eve but it was still called Christmas dinner I think. Each course was fish because it’s like a kind of fasting…they just don’t eat meat. My mom said this was a really special time for her because she knew her family would be together. And it wasn’t even about the holiday or religion or anything, it was about being with her family.”

Performance Context: I interviewed the informant while we were both together, sitting on a couch, in the house where she lives on west 28th Street in Los Angeles. Feasts Natalae would typically be practiced on Christmas Eve, and is a prominent tradition in Italy. This tradition would be practiced by Anna’s mom’s family every year.

My Thoughts: I think that this story is representative of the fact that each culture and each family has a different way of celebrating Christmas, both culturally and religiously. Each nationality and each individual family has a way of making the holiday special for them. There are a lots of Christmas traditions around the world that aren’t officially coming from the church, but are still important to families and have to do with Christmas.

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Guy Fawkes’ Day

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.

Informant: So in 1605, this dude called Guy Fawkes was arrested trying to blow up the house of parliament in London, and it was likeI’m pretty sure the king and all of the important people were there, and he was trying to kill them, but he got caught and that was on the 5th of November. So every year, on the 5th of November, like schools and families and like clubs and stuff in England make a huge bonfire, and then they make like a doll, like a human sized figure of Guy Fawkes, and then they burn him on the bonfire, and there’s like fireworks and like a barbecue and stuff, every year.

Collector: So you celebrate him or him not blowing up the parliament?

Informant: Well, we burn him every year, so we definitely don’t celebrate him. It’s like a celebration of I guess his failure. It’s a very chill day though, we eat burgers and hot dogs and hang around by the bonfire. Like we don’t have a meal with our family. It’s more like the whole community gets together and there’s like fireworks and stuff. There’s a song too.

Collector: A song? What is it?

Informant: It goes like this

Remember, remember the 5th of November

Gunpowder Treason and plot

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Would ever be forgot

It’s not that big of a deal though, like we don’t sing it around the campfire or anything. It’s just something that people know.

I thought this was particularly interesting because it’s a holiday that revolves around an attempter murder. Albeit the burning of the figure of this murder, but a murder none the less. I think it’s cool how even until today, people remember it, and I think that this might be because the monarchy in England is still in power. I believe that this is not only a fun way for people to celebrate with their family and friends, but also a way to honor their monarchy. It makes me wonder if the holiday began as a way for the monarchy to keep its citizens in line, so that nobody would try to recreate Guy Fawkes’ murder attempts.

Festival
Folk Dance
Holidays

May Day

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.

Informant: There’s this festival that we have in England called May Day, and it’s the first of May. I don’t really know where it came from. We always have a holiday on the day so I always get a day off school. We do it to welcome spring, in a way. I’ve also heard that it’s to celebrate workers. But it’s not a workers’ day, per say. And I have seen people doing the Maypole dancing.

Collector: Pole dancing?

Informant: It’s not pole dancing as in pole dancing, like kids do it. I learned it at school, it’s taught at schools. At least it was when I was in primary school. Basically, it’s like a big wooden stick and it has like ribbons attached to it and people like dance around it.

Collector: Have you ever experienced that?

Informant: Yeah at like fairs I guess, on May day. There’s always a pole. I don’t really know the purpose of circling a pole to celebrate spring, but people do it. It’s very common. And there’s good food at the fairs too. Oh, and we crown a May Queen. That’s like a girl who does a bunch of things for May Day. Like she’s part of the parades and stuff. I’m not really involved in it, but I’ve heard about it. I also heard this story that in the past they used to kill the May Queen at the end, but like, I don’t know if that’s true or not.

The first thing I thought about this particular piece of folklore was how funny it was that a big tradition in England was called May Pole Dancing, but then my friend explained that it wasn’t really pole dancing, and that it is meant to celebrate spring. I think that’s really interesting, because it reminds me of my Swedish friend’s Midsummer ritual. I think it’s really cool how in both of the festivals there are wooden sticks (a cross in the Swedish culture and a pole in English culture) that little kids dance around to celebrate the arrival of a new season. It make some wonder what the origin of these traditions are, and if they all come from the same place.

Holidays

Dia de los Muertos

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in Mexico and currently lives in Brazil. She came to visit me.

Informant: So there is the day of the dead in Mexico. In Spanish, it’s called the dia de los muertos. Basically, it’s a day where you worship… well not exactly worship… it’s a day dedicated to remembering all of the people who passed away and celebrate their life.

Collector: I’ve heard it’s like Halloween. Is this true?

Informant: No, its not like Halloween. On this day, normally you go to the person’s tomb with their favorite food and you place it there like you’re offering them your favorite food. And you also eat it, not theirs but you have a plate of their own.

Collector: Do you eat the food with them?

Informant: Yes you eat it with them on their tomb, and then you decorate their tomb with a bunch of flowers, and everyone dresses up like skull candy, like skeletons but in a fancy way, and then you also save them their favorite alcohol, and you have to drink like your drinking with them, and you play their favorite music, and its like you’re having a party with the tomb.

Collector: Do you pour the alcohol on their grave or do you just leave it there?

Informant: You just leave the cup there with their favorite food. There not actually supposed to be eating it, it’s a more symbolic thing, just to honor them.

Collector: Have you done this before?

Informant: I’ve done it before both in Mexico and in Brazil. But since all of my family is buried in Mexico, I don’t go to the graveyard in Brazil. Instead, I do kind of an alter, like you build an alter for them in the house if you don’t go visit their tombstone, and you can put their favorite food there, and there’s a special bread that you do for that celebration that’s basically a sweet bread. It’s called Pan de Muerto. Bread of the dead.

Everyone kinda gets together during this holiday and it doesn’t really matter who are are, cuz youre celebrating the dead. Who you are and where you come from doesn’t really matter.

Collector: Who have you celebrated?

Informant: I celebrated my grandfathers and Frida Kahlo. It’s not just for family members, you can celebrate whoever you want if their dead.

Collector: Why do you like it?

Informant: I like it because it’s a big party and you don’t mourn them you kind of celebrate them. You look at death with more of a positive attitude. My mother would do it at home when I was young, she would decorate the house and she would celebrate my grandparents. I think its good to remember the people who pass away because sometimes we forget them.

I found it fascinating how in Mexican culture, they have an entire day to celebrate the dead. Generally, when people think of dead people, the thought tends to be accompanied with feelings of mourning. The Mexican culture turns the tables on this feeling, and takes one day out of the year to celebrate the dead and interact with them as if they were living. I also found it interesting that you don’t necessarily celebrate only family members. I would think that when mourning or celebrating the dead, it would be people that you knew rather than strangers, but I think it’s interesting how they really embrace the whole celebration of the dead thing.

Holidays

Reveillon

Informant was a 45 year old female who was born in Brazil and currently lives in Brazil. I talked to her over Skype.

Informant: This holiday is New Year’s or Reveillon, in Portuguese. Ever since I can remember we always used to celebrate it. It is a very fun holiday. We always wear like white clothes, and everybody is happy to say goodbye to the old year, and to welcome the new year, and we see a lot of fireworks at night, and theres party, and everybody throws flowers into the sea, and we have a big supper with lots of food. It’s a lot of fun.

Collector: Do you know why you wear white?

Informant: I think we wear white because it’s to bring you peace, and it’s a custom that we do and everybody does, but nobody really explains why, we just assume that it’s to bring peace.

Collector: Do you know why people through flowers into the sea?

Informant: It’s like an offer to the goddess of the sea called Iemanja to bring good things for the new year. It’s an African thing, it’s a custom that we usually do. We have a lot of African influence in our culture.

Collector: What if people aren’t be the sea on New Year’s?

Informant: Most of the people go to the beach for New Year’s, but even if they’re not, most people wear white or eat grapes usually foods with seeds inside. I don’t know why, but they have to eat certain things to bring good luck. We usually have to eat grapes and lentils sometimes we eat also. They usually serve turkey and everybody like has a turkey or something made of pork and panetonne, which is something from Italy. But everybody have panetonne in their house, which is a mix of bread and cake. People think that eating these things will bring you good luck. Everything you do on new years is to bring you good luck.

We also jump the seven waves. It is a tradition also, we jump it to bring good luck. I don’t know the reason, I just know that we usually do that. There is a superstition of making the wishes as soon as it turns the year. We go to the beach, and jump the seven waves and for each wave we need to make a wish, it’s a link to Umbanda which is an African thing, its purpose is to honor Iemanja, it’s a gift, because 7 is like a number that is considered spiritual. And when you jump the 7 waves you call the power of Iemanja to open new paths for the next year. It’s like the Brazilian version of a New Year’s resolution but spiritual.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: Because it’s something that is a lot of fun, we are always with family and friends. We are surrounded by love we are partying and happy and theres lots of food, and it’s nice. It’s summer in Brazil at this time of year so it’s a holiday and it’s a lot of fun. I was born in rio, and it’s really big in Rio. It’s famous for the very big party in Copacabana, a lot of people go there because it’s right next to the beach.

I am actually Brazilian, and have celebrated Reveillon multiple times. However, I never really thought about why we do the things that we do, such as wear white and throw flowers into the ocean and eat certain foods. I found it really interesting to learn about the reasons behind what we do, and that it has a deep-rooted history in our culture and the formation of Brazil and it’s people. I also think it’s funny that most of the things we do are meant to bring luck for the New Year. Nothing really is dedicated to love, or friendship, or health, it’s all for luck, which I find really interesting.

Festival
Holidays

Carnaval

Informant was a 45 year old female who was born in Brazil and currently lives in Brazil. I talked to her over Skype.

Informant: Carnaval is a big festival in brazil, usually happens in the first two or three months of the year, it is basically a whole week. Everybody uses costumes, and when we are a kid ,we just go to little parties and plays and watch samba, which is a kind of music that we have here, there are other typical musics of carnaval. Everybody dances. We have this big party which has a parade, in the main cities of Brazil and in the northeast it’s also big. We usually stay the whole month partying for carnival, a lot of people drink, a lot of people have fun, but I actually don’t like very much. Because I don’t like samba, and I don’t like to samba. But I like the holiday, I like having days off. A lot of people also drink, and I don’t like, there’s a lot of drunk people.

Collector: Do you know where this festival came from?

Informant: It’s a Christian celebration, the date is never the same, its not a specific date, it’s a Christian festive season that occurs before the Christian season of lent, it’s calculated a specific amount of days before. The term carnival is usually used in areas with large catholic presence. I think it’s funny because a lot of things happen that are not very Christian. Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval is considered the world’s largest party with 2 million people per day.

Collector: Are there big parties outside of Rio as well?

Informant: Yes, there are a lot of street carnaval parties. I never participated in this street carnaval. It’s called bloco de carnaval, people go in the streets and also dress up in costumes and mask and play this type of music of carnaval and dance and drink and a lot of people have a lot of fun. So in these blocos there are like trucks or busses or something that come and play music, and people gather around it and party. But in Rio there is a special place called Sambodromo where they have special schools of Samba like Santa Isabel and Portella, and each school goes through the whole street and they need to be dancing all the time and at the end, they receive a grade for the parade that they did. So the judges they look at the richness of the costumes, if everyone was dancing and singing, and they give a grade for each one of these schools, and at the end of the three days parade they have a winner. I saw it in person, but I hated it because I don’t like samba and it was three days the whole night. But lots of people go they love it and love to participate, I just don’t like to drink and I don’t like samba, so for me it’s not the right party.

Collecter: Did you ever like Carnaval?

I used to like the small parties when we were kids because we used to dress up. I dressed up as an indian and the other time I dressed as police and it was fun. We used to throw confetti, and make a lot of noise. I used to like it, it was much lighter. When you’re a kid, you don’t see the naked women and the lots of drinks. It’s just small little parties that my family used to take me, and we used to dance and I used to like to dance in costumes

When I lived in Brazil, I would often see the huge celebrations during Carnaval. However, I never really experienced any of it. Carnaval, for me, was always just a break off of school, when I would go and spend a week at the beach. It’s really cool to hear about Carnaval from my mother who has had a lot more experience with the actual festival and the festivities. I didn’t know that Carnaval was a Christian holiday, and like my mother, I would never have imagined it because there’s nothing about Carnaval that really emulates the Christian spirit.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year (Holiday)

My informant is Grant, a 19-year-old male student at USC. Grant was born and raised in Los Angeles, however his father is from Iran and his mother is from Japan. Both of these cultures influence his life in different ways. This piece of folklore is a tradition performed on a holiday.

 

Grant: “Every year on the..uh..spring eclipse or whatever, around March 21st and we celebrate the rebirth and the growing and we have a lot of grass. We put out a table and you put down seven things on the the table that start with the letter ‘s’ in Farsi so like apples start with an ‘s’ and like a lot of sweets and sugars. It’s kind of symbolic of a sweeter new year. Then the tradition my family does every year is that we put the Persian holy book and my dad puts money in it in a lot of different places. So someone takes the book and flips through it getting money as they go and once you hit a certain amount you stop, its just a tradition we do…my dad says it’s always good to start the new year with money”

Do you open the book as many times as you want?

Grant: “Well when it’s your turn and you open it and if it’s low like a 1 or 5 or 10 then you take it and keep going but if it’s like a 50 or 100 you stop”

How long have you been doing this?

Grant: “We’ve done it as long as I can remember. We do it every year, I’m pretty sure my Dad has been doing it his whole life too learning it from his Dad”

Are you going to carry this tradition on?

Grant: “Yeah, probably it’s a fun thing to do”

Does this have any meaning to you?

Grant: “Well, I’m half- Persian so it’s celebrating that part of myself and then it’s just a nice thing I do with my family each year and I get money so that’s cool”

Do other Persian families do this too?

Grant: “Not that I know of”

 

This is a really good example of a holiday form of folklore. All around the world Persian families celebrate the New Year but the folklore is the specific traditions and manners in which these families celebrate. In Grant’s example, the folklore being passed on and performed each year is a game – one where you win money. To grant, this game is unique to his family, coming from his father and his father’s father, however it is very possible other families do the exact same thing or even with a slight variation. This is also a way for Grant to connect to his Persian roots; having being born and raised in America that part of his ancestry has received less attention but through the continued celebration and tradition on Persian New Year Grant can ensure this part of his family history and his culture endures. Especially when he already plans on passing this tradition down to his children.

 

Customs
Festival
general
Holidays
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Las Fiestas de Noviembre

The informant, S, is 18 years old and from Miami, Florida, but he grew up in Cartagena, Colombia (Northern, Columbia). His mom is from Barranquilla, Columbia (Northern Columbia), while his dad is from Cartagena, Columbia. He considers himself a Latino Columbian and is majoring in Civil Engineering Building Science.

 

S-“So where I’m from in Cartagena, Columbia we have the whole month of November called Las fiestas de Noviembre (the November parties) where it consists of having different parades for different days of the week where all the main streets are closed and they are usually used for parades. There is traditional music. Kumbia, and ballenato is played. People go on the streets and they you know celebrate for las fiestas. Another big aspect of it is having this called bolcitas de agua (little water bags). What happens is everyone in the city usually has ammunition of little bags filled with water so wherever you are in the street you just have to be ready to like get hit with bags of water “

Like giant water balloon fight?

S-“Yea it’s this giant thing so like during the fiestas different neighborhoods get together and like fight each other with like the water bags or balloons if you want to call them. I remember like when I was little with my cousins we would get up on my balcony, and we would have tubs filled with little balloons and just like throw them at cars and people walking by. It’s cool because everyone knows and has the general consensus that it’s ok to do so. “

Do you know the history behind it or how it originated it?

S-“I do not”

So there is different parades at different periods?

S-“It’s just during the whole month. So like there is this big parade called el Bando and that day they just close the big streets and they throw maizena (corn starch) and water everywhere. Live music, a lot of fireworks. Do you know what a busca piez is?

Yea I think so

S-“It’s like the thing that you light up and throw it on the floor and it goes all over. Which is a bad thing because a lot of injuries happen. Like during this month there are people missing fingers and missing hands, but it’s a cool month.”

Analysis- The constant and long celebration would appear to many as waste of time and water, but to the people of the area it means much more. The events only happen in Cartagena, Columbia and the regions around it, for the festivals are meant to celebrate the independence of the area. The water throwing was not originally part of the idea of the festival but quickly merged with what people believe was the original plan. Today, however, as more outsiders move in, these things may be changing as they do not agree with everything that happens during the festival. Water throwing, for example, is banned from November 1-17 as well as fireworks from November 1-15.

For more information see: EL UNIVERSAL (2014, Oct. 30). Cartageneros Hablan de las Costumbres Novembrinas mas Irritantes. Retrieved from http://www.eluniversal.com.co/cartagena/cartageneros-hablan-de-las-costumbres-novenbrinas-mas-irritantes-175431

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Mexican Christmas

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).

K- “For Christmas every year my family makes tamales and posole. My mom’s side makes tamales and my dad’s side usually makes posole. We celebrate it Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Depending on the family since we interchange every year. One day we have posole and the other we have tamales. When it comes to opening the gifts, we always wait until 12 midnight. We basically start on Christmas Eve and end at midnight. If we have little kids, we let them open their presents up at 10. And that’s it, only the little kids. Everybody else has to wait until 12.”

What is a tamale and posole?

K-“Ok a tamale is like maza (corn dough) with meat inside, or it can be cheese and chile, or sweet with pineapple or strawberry. Posole is like a soup with grano (white hominy) and we make ours red because there is usually red, white, and green. We always do ours red. You can put cabbage and onions and chile if you want, lemon, or radish.

How long, that you are aware of, has this tradition been going?

K-“Since I was born. Before I was born. “

Analysis- This Christmas tradition gives some background into the way the informant’s culture functions. They are a culture centered around family that likes to maintain its traditions. They like to include everyone by switching families every year. Even though the family is no longer in Mexico, they continue to have the traditions that they grew up, which will be later adopted by their children. They also belong to a culture that likes to celebrate and enjoy every moment together. It is very good that everyone is part of the tradition, even the small children.

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance
Holidays
Legends

Lono

Myth

 

Primary Language- English

Occupation- USC Student

Residence- Kansas City, Missouri

Date of Performance- 4/25/16

When I visited Hawaii, I learned of a god they worshipped named Lono. He was the god of agriculture, fertility, rainfall, music, and peace to the Hawaiians. I saw a lot of statues, dolls, and pictures of him when I visited a hotel there. Lono and a lot of other gods have huge statues in Hawaii. It is said that Lono came to earth on  a rainbow but that he was around before earth even existed. Lono came to marry a god named Laka. He was known as a god of peace and had a festival in his honor that we wanted to attend. I do not know much about it but I do know that it is a New Year’s celebration covering four lunar periods. The people dress up with traditional clothes and dance. It seemed pretty cool online but we weren’t there during the time they celebrated it.

Quinn and his father like to visit Hawaii during the semesters spring break or summer. It gives him a time to unwind and relax. He also takes the time to learn some folklore in his travels. Some of the folklore consist of traditions he may partake in like in Hawaii or Mexico, at least in terms of the foods they eat and celebrations they may witness. He likes to remember the folklore he learns because it serves as a memory of the amazing time he has had during his trips around the world.

Lono has been commemorated in Hawaii for a very long time and has given the Hawaiian people something to look forward to on New Year’s as well. A few hundred years ago, the people who were natives to Hawaii believed that Lono was the reason for the bountiful agriculture and times of peace. Thier culture and celebrations are sometimes seen as exotic and beautiful by tourist which has created a source of income by many who reside in Hawaii.

This tradition Hawaii has held and celebrated is very interesting and makes me want to go and visit. It is folklore like this that spreads to many people and causes interest because they want to go see it themselves and experience a new culture. Quinn not only visited a new location with a different environment, but also a place that has almost a completely different culture than his own and loved it. The shows, lights, and festivities put on by Hawaiians causes a surge in tourism and no longer makes them a small country but a huge center for new experiences.

 

[geolocation]