USC Digital Folklore Archives / Holidays
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Festival of Lights

Context & Analysis

The subject is from Ashland, Oregon—a relatively small town in Oregon that is an extremely tight-knit community. She expressed to me that Ashland has a rich tradition of festivals— the subject has a lot of pride for her town and it’s traditions and it’s interesting that this is a tradition that involved the entire town. I asked her to elaborate on a few of the festivals and she mentioned that her favorite is the Festival of Lights. The Festival of Lights takes the weekend following Thanksgiving which signifies the entry into the winter, or the ‘holiday season’. Despite not necessarily being a religious celebration, I find it interesting that the festival chooses to feature figures traditionally associated with Christmas (i.e. Santa, Mrs. Clause, etc.). Additionally, the fact that the subject can name the precise restaurants where the appearances take place underscores the small town’s community and the importance of the event to her.

Main Piece

“The Festival of Lights takes place at, like, night at, like, usually 7 or something like that—maybe not quite that late, yeah. Um, but there’s a parade and you go downtown and it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving every year, um, and, like, Santa comes down to the plaza and he goes up into the balcony of one of the restaurants called…I think it’s the Bookroom? Or maybe it’s Granite Tap House. I think it’s the book room [nods]. It’s gotta be the book room. Um, and he comes out on the balcony so does Mrs. Clause and one of the reindeer—‘cuz you know they’ve been, like, coming down the street—and they turn off all the lights in the town. And then they count down from ten…[she pauses for dramatic effect] and every single Christmas light lights up and my town becomes a winter wonderland [she smiles broadly]. Um, and then you can get hot chocolate afterwards and there’s caroling—people who like stand and sing carols and it is—ugh, it’s so much fun and so quintessential small town.”

Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Saint Patrick’s Day Food

Context & Analysis

My roommate (the subject) and I were sitting in our dorm room talking about how our families celebrated different holidays. The subject’s family is relatively large and extremely tight-knit, as reflected in the subjects emphasis on “we always always do [it]”. Most of her extended family live within an hour radius, and they value family gatherings. Though this is the case, the subject only celebrates St. Patrick’s day with her immediate family members. I thought it was interesting that the subject’s family celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, considering no one in their family is of Irish descent. Additionally, I thought it was interesting how the family doesn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s day in a traditional sense (i.e. celebrating by drinking or gathering with extended family); instead, I believe the incorporation of images from the Dr. Seuss story, “Green Eggs and Ham”, reflects the nurturing and supportive environment of the family and the encouragement of uniqueness.

 

Main Piece

“On Saint Patrick’s Day—my family and I—we always make green eggs and ham, um, it’s not really specific to St. Patrick’s day, it’s a Dr. Seuss book, but, um, we have everything green for that breakfast. This year my dad even made the butter green so the bagels look really wonky [laughs], that was a little gross, but, um, we always always always do that, and if it’s not breakfast or we can’t be together for breakfast we’re together for, um, dinner or something, and we’ll like dye our Indian food green [laughs].”


 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thanksgiving Tamales

Subject: Traditional foods at Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. Tamales.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So, you just mentioned that you make Christmas dinner every year?

Interviewee: Yes, I make Christmas dinner and I make Thanksgiving dinner every year… so I started making the turkey on Thanksgiving, so which is why I love Thanksgiving so much now. I always loved it but now it’s like… I have to go every year. I have to go home because I make the fucking turkey. And I also bake all the fu- all the pies. Apple pie and the turkey every year… So, my mom has to make the stuffing. I will not let her like not make the stuffing. My dad, if he’s up to it, up for it, he will make like roasted potatoes with like butter and like herbs, like red potatoes, like particularly. My brother will probably do some sort of vegetable side dish… my sister usually doesn’t help that much, uh, I don’t know why. But my eldest sister, now that she has her own house, she like, like brings mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese.

But… I would like there to be tamales. Tamales are the kind of thing you get like once or twice a year. Um, and once or twice a year, one of those times is going be Thanksgiving and the other one has to be Christmas… So like winter, winter holidays. It’s just like the special occasion of it, you know. They’re not difficult to make…, it takes long, it’s just a process, ya know. We’re just like, it’s Christmas coming up so we’re going to make a lot of tamales, so it’s not like they make them for every meal. They freeze them and then bring them out for this holiday. And they’re just as good frozen…once you’ve reheated them.

Tamales has to be there. There is no way you can’t make more than enough.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: My roommate first mentioned that she enjoys making Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner while speaking about her ethnographic foods course. I asked her to go in depth to her experience preparing and consuming the food on these holidays for my collection.

Analysis: My roommate’s experience with Thanksgiving is especially interesting when placing it within her experiences of growing up in American culture but having parents who grew up in Mexico and did not celebrate Thanksgiving. To her family, Thanksgiving has become a mandatory homecoming, a time to reconnect every year. In this process, the observance of the Thanksgiving holiday has been removed from its American context and has been reworked to be one that defines her parents’ new family and their new life together in a new place. Furthermore, most of the families in the Brownsville area do not celebrate Thanksgiving because it is not part of their national background; in other words, the practice of Thanksgiving is not part of their reinforcement or performance of identity. For the Cantú family, however, the holiday is observed to exert their identity as a family unit that is composed of both Mexican and American heritage.

This is best observed by the food that is literally placed on the Thanksgiving table. There are the foods typically seen at an American family Thanksgiving: turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, for instance. However, the Cantú family modifies their American identity by including tamales at the table. For my roommate, this is a crucial part of the holiday season; the consumption of tamales marking a time of celebration and reunion. Without tamales, the performance of her dual-heritage would be incomplete. Since the food consumed physically represents the diversity of her family, to not include one element would not be fully embodying all parts of herself and her family.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holiday tradition

The following was recorded from a conversation I had on the phone with my mother, marked JS. She described to me a few holiday traditions as well as rituals she did throughout her childhood. Below is one of the rituals.

 

JS: “We always used to leave our shoe outside on St. Nicholas Day which falls on December 6th. The idea is that he will come by and fill the shoe with treats. Sounds kinda weird, I know…but it always got the family in the Christmas spirit pretty early.”

CS: “Interesting, and you did this every year?”

JS: “Yeah, every year. My mom was way more into it than us kids were.”

CS: “Is there a reason you didn’t continue this tradition with me?”

JS: “I guess I decided it wasn’t as practical as just waiting till the 25th. Gave me more work to do too. I don’t know, by then the tradition was less thought of.”

 

Context:

A phone call conversation with my mom, JS, discussing rituals she did throughout her childhood around the time of the holidays.

Background:

JS currently resides in Laguna Beach, California but was previously raised in Minnesota.

 

Analysis:

I find this ritual interesting because it reflects the values my grandmother set for her family when it came to Christmas time. It is interesting that she decided to take a more unique path and doing a special ritual instead of the traditional and common Christmas traditions. What’s even more interesting is that this ritual didn’t continue into my mom’s adulthood and raising me. Instead, we do the very common Christmas and activities, and in fact, this was the first I had ever heard of this ritual. It is an interesting component of folklore to see how some of it sticks and is viewed with such importance in one’s life while others are simply forgotten over time.

Folk speech
Holidays
Humor
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Tales /märchen

Levine Hand Strength

I’ve sat next to this girl for most of the semester, however our conversation has been limited to commonalities between the pair of us rather than old family stories. I knew she was Jewish and from the Valley. She seemed eccentric, and dressed in that way only those privy to Los Angeles beach culture – striped shirts, ripped jeans, lots of pins on backpacks and patches on shirts – can pull off. I had no idea her family came from Russia, or that they were known for their hand strength.

The following was transcribed from a recording taken in class and shared among three or four other classmates. The background buzzed with chatter from other students, but still the edge of the story shone through.

“He was an orthodox Jewish barrel-builder in Russia at the turn of the century. He started this thing in our family, ‘Levine Hand Strength’ – the firm handshake. He was coming off work one day and a Cossack soldier – these guys are usually pretty anti-Semetic – came up to him and pulled on his beard and called him a ‘Jew bastard’. Anyways, in Russian, my great grandpa said to the Cossack, ‘that was very good of you to let me shake your hand’. According to grandpa Harry, he crushed the Cossack’s hand so hard that blood came out of his finger-tips. That’s the family story that we tell at every Jewish holiday.”

Almost as timeless as time itself, stories of Jews overcoming their oppressors never fail to entertain. Fitting in with movies like “Inglorious Basterds”or “Life is Beautiful”, this story further illustrates the pride Jews feel in keeping a positive spirit while facing constant prejudice and oppression. Additionally, it celebrates the familial trait of strength, both physical and mental, by being retold multiple times throughout the year.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Haitian Halloween

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Um, so like Christmas dinners – my whole family would come into like – we would rotate which house we would go to. And then everyone was – not really assigned – but everyone knew what like, what dish to bring. Cause like, that’s the only thing you’re good for, so just bring that. I was desserts. My mom was – there’s this thing called Soufflé Maïs, so. It was so good. It’s like sweet corn and cheese. And then – it was soufflé because it’s cooked in the oven. And then my mom also makes – I call it egg salad because I like the eggs more than the potatoes. With spam and hotdogs or either like mayo or mustard. It’s so good, it’s so delicious. It’s not a Haitian dish, it’s just a dish. And then uh, ah, Diri Djon Djon. So it’s like black rice basically. It’s soooo good. It’s like rice – of rice, and then the type of mushroom you put in with the rice. Cause it blackens the rice. And then you put peas in it.”

She later told me that these same dishes would be served around Halloween, as her family created a tradition of having a Halloween dinner every year. The Diri Djon Djon was particularly popular then, as the black color lends itself perfectly to the spookiness of Halloween-time. It was cool to hear about how her family mixed American dishes with Haitian dishes, at times using each culture as a sort of springboard into unexplored food territory. Before I finished the interview, I made her promise to bring me some Souffle Maïs next time her mom made it.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Happy Valentines” by Outkast

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“And then Valentine’s Day, we have a little dinner too. She always plays “Happy Valentines” by Outkast in the mornings. That’s how she wakes us up. Like, the phone in our ear. It’s really upsetting. But you can’t get upset, because she’s smiling. And she’s playing the song. She’s the only morning person in the house. I can’t go back to sleep so just put it back in my ear with this big smile.”

This really highlights the overlap between authored work and folklore in that a recorded song has become a part of a folk tradition for a household in America. I’m sure if other lovers of Outkast heard about this tradition and did not already do it, they’d pick it up and start practicing it themselves. It really goes to show that culture is all about mixing and matching your favorite parts of the world to create something new and unique. The best way to enjoy folklore is to simply do whatever makes you happy.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Colombianizing the Fourth of July

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“And then Fourth of July dinner – that’s the day my dad really likes to make the sliders with like the cheese inside. Yeah, and then he puts like pineapple jam and like pink sauce – it’s so good. He’s Columbian, so he likes to … Colombinize, Colombianize food.”

This is a perfect example of cultural fusion. To take the most American food there is on the most American holiday there is and ‘Colombianize’ the two is literally what America is all about. We come from all over the world to share our cultures and make something new and beautiful and wholly original.

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Noodles for Long Life

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. My dad visited her a few times, and picked up a lot of the culture alongside her. Though his knowledge is not as deep as hers, he still knows quite a bit.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“And then, the um, New Year’s observance is that they don’t use knives for three days, um… can’t remember if it’s three days before New Year’s or three days before three days after… I think it’s three days after. Three days, including New Year’s and two days after. When they…so they do all their cooking all their food prep in advance, so they don’t have to touch a blade. Um, because New Year’s is a Shinto holiday, it’s a life affirming religion whereas Buddhism is the religion of death. And so, um, they- they prepare huge quantities of food, enough to last for three days. And then they don’t use knives for three days. They don’t want to take life, they don’t want to do anything with a blade. Oh-Shong-Atsu. It’s the same day as our New Year’s. Oh and they take their last bath of the old year on the thirty-first, and then on the first- on New Year’s day they eat long noodles, you know, noodles for long life. And they eat o-mochi in the morning. I can’t remember why they eat mochi, you probably wanna look that up. But they definitely eat noodles first thing in the morning.”

This is such a cool way to live. To apply symbolism, usually saved only for literature and movies here in America, to your everyday life is a whole other way of being. After the interview, my mom corrected a few pronunciation mistakes my dad had made, but all in all said his cultural memory was pretty accurate. A few times as a kid, we ate noodles first thing in the morning as a way of referencing my parents’ time in Japan. It was delicious and fun, and I will try to keep the tradition going with my children.

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Smith Family Christmas: Ritual/Tradition

Some rituals, we actually have a lot of rituals around Christmas time. Ever since I think you guys – I think we’ve done it every year come to think of it – well it became more difficult with you guys away at school. But when you guys were younger, we’d go out together every year to the farm near Northgate – Pazzani or Prazzani or something – and we’d get a Christmas tree. You guys would run all around trying to find the perfect tree.

 And -um- uh you guys had to find one with enough space for all those ornaments. (chuckle/scoff) I swear half that attic is just ornaments. That’s another thing – the ornament… ritual I guess where you guys get the ornament symbolizing the big thing that happened that year.

 Oh! And then there’s the huevos rancheros. Yeah, I’ve got no idea why we do that every year (laughs). I think I just made them one Christmas morning and you guys seemed to really like them, so I started doing it every year.

Pronzini Farms is the name of the place the Informant carelessly guessed at. He seemed a bit confused when I asked him why these rituals were important and why he liked them. “What do you mean?” he said, “It’s stuff like that that makes a family a family.” Just like a society or culture, you can learn a whole lot about a family by studying their rituals. The ritual of getting a new ornament each year that’s symbolical of an accomplishment or rite of passage has been going on seemingly forever. There are ornaments from ever year since I was born, so he assumes the ritual began then with the classic ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ ornaments. Unbeknownst to me, the ritual of an annual Christmas ornament is established. It represents a ritual-turned-rite of passage. The annual ornaments, a lifetime of memories, are passed down, handed over to hang on their own Christmas tree in their own home.

Beyond the more typical Christmas symbols like trees and ornaments, the Christmas morning huevos rancheros seem more of a tradition than a ritual. Up until I was in high school, I remember having a casual breakfast, maybe cereal or a pop tart. According to the Informant, he just had the ingredients to make his huevos rancheros one Christmas morning and the tradition was born. It’s not done to celebrate anything in particular. It’s done because we’ve done it in the past, which makes it a great example of tradition.

I had never thought about how many rituals my family has revolving around the Christmas holiday. I struggled to think of any, but the Informant sure didn’t. He had to think for a couple seconds, but quickly arrived at three rituals revolving around a single holiday. Not only did I not recognize the annual ornament as a ritual before, I had never thought about the sentimentality of each and every ornament in the sequence. It’s a timeline of my entire life and one day it will hang on my own tree next to my children’s annual addition.

[geolocation]