USC Digital Folklore Archives / Gestation, birth, and infancy
Contagious
Game
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Baby Blue

Context: I was teaching a class of sixth graders for the Joint Education Project (JEP) in a middle school near USC.

Discussion

Instructor: So, after learning the differences between myths, tales and legends, can anyone give me an example of a legend that they have heard of? (A number of different students interjected to corroborate to the first student’s story, they have been given aliases to protect their identities)

Angel: Baby Blue! (Announced loudly)

Instructor: What or who is Baby Blue?

Angel: It’s like uhm you go into the bathroom and look into the mirror and uh fold your arms, and if you feel a weight in your arms its Baby Blue and you gotta drop it!

Maria (interjecting): No no no, you gotta go into the bathroom by yourself and turn the lights off and cradle your arms like you’re holding a baby and say ‘Baby Blue’ in the mirror three times. If you feel a weight in your arms like you were holding a baby, you gotta pretend to drop it in the toilet and flush it before it gets too heavy.

Instructor: Or else what happens?

Maria: The baby will haunt your family.

Daisy (interjecting): No if you don’t flush the baby, her mom will turn up behind you and scream at you to give it back and kill you if you don’t. (Other students nodded along or exclaimed ‘yeh’ as if her version was the most well-known)

Instructor: So, who is baby blue?

Maria: Its like a evil baby that will haunt you if you don’t get rid of it I think.

Instructor: And who is the women?

Daisy: Some kinda evil spirit I guess.

Instructor: Have any of you done this?

Daisy: I tried it once with my big sister.

Instructor: And did the woman show up?

Daisy: No but I felt a weight in my arms and through it in the toilet so maybe I did it before the baby grew too big.

Instructor: Was it a scary experience.

Daisy: Yeh I guess, me and my sister ran outta the bathroom straight after flushing the toilet.

Analysis

This is a very interesting legend. It is very much like Bloody Mary accept with a baby involved. After some research I discovered that some people think that the mother who appears is Bloody Mary and that Baby Blue is her child that she murdered. The legend seemed fairly well-known throughout the classroom of thirty students but some new it better than others. It is clear that Angel was more of a passive barer of the legend and had not participated in the legend quest. Those that did had a better knowledge of the backstory to the legend, which was usually learned from older relatives. The students did not seem to be overly scared of this legend and approached it as more of a game. They were adamant that there was a right way and a wrong way to do this pseudo-ritual.

There are theories that the Bloody Mary legend is related to young girls’ oncoming period cycle. The legend is most common with girls aged 8 to 14 and takes place alone in a bathroom where you see a bloody woman appear behind you. This could be some kind of folk ritual, beyond the knowledge of the participants, to prepare girls for the oncoming changes to their bodies’ which takes place near this age range and usually alone in a bathroom. This intense bodily change might be more easy cope with when compared with the extreme of seeing a creepy woman covered in blood behind you. I think that the Baby Blue legend is a continuation of this theory. It is in someway ingratiating girls to the idea that if you feel a baby growing heavy in your arms (which are cradled at your stomach) that you should somehow get rid of it, or else it might haunt you for the rest of your life. This seems to be suggesting to the girls that take part in this pseudo-ritual, on a deeply subconscious level, that if you get pregnant at a young age (as pregnancy tests usually take place in the bathroom alone) that you should somehow get rid of the baby before it stays with you forever. If this is the case, this legend has an extremely dark aspect to it. Obviously because of the fact that this deeper meaning operates on a subconscious level, boys take part in the legend too. This is for the surface reason that it is scary and thrilling which is probably why the girls do it too but it may be communicating a deeper message to them specifically.

Adulthood
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Life cycle
Narrative
Old age

A Spirited Dream

Collection: Legend (ghost) and Folk Belief

I asked the informant to describe an unusual happenings regardings spirits or the soul. She answered with the following story.

“A few weeks after my dad died, he came to me in a dream. This was the most realistic dream I have ever had even to this day. Of course I was so overjoyed to see him and talk to him because he had just passed away. He told me that he was so proud of me and his grandchildren and that I’ve done a wonderful job raising them. After we talked for awhile, he said, ‘I’m sorry honey but I have to go now.’ I cried and screamed, ‘Please Daddy don’t go! Don’t go!!!’ He said, ‘I love you, I’m okay, don’t be sad and don’t be scared. I’m okay.’ He started to rise up, up ,up in the air, and then he was gone. The next thing I know my husband is saying, ‘What’s wrong?’ I was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking up at the corner where the wall meets the ceiling, and  yelling for my dad to stay.

Context/Interpretation: This collection depicts folk belief in a soul and implies the existence of an afterlife or spirit. Further, this narrative reflects the life cycle as the informant’s father spoke to her after death, and he mentioned new life, her children.

 

Customs
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mother’s Witty Toast

The following is a recollection of a slightly drunken toast given by a friend’s mother. I had seen a video clipping of his mother giving the toast on the social media application Snapchat, although I could not understand what was being said (although it was quite clear from the many empty glasses of wine beside her what libations had led into the toast itself).

 

When I next saw my friend, I asked him out of curiosity what the specifics of the toast were. He indicated that it is a witty one his mother frequently gives at particular family outings when all six of his siblings are present at the table.

 

This particular toast was aimed at the eldest brother, who had just welcomed a newborn son (his first child) with his wife.

 

My friend’s imparting of his mother’s toast went as follows:

 

Here’s to you, as good as you are. Here’s to me, as bad as I am. And as bad as I am, you’re as good as you are. And as good as you are, I’m as bad as I am.

 

A common trait seen in toasts is a subtle mixture of humor and seriousness. Being a proclamation of goodwill towards the subject (or subjects), the overall message usually bears a heartfelt sentimentality meant to outweigh any teasing or foolery that precedes it.

 

What is distinct of this toast, in particular, is a cheeky admission regarding each side’s tendency towards good and bad, with an exclusive insistence of ‘good’ on the side of the subject and an exclusive insistence of ‘bad’ on the side of the presenter.

 

Despite the presenter painting themselves as bad, the repetition that makes up the bulk of the toast indicates this in a manner more celebratory than derogatory and only made possible/acceptable by the good of the subject balancing out the bad of the other.

 

In this, both sides of good and bad are made necessary by their pairing together.

Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Agra Hadik

I interviewed my informant, Vanessa, in the band office lounge. She is of Armenian descent on her mother’s side. Because of this, she was able to provide me with Armenian traditions around important celebrations. This includes the Armenian tradition of Agra Hadik:

 

Vanessa: “Agra Hadik is the baby’s first bath after baptism. It’s a big deal, and the family usually hosts a party at their house where people get together and eat stuff. Oh! And sometimes, a priest comes to bless the baby if there’s one nearby.”

 

Me: “Can you provide me with more details of the bath or the party?”

 

Vanessa: “On the bath?… um… they use special oils to wash the baby. That’s about it. And after the bath, they lay out a quilt or towel or blanket of some sort with items — like a book, money, a calculator, a stethoscope, a thimble… what else? [I told her this was enough if she couldn’t think of more examples] But, yeah, they are, like, representatives of career paths in the baby’s life. You place the baby on the quilt, and let them pick an item that they are drawn to. It’s representative of their future and what they’ll become.”

 

Me: “I’m guessing you did this?”

 

Vanessa: “Yeah! I picked a stethoscope which, I mean — [she gestures to herself] Gerontology major… going to med school. [She smiles] My brother picked money.”

 

My informant told me that she learned this tradition from her grandparents and her great aunts and uncles. She has also seen this celebration performed for her cousins.

 

She also suggested I do a little research to make sure she got the facts straight. I have attached a source I found that describes the same folk tradition, just with a few alternate details from what I documented from my informant.

Link: https://holidappy.com/party-planning/agra-hadeeg

 

Analysis

I have learned of this tradition from class and from readings. It’s fascinating knowing that I know someone linked to the very tradition we talked about in class! I also think it’s amusing my informant picked an item that ultimately did reflect her chosen career path.

 

Childhood
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Birthday Tablecloth

Title: The Birthday Tablecloth

Category: Ceremonial Object

Informant: Lisa L. Gabbard

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: 58

Occupation: Housewife

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/8/18

Description:

The Birthday Tablecloth is a white cotton blend table cloth belonging to the child whose birthday is taking place. The tablecloth is taken out of storage annually for the person’s birthday. Beginning when they are an infant and ending around the age of 18, usually when the person stops having organized childhood birthday parties, the tablecloth only makes an appearance once a year for the party itself. Guests arrive to the birthday party, sign-in to the event on a piece of paper or book placed on a table near the front entry, and then approach the cloth on a table immediately next-to the sign-in. The guest then places their hand on the tablecloth and their hand is outlined with a fabric marker by the adult manning the sign-in process. After having their hand traced, the participant then signs their own name on the tablecloth on or around where their handprint falls. The guest is then allowed into the party with the other guests. After the party has concluded, the tablecloth is taken to the sewing room for additional steps.

The party title, aka age of child whose birthday has taken place or theme of the event, is catalogued on the side of the tapestry in a small colored font that represents the theme of the party that occurred. The handprints for that event are then sewn over and embroidered by machine in the same color. The signature of the party-goer is also embroidered in the same color, permanently sealing their handwriting at that stage of life.

Context/Significance:

The Birthday Tablecloth is taken out each year for the child’s progressive birthdays. The table cloth will evolve into having a collection of handprints all overlapping each other, in different colors, and progressive sizes until the birthday table cloth is no longer used at the birthday celebration. The tablecloth shows the progression of the child’s age (size of handprints), friendships (which guests are invited from year to year), and interests (theme of birthday party thrown). Each child has their own birthday tablecloth. Sometimes the parents of children attending birthday parties will sign the tablecloth as well and adult handprints and signatures are visible. The tablecloth is the property of the child and it is able to be used whenever the child desires, however, the cloth is primarily only seen during birthday celebrations.

Personal Thoughts:

This has been my favorite birthday tradition. I loved getting to see my best friend’s name and handprint on the table cloth from years prior and having a record of the types of parties I’ve been thrown. Friends and family think that the tablecloth is super cool and a fun special way to remember a celebration. The whereabouts of all three of The Gabbard Family birthday tablecloths are unknown at this point (We’ve moved several times and each move things just get burred deeper and deeper within cardboard boxes and tubber-ware).

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic

Mexican “Gaze” Superstition

Leah Perez studies Latin American History at the University of Southern California. She was born in Gardena, California and moved to Torrance, California once she began school. Her parents are both Hispanic; her father is Puerto Rican and Mexican, and her mother is Mexican. Leah’s entire extended family speaks Spanish, and while Leah grew up speaking English, she has gained some fluency in Spanish by communicating with her relatives. Her immediate family observes Mexican traditions and has imparted many of these values to Leah and her siblings. In the excerpt below, Leah describes some Mexican superstitions regarding babies:

Leah: “Something that’s weird… I don’t know if it’s a Mexican thing, or if its just my family… but, you aren’t supposed to look at a baby while its sleeping, because it takes their beauty away apparently.”

Isabella: “Does this apply only to newborns?”

Leah: “Just like a sleeping child… maybe until they’re like, a toddler. So you can look at them, but not for a prolonged period, I guess. So, a quick glance is okay… like, to make sure they’re still breathing.”

The superstition Leah describes here is unique in that it violates normal parenting techniques. One might expect a new parent to observe their newborn as they sleep, so as to ensure that they are breathing properly, or to simply look at them in appreciation of their beauty.

The superstition also reveals some values; it emphasizes the importance of beauty and warns against any action (i.e. gazing at the baby for too long) that could compromise a child’s appearance. In a society that disregards outward appearance, one would not expect to find a superstition like the one Leah describes here.

Childhood
Folk speech
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Proverbs

“It Takes a Village,” Kenyan Proverb

Stanley Kalu studies screenwriting at the University of Southern California. He is originally from Nigeria, but has moved several times throughout his life. He spent a significant portion of his life in Nairobi, Kenya and now lives in Los Angeles, California. He recalls hearing a number of stories as he grew up; many of these stories conveyed moral lessons and were told to younger audiences. In the excerpt below, Stanley recounts a folk tale he heard as a child:

Stanley: “I mean, this isn’t that remarkable… but the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is very, very apt… particularly in rural areas of Africa, because that literally does happen. If you uh, like you can get beaten by anybody for misbehaving within these communities, because they really do believe that it does take a village. So everyone is your auntie and everyone is your uncle; and therefore, if they are older than you, you have to respect them, as you would respect your parents.”

Here, Stanley describes a proverb that has symbolic and literal value. The proverb addresses some pragmatic concerns about raising a child; it acknowledges how incredibly time consuming the process is and encourages others to help in whatever way they can. In a way, this proverb encourages parents to subsidize the child-rearing process to people they know and respect.

This proverb also provides insight to the social hierarchies that exist in Nairobi. Stanley notes in the transcript that children are expected to behave respectfully towards their elders (who care for them in return). There is a feeling of collective obligation present in Nairobi, which is evident in the way they go about raising their children.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic

Rocking an Empty Cradle: Mexican Superstition

Leah Perez studies Latin American History at the University of Southern California. She was born in Gardena, California and moved to Torrance, California at a young age. Her parents are both Hispanic; her father is Puerto Rican and Mexican, and her mother is Mexican. Leah’s entire extended family speaks Spanish, and while Leah grew up speaking English, she has gained some fluency in Spanish by communicating with her relatives. Her immediate family observes Mexican traditions and has imparted many of these values to Leah and her siblings. In the excerpt below, Leah describes a superstition that discourages expecting parents from rocking an empty cradle:

Leah: “You can’t rock an empty cradle… its bad luck.”

Isabella: “Why? What are the implications?”

Leah: “It’s just bad luck… I think like, bad luck with your child… if you haven’t given birth yet. Like, if you have a nursery that isn’t inhabited yet. It might cause complications during the pregnancy.”

This superstition provides insight into Mexican values. It suggests a degree of anxiety surrounding pregnancy; and from that, one can infer that childbirth and reproduction are important hallmarks of life. This relates to the strong Catholic influence present in many Latin American communities. Catholicism recognizes the importance of reproduction and encourages its practitioners to have children as often as possible. Many of Leah’s family members have large families, which they regard as a symbol of prosperity.

Customs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

Claremont Colleges Birthday Tradition

Background information:

Throwing friends into the fountain on the day of their birthday has been a prank tradition for the span of several decades, and has become a birthday ritual for students at the five Claremont colleges. It is even noted on Claremont McKenna College’s website that the fountain at Flamson Plaza is a site that students visit to either study or to throw their friends into on their birthday.

Main Piece:

On the day of a friend’s birthday, it is a common tradition to throw that friend into a specific fountain at Claremont McKenna College. The fountain is located at Flamson Plaza and is in the middle the Claremont McKenna College campus. It is common for students from all five of the Claremont Consortium schools: Scripps College, Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, and Claremont McKenna College, to engage in this tradition. When it is a student’s birthday, friends of that student often barge into the student’s bedroom early in the morning, physically carry them over to the fountain at Flamson Plaza at Claremont McKenna College, and throw the student into the cold water as a sort of wake up to their birthday. When interviewing a friend of mine who was thrown into the fountain last year during her freshman year of college, she said that it was definitely one of the highlights of her time attending Claremont McKenna College. She said that this tradition was very unifying in the fact that this was a birthday ritual that was specific to the Claremont Colleges and made her feel that she was a part of the college community. My friend stated that even though this is a small tradition, it has a large impact on how an individual relates to the community at the Claremont Colleges and reaffirms the fact that a student’s friends care about them and want to celebrate their birthday.

 

Personal thoughts:

Throughout my time at Scripps College during my freshman year of college, I found that this was a specific tradition that peaked my interest. I would constantly see people being thrown into the ice-cold water of the fountains at Flamson Plaza and think that is was very entertaining. I would often think that it looks very entertaining to someone watching, but must be relatively burdensome for the student being abruptly woken up and thrown into the cold water in the morning of their birthday. As such, my friends at Scripps College knew that I did not want to be thrown into the fountain on my birthday and always joked that they would throw me into the fountain but never did, to my relief!

Childhood
Festival
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Easter Eggs

In Aleppo, when I was growing up, we didn’t have fancy egg coloring kits. What we would use to dye our Easter eggs was skin of red onions. There weren’t a ton of colors… there was only red. There’s a reason for that. During the crucifixion of Christ, Mary had an egg in her shall. While she witnessed her son bleeding out on the cross she cried. Her tears mixed with the blood of Christ blended and colored the egg she carried. The color red represents Jesus’ blood. Also the hard shell of the egg is a sign of the tomb in which Jesus was encapsulated and as you break the egg you release Jesus from the tomb as He resurrected.

My grandmother would boil the eggs on either Good Friday or the Saturday after along with the skin of red onions. I would stand next to her and watch her peel the onions and put it in the boiling water. After the eggs were boiled they were removed and cooled and then we would put them on a platter. We put them in the living room… we didn’t have a family room… sometimes we put them on the dining room table. When guests would come, we would sit around the table and greet each other in the Easter tradition. One person would say “Krisdos haryal i merelots,” which means Christ is risen from the dead. One would reply, “Orhnyal e harutyun’ Krisdosi,” which means blessed is the resurrection of Christ.

We would leave the eggs overnight till Easter morning. I always got to be the one who carried the plate from the kitchen to the dining room table… it’s not much but it was my role. Then we would fight the eggs. My uncle would come… when he was born, Easter was very close to his birthday so they named him Harout after the Armenian word for resurrection, haroutune. In American his name is Harry. I fought the most eggs with him. I won most of the egg fights… I don’t know if they let me win or if I won off of merit but either way… I won.

My Thoughts:

I never knew there was a reason behind dying eggs. It’s interesting how now there are many different ways to dye eggs. Companies have monetized a religious tradition. I suppose that’s the case with many holidays though including Christmas, Valentines Day, and Hanukkah.

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