USC Digital Folklore Archives / Childhood
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Easter

Main Piece

The informant told me about Greek Easter and its associated traditions as practiced in Northern California. Greek Easter occurs one week after regular easter, and the celebrations the informant attends are at a local park. Classical Greek dances are performed, as well as an egg cracking game. Eggs are hard boiled and dyed red before they are used for the game. Two people each take an egg, and then the two people hit the eggs together until one egg cracks. The first person to have their egg crack is the loser. Nothing is won or lost. There is also a traditional easter egg hunt for “little kids,” as the informant called them.


Informant Details

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Outside San Diego

Language: English

The informant’s grandmother is “very Greek” and the informant always visits for Greek Easter. The informant commented that Northern California has no Greeks, but even so, about 100 people would come each year. Presumably, Greek Easter is a very important holiday for community building.


The traditions included in Greek Easter are performed only at the specified time of year, one week after the traditional Christian Easter, and only among other Greeks.


The game with the eggs is perhaps indicative of the importance of strength in Greek culture; you want your egg to be the strong one, the one that doesn’t crack. The influence of American easter “traditions” is also very interesting. The easter egg hunt was invented by corporations, and although it has influenced Greek Easter to a small extent, the participation is limited to “little kids,” which reflects the fact that as the children grow up they will perhaps ‘age into’ Greek cultural traditions.


Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Visiting Spirits and Dead Babies

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. She’d speak fondly of their unusual ceremonies and traditions, and how, by the end of it, her host families said she was so in tune with the culture, that if they closed their eyes, they couldn’t tell she was a foreigner.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

“In Japan, it’s a uh … a worshipping of dead ancestors day in August, Oh-Bon. They put out the dead people’s – the dead grandpa, the dead grandma, they put out their favorite food, and they put out chopsticks, and they will, you know, burn their favorite incense and they do all this so the dead can come and visit. They do this in their home. Every year, in August. It’s always in August. So it’s like Halloween, except it’s got a religious significance. It’s when the dead come back. They have festivals in town too, Oh-Bon-Matsi.

“It was a festival for dead children. And there was a river running through the town. Not dead babies but dead children. And, they… But. You know lanterns with lights in them? They’d float these lanterns with lights in them down the river and it was just gorgeous. Each lantern represented a dead child and they had this beautiful eerie music, just vocalizations for the occasion. Traditional Japanese instruments too. And incense burning. It was a very volcanic, sort of lunarscape in the far north. I can’t remember the name of the… the far north of Honshu. So you can look up ‘dead baby festival Honshu’ and figure it out.”

This is a very comforting view of the afterlife. It’s as if death is not the end, but merely a move to a different city. Growing up, she imparted this same sense of the dead on me. She’d always tell me not to fear death or the presence of ghosts, but to welcome them, as they were once in our shoes and only wanted to visit. The dead baby festival further illustrates their benevolent view of death. In America, when a child dies, we mourn and often times never speak of it. In Japan, it is tragic, however they still take time to celebrate their lives. No matter if that life was only for an instant.


Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Life Cycle/Celebration

I asked one of my good friends from school if he had any celebrations in his family that he was proud of and wanted to share. What he told me was very interesting and related to my family as well.


Jo said that, “My great grandpa was a German exile, and traveled to the east coast near New York and New Jersey area. That is where he primarily grew up. When he got older, he wanted to open a restaurant so he opened a steak house near where he grew up. His signature dish was the T-bone steak, and whenever he would eat it, he would grab the T-bone by the top of the bone and eat it with his hands, it was his way of celebrating the meal and celebrating life. He passed away a while back, but my whole extended family and I always go to eat at the steakhouse which is still there once a year. What we will do is order one T-bone, and pass it down the table for everyone to take a bite from it while holding the bone in their hands, it is our tradition of celebrating my great grandpa as well as celebrating being together in that moment at a family owned restaurant.”


Background Info: Jo’s family is from the New Jersey area, but his great grandpa is from Germany so he has ties to parts of the country. His family still owns the steak house and he still partakes in this tradition/celebration every year.


Context: Jo told me about this fascinating family celebration during lunch between classes.


Analysis: This was one of my favorite collections from my 20 that I gathered. I think that the celebration is cool to pass on, but I was very fascinated by the bigger meaning of the behavioral action of eating the T-bone with your hand, the meaning of celebrating life and freedom as done by the care free action of eating with your hands.


Happy New Year!

Main Piece: SM: Do you do the thing on New Years, where your parents throw a bunch of money on the floor, like coins, near a door actually, and all the children kind of rush for it and try to collect as much money as you can, because it like symbolizes like good fortune, you’ll get rich, and it promises wealth. Also, when it strikes 12 you’re supposed to jump a lot, like try and touch the sky, and it promises you’ll grow taller. Both of these are LIES.  Still do it though, even though I don’t believe it, I still do it.


Context: These are two traditions, followed by Filipino cultures on New Year’s Eve.


Background: SM grew up in a fully Filipino household, and so these typical traditions surrounded her as she was growing up, and she still continues to practice them.


Analysis: Upon further research, New Year’s Eve traditions are huge in Filipino cultures. Her tradition of jumping to get taller is fairly unique, but the money one is pretty common. Most stories I found of this are the same, where the parents throw a bunch of coins and the children try to collect as much of it as they can to promise good fortune in the new year. I think SM’s tradition of jumping probably stemmed from the fact that she, and her whole family, are fairly short, and therefore to make her feel better about her height, her parents promised her that if she jumps right at midnight she’ll grow more!


Tales /märchen

Rockin, Rollin, Ridin!

Main Piece: KK: My mom used to sing this song to us, when we were falling asleep and stuff, and for the life of me I can’t ever figure out where it came from. She went: “Tommy’s at the engine, someone rings the bell, Sarah holds the lantern, to show that all is well, rockin rollin ridin, all along the rails, heading for morning town, many miles away.” It’s about a train, if you couldn’t tell, but I have no idea where she got that song, but she used to sing it!


Context: This song was sung as a lullaby when KK and her sister were young.


Background: KK’s mother learned this from her grandmother, who probably heard the version sung by The Seekers and turned it into a lullaby, much akin to “A Bushel and a Peck”, which is often used as lullabies as well.


Analysis: Turns out, upon research, this song is by The Seekers, and is called Morningtown Ride! So many people I saw said that their mother used to sing this song to them as a lullaby, so somewhere along the way this song turned into a typical lullaby. It is interesting to think about this alongside the issue of Simon and Garfunkel and their “folk” music, because even though this song was authored and created by a band and publicized, the fact that culture has taken it and turned it into a lullaby has changed it into a piece of folklore.



Why do we have Christmas Lights?

Main Piece: SR: So when I was growing up, we put Christmas lights on our house every year, and my dad told us the reason you do it is because Santa then knows that there’s kids in your house, and the houses without lights don’t have kids and so he doesn’t go to those houses!


Context: This tradition was practiced every Christmas.


Background: SR’s family was big on celebrating Christmas, as they were a big family with lots of kids and lots of grandkids, and so the amount of Christmas traditions, specifically Santa related, were abundant.


Analysis: I love this piece especially. Christmas lights are very common around the holiday season (and even a little too long afterwards sometimes!), but never before have I heard a reason given for Christmas lights. I love that Santa is brought into every aspect of SR’s Christmas– from the usual tree and presents and cookies to the less common Christmas lights! It also provides explanation for the houses that might make your kids sad with no lights– they’re not rude, they don’t hate Christmas, don’t worry! They just don’t have any kids so they need to make sure Santa knows not to come!




  1. The main piece: Pickle

“This is a game that happened in my neighborhood every summer growing up. We called it ‘Pickle.’ All the kids get together, you need a tennis ball and a group of people. Two people are selected…it’s kinda like monkey in the middle but more violent. So the two chosen people are playing catch with tennis ball in air. Everyone else starts running and the throwers try to hit them. A tennis ball doesn’t hurt that much, so it’s fine. No need to be worried.

“Actually, you know what, it’s the opposite of monkey in the middle. Hmm, interesting. Yeah cuz you’re not trying to be in the middle, you wanna be running. We would play for hours and there’s no score, no winners, losers, anything like that, just a fun thing to do. We only played it during the summer, I don’t know why. Kinda had all the kids in our neighborhood, all the different age groups, genders. You’d see a 4 year old playing with a 15 year old.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“No origin, just something I played growing up. I guess the kids in the neighborhood were already playing it when I was born. It was just happening, no person whose idea it was. It already existed. Happened in Tiburon, CA. It’s a city near San Fran.”

  1. The context of the performance

“Well, I guess it’s kind of like controlled violent outbursts. It’s a way to blow off steam for kids bored during the summer.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This game sounds like a friendly neighborhood tradition that ends up arising in many closer communities. It provides a way for children of the neighborhood to build relationships independent of age, background, or gender because everyone learns it from the vernacular tradition. Just like siblings often have physical games and altercations when they are young, a violent game like pickle naturally draws the players together and gives everyone a sense of belonging when they are all running from the ball.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a 22 year old American male and grew up in Tiburon, where he spent lots of time with his father and grandfather, as well as the other kids in his tight-knit neighborhood. His primary language is English, and he currently resides in Los Angeles.

Life cycle

Sari Ceremonies

  1. The main piece: Sari Ceremony

“It is the first time they tie a sari for a little girl. It’s just the first time that a little girl gets a sari, and the family makes a big event out of it. Maybe it was, in the olden days, you know, very very olden days, people got married when they were 9 or 10. This was when the girl was 6 years of age, so maybe people were letting them know.

“And by the way, there’s an equivalent boy’s ceremony. A dhoti, or pancha ceremony. Boys’ cloths are called dhoti, or panchalu, and this is from the Andhra people south of India. So it’s the same thing for boys also.

“Usually, we do it in odd years. 5, 7, 11. But you know, all Indian things are like that. We always give odd numbers of money as gift. And then, you just invite near and dear. That’s it.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“You know, I went to some of my friends’ sari ceremonies growing up, but I never had one. So I thought, okay, when I have my own daughter, I’ll have a nice sari ceremony for her. So we visited India and we had one for her, and we had her grandparents and aunts and uncles there, and it felt, what is it in English? Complete.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

The sari ceremonies in Andhra Pradesh, a state in South India, are examples of coming-of-age ceremonies. In the very old days, they would have indicated that a girl’s childhood was complete, and that she was now available to be married. While the marriage connotation has definitely faded, the sari ceremony is still a marker of transition from helpless child to young person capable of decision making and responsibility. Wearing a sari requires a number of complex steps, and the sari ceremony also announces the girl has reached a certain level of maturity. The informant mentioned that her daughter’s sari ceremony brought many members of her family together, showing that sari and dhoti ceremonies have also transitioned into large community events.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American female. She was born in India and grew up with her two sisters in a small town near a holy river in Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari River. After moving to the United States and raising her children there, she enjoyed reminiscing on her childhood in India and sharing stories of it with her children, so that they could see the differences in their upbringings and learn about their Indian heritage.



Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Do you believe in ghosts?

CS: Aha! Bitch. Ha! I believe in ghosts hella! Do you? Look at that scratch. Look at that scratch. Look at those DOTS! (Shows me several marks on her arm) Where did these come from?

ZM: Your nails. (She has long nails)

CS: What nails make four dots that look like that?

ZM: That is weird. I don’t know. You should look at astrology, like…

CS: I’m haunted. Um, there’s like a Filipino ghost that I’m like lowkey scared of.

ZM: What do you mean?

CS: His name is Asuang. It’s fucking scary. So, um, what I was told was that, he eats children that stay up late, but it’s like a real thing.

ZM: Asuang? Does it mean anything or is that just a name?

CS: No, it’s just like they named it that. And, (lowers voice) Asian people really like, like scary movies and I’m just really fucked up about this. But, um, so, it’s like a, like a shapeshifting monster that like if you’re out past your bedtime, like if you disobey your parents, they’ll like leave you out in the cold and he’ll… He like has… Like what I was told, is that he has like a giant tongue and that he’ll like creep up on you. You’re not supposed to… He’ll like knock on your door, you’re not supposed to answer it. If you answer it, he’ll like… sort of like an anaconda, just like… get you. What is…? Not anaconda.

ZM: Oh, it’s like… um constrictor. Boa constrictor.

CS: Yeah! Like a boa constrictor with his tongue. And he like appears as like different things cause he’s a shapeshifter. So if you do anything bad, or like you disobey anybody, or like you’re just like sinning, he’ll like, he’ll befriend you in normal life. And then he’ll HAUNT you AT NIGHT. Cause he’s a SHAPESHIFTER! And it’s literally, so scary. Ugh! It’s so scary. (Pulls up a picture) LOOK! LOOK AT THAT TONGUE BITCH!

ZM: Ohhh no.

CS: LOOK AT THAT TONGUE BITCH! They love children, Hoe. They love children.

ZM: Asuang?

CS: No, yeah, so my ass stayed in the house. Past ten o’clock? I didn’t leave. I didn’t even go downstairs. I stayed in my room. I was literally. fucking. petrified. And like, my dad would like joke around with me, like he would literally like, we’d be upstairs in our room in the Philippines, cause like they (Asuang) don’t come to America. They’re only in the Philippines.

ZM: Asuang?

CS: Yeah. Like, it’s only there. They only haunt the Philippines. So when I was… I used to go a lot. Umm, my dad would play. He would be like… I would be upstairs in my room. Cause I have a room there. Cause I was there a lot. And I’d be in my room, chillin, in bed, 9:45, I’m out, like I’m not going downstairs. I’m not going in the dark. You got me fucked up if you think I’m gonna go downstairs and fuck with that demon. And my dad went, “Go get me ice cream, from the kitchen.” I’d say, “No. No no no. You can go get yourself ice cream.” And then he’d leave, close the door, and he’ll leave and start banging on it. Or he’d like make really loud footsteps, or he’d go like this (rapidly scratches table) He would really fuck with me. He really like… He didn’t like me. (laughs) He tried to kill me. Like I swear to god. I was like shivering.

ZM: So is it only kids? Like could he (the dad) go down and like totally be fine?

CS: No, yeah. He only, he only eats kids. Once you hit like, teens, you’re good. So I’m not scared anymore. But, they’re real.

ZM: No longer scared of Asuang (laughs)

CS: THEY’RE. REAL. No, cause like the thing is, I used to have nightmares about this. Like, I imagined Asuang as like…giant white tongue, and like sort of like Slender Man, like black everything like super like nondescript figure except very distinct white tongue that would just come and then like wrap around you and take you away and eat you. And like thing about it is like, they eat your heart first. They go for the heart. And then they just leave you to die in the forest.

ZM: Dang. I’m scared of Asuang.

CS: But yeah, that’s the shit that I was scared of. Asuang fucking murdered my whole childhood. No, like I would legit… Like if I was in the Philippines I would have like nightmares because I wasn’t the greatest kid. Like, I’m not kidding you, my grandparents, if we would go shopping and there was glass around. Like if we were in like the food section, I was the only child who was mandated to walk like this (folds both arms behind her back) I wasn’t allowed to touch shit. Like, and I was… Me and my brother were the only ones. We had to…If there was anything breakable, we’d have to walk in the store like this. So, I wasn’t a great kid. So they said, “Asuang’s gonna get you.”

ZM: They told you all the Asuang stories.

CS: They told me all the time! They were…Every night, they were like, “Oh you better behave. Go up, go to bed by your bedtime tonight. Do you want to die?” And, yeah. So, that’s how my childhood was ruined by my grandparents, and my parents, and my older cousins, and everyone who wanted to fuck with me. Cause I believed that shit. And I still believe that shit. But, I’m too old now. They can’t get me. I’m 20. I’m 20 bitch. I’m invincible now. (laughs)

ZM: (laughs) Asuang comes and gets you…

CS: (laughs) Don’t. play. I’m not a kid anymore! The thing is, the younger they are (children) the more they (Asuang) like them. So like, they’re more pure. So like, fetuses… That shit’s good. They like fetuses.

ZM: But they’re innocent tho… So, isn’t that like kinda counterintuitive?

CS: I think, I think it’s also part of the reason like why like miscarriages, like it was… Sort of like…

ZM: Like Asuang came and got their…

CS: Like the parent did something. So like if you’re a parent whose caring for a child and you fuck up… You’re kinda fucked. But, they can’t punish you. So, they punish your kids. Fuck that, right? I’m not having kids. Cause my kids…Aha! Dead. I won’t get through one pregnancy, Hoe. (laughs) But, yeah. So, the younger they are… So I was like five. Prime time Asuang hunting season. I was between the ages of like three and six. They love that age. Soooo…. Clllkk. I was almost dead. I swear to you, I almost died. Fuck, Filipino culture’s kinda wild.


Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed gold coins laying around on various coffee tables and such. A few days later I asked her about them and this continuation of the conversation was recorded then.


Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.


Analysis: The story of Asuang was pretty terrifying. I can’t imagine being told this as a child. From the use described by CS it was mostly used by parents to keep their children in line. I was fascinated by how even though CS acknowledges that it was a story of manipulation used by parents and that she is now too old to be eaten by Asuang, she is still very afraid of him. Unlike other horror stories that kids usually grow out of later and realize that they’re made up stories, she still firmly believes in Asuang. His mythical characteristics do not shake her belief, it only makes her more afraid of his capabilities.






La Llorona

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KA) and I (ZM).

KA: Oh, and we have La Llorona.

ZM: Oh! Wait, wait wait, what?

KA: La Llorona?

ZM: What is that?

KA: So, La Llorona is… well just word wise, it’s like someone that cries, a woman that cries a lot. Like “llorar” is cry. La Llorona is, um… It’s this lady… There’s different versions of it, but the version that um I was told is that there’s this lady who was married and she…She and her husband… It was like first love, love at first sight, he saw her and he wanted to marry her. Um, they got married within like a short amount of time after they met, they had kids and she, she kinda like let, quote on quote “let herself go.” Like she wasn’t taking good care of herself because she was like focused on the kids and the kids were like driving her crazy. And one day…She had like two or three kids. Umm, one day, she like completely lost it and ended up like drowning her kids and um, I think killing her husband? For sure, she killed her kids. And then it’s said that she like runs, er walks around like the town crying “Mis hijos! Mis hijos!” Like “My kids! My kids!” Cause after she like snapped out of… like the craziness or whatever, she realized what she had done and she was like upset that her kids were dead. So, she goes around like crying “Mis hijos. Mis hijos.” Crying for her kids. Even though she killed them.

ZM: Do you know who told you that story?

KA: Uh, I think my cousin.


Context: I was talking to KA about their childhood when this conversation was recorded.


Background: KA was born in El Salvador but raised in South Central Los Angeles. She is a junior at the University of Southern California.


Analysis:I got really excited to hear this particular story because we discussed it in class, but before that I had never heard of it. I was interested to hear the version of KA who heard the story more organically than how I was exposed. This version included the woman “letting herself go” which I hadn’t heard before. The reference to women caring less about their own appearance after bearing children was an interesting twist.