USC Digital Folklore Archives / Childhood
Tales /märchen

Big Cookie Hero


My informant is an American from Minnesota, who has ancestors from Czech republic and Sweden, back to 1880.

“My grandmother used to tell me a story of a big cookie that could roll around and have adventure.  Sometimes it was oatmeal cookie sometimes it was a chocolate chip cookie, but they would roll around have adventures, save kids…She may have the story come down from her ancestors. Sweets are big product in Sweden. She may possibly hear this from her mother. It was like a bed time story. The big cookie was the hero. He would roll down the streets and rescue a lot of stupid kids. I think the cookie did talk, say things like ‘you stupid kid, how did you stuck in the mud? how did you lock yourself in the room?'”

“My grandma, who lives in St. Paul now, she still always has a mass amount of cookies and pastry that she baked before we came. So much culture pass down through food. ”

As an animation filmmaker and teacher, Christine loves this kind of tales that she heard from her family, which has also inspired her a lot in her creation.

I think this kind of folklore tales is really playing a positive role in people’s childhood, which could make the children grow up happily and imaginatively.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Red pocket money under pillow

My informant is a student who was originally from China but came to study in US since high school.

“You know, red pocket money is one of the biggest tradition during Spring Festival in China. But in my family, not only we get red pocket money from people much older than us, we also put them under our pillow at night. It’s like really coordinating with the word “压”(push down) in “压(push down)岁(age)钱(money)” (red pocket money). And my grandparents would also put ivy leaves inside there, just for good luck.”

“I know they are many superstitions from Chinese family, especially my family haha. But we still do that, I don’t think the truth matters that much in this case, I like these traditions.”

I think it’s really interesting that in both asian and western culture we have this kind of gift thing for kids during important festivals. Hoping for good luck with ivy leaves inside red pocket money that placed under their pillow to Chinese children, waiting for christmas gift to be put inside the christmas sock for western children, they both serve as a good method to give them hope and believes; as well as for better sleeping quality since they all happen during bed time.


Life cycle

Un hombre con pelo en el pecho vale dos

Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. Her father grew up in El Salvador, so Salvadoran culture has been engrained into her upbringing and has influenced things that she learned from her parents.


Main piece: “Un hombre con pelo en el pecho vale dos,” “A man with hair on his chest is worth two”


“So this is a proverb that my father told me- he’s from El Salvador. To me as a joke-it’s not something he believes, just something he heard growing up and he thought it was funny so he decided to share it with me.


Basically what the proverb means is that you are more of a man if you have chest hair! It’s a parody of the more recognizable proverb that exists in both Spanish and English since It’s a comedic take on the proverb “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”


It was something he would hear a lot growing up from his dad and brothers, as well as something that got repeated a lot and is all boys school. It was usually said to tease boys who didn’t have facial hair yet as that was seen a sign of immaturity or weakness. My dad says that to get revenge, sometimes the boys who were teased would shave their bully’s’ chests in their sleep! It was all in good fun though – this wasn’t a proverb that was taken very seriously or meant to be truly insulting.”


Performance Context: This proverb would be told usually among men, from older men to younger boys.


My Thoughts: I think this proverb better reveals Latin American society’s attitudes towards boyhood, masculinity, and coming of age. It is definitely used in a way such that growing chest hair makes a person part of “the group,” as the person now has something that all of the other members of the group have.


“El Justo Juez” – The Just Judge

Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. Her father grew up in El Salvador, so Salvadoran culture has been engrained into her upbringing and has influenced things that she learned from her parents.


Main Piece: So growing up in El Salvador, my dad heard this story about this ghostly creature, called the Just Judge. Um so according to the story, he was um he would appear only in the night, and he would be riding a black horse. Um and when you got close to him, you would realize that he had no head, just like um a cloud of smoke coming out of his neck where his head should be. Um so it was said that um that if you approached him, he would say to go back inside your house. You would only see him very late at night when no one else was around. And he would say that the night belonged to him, and that you shouldn’t be there. My uncle actually claims that he saw him, and that when he tried… and that he saw this figure. He saw like this cloud of smoke on the street when he was walking out at night on like a very deserted street, and when he went through it, he claims he saw that figure in the cloud of smoke, and that it walked right through him, like the horse walked right through him like it wasn’t made of anything. Um so he panicked and he ran back home. Um but since that day, he’s kinda rationalized it by saying that it was an optical illusion or that it was a cloud that was really low, so he doesn’t actually believe in it. But it’s always fun to entertain the idea.


Performance Context: This tale is usually told from parents to children to keep them from staying out too late. It was probably a cautionary tale, so they came up with this frightening creature to keep kids from staying out past their curfew.


My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how people have come up with such legends in order to precaution their children against doing certain things, yet these stories become so integrated into society that people believe they have seen or heard the characters described in these legends. This legend almost seems reminiscent of the Sleepy Hollow Legend with the headless horseman.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

La Llorona

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-“Ok so we were told the story of La llorona, and for us it was basically like uh the background was that this woman this beautiful woman in this indigenous pueblo uh she fell in love with the Spanish conquistador and had children but then the conquistador left her for like another woman. Because she was in love with this man so much, every time she saw him in them, the children. And that’s the whole reason she drowned them in a like. After she drowned them, she like mourned them so she would go around at night saying ‘oh mis ninos’ (my children) and supposedly she kidnaps kids at night if they’re near the lake. And she is still a ghost that haunts that area where she used to live”

When did you first hear this story?

K-“Um I heard it in elementary school I think I was in 4th grade”

Have you heard this story from other people as well?

K-“Yup, I heard it from my family and the kids at school. Kind of all the same, all the same versions”

Did you use to live near a body of water or some forested area?


Analysis- This version of the story is seen as a way to ensure the proper behavior of children. The legend is specifically aimed to children, as it is the children that get drowned and the children that get kidnapped. The fact that she did not live near a body of water, which is where according to the legend is where the ghost appears, proves that this is a story told by the adults to make children behave. The legend is also given credibility by introducing some history into it in the form of the conquistador and the traditional Mexican woman. This legend would, therefore, not be easily accepted and used in other cultures.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Birthday Customs

The Main Piece
A person’s birthday is a special day. A day of celebration, where said person should feel unique and get treated differently than all others. In the Jones household they uphold this tradition, but in their own unique way. They have set a couple of rules that each member of the household must abide by. The birthday person is allowed to choose every meal that the family will eat for the day and are “chore free,” which is claimed to be the second best part of the privilege. The number one benefit is known as “room choosing.” The birthday person selects any room in the house the night before and is able to totally rearrange it or decorate it in whatever way they want all at their beckoning call. Thereby, they can move furniture around, add curtains or mattresses, anything their heart desires. This room represents their throne, their palace, a place of luxury for the special birthday person. This is all done in celebration of the birthday person and everything is organized by members of the family in a collaborative effort to appease the birthday person.
Background Information
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. Nile’s family has been performing this tradition ever since her eldest brother, who is now twenty-one years old, was six years old (therefore fifteen years of tradition). The Jones family has come to love the tradition as it is performed for each child and adult. Niles’ mother came up with the idea when she saw that her son was crying over not getting enough attention on his birthday. To get him to stop crying she told him that the day would be especially dedicated for him, and he continued to expect it to be so ever since. To make things equal she continued the tradition with each child.
Nile told me this story as we were sitting together discussing her life at home. I found so many elements of her life differed from mine, I had so many questions to ask. It was casual conversation as we were simply chatting like normal friends. Hearing stories about my friend’s different lives has expanded my mind as I learn about their different lifestyles.
Personal Thoughts
Everyone, including myself, shares the commonality of celebrating birthdays. However, it was refreshing to hear that not everyone celebrates birthdays the same, drab way. The Jones family had their own take on what a birthday should entitle and expressed it through the traditions they practiced. I have learned that a family’s beliefs and ideals are often portrayed through the traditions that they practice.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Jade Bracelet

  1. My friend when she was little was wearing a jade- a jade bangle on her left wrist I think, and a gold bracelet on the right. Her mom never told me what that meant… or if it had any significance or anything, but she also remembers like, reading a novel and- with a Chinese American protagonist and it said… it’s suppose to bring wealth to the child in the future. And you have to like take off the bangle… before it gets too small for your wrists.”
  • She knows this because she needed to collect folklore for a project and this happened to be something she learned during the process
  • She learned this from a friend of hers that she interviewed for the project
  • It’s just another Chinese folk belief of how to ensure prosperity for your children
  • The context of the performance is that she and I were merely discussing the different types of folklore we’ve found over the last several weeks.
  • I think it’s interesting how much of an emphasis is put onto making sure children have their best chance at the future in East Asian cultures.

Las Mananitas

Las Mañanitas

Instead of the english birthday song, every time it was a kid’s birthday in my elementary school class we would sing Las Mañanitas before taking turns hitting a piñata. It’s a traditional mexican birthday song sung at parties. YOu usually replace “mi bien” with the person’s name.



Estas son las mañanitas que cantaba el rey David.

Hoy por ser día de tu santo, te las cantamos a ti.


Despierta mi bien, despierta, mira que ya amaneció

ya los pajarillos cantan la luna ya se metió.


Qué linda está la mañana en que vengo a saludarte

venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte.


El día en que tu naciste nacieron todas las flores

y en la pila del bautismo cantaron los ruiseñores.


Ya viene amaneciendo, ya la luz del día nos dio.

Levántate de mañana mira que ya amaneció.



This is the morning song that King David used to sing.

Today being the day of your saint, we sing it to you.


Wake up my dearest, wake up, see now that the day has dawned

the sparrows are singing, the moon has finally set.


How lovely is this morning, when I come to greet you

we all come with joy and pleasure to congratulate you.


The very day you were born all the flowers first bloomed

and in the baptismal font all the nightingales sang.


The dawn has come my darling, and the sunlight is here for us.

Rise up and shine with the morning and you’ll see that here’s the dawn.

I do know of similar things before, as where I went to for middle school in San Antonio, Texas also had similar traditions where they sang long spanish birthday songs. Having never learnt Spanish however, I never knew what the lyrics meant.

Folk Beliefs

Korean Tooth Tradition

Tradition as told by informant: I know that when the kids started losing teeth Luis (husband) would always have us throw it onto the roof. I know that’s a Korean thing, but I don’t know exactly the origin of it, but I do know there’s kids books that explain it.

Informant is a descendant of Irish immigrants who married a Korean man. She would often read about Korean folktales to her children and one of the stories included the tooth tradition. Apparently you have to sing a song or shout a request for the lost tooth to be replace by a mouse tooth. Mice are known to grow teeth for their entire lives so by singing or shouting this request it is supposed to bring the child good luck in growing straight teeth.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bloody Mary

“Ok. So when I was in elementary school, there was this myth that you went in the bathroom, turned off the light, spinned around three times fast, and looked in the mirror, chant Bloody Mary three times, you would see Bloody Mary. And Bloody Mary was this fictitious ghost.”


What did she do?

“She would just appear in the mirror. She was a scary ghost looking thing and she had red eyes.”


Did you ever do this ritual yourself?



Did she appear to you?

“So here’s the thing. I think there is some biology behind this. If you spin around three times really fast and you look straight, your vision is all kind of blurry, so you do see some kind of image. And when all of the other younger girls were there, it was Bloody Mary! In actuality, it was an after image.”


Who told you this story?

“It was told amongst the little girls. Like they wanted to go to the bathroom and try this out. This was elementary school. Second or third grade. We should go do it now haha.”


What do you see as the significance?

“Looking back on it, it resembles my childhood and all of the imagination it used to have. It was a happy carefree time in my life with my friends, … and Bloody Mary haha.”



I agree with the informant that Bloody Mary usually marks a period in childhood because it is frequently performed by youths. The story represents the imagination and fear found in children and the eagerness to perform such rituals to become part of a group.


For another version of Bloody Mary, please visit: (note a similar mention of Bloody Mary’s distinct eyes)

Wirawan, Anita. “Faces In The Mirror: The True Story Behind Bloody Mary – Anita’s Notebook.” Anita’s Notebook. N.p., 14 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.