USC Digital Folklore Archives / Adulthood
Adulthood
Festival
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

West Bengal Wedding Traditions

Context:

The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about wedding traditions.

 

Piece:

Indian weddings vary from state to state. In my state, the wedding traditions are different from in our neighboring state. I was just at an Indian wedding. Our wedding is typically a four-day affair. What happens is, the day before the wedding, the groom’s family invites their own friends and family – no one from the bride’s side – because, apparently, that is the last bachelor meal the groom is going to have. So it’s a big deal. When I went, they had invited over 100 people, there was catered lunch… The groom was served on silver platters with all kinds of silver bowls… everything! It was like a big, big, deal: all the groom’s favorite foods. It was almost as if you were taking him for his last meal before you kill him or something. We give gifts to the groom… anyway, that is the day before the wedding.

The morning of the wedding, the groom’s family sends all kinds of gifts to the bride’s family. Clothes, jewelry, anything… It depends how rich you are and how much you want to spend.

The morning of the wedding, there are some rituals from the bride’s side. One ritual is turmeric. It is considered very auspicious and anti-inflammatory. In the olden days, there was no makeup or anything, so I think that’s how it started. That, what they do is put a little bit of oil and turmeric on the bride and groom’s face, then take a shower, so you glow on your wedding. I think that’s how it started because it’s all organic. And they put fresh turmeric, sandalwood, and oil into paint, and you put it on each other.

That evening is when the groom goes to the bride’s house and the wedding ceremony takes place. The groom does not come back that night. In our culture, the bride and the groom spend the night at the bride’s house, because the wedding takes place all night long. There is music and dancing, everybody stays up all night long.

The next morning, the groom brings the bride home to his family. So when he brings the bride home, it’s like a big welcoming ceremony, because the groom’s side of the family invites all their friends and family to meet the bride, and they welcome the bride to the house. They shower her with gifts – usually lots of jewelry. Gold is considered as an asset for the women, because women were not allowed to inherit property, so during the wedding, the father of the bride gives whatever value they would give to the son, equal amount value in gold to their daughter. So that’s how the ritual started. But now, not so much, since women are allowed to inherit property, and are now very independent and professional, so they don’t need that.

Then, again, there is a big lunch where they invite friends and family to meet the bride. The following day, typically, there is a reception. There is no ritual that goes on; typically you just invite five, six, seven hundred people… it is a huge affair, with catered food, but there is no alcohol served: never on the wedding or reception day. This is just for your friends and family to meet the new bride.

 

Analysis:

It is interesting to hear how much bigger an affair weddings in India are than they are here. It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and will throw huge social celebrations for holidays and occasions, like weddings. In fact, it seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I was shocked to hear that a typical Indian wedding consists of 500-1,000 guests. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.

 

Adulthood
Folk speech
Humor
Initiations
Life cycle
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Polish Wedding Joke

Main Piece

QJ: “Can it be a dirty joke?”

Collector: “Yes.”

QJ: “A lot of the jokes I grew up with are kind of dirty…most Polish ones are…I think one that my grandfather would say asks what is long and hard that a Polish bride gets on her wedding night?”

Collector: “What?”

QJ: “A new last name.”

Analysis

This joke seems to be fairly popular among Polish people, and I have heard it beyond my informant. In fact, I have heard it outside of the realm of Polish culture, and have seen different ethnic backgrounds attached to it. It seems that many prideful Slavic people make light of their often long and hard to pronounce last names through jokes like these. Given my informant’s background for the joke and explaining that he heard ones like these growing up, I would also assume that his culture and family have more of an openness to tell dirty jokes in front of younger audience. Generally, it would seem that older people have more of a relaxed ability to tell jokes that otherwise would not seem appropriate. This joke also implies a patriarchal society, where a woman would receive something from her husband in any interpretation of the joke, but no jokes suggest the woman giving the man anything.

 

Adulthood
Customs
Digital
Folk Beliefs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Determining Marriages from the Chinese Zodiac Calendar

Context:

My informant is a 55 year old woman that immigrated from China to America in her early 30s. She is a mother, a registered nurse, and also a teacher in nursing school. This conversation took place in a hotel one evening, and the informant and I were alone. In this account, she explains the significance behind the Chinese Zodiac calendar in relation how marriages or compatible partners are determined. I asked for the story behind this folklore because I know the Chinese zodiac calendar holds a lot of importance to the informant, for she has discussed it a lot with me in the past. She told me that she doesn’t remember how exactly she learned all of this; rather, it’s so integrated into Chinese culture and talked about so often that it almost seems like common knowledge that everyone will learn one way or another. Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me (while still trying to stay true to her performance), because a direct transcription may not make as much sense on paper as it did in conversation (due to lack of intonation and the fact that you cannot see her facial expressions or hand motions in a transcription). In this conversation, I am identified as K and she is identified as S.

 Text:

S: “In China, we have these zodiacs to, um, see what type of animal you are. For example, this year is the Year of the Pig, so everyone born this year will… have the Pig as their zodiac animal. I don’t remember exactly how it works, but, um, like, the Zodiac calendar lines up with the lunar year—everything we do and believe is connected to what point of the lunar year we’re at. So you can see why this zodiac calendar is so important. We even use it to, um, determine marriages. For example, if a person’s zodiac animal is a Chicken, they can’t marry someone who’s a Dog because chickens and dogs always fight in real life; symbolically, this means that these two, if they get married, will fight for the rest of their lives. Eventually, all of this fighting will break their marriage. Basically we turn to the zodiac calendar to look at, uhh, compatibility. Before Chinese people couples get married, they want to look at each others zodiacs and then look at this other thing called a ‘huang li,’ which determines which years and days they should get married.”

 

K: “Who else can’t get married?”

 

S: “I know that Pigs are considered perfect matches with Tigers, but, um, though I honestly can’t tell you why. I do know that Pigs, in Chinese culture, represent wealth, riches, and, like, will bring lots of happiness, so most people want to marry someone who’s zodiac animal is the year the Pig. People also want to get married the Year of the Pig, and especially want to have children the Year of the Pig.

 

Thoughts:

When I was a kid, my parents would always talk about our zodiac animals—my father is a sheep and my mother and I are rabbits. They would always talk about how their love was meant to be because, in the Chinese Zodiac calendar, sheeps and rabbits are considered perfect matches. Because it was so integrated into my childhood, I think I started to take on the characteristics and personality traits that were expected of a “Rabbit.”

After being told this folklore, I looked up what the expected traits of a Rabbit were, and the weaknesses include “timid” and “hesitant”—though I’ve grown out of it now, as I child, I rarely spoke to anyone because I was too nervous. Strengths of a Rabbit include being polite, generous, and responsible, which were all things that I was (and still am) known for among my family, friends, and peers. Because these traits of our Zodiac animals are so true to who we really are, it’s hard not to take these animals so seriously. As I’m getting older, the concept of marriage is becoming more and more relevant, so it’s natural that my Chinese parents, relatives, and the informant (who is also a Chinese relative) are starting to talk about my Zodiac in the context of marriage. Rabbits are apparently extremely compatible with most other Zodiac animals, according to my family, so perhaps that’s why they’re so confused as to why I’m not in a relationship yet/ thinking about marriage yet.

 

Adulthood
Folk Beliefs
Initiations
Legends

Hick’s Road Blood Albinos

Context: The informant was speaking of odd legends around her hometown, San Jose.

 

Piece:

Informant: Alright so, I’m from San Jose California, but specifically a small town called Almaden within San Jose, and there is this really famous road in San Jose called Hick’s Road and it’s famous because there is an urban legend… this is real, I’m not making it up… that the road is haunted and that there are blood albinos that live there. Basically there are these albino people that supposedly live there and who like suck people’s blood— like blood sucking albinos. And they’re supposed to live there. And when you live there you just like always hear about the blood albinos at Hick’s road and its supposedly really scary and people like die there and it’s like in one of the more rural areas and you drive there and there is just not a lot of stuff there and it’s kinda dark. Once you become a teenager it becomes kind of a rite of passage to like go with your friends and like brave Hick’s Road.

Collector: Do people actually die?

Informant: Like no! Not that I know of, everyone goes there and because you’re so scared you like imagine stuff.

 

Background: The informant, a 19 year old USC student, is from San Jose and has gone to Hick’s Road. The legend is part of her hometown’s dialogue and culture. It is a sort of rite of passage as a teenager to go to Hick’s Road.

Analysis: This legend is very reminiscent of vampires, but instead with blood sucking albino people. I have never heard albino folklore, so it is really interesting to see that the legend is basically a vampire story. The fearful nature of blood sucking and death that is part of the legend makes it perfect for a rite of passage. By going to the road as a teenager, as the San Jose folks do, you prove you are capable and that you are an adult. This also creates a bond amongst those who go together and those who have braved Hick’s Road, as if saying they are the ones who survived these legendary dangerous people. It is also important to note that she says the legend says that people die but then firmly states that no one has died from these creatures, indicating the liminal and truth questioning nature of legends. This site also attracts these locals in a way that resembles to ghost tripping but for the albinos that suck blood.

Adulthood
general
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Berkeley Senior Steps

Context: The informant was reminiscing on traditions at her high school, Berkeley High in Berkeley, California. The senior steps were a major part of the folklore at her high school.

Piece: So in high school, there were these like these stairs, these steps with like a bench on them and we called them the senior steps. So like only the seniors were allowed to stand on them and if there was like a freshman or sophomore standing on the senior steps, people would like stare them down slash be like what are you doing on the senior steps? It’s inside of the school, and we actually had a meme page that has like 5,000 followers, ha weird flex, and like basically some sophomore actually a few weeks ago peed on the senior steps to like disrespect the seniors or something. And it was the biggest ordeal because like they’re just fucking steps and its like where the cool seniors eat lunch or meet up. Everybody knows the senior steps. And we had like rally day which is like once a year we dress up and everyone was drunk and high at school it was crazy and everyone was like yelling on the steps “Seniors, Seniors!”

I guess it’s just like a pride thing, and like I definitely like after three years of not being allowed you finally get to elevate yourself onto these brick steps. I didn’t really care but like a lot of people cared and like mind you these are gross steps like ugly and dingy. And like there was like tagged names or gossip written on the steps too. Ha it was so wack

Background: The informant, a 20 year old USC student, went to Berkeley High School, and experienced the tradition/rite of passage of the senior steps.

Analysis: This piece is a form of a rite of passage and ritual that was created surrounding these steps in her high school. The steps have become an honor that is bestowed upon seniors, as a form of status and privilege that they are entering the adult world. The steps create a hierarchy, showing that the school and consequently American society, pushes for the future and growth and moving up. In order to get to the privileges of the steps, you must work your way and finally get your status– which hows how the seniors will be leaving and moving into the future. The steps have been ritualized further by hosting the rally and the gossip markings, indicating its connection to school culture and spirit. The mention of more popular students being the regular utilizers of the steps indicates further this level of hierarchy ingrained in the culture of high school, and ultimately our society as Americans. By gaining the status, it serves as a stepping stone or rite of passage into the adult world.

Adulthood
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Green Frog (Korean Story)

Background Info/Context:

I was a very energetic child, but when my little sister was born, I transitioned to become rowdy and disobedient. I didn’t want to do anything my parents asked me to do, and I was difficult for the sake of being difficult. As a 5 year old, my mom tried to get me to understand why she needed me to listen to her, so she told me this old korean bedtime story.

 

Piece:

Korean:

“옛날에 엄마말을 잘 안듣는 청개구리가 있었어요.

엄마 말은 안듣는 청개구리는 언제나 엄마말 반대로만 했어요.

그러다 결국 엄마는 병이 나서 죽게 되었어요.

엄마는 마지막에 청개구리한테

“내가 죽거든 나를 냇가(강)에다 버려주어라”하고 얘기했어요.

엄마는 산에다 잘 묻어주기를 바랬지만

반대로 강에다 버려달라고 말해야

산에다가 묻어줄거라 생각했어요.

엄마가 죽고, 말썽꾸러기 청개구리는 울면서 마지막 엄마 말은 꼭 지켜줄려고,

엄마를 강에다 버리고, 비오는 날에는 엄마생각을 하고 울어요.”

 

English Transcription:

Yet nah rae umma mal uhl an duhd nuhn chong gae goo ree gah ees sus su yo.

Umma mal ul ahn duhd nuhn chong gae goo ree nuhn uhn jae nah umma mal ban dae roo man hay suh yo.

Guh ruh dah gyul gook umma nuhn byong ee nah suh jook gae dae suh yo.

Umma nuh mah jee mak eh chong gae goo ree han tae

“Nae ga jook guh duhn nah rur nae gah (gang) aye dah buh ryuh joo uh ruh” ha go yeah gi hes uh yo.

Umma nuhn san aye da jal moot uh joo gi rul ba ret ji man

Ban dae ro gang aye da buh ryuh dal la go mal hae ya

San eh da ga moot uh jool guh ra sang gak hays uh yo.

Umma ga jook go, mal sung koo ruh gi chong gae goo ree nun ool myun suh ma ji mak umma mal uhn kok ji kyuh jool la go,

Umma lul gang aye da buh ree go, bi oh nuhn nal eh nun umma sang gak ul hae go ool uh yo.

 

Transliteration:

A long time ago mom not listen green frog there was.

Mom words not listen green frog always mom words opposite did.

But at the end mom sick got died.

Mom last green frog tell “i die my body riverbank throw away.”

Mom mountain well buried wanted

Opposite riverbank throw away tell him

Mountain bury think he will.

Mom die, not listening green frog while cry last mom words definitely listen,

Mom riverbank throw away, rainy day mom think about cry.

 

English Translation:

A long time ago there was once a green frog, called “청개구리” in Korea (pronounce chong gae goo ree) who did not listen to his mom. Everything he did was the opposite of what she would ask. The mom was getting seriously sick, and it was almost time for her to die. So the mom has to tell her last words to the green frog, and she wants to say that when she dies, she wants to be buried well in the mountains. But she was afraid that her green frog wouldn’t listen, so she told him the opposite. At the end of her life, she told him, “When I die, you can throw me in the nearby riverbank.” So once his mom died, green frog was so regretful that he always did the opposite of what his mom asked, he decided to listen to his mom’s last words. So he really just threw his mom’s body away in the river. He was so sad and regretful, so when it rained, the green frog would cry at the river.

 

 

Thoughts:

I think this is a really sad story, and I used to cry when my mom told me about the Green Frog. The narrative takes a bad “habit” that many children can empathize with, and shows a dramatic consequence that the green frog has to face. The story acts as an indirect warning to children to listen to what their parents or authority figures in their lives, even if they don’t want to. Respecting elders is a large part in Korean culture, and this story is an engaging way to teach that lesson to children.

 

For another version of this story read the children’s book, “The Green Frogs” (1996) by Yumi Heo.

 

Adulthood
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mazel Tov! You’re Married!

Piece:

Interviewer: “Did you incorporate any like folk traditions into your wedding?”

B.F.: “Yeah. We did the traditional breaking of the glass.”

Interviewer: “Can you expand, please?”

B.F.: “So, um, at the end of the ceremony the groom stomps on a glass and everyone shouts ‘Mazel Tov’ (which means congratulations in Hebrew). My parents did it at their wedding, you Uncle Dan did it at his wedding, it’s just, just something we do.”

Interviewer: “Did it hurt your foot?”

B.F.: “Ha. No. We used a cloth.”

Informant:

Informant B.F. is a middle-aged man who is of Ashkenazi Jew descent. He grew up in a low-income, divorced parent family and lived in many different locations growing up. He worked hard in school to become successful and does not have a deep cultural connection with his past, though is grateful for it because her believes it has shaped him into the man he is today. Although he had a Bar Mitzvah and his grandparents and other relatives are practitioners of Judaism, he personally does not practice the religion anymore.

Context:

I asked B.F. to briefly sit down for an interview for my folklore collection project. When asked about wedding traditions, B.F. recalled this from his own.

Interpretation:

While B.F. is not a practitioner of judaism and was not at the time of his wedding, he still found the tradition breaking of the glass to be something he needed to do at his wedding because it was a traditional thing the men of his family had done. He is actually not even sure what the breaking of the glass symbolizes. He is not a traditional man but finds that certain traditions make him feel closer to his family. B.F. is not sure where he learned about this tradition, but remembers it from jewish weddings growing up. I think this folklore piece is important because it shows that a person does not have to be a believer in the beliefs behind folklore to practice the folklore. Folklore traditions can be more than just the beliefs that started it, and can take on a new meaning of familial ties and heritage. While this is a popular wedding tradition, B.F.’s unique take on the meaning stood out and was significant to me as a collector.

Annotation:

Mazel Tov – End of Ceromony – Seth breaks glass. Produced by Karen Orly, 2010.
Youtube, Karen Orly, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sXl1Bbe4Yk.

Adulthood
Customs
general
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish Funeral Custom — Cannot Dance

Text

The following piece is a Polish funeral custom that I learned of through my family’s babysitter whose father had recently passed away. The woman is a forty-eight year old Polish native who lives in Chicago now. I had been dancing around and in my attempt to get the Informant to join me, she explained why she was unable to.

Informant: “No, no…Can’t dance, no.”

Collector: “Come on! Why not?”

Informant: “No, no…My father die. I no dance for six months.”

Collector: “You can’t dance for six months because your dad died?”

Informant: “No dance for six months for father and mother. Four months for brother, sister.”

Context

The Informant has understood this Polish funeral custom for as long as she can remember. She remembers not dancing for a while after her grandfather had passed away, and has always understood it to be something she must also partake in. When her father passed, her entire family made the unspoken vow not to dance as a sign of respect to the dead.

Interpretation

While surprised at first, after hearing the Informant’s absolute belief in this funeral custom, I was beginning to also see it as a reasonable practice of mourning. I believe that the reason the Informant and her family undergo such a long process of morning, with such a specific time period, is out of respect for the ones they loved who have passed away. By vowing to not dance for six months, the participants must make a conscious effort everyday to not partake in overly joyful actions, excluding dancing altogether. I believe that commitment to this vow displays a respectful process of mourning, a way of honoring the dead by not moving on quickly after they are gone.

Adulthood
Childhood
Customs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish Baby Shower Custom

Text

The following piece is a Jewish custom collected from a twenty-two year old girl in a library with a group of other girls, all studying. The girls were discussing an upcoming family pregnancy. The “Informant” shared the following information with the table. I will be referred to as the “Collector”.

Informant: “Apparently, in Jewish culture, Jewish women aren’t allowed, or like supposed to have baby showers. Apparently it’s bad luck.”

Collector: “What does that mean?”

Informant: “Well, Jewish women are not supposed to prepare for the baby before it is born. It’s bad luck to receive presents for the baby before it’s born. So, like the mother or friends can accept the presents but she can’t give them to the mother. Also, you’re allowed to paint the baby’s room but you can’t bring in the crib. So when the mother finally goes into labor, whoever had the presents or other baby stuff goes to the house and sets up the crib and baby’s room with all the presents. So that it’s ready by the time the mom and baby come home.”

Context

            The Informant learned of this custom from her friend who is Jewish. When questioned, the Informant said that her friend’s mother was the one who told her and was very strict about the tradition. Her mother did it and all the women of the family still uphold the tradition. The Informant remembers learning of the tradition very clearly because she remembers her friends’ anger at the tradition overall.

Interpretation

I had previously never heard of this Jewish custom. I was surprised to hear that it was still very much a part of Jewish women’s practices and belief system. I understand how some of the preparation for a baby coming might lead to superstitious beliefs, or the thought of jinxing the pregnancy, but the idea that the baby shower in particular is bad luck was surprising to me. I’ve always thought that the purpose of a baby shower was to welcome bother the woman to motherhood and the baby to life. It has always seemed to me to be a celebration of life. It’s interesting to me to know to understand the other perspective that it might be an unlucky aspect of the pregnancy.

Adulthood
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Red Envelopes and Lucky Money on Chinese New Year

Main Text

Subject: So…I think the idea is that…the rule that my family uses is, if you’re still in school…you receive. And once you have a job, like a full-time job, then you give. Um. And then so, when we were kids, like, each set of parents would usually give an envelope to each kid. And I think when we were younger it was like…just like, pocket money, like, maybe five bucks, 10 bucks. And like, as we got older, maybe 20, 40.

Um. And then I think for…for all of us I think when we graduated high school it was like, a bigger sum?

Background

The subject is a 22-year-old Taiwanese-American woman in her fourth year at USC. Her parents are immigrants from Taiwan, and celebrating Chinese festivals have been a family tradition since childhood.

The interviewer is a 21-year-old Taiwanese-American student in his third year at USC. As someone who is from the same folk group, he is familiar with most major Chinese festivals.

Context

The subject was describing a ritual associated with the festival of Chinese New Year, called red envelopes (紅包), which contained lucky money (壓歲錢).

The subject additionally describes two contexts where lucky money was given. The first is a situation involving a family friend named Annie, who had been working this year and stated she wouldn’t be accepting any red envelopes. However, the subject’s parents still brought Annie a red envelope, causing “a little bit of conflict.” Annie ended up taking the envelope anyway. The subject reflects on the absurdity of the incident, thinking about her own future as a grad school student. She wonders if, by that point, the decision rule would still continue to make sense, given that she will probably be in school until the age of 30.

After the interviewer mentioned that there were lawsuits going around for children suing parents who had taken their lucky money, the subject laughed, and brought up an instance when her dad took her lucky money. During the sophomore summer year of high school, her family went to visit Taiwan for the first time in a couple of years. Her grandma on her dad’s side had given her a really big sum, supposedly for college. When her grandma gave the money to her, her dad told her that she had to turn over the sum of money to him, and afterwards, she “never saw a dime” of it.

Interviewer Analysis

These two contexts illuminate the purpose of red envelopes with relation to Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year is one of many festivals that celebrate the passage of time. In the instance of Annie, the red envelope serves as a rite of passage. One demonstrates that they have grown up, by demonstrating they have earned enough money to handle the financial obligation of giving red envelopes to the children who haven’t. The conflict for Annie arose because even though Annie had believed she had earned the right to play the grown-up role in the red envelope ritual, the subject’s parents disagreed, and still put her in the position of being a child receiver. The fact that Annie still ended up taking the red envelope shows her lower status with regards to the more established adults in the ritual.

The second instance in Taiwan further shows the purpose of red envelopes as a coming-of-age ritual. Parents, like the subject’s father who took her red envelope money for college, have reasonable anxiety over whether children have the financial responsibility to handle large sums of money. They feel that as adults, they have the duty to safeguard that money. Safeguarding the money is not only a financial practicality—it is a social signal. It demonstrates to other adults that the parents are fulfilling their social duties as financially responsible adults, and it also teaches children about their cultural status: adults are higher than children, and the way to attain that height, is through practicing financial responsibility.

[geolocation]