USC Digital Folklore Archives / Customs
Customs

Jumping the Broom at Wedding

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.

Informant: We do jumping the broom. That’s one, that’s like black tradition. Yea, after you get married, and before you walk down to the aisle as Mr and Mrs, you jump over the broom at the altar.

Interviewer: What does that mean?

Informant: I honestly don’t know, it’s just like new beginning, like a wish luck type of tradition.

Interviewer: Does that mean anything to you?

Informant: It’s just like a tradition. Everyone does it.

Background:

My informant is African American, and her entire family is originally from Louisiana. They are all Creole descendants. Jumping the broom is a typical African American tradition at a wedding ceremony, so my informant is aware of this tradition as she goes to different weddings, mostly her relatives’ weddings. Though she does not know what exactly does jumping over the broom signify, she still follows this tradition as she grows up with this culture.

Context:

This piece of folklore was collected through a quick interview after class. My informant and I knew each other when we first came to the college, so the setting was really causal and both of us were relaxed.

Thoughts:

It is interesting to find that my informant is not really aware of the meaning behind the tradition of jumping over the broom, but she still follows it. A lot of the time, people do not fully understand the custom, but because they grow up practicing it, it becomes a habit. Similar to my experience, from the place where I grow up, China, specifically, there are certain food to eat for certain festivals. Usually, there is meaning behind each food and reasons why people eat it. However, most of the time, I do not know the symbolic meaning, but rather consume the products. Especially, when my mom buys the food for the family members, we rarely question the deeper meaning behind it. In such case, folk food almost becomes a commodity rather than a representation of culture.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Get on the plane with your right foot: travel superstition

Context:
AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions
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Performance:

M: You have a very particular travel superstition is that true?

AW: Yes, I have more than one, but yes

M: could you elaborate

AW: Ever since I got on the plane since I was a little girl my mother would remind us to start every new venture, not just the airplane…the first day of school, when I walked down the aisle…

[AW gets absorbed back into seat planning for the seder]

MW: Ohhh that’s why you tell me to do it on test days

AW: Exactly, every time you start something new you do it with your right foot, it’s good luck.

AW: The first time anyone in the history of our family did it, my grandmother got onto the ship that took her to America, she did it with her right foot and my mother reminded me, so I remind you.
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Meaning to the informant: AW: First of all it reminds me of my recently departed mother, and it’s kind of a talisman, like a rabbit’s foot. It can be a bit of a ritual. I’ve done it as long as I can remember.
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Analysis: The association between the right foot and luck is well documented and speaks to a general insecurity regarding new ventures. As one crosses a threshold into a new space, as AW did when she walked down the aisle, or any time she boards an aircraft. This step ensures that transition happens smoothly. Other examples of this can be throughout the archive as seen [here] and reflect an overarching anxiety about the unknown. In addition to providing luck the action adds a familiar element to an unfamiliar circumstance, a location with which the actor can situate themselves to provide comfort when encountering something new. For another example of travel superstition surrounding the right foot see Southbound (Paniker 174) a journal of Indian Literature

Paniker, Ayyappa, and Chitra Panikkar. “SOUTHBOUND.” Indian Literature, vol. 39, no. 4 (174), 1996, pp. 127–156. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23336198.

Customs
Earth cycle
Game
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Peruvian New Years Tradition: Run the Suitcase Around the Block

AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons. AS grew up in Texas after her family moved there from Peru.
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AS: My family had a lot of traditions for New Years, I’ve heard a lot of people do this one though

AS: We fill like a like a suitcase of some sort and we run it around the block and that’s supposed to represent like good luck in traveling and like safe travels and all that stuff.

AS: So my mom makes me do it every year cuz you yeah gotta have that good luck

MW: Do you have any particular attachment to this?

AS: I mean I would still do it if I didn’t live in South Central LA and that’s dangerous

AS: I guess it’s it’s it’s kind of just like a superstitious thing to me

AS: Or it’s just like it’s a cute tradition that makes New Year’s feel different than what like normal people celebrate even it doesn’t have like a very deep impact I guess it also fills me with nostalgia for things you did as a kid so you feel like you should do it anyways.
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Analysis:
The symbolism of running around the block mimics the cyclical nature of the calendar year and separates it from the idea of linear time. The suitcase is also filled, meaning that the carrier takes home with them when they travel and provides a direct connection to home and family life. Likewise, the fact that you run around the block and return to the starting point sort of carries the message that no matter where you go you can always return home, this centers the importance of home even in a tradition that’s all about travel. The desire for safety also reveals anxieties about leaving the home. Travel to new places is scary, a journey into the unknown thus the hope for good luck works in combination with the carrying of the known with you and the promise of a safe return to that known space.

Customs
Festival
Game
Holidays
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Megilah Reading

Every Purim Jews congregate to listen to a reading from a book called the Megilah which features the backstory of Purim. It’s the most outwardly religious part of Purim. The congregation is encouraged to be active and loud, reacting verbally to every single mention of the characters’ names in the story. Mordecai and Ester (the Jewish heroes) get jubilant cheers every time their name is read while the bad guy Haman is booed. The congregation is even traditionally encouraged to drink so much that they can’t tell whose names to boo or cheer.

Again, this is the religious part of Purim but the encouragement to chime in makes it stand out from other Jewish holidays in a way that fits the extra cheerful celebration of Purim. While this folklorist’s congregation doesn’t drink during the reading, it does fit the rest of the relatively lax nature of the event.

Customs
Humor
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Stamp Out the Name

One tradition of the Jewish holiday Purim is to take measures to stamp out the name of Haman, the man who tried and failed to kill all Persian Jews in the Purim story. This manifests in other little traditions but one of the most literal involves people writing Haman’s name (in English or Hebrew) on the sole of their shoes so then they walk about stamping out the name throughout their day. Sometimes this is even paired with secondary events to maximize stamping such as a footrace.

While never personally observed by this folklorist (my synagogue doesn’t do this) this tradition stands out as a humorously obvious interpretation of the idea to stamp out the man’s name and ergo very believable. It’s an ancient, international holiday; someone has to have done this. The humor is assuredly intentional and adds to the joyous vibe of the rest of the holiday.

Customs
Initiations
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Virgin Sacrifice

The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Virgin Sacrifice

The following informant is a 21 year-old student from California, currently residing in Los Angeles and studying at the University of Southern California. They have been a part of the weekly cast of Los Angeles’ “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” tradition for at least a year. Here, they are describing a weekly tradition they subject the audience to; they will be identified as I.

I: At “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the one in Santa Monica at the Nuart, we’re called Sins of the Flesh, and we do this thing, there’s a pre-show, an MC introducing the whole thing, and what the MC will do is ask if there’s anyone who has never seen “The Rocky Horror” show live, with the shadow-cast and everything, before. And of all the people that are left, who have never seen the show before, they get 6 people up there, and ask them to perform some kind of weird antics.

And there’s a couple different games that they’ll play, a popular one is “Who’s Your Daddy?” They ask someone the actual name of their actual father, and they have to do an impersonation of their mother screaming their father’s name in bed, you know? Things like that that are lude, and inappropriate, and just fun to see.

There’s another game that they play, called “Scavenger Hunt,” where they basically ask for ridiculous things from the audience, like a pair of panties, or like, a Universal Studios annual pass, or like a condom, just some ridiculous topical things. Once the game is finished, they pick two winners, usually one boy and one girl, but sometimes it’s not that — and what they used to do is a very inappropriate thing where they’d get them into a, kind of, lude position, and then lift them up and down in that position, and it was a lot, and I think it was a liability.

So now, what they do, is they make it so the winners are part of the show, they have small roles at the beginning. There are some callouts where, if you’re going to lie, don’t say you’ve seen it 50 or 100 times, because we would have recognized you by now.

Context

The informant is my roommate, and I am friends with this individual. This bit was told to me in our room. They have been a part of the cast of the Santa Monica weekly performance of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for at least a year, but have attended the performance for a longer period of time.

My Thoughts

I attended the show once last year — it was fascinating. The seemingly countless callouts, memorized musical numbers, and objects thrown around were a spectacle. It was interesting hearing someone behind such a performance describe the tradition of inducting new members of the community.

It is truly a matter of identity and initiating those who are not yet members of the “in crowd” with harmless yet deprecating jokes that they are not fully aware of, so that they may subject their friends who might eventually attend the performance with the same jokes.

 

Customs
Festival
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Los Angeles Swedish Festival

Los Angeles Swedish Festival

The following informant is a 21 year-old student from Sherman Oaks, California, currently studying at the University of Southern California. Their stepmother was from Sweden, and included the informant in traditional Swedish holiday festivities. Here, they are describing memories of attending the Shrine Auditorium, and a belief they recall. They will be identified as X.

X: My stepmom was from Sweden, and so, obviously her heritage was very important to her, because she was living in a different country, but she’s Swedish.

I guess Christmas time in Sweden is a big cultural thing, and they have all these different traditions than what we have over here. So, the Swedish community in Los Angeles puts together an annual Swedish Christmas fair at the Shrine — it’s basically like every Swedish person in LA is in the same room at the same time, and they have all the vendors selling things from Sweden, all the clocks and all the food, they’d have Swedish meatballs and spiced wine, which they make around Christmas time.

They’d also have the Santa Lucia celebration, I think. It’s like the blonde girl with candles on her head, like a candle crown. They’d sing a traditional folk song, which I still kind of know the melody — I never learned all the words.

It was beautiful, they’d turn the lights down, and all the girls would come in and, their white gowns with little red accents on it, because that’s the Christmas colors. Santa Lucia would have the crown of candles on her head, and everyone else would have a little wreath on their head — it was really pretty.

They have these little Christmas elf characters called tomte, and they’re little wooden creatures, with little beards and hair, and made of sheep’s wool, I think, but it’s really soft. They all have little red caps on, like Santa hats. But the story goes, the tomte are little older men type characters, like elves, and they’re the size of a small child, and they would either live in the barn or the pantry of the house, and their job was to take care of the animals.

You’d feed them porridge, leave it out for them and they’d eat it. And the way you know you have a tomte living with you is if you have a tidy house and tidy barn, that means there’s a tomte there. We still have our tomte decorations that we put out every year, now it’s become just a part of Christmas.

Context

The informant is a friend of mine who studies in the same program. I asked them if they recall or would be willing to share any special holiday traditions or rituals that they or their family takes part in annually.

My Thoughts

All of what the informant shared with me is factually accurate, as far as I can tell. It is interesting how there are small variations in holiday celebrations; instead of what I know of as elves in Western culture and Christmas celebrations, decorations, and stories, the Swedish Christmas holiday includes tomtes, which I have found stem from Nordic tales, and do in fact resemble gnomes.

It is nice how this almost foreign version of something has become a staple of Christmas for the informant; it is a means by which they might reconnect with their stepmother and show appreciation for their relationship, even without her being there.

 

Customs
Folk speech
general
Initiations
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” Swearing-In

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” Swearing-In

The following informant is a 21 year-old student from California, currently residing in Los Angeles and studying at the University of Southern California. They have been a part of the weekly cast of Los Angeles’ “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” tradition for at least a year. Here, they are describing a the swearing-in of new members of the community; they will be identified as Z.

Z: At the beginning, it’s like “Raise your right hand, or the hand you masturbate with,” and then people would raise both their hands, “and repeat after me,” and everyone says “after me! after me! after me!”

And then the chant is, “I state your name, pledge allegiance to the lips of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ And to the decadence, for which they stand, one nation, under Richard O’Brien, on top of Patricia Quinn, with sensual daydreams, erotic nightmares, and sins of the flesh for them all.” That’s like the induction speech, or whatever. It’s a lot.

Context

The informant is my roommate, and I am friends with this individual. This bit was told to me in our room. They have been a part of the cast of the Santa Monica weekly performance of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for at least a year, but have attended the performance for a longer period of time.

My Thoughts

There are layers to this tradition. First off, it is lampooning the swearing in process that is typically held in judicial or political office. While this jokingly places the “induction ceremony” in a substantially more serious light than it rightfully deserves, there is no doubt that this film has become a sort of folklore, and acts as a canon for this community of “followers,” who have clearly come up with their own traditions, jokes, and beliefs as they relate to the film (genres of meta-folklore).

They are also, in ways, playing with the long-used term of “cult following” regarding “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” almost reclaiming the idea of a cult. In my opinion, it is a means of waving goodbye to the already-there establishment, and creating their own “legitimized” community — this is consonant with the overall tone of the film itself.

To read more on this topic, feel free to read:

Tyson, Christy, et al. “Our Readers Write: What Is the Significance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show? Why Do Kids Keep Going to It?” The English Journal, vol. 69, no. 7, 1980, pp.60–62. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/817417.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Fourth Floor in Chinese Culture

Fourth Floor in Chinese Culture

The following informant is a 21 year-old musician from Seoul, Korea, currently residing in Los Angeles. Here, they are describing a Chinese belief regarding the number 4 and its connotations that continue to be passed down; here, they will be identified as F.

F: In China, in hospitals, they have no fourth floor, because four means death. Lot of Korean culture is adopted from China, lots of Asian countries are adopted from China, because it was so dominant. We have characters, and one word, depending on pronunciation, can mean a thousand different things. So, number four could also mean death. Different characters, though.

Context

This interaction occurred on USC’s campus — I am friends with the informant, as we occasionally perform together in musical settings. While it took place in a public space, this performance, as opposed to my other collections, did not occur in the presence of many additional individuals; as a result, there were not many validating reactions in addition to my own. They provided me with two other topics in my collection.

My Thoughts

I did not know of this belief prior to speaking with the informant. Still, it is similar to the lack of 13th floors in the U.S. However, there is no clear distinction between the usage of a 13th floor in hospitals and non-hospitals; my old dormitory, for example, lacked a 13th floor. While I find this additional layer interesting, upon researching the prominence of the number 4 in Chinese culture, it would seem that the lack of 4th floors goes beyond Chinese hospitals.

I also found that Chinese license plates often avoid ending in the number 4 — this concept is wholly new to me. It is also interesting how such beliefs, initially disseminated by way of colonization, still permeate separate cultures and are passed down from generation to generation. Here, Korea maintains this folk stigma of the number 4 largely due to China’s language (I also found that, in Korea, if a building is to include the 4th floor, the letter ‘F’ will often be substituted in place of the numerical character).

 

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nowruz

Context: I was sitting at a restaurant in West Hollywood with a good friend who is also of Persian descent, discussing our respective families plans of celebrating the Persian New Year. In the piece, my informant is identified as R.M. and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: My family is one that has assimilated more towards American culture, and does not perform all traditional rituals performed on Nowruz. However, R.M. and her family take the New Year very seriously, and plan large gatherings for the holiday every year.

 

Main Piece:

DS: “So what are you guys doing tomorrow night”

RM: “My mom is going all out as usual. We’re having like 60 people over, I have to help her set up all day tomorrow”

DS: “What do you guys even do? Jumping over the fire and all that?”

RM: “Oh yeah, there’s definitely going to be a bonfire. She bought a bunch of goldfish too, setting up that whole haft table and all.”

DS: “What else goes on the table?”

RM: “A bunch of spices, a mirror, the goldfish, some money, fruits, eggs. There’s definitely some more that I’m forgetting but you get the idea of it.”

DS: “Are you going to jump over the fire this year”

RM: “I think so, I don’t know, I always just get so nervous getting close to it every year but my parents say it’s important so I want to try it out.”

 

Analysis: Each aspect of the setting traditions of the New Year are for specific metaphorical purposes. For example, jumping over the bonfire is thought to ensure good health for the new year. The mirror is to reflect on the past year. The goldfish is to represent new life and rebirth. The money is to encourage prosperity. The eggs for fertility. Each family often celebrates and prepares differently, with each component on their table representing what they want to attract in the year to come. The Persian culture is very poetic and spiritual, so it comes as no surprise that the culture chooses certain items for these grand representations.

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