USC Digital Folklore Archives / Customs
Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish tradition

Subject: Jewish Traditions

Informant: Abby

Original script: “Matzo Ball soup is a Jewish tradition usually made for high holidays like Yom Kippur or Shabbat. However, in my family we make it when we are also sick. I don’t know, it really makes us feel better.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Abby grew up in a traditional Jewish family but they ere very reformed and adapted the soup to sickness as well as holiday celebration.

Thoughts about the piece: The matzo ball soup has been removed from its traditional place in Jewish tradition and made it’s was to everyday practices of Abby and her family. Much like chicken soup, matzo ball soup, for Abby, is associated with home and curing sickness, a comfort food that has it’s origins steeped in tradition.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic

Chopstick in rice bowl

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

“In China we are not allowed to place our chopsticks perpendicularly into rice bowl while eating. It is very inappropriate to do that there, because it would look like you are worshiping dead people.”

This is a common habit that parents always forbid their kids to do on the dining table since their very young age from decades to decades. My informant says that she still keeps that rule in mind every time she eats with chopsticks now, even though she no longer thinks about the reason behind it anymore.

It is quite interesting to me that there are many homeopathic folk beliefs like this in Chinese customs, which I think more or less relates to their hieroglyphic language that allows them to randomly connect two things that share similar features together.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Material
Protection

Kitchen Witches

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

“The other thing that Sweden has, we have the kitchen witches. So hang a witch in the kitchen and they protect the kitchen. I still have kitchen witches, I have several.  It’s like a little figurative witch on a broom, but they go in the kitchen, they’re called kitchen witches. They protect the food in the kitchen. So it’s a very Scandinavian sort of thing. It may have different looks in each family, but it has to be a witch, and you hang it in a kitchen. It keeps you up from messing up your kitchen.”

She is very proud of this specific object that they keep in Sweden culture, even though she has been immigrated to US for a long time. I think it’s very lovely that in many Scandinavian cultures they believe in magic and magical creatures, and sometimes they really work when you believe in them. In this case if you do believe in the kitchen witches can protect you from messing up your kitchen, and hang them there, you may really become more cautious while cooking.

 

Childhood
Customs
Festival
Homeopathic
Magic
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.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Shoes always facing outward

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

“There is one habit that I’m still afraid to break even now, which is to place my shoes facing inward to my bed. People in my country, well, maybe mostly in my family, that if you let you shoes facing inward, it’s like welcoming the ghosts to wear on your shoes and step onto you at night. Well, I don’t really believe in it that much, but I would still avoid doing that anyway haha.”

I think it’s very interesting that sometimes even though people don’t really believe in the reason behind certain behavior, they still make the decision to do that anyway. It could be a inner fear of those ambiguous things, like “what if they really happen? it’s always better to be safe.”

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Salt for bad spirits

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“She used to take salt with her when she went to new places, put them at corner and drive away bad spirits.”

“I think it’s their superstition from their peasants’ logic 100 years ago.”

I’ve actually heard this mystic belief of connection between salt and bad spirits in more than one cultures. To me it sounds very random and arbitrary, but if this activity could comfort the people who believe in that from anxiety and insecurity, I don’t think it should be criticized as superstition in a harsh way.

Customs
Game

Play house game

My informant is a 48 year-old woman who has lived her whole life in China by now.

“Girls always like to play the ‘play house game’ in a group of two or more when they’re little. We usually play it at home. Hold a doll in arms like our baby, and we also have role playing, like mom and dad. And we even have teacher, doctor or nurse sometimes. It’s funny that we feed food to those babies, take them to ‘doctors’, and tell stories to them. All like the scenario of taking care of kids, pretending that we were adults.”

“I think we just learnt this from girls older than us, saw them playing and we imitated. I think this shall be the game that almost every girl all over the world has played before haha.”

I find it really interesting that people always want to grow up faster when they’re kids, whereas many adults feel nostalgic to their childhood when they were much happier with less stress. Actually, I’m wondering is there really a clear line between kid and adult? Maybe people won’t really become adult until they have kids.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestures

Baseball Rituals: “When in Doubt, Tap the Hip”

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. Informant AB also plays club baseball at USC:

AB: “I play baseball and it is my favorite sport to play. I have been playing since I was 5 or 6 years old and I am still playing on the club team at USC.”

Do you have any particular rituals or customs you perform prior to a game?

AB: “Yes I have two main rituals that I do in baseball. So I play “infield” and when you’re in the infield you are always taking your one-two step to get ready for the ground ball before the pitcher hits so that you are ready to field it, which is pretty common for everybody, but one thing I do just kind of on top of that before every pitch is that I take my glove and I kind of almost tap it on my left hip ever so slightly to just shift the glove in my hand so it feels better in my hand. It’s just something that makes me more comfortable, maybe more confident in feeling grounders and being ready for the potential play coming my way. I also wear the same pair of baseball sliders that I never wash. I’ve had them for years and years and I wear them at all my practices and games. They make me feel more positive about each game or practice because of all of the great wins and experiences I’ve had while wearing them.”

Who did you learn these rituals from?

AB: “My dad actually played baseball for most of his life and when I was little I would watch him play. I would see that he would do the same gesture I do today. I remember asking him one day why he would tap his hip with his glove and he said it would help him to focus and center himself during the games. When I started playing in little league, that’s when I started doing the same gesture my dad did. I guess watching him as a little kid, I picked up on some of the things he did while he played. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

What do these rituals mean to you?

AB: “Well, growing up watching my dad play and learning my ritual from him holds a special place in my heart. I really looked up to him when I was little. I just think it is something special. It brought us closer together.”

Analysis:

Informant AB’s baseball rituals were passed down by someone he looked up to as a young child and is something that he continues to do as an adult. As America’s favorite past time, there are countless folk beliefs in baseball that surround good and bad luck such as rituals being practiced during the seventh inning stretch, to verbal lore being performed during the game. I think it is interesting how as a young child the informant noticed the rituals his father would perform while out on the field and how much of an impact his father had made on him growing up. Their passion for baseball and their father-son dynamic depicts how rituals can be passed down to the next generation through a strong familial bond.

 

Customs
Festival
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Croatian Bakalar Recipe

Informant MV is my mother who is both Croatian and Italian. She was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents immigrated from Croatia to the United States in 1958. MV speaks Croatian fluently and has two daughters who she raised within the Croatian and Italian traditions and culture. Bakalar is a traditional Croatian dish from the coastal region of Dalmatia that is served on Christmas Eve.

“Bakalar”

“Dried cod”

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds salted cod
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 slices lemon, rind removed
  • 1 pound potatoes
  • 4 finely chopped cloves garlic
  • 1 large finely chopped onion (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

 What kind of dish is Bakalar?

MV: “Bakalar is a salted cod stew with potatoes that is always cooked and eaten on Christmas Eve. Bakalar, meaning ‘cod’ is the main ingredient. The cod must ferment for at least 2 days for all the favors to come out. Once the fish is cooked, other ingredients like onions, garlic, and olive oil are added to a large cooking pot where you have the potatoes. Then you add the cod to the cooking pot with the potatoes. You can adjust how much garlic or olive oil, depending on your preferences in taste. It’s important that you remove the bones from the fish before you add it to cook in the pot. Then you let everything simmer until you have a consistency that suits you. You also add salt, pepper, parsley, and more olive oil. You can never have too much olive oil.”

How did this dish become so popular on the Dalmatian Coast?

MV: “Well, your Dida (grandfather) told me that cod is not known in the Adriatic Sea so it has to be imported from areas that have cold waters. It has been said that the reason why we have Bakalar in Croatia is because the fisherman from Dalmatia were working on ships that were in the North Atlantic, who learned about this dish while they were away. When they came back to Croatia, they shared their experience with this dish and it became a staple in our cultural cuisine.”

Why do you like making and sharing this recipe?

MV: “It’s a delicious recipe that is pretty easy to make but it takes time to make. If you have the patience and the urge to try something new then it’s a great option. I have shared this recipe with my American friends and they found it to be very tasty.”

Who did you learn this recipe from?

MV: “I learned how to cook from both my parents growing up. I found cooking to be fascinating and relaxing, so as a young adult I picked up a lot of the recipes that my parents made, Bakalar being one of them. My mother taught me this specific recipe while I was probably 15 years old. She showed me step by step how to successfully make this into a stew.”

In what context is Bakalar usually cooked and eaten?

MV: “Bakalar is mostly eaten on Christmas Eve, but we also eat it on Easter and during Lent. Since we are Catholic and don’t eat meat on certain days of the year, Bakalar is the typical go-to dish on those holidays.”

What does this dish mean to you?      

MV: “Bakalar is a classic dish that is from our region and it brings back a lot of great memories while growing up. It is a dish that I love to cook and eat. I have enjoyed making and eating it over the years so much that now my kids have learned to make it. You really can’t go wrong with a great dish like this.”

Analysis:

Bakalar, a Croatian cod stew, is a staple of our Croatian culture. It is a main dish that we eat during Christmas Eve and other religious holidays as part of our fasting traditions. You will find Bakalar at almost, if not all Croatian social events or gatherings. This is a dish that brings our families and friends together because it is a dish that is universally loved and cherished by many.

 

Photo Credit: Croatia Week Magazine

Photo Credit: Croatia Week Magazine

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Picigin”-Croatian Water Sport

Informant FV is my grandfather who was born and raised in Split, Croatia. Picigin is a Croatian water sport that my grandfather played as a young boy and continues to play. It is a traditional ball game that is played in very shallow waters on the beaches of Croatia:

“Picigin”

“Cold splash”

What kind of sport is Picigin?

FV: “Picigin is a typical water sport on the very shallow water up to 6 inches maximum. Usually 5 men get together in a circle formation. The goal is to keep the small ball up in the air and out of the water for as long as possible. Back in the day, people used to peel off the skin of tennis balls and use them in the game. In this game, the players never catch the ball. They only let the ball bounce off of the palm of their hand. You have to run and dive to save the ball from hitting the water. The longer you keep the ball up in the air, the more points you get.”

Is Picigin a competitive sport?

FV: “It can definitely get competitive depending who you are playing with, but typically it’s meant to be a fun and relaxing activity played on the beach.”

Where did Picigin originate?

FV: “Picigin originated on the beach of Bačvice in Split, Croatia back in the 1920’s. It was originally a sport played by only males, but over recent years, women have become part of the game.”

Do other regions of Croatia play Picigin?

FV: “Since Picigin was born on Bačvice Beach in Split, it is tradition to play it on the beach where it was discovered, but people do play this sport on other beaches as well but it must be only on flat, sandy beaches like Bačvice. It cannot be played on rocky or pebbled beaches because you cannot dive or fall into the water to save the ball. You can seriously injure yourself by not playing on a sandy beach.”

What is the typical garment worn during Picigin?

FV: “Well, men wear either swim shorts or ‘mudantine,’ which is what we call a speedo. For women, they wear their ‘kostim,’ which is their regular swimsuits.

What context or time of year is this sport played?

FV: “Picigin is played year round on Bačvice. It is very popular to play it during the hot summer months, but also during the winter season. You will see more people playing it during summer time because the water is warm and it’s vacation time.”

What does Picigin mean to you?

FV: “Picigin is one of my favorite sports to play. I grew up playing it with my friends every summer in Split on Bačvice. It is a sport that was discovered in my hometown so it holds a special place in my heart and it’s an extremely fun sport that anyone can learn to play.”

Analysis:

Picigin is a fun sporting activity that brings true uniqueness to the city of Split. As a large part of Split’s heritage, it has been recognized as a monument and is protected under UNESCO. The game has grown to be very popular over the years that there is an annual World Championship competition that is held on Bačvice beach every June. People from all over the world come to participate in the competition. The game has grown popular in other countries in recent years. The World Championship is a great way to bring other cultures together to share in this experience through a fun sport. Whether it is winter or summer, rain or shine, you can be sure that there are dedicated players playing an exciting game of picigin on Bačvice Beach.

 

 

 

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