Category Archives: Customs

Customs, conventions, and traditions of a group

Ofrendas on the Day of the Dead

Main piece:

JH: For day of the dead families usually put an altar up. In Spanish it’s known as an ofrenda. So on Day of the Dead, you put up the person’s favorite food on the altar, and it’s a really sweet occasion. We do it every year. So like, if I died I would get tamales and like boba or something, and everyone would believe that my spirit will come back to enjoy those treats. Oh, you also put a picture of the person as well as their favorite flower and a candle. 

Context: 

The informant, JH, is was born in the United States. She currently lives in Orange County and attends USC. Her parents are from Mexico. This piece was collected over a phone call, in a conversation when we were talking about family traditions.

Thoughts: 

This was a tradition I had heard of before, both from other friends and just popular culture in general. I think it’s an interesting addition that JH added that on her altar, there would be “tamales and boba” –– tamales being something more culturally similar to the celebration, and boba being something more from the specific context and era that JH grew up in. This goes to show that this celebration is something that manifests in different ways across different contexts and families, lending itself to Dundes’ folklore definition of “multiplicity and variation.”

Saraswati – The reason not to step on paper and books

Main piece:

AI: So there’s a Hindu goddess named Saraswati who represents, like, knowledge, and a folk thing is that she lives inside all, like, books and paper and shit. So anytime you step on paper and cardboard you have to like, ask for her forgiveness for stepping on her. It was literally so annoying when I was little. It was a thing I was taught to do growing up. Whenever I stepped on paper my parents would be like, don’t piss off Saraswati!

Context:

The informant, AI, was born in the US, but her parents are from India. Both parents grew up in North India but are culturally tamil brahmin (South India.) She learned this tradition from her parents, and even now, she still avoids stepping on books and paper. This story was collected through a phone call.

Thoughts:

I met the informant in high school. We attended a school in Silicon Valley which had a big focus on STEM, and the general culture there was quite academically competitive. I think that this story, while obviously not originating from the Silicon Valley, has a great similarity to the reverence of wisdom and intellect present in SV (although, minus the snootiness). The informant, AI, is still in high school and still in that culture herself––I think the fact that she chose this story is a reflection of the similarities between both cultures.

Indian Wedding Traditions – Stealing Shoes

Background: 
My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage.  (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:
NS: At Indian weddings, the youngest bridesmaid..ok so..have you ever been to an Indian wedding?

SW: Nope.

NS: Oh. Well the bride and groom…they do a thing where they walk around a fire 7 times, and each time represents, like, the first one might be commitment, or the second one represents love. They walk around 7 times, and then the youngest bridesmaid will steal the shoes from the groom-

SW: The groom’s shoes?

NS: Yeah, so she steals the groom’s shoes, and it’s always expected, like, Indian men will take out cash, like over $100, before their wedding day because they know they have to pay for their shoes back. And basically, it’s like a sign of wealth. The groom shows that he has the money to buy his shoes back, even if he doesn’t need to. It’s supposed to be, like, a way of showing that he can support his wife and family, financially. 

Thoughts: 
I’ve never been to a wedding before, and talking to NS, my best friend, always makes me want to go to one, especially an Indian wedding. They seem to be a big affair, with hundreds of people there, including extended family and friends. Walking around the fire reminds me of a more symbolic way of reading out your vows, which I like. NS also mentioned that she’s been to a few weddings where her Indian cousins marry someone who is not Indian, and because they’re not Indian, they don’t quite get all the Indian traditions that make up the wedding. So NS, often being the youngest bridesmaid (as she is the youngest cousin), has dealt with the family of the groom being less than understanding. She’s had people she hardly knows get angry with her and tell her to return the shoes, or the groom will give her $10, clearly not understanding the significance of the custom. It makes me sad that so many people won’t even consider trying to understand a culture different from their own. 

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

Facebook Senior Names

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: For as long as I can remember, it’s been tradition at our high school to make a fake name on facebook for senior year. Everyone would make a pun based off their name, referencing a movie or celebrity. When it first started, it was to protect people’s identities, so that of prospective colleges looked up students on facebook, they wouldn’t find their page. By the time we were seniors, there wasn’t really a need to do this because it was general knowledge that colleges didn’t really care, but our grade kept on with the tradition anyways.

Thoughts:

It’s interesting to understand where some aspect of folklore comes from, and to see how its meaning has changed over time. What started as a superstition morphed into a tradition that stood to be a rite of passage. Kids as early as freshman year would begin to think about their senior name, anxious to be done with high school and on their way to college. Senior names were a way of expressing yourself, while also engaging in a unifying experience across the grade.

Don’t Walk on the Michigan M

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: At Michigan, we have this huge letter M in the center of campus. And the rule is, like, if you step on it, you fail your first blue book exam. It’s like at any other college.

SW: I’ve never heard that before.

AK: Really? Yeah, it’s like a big deal here. And apparently the only way to reverse it, is to like run from the clocktower one side of campus, to the other side, and then back to the clocktower and get there right as it chimes midnight. And you have to be naked the whole time. But that’s impossible because the clocktower doesn’t chime past 10pm, and it’s illegal to be naked. So it’s best to just not step on the M in the first place and avoid the bad luck all together.

Thoughts:

While I was not familiar with this specific superstition, I know most schools have some sort of similar superstition in circulation. A lot of them have to do with disgracing or disrespecting the school or campus in some way, which then brings bad luck in the form of bad grades or other things. I’m guessing these came to be as a way of keeping respect for the school. I think there’s something alluring, too, about feeling like you’re in on something. You feel special when you know your school’s superstitions, because you feel like a true member of the institution, and not an outsider. 

Swim Team Bleaches Their Hair

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: Every year, the guys on the swim team would bleach their hair. I’m not really sure why, but no one ever questioned it, it was just kind of what they did. Maybe it was so they looked more unified before league finals. 

Thoughts:

I hadn’t realized until after I came to college, but the swim team bleaching their hair at the end of the season was not unique to AK and I’s high school. In fact, it was common practice all across the country. Others I’ve spoken to about this can’t explain the reasoning either, but they all do it. While I would like to know the reason why, I think it’s kind of special for this tradition to be so widespread. This is something that anyone who swam in high school can relate to and remember and bond over. This is an excellent example of how folklore connects people who may not connect otherwise. 

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

Interviewer: So how did it get started in your home town?

Informant: My parents started off just making a couple of gallons with a couple of friends, I’m not sure exactly who they picked it up from. And I think they may have done that in the house before the Bury. Or right around that time, anyway. Probably around 60 years ago (2020). There have been more Elderflower Festivals than my parents have been present for.  There was one in 1967? My parents went on sabbatical to America and their friends broke in and made Elderflower anyway. There was another one when they sailed one of their boats down to the south of France and my brother and me hosted it on our own. I’m pretty sure my brother has been at every Elderflower Festival.

Interviewer: Does it only happen one time a year?

Informant: It has to take place when the flowers are in bloom, usually in the first or second week of June. It cannot be delayed, the flowers do not stay out for very long. It is an event driven entirely by natural forces and the need for alcohol.

Interviewer: What typically goes into the festival preparation wise?

Informant: Well the deal is something around 40 guests are invited and they’re asked to pick Elderflowers so when they arrive they can deliver their flowers. We spread the tarpaulin on the backyard and lay the flowers on it to dry and be shredded. And in return for their labor, the guests are fed a huge buffet lunch. There are a number of elements of that lunch that are obligatory. Coronation Chicken, Roast Beef, Deviled Eggs, Roast Turkey, Potato Salad, and Garlic Bread and there’s always a rice of some sort. There’s a late morning snack of sausages done on a barbecue because we have a late lunch, because we don’t have lunch until we reach a quota of flowers. After lunch, the afternoon is devoted to games, ‘gassing’ (talking), and drinking wine. Because my parents were teachers a lot of the guests were faculty or students. It’s just a thing a lot of Cambridge educators do.

Interviewer: Is there a recipe then that one has to follow to make Elderflower wine?

Informant: There is a certain amount of citrus fruit that needs to be peeled and squeezed and that is combined with boiling water poured through the flowers in a muslin shiv. With a large amount of sugar to feed the yeasts. My father used to be the viter but now my brother does it. Fermentations takes place in large Demi-johns and it takes about 3 months to the point where the wine can be decanted and bottled. Elderflower wine has an unusual ‘nose’ which takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant.

Background: This festival takes place either the first of second week of June, it is a time sensitive celebration that must occur during that time or not at all. Luckily it is also during the summer break for most British educators, so it is an excuse to see each other outside of work and get drunk together.

Context: My informant and I were discussing whether or not there would be an Elderflower Festival this year due to the Corona Virus. This would be the first time since it’s conception that the Elderflower Festival would not be held, but my informant believed it would be for the best since a majority of attendees are rather old and would be at risk.

My Thoughts: I’ve attended the Elderflower Festivals before and they are a riot! There’s a lot a family and friends who attend and at the end, people are gifted a bottle of last year’s batch. The festival has grown over the time I have attended from just 30 people to closer to 60 or 70. People keep bringing friends to come celebrate, which means a lot more time is put into prepping the meals and getting a supply of flowers to shred.

While not directly a festival celebrating life cycles, the festival is based entirely on the production of turning blooming flowers into wine, so there may be some form of symbolism there.

Modern Practices of The Winter Solstice

Informant: I researched it and made it our own, and it changes constantly every year, but that’s to be expected. I’ve always done solstice when we were out here (America) because we were otherwise going back to England for Christmas and we didn’t want to go schlepping (moving) all the presents back, so we starting celebrating this.

Interviewer: So what is it that you do for the solstice?

Informant: I go out in the late afternoon and I pick Bay Leaves, Oak Leaves, and Ivy Leaves and I wash them and then I put them out to dry in the last rays of the sun. Traditionally I’m making pork and prunes on that day, so I put that on to cook. It is the first night we light the yule log. I build a fire in the fire pit, using what remains of last year’s log. We start around the fire making wishes with the leaves I left out to dry and throwing them into the fire. When we come in to eat, we eat take a light from the fire and light a candle then carry that light to the table where we’re eating. You are bringing light into the darkness. My husband also made me a yule log table decoration with fire candles in it for the five of us in the family.

Interviewer: You mentioned wishes with leaves, what kind of wishes do you make?

Informant: I can show you, I have it written down.

[Informant returns with a red book]

Informant: This is where I record all the big events that happen to my family every solstice. Here’s the wish list.

[Written information on a standard white piece of paper]

These leaves have been washed clean and dried in the last rays of the sun. Splash them with whatever you’re drinking and drop them into the fire with a wish. This is a time of giving so your wishes should not be for yourself but for the good of others.

IVY
For friendship, fidelity, and affection

OAK
For luck, also strength, endurance and vigor

BAY LAUREL
For health and Protection
This is also a time for letting go, making amends or saying farewell.

PAPER
Write your regrets and resentments on a slip of paper and toss them into the fire.

The Catholic Cross and its Influence

Abstract:  

Background: H is a student at the University of Southern California who’s experienced this traditional ceremony from her transition into womanhood. She’s lived in California her entire life and is a first-generation American and her family keeps many of their traditions from Mexico alive in her life.  She believes that the way her Quince was conducted is very traditional but also has a few twists that are uncommon to the format. The topic was brought up during lunch while discussing our family roots and how important religion is to their family. 

Interview:

H: Continuing on with the religion in my household above my bed and the bed of parents which is the holy cross which is a great symbol for us especially the religious part. Its another reminder of religion to us and we sometimes pray with them or pray while facing them. 

P: Are they blessed or have you taken them to a church? 

H: Yes, we took them to the church where I was baptized to get them blessed by the priest of the church who is a nice friend of ours, and then we hung them where we did. It’s a nice symbol because it also gives us a lot of hope when we’re down and shows us there are better days ahead, especially during this lockdown. 

Interpretation:

From this, it seems that this cross has the ability to bring families together and connect them through faith almost a magical power. This Folk Item represents the Hispanic ideals of carrying the catholic faith and continuing to practice it even in the home. The fact she mentions they blessed the cross as well shows the blending of a folk item and magic since the blessing requires an enchantment or a prayer to be said to be blessed. This folk item holds a lot of significance since it’s in multiple rooms and it was mentioned that this item is taken down and used when prayers are said especially prayers for a lost one or for one to feel better. This powerful item is a clear part of their family’s traditions and will continue to be for future generations. She also mentioned that the cross in her mother’s room belonged to her great-grandma so it been around for a while.