USC Digital Folklore Archives / Customs
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The White Foul Line

Baseball is rife with superstitions, my informant is a long-time player and as a pitcher he describes to me the longest-stranding baseball taboo.

“You don’t step on the white foul line when taking the field, ever, not just pitchers, but all players, but especially pitchers. When I go out to the mound I jump over it with my right foot, and always my right foot. It’s bad juju if you step on the line, nobody steps on the line, it just isn’t done. It’s bad luck. It’s always been that way. I don’t know who I learned it from, it’s just always been done as long as I can remember.”

Analysis:

Baseball superstitions, rituals, charms, and taboos usually are surrounding those circumstances which are not totally in the player’s control, that is pitching and hitting usually. This particular superstition is not stepping on the foul line when taking the field. It is quite an old superstition that has no particular origin with a certain player, but one players of all caliber pay attention to. It is supposed to prevent bad luck in a game when one play can change the entire game. Because it is so old and established as a taboo, players simply adhere because all those players before them have done so, so it must work, and the players will do anything that works. One bad pitch or one great hit and the game could turn for the worse. A pitcher can do all he can to play perfectly, but he cannot control the batter’s actions, therefore this leaves a lot of room for superstitions. It is human nature to want to control one’s surroundings and this is just a little taboo that allows a player in his mind to control the outcome however small.

 

Customs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Throwing Pennies

At summer camp—there’s a horn solo in Liszt Les Prelude. People in the orchestra supposed to throw pennies at the horn player. Camp has been around since the 1800s. Heard about it from other people in the orchestra, but I never saw it happen.

This took place at the informant’s high school, Interlochen.

This seems like a really bizarre tradition, and it’s kind of strange that it was talked about and passed along by students, but never followed through during my informant’s time there.

Customs
general

Lil B NBA Curse

The informant DP is a 19-year-old male studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He has recently become a huge fan of the NBA and he describes something that the casual NBA fan would not know much about. In this piece, he talks about the “The BasedGod’s” curse to me (AK) which was popularized over five years ago by a rapper by the name of Lil B.

For some context, Lil B became a viral sensation with many provocative rap videos and tweets. He refers to himself as the “Based God” and he has drawn a very loyal fan following due to the hilarity of his tweets and rap videos. He is also known for the “Based God” curse which he has given to star athletes who have disrespected his rapping ability.

DP: So I don’t know the entire story, but I do know that Lil B and Kevin Durant (famous basketball player) had beef a few years ago.

AK: What exactly caused the beef?

DP: Well … KD basically said that Lil B is a wack rapper and that his music sucks. Lil B responded to this by dropping a video titled F*** KD and giving him the “Based God” curse.

AK: What does this curse entail? Is there any way to become uncursed?

DP: In this context, he meant that KD would never win a championship. Also, KD was recently lifted of the curse because he decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors and Lil B is a huge Warriors fan.

I found this entire piece to be hilarious. After some further research, I found Lil B to be very outspoken on twitter and most of his fans simply quote him out of the absurdity and comedy of some of his proclamations. Most of his songs have a comedic element to them and in his F*** KD song he states that he could beat Kevin Durant in a one on one game of basketball. For some NBA fans, however, the curse does hold some merit as Kevin Durant is perennially one of the best players in the league, yet he has never won a championship. While most rational fans scoff at the claim that the curse is the reason why, a small but significant subset of fans contend that the curse is the sole reason why. I’m not sure which side of the argument I’m on, but I do find humor in the fact that Lil B has gained so much fame over a simple tweet and video.

Customs
Life cycle

Filipino Birthday Tradition

Informant:

June is from Chicago, Illinois and is a current junior in college.

Piece:

So a family tradition that we have is for all of our birthday’s um instead of baking a cake, my mom would cook a traditional filipino dish called pancit. It’s basically like noodles with like vegetables, chicken meats. All the things you would want. It’s a very healthy dish and it’s supposed to be that instead of a cake which is very fattening and sugary um something that’s healthy so you can live a longer life. There are various i guess different noodles you can use, but my parents always use i guess these same very thing ones.

Collector’s thoughts:

The idea of eating healthy food at one’s birthday in order to guarantee another year of good health is an interesting idea that makes a lot of sense. Not only does the yearly meal work as a good luck charm for good health, but also connects the informant back to his filipino heritage.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

US Navy Shellbacks

Informant: My dad was in the US Navy for 4  years

Original Script: To become a shellback in the US Navy you have to cross the equator. Legend has it that King Neptune lives on the equator and if you cross it you become a shellback. When you become a shellback there is a ceremony were a someone dresses up as King Neptune and gives you a shellback card.

Background: A shellback is a sort of fraternity in the Navy, Navy men give respect to shellback backs because you have to sail for a long time to be able to cross the equator, some Navy men that spent 20 years in the Navy has never crossed the equator.

Thoughts: I thought the ceremony was comical, the idea that someone dresses up as King Neptune show dedication to their tradition. The shellbacks get really into it and show respect to those who made an accomplishment that goes unnoticed to a civilian.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The “Caganer” in Catalonian Nativity Scenes

The informant is a 20 year old student at the Roski art school. She’s originally from Los Angeles but her mother is from Spain. She goes back to visit every year. Below, she shares an interesting Christmas tradition.

“So compared to Americans, Catalonians are known for being fond of scatological humor, so like they love bathroom humor. So even during Christmas traditions those jokes come out. Most families in Catalonia for Christmas set out a nativity scene and its customary to hide two special figurines in the nativity scene, one is the “Caganer” and the other is the “Pissener,” which literally translate to shitter and pee-er. And you’re supposed to hide them very strategically for little kids to find them. And it’s just like a cool Easter egg in there, you’re looking at the baby Jesus and all of a sudden you see a guy taking a shit in the woods. They’re little store bought figurines, I feel like everyone has the same ones. They literally have their pants down, and there’s even a little turd for the “Caganer.” I visit my family every year, usually during Christmas, so I was given the task of hiding the figurines and looking for them.”

 

Analysis: Nativity scenes are of course very important in various cultures during Christmas, but the inclusion of the Caganer, or shitting person, is a phenomenon mostly isolated to Catalan, but widespread throughout the region. The Caganer humanizes an otherwise perfect scene, even if his activity is grotesque. In my research I found a contemporary analysis by ethnographer Joan Amades that posits that the act of defecating fertilizes the ground of the nativity scene, ensuring fertility and good fortune for the coming year.

 

 

Customs
Game
Holidays
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cagatió – The Shitting Log in Catalonian Culture

The informant is a good friend and has family in Catalan. Below, she describes an incredibly unique Christmas tradition:

“There’s another Catalonian tradition that most kids partake in, which is the Cagatió, or the Tió de Nadal. Which is a log with a face painted on the front and two little legs, which wears a little traditional Catalan hat called a Barretina. And it’s kind of like, the set up is somewhat like leaving Christmas cookies out for Santa. So for a few days leading up to Christmas Eve, you leave cookies out to make it fat and so for a week before you’re feeding it constantly every night. The parents, after the kids go to bed, they eat the cookies. And of course they tell the kids ‘Oh no, the Cagatió ate your cookies and he’s really happy and thankful and he’s going to get very fat. And so for discretion, of course you put a blanket over the back of the Cagatió. And to not hurt the Cagatió you take wood spoons from the kitchen and all the kids go to the sink and run the wood spoons under the warm water to soften them. While the kids are doing that, the parents hide little gifts under the blanket of the Cagatió, so like stocking stuffers but in the butt of the Cagatió, and so they tell them to come back out and so they take the wooden spoons, which are now soft, and you proceed to like whack it while singing the traditional Cagatió song, which is basically, in translation ‘Poop log, poop. If you don’t poop gifts for me, I’ll keep hitting you with this stick’. When you finish the song you take the blanket off the back of the Cagatió. And so basically you keep going back to the sink, you do this four or five times until he stops giving you presents. The parents put fewer and fewer gifts under the blanket each time to simulate the Cagatió running out of poop.”

So what is it again?

“It’s a log. It’s literally a log with a face painted on it. That was a favorite tradition of mine. My family has multiple sizes of Cagatió (laughs). We have a big one for the living room and also a travel sized one.”

Below is a translation of the traditional song:

 

“Caga tió,

caga torró,

avellanes i mató,

si no cagues bé

et daré un cop de bastó.

caga tió!”

ENGLISH:

 

“shit, log,

shit nougats (turrón),

hazelnuts and mató cheese,

if you don’t shit well,

I’ll hit you with a stick,

shit, log!”

 

Analysis: This is a very ancient tradition in Catalan and I’ve never heard of anything quite like it. The use of an actual shit log is very fascinating. The gifts that come out of the log are usually communal and small gifts, such as candies or small toys. The log almost takes on a personified character and specifically signifies a Catalonian person.

Customs
Folk speech
general

Folk Traditions and Sayings from Monterrey Mexico

The informant is a pediatrician, originally from Monterrey, married to a radiologist also from Monterrey. I met her at a family barbeque where we discussed her own cultural traditions and forms of folklore. As I caught her while we were eating, she couldn’t help but think immediately of meals from back home, in Monterrey:

“Everything in Monterrey is celebrated with Carne Asada, like we are having here. Meat is central to every family gathering, celebration or get-together. Frequently, on Sundays, family visits grandparents and the central attraction is watching the soccer games, the “clásicos” where the Tigres and the Rallados are perpetual rivals. People from Monterrey are called Regios, and they were jeans for everything, all year long. “Guey” used to be a word only men used to call each other, but now even females use it to address their friends, and it such a common word, that is has made it to the dictionary, I still consider it vulgar, but it is widely used.

We love everything spicy, from fruit to meat to drinks. Whenever I go to Monterrey, I have to get street tacos and then go have a Chamoyada, which is shaved ice with chamoy, a fruit that has a strong taste, and lime. I also love Granielotes (which Jesús called Esquite), roasted corn kernels with mayonnaise, chili powder and limejuice; the spicier the better. My children don’t like them as much as we do, but they do love spice on their food. We also can pack Itacates, left-overs for our guests, and if we get a compliment, we would say, “Te bañaste, Guey”, you outdid yourself, pal! (Notice the different verbs in the identical expression)

The large family gatherings so prominent in Mexican culture are of course very famous. Across all of Mexico, the experience of watching the clásicos offers an important opportunity for one to catch up with the family. Monterrey is in some ways Mexico’s most urban and wealthy city. Regio means royalty or the quality of being awesome, so the implication is that being from Monterrey is an honor. Guey is an interesting and incredibly common saying that either means dude or bro, or can mean fool or ass if used with someone unfamiliar and in a harsh tone. Moslty the Mexican youth use the word, and adults (particularly those above her age) are still jarred by its use. Lastly, I want to call attention to the regional differences. Whereas my informant from Mexico City, Jesús, called the roasted corn esquite, She knows it as granielotes, which calls specific attention to the fact the corn is off the cob. Also, whereas another informant’s friendly saying involved “Te rayaste” (you scratched yourself), this informant’s regional saying is “Te bañaste,” or “you showered yourself”. Fascinating that although the two rhyme, they have incredibly different particular meanings, but as a saying mean the same thing.

Childhood
Customs
general

Growing up in Homs, Syria

The informant is from Homs, Syria, living in the U.S. for twelve years now. She came from Saudi Arabia. She was interviewed at my family’s home.

“I miss everything about Syria. Nothing here tastes as good as it did there, where everything was natural, made with real butter, real animal fat, with fruits and vegetables grown organically, the food was so good you can not even imagine it. We had thriving, bustling cities, where community was vibrant. I loved that as I was growing up, we had neighbors and they would just jokingly show up, spooking me and my Mom, but that was normal, traditional and expected.”

What do you mean by that?

“You could come visit a neighbor, uninvited, anytime. Here, you have to call, make plans, call before and make sure you are still invited. I feel lonely here even though I do have friends. In Homs, when I was bored or lonesome, just walking the city was entertaining, seeing the people selling things, talking, stopping to eat something, to buy crafts, everything was handmade, and everything of exquisite quality, the craftsmanship was excellent, the result of years of practice and work. The textiles, the weaving, the beading, the pottery, our crafts were art! On fridays people do not work, so we visit relatives. The people were very family oriented, our values are community, sharing, helping and being in solidarity. What is happening now in my country is an unimaginable tragedy, what humanity has lost cannot be described in words.”

Here the informant is obviously very nostalgic about growing up in Syria, in what is now lost to endless war and aggression. She described to me that the marketplace of goods and cuisine in Syria was far more limited than anywhere else she has been, but that although restricted, everything was local and home cooked or home made. Particularly interesting is her emphasis on collective community. She described her living situation as a collection of one-story brick houses and that neighbors one often hop among houses, visiting neighbors and chatting casually. This is quite different than the private and individualized neighborhood lives that we live, although of course, we have different needs. I hope Roola gets to visit a peaceful Syria someday. She was very distraught discussing it.

 

Customs
Game
Holidays
Humor

Pickley Christmas

The informant is a sophomore at USC from Long Beach, CA.

I was discussing folk traditions with the informant after class one day and she offered me a particularly odd Christmas tradition that she has in her own family

“Every Christmas day my mom hides a pickle ornament, a green pickle ornament. It used to be that it was supposed to be hidden over in the tree, and then whoever finds it gets the prize. But now, it’s hidden anywhere because of course it got too easy, but my whole family does that, and I’ve done that since I was little and I don’t know where it comes from.”

Here she describes a tradition surrounding a pickle ornament that seems intuitively quite odd. After some research I found a variety of explanations. Many believe the tradition to have originated from Germany, and to be referred to as Weihnachtsgurke. The truth is that this is an invented myth!

In reality this may well be a great example of fakelore – of a clever effort to unload and boost sales of a particularly eccentric ornament. In my discussion with her, she seemed to believe that this tradition was isolated and invented, yet it turns out to be quite a widespread tradition in America, and it even seems to have spread to its purported origin of Germany after the fact. The person who finds the Christmas pickle is believed to receive good fortune all year or an extra present. Berrien Spring, Michigan, a cucumber production center, was known as the Christmas Pickle capital of the world from 1992 to 2003. What an odd designation and interesting little tradition. The oddity of the ornament certainly adds to the tradition’s mystique, and thus its continue prominence.

[geolocation]