USC Digital Folklore Archives / Initiations
Customs
Initiations

Dartmouth Night

The informant is a 20 year old student who is currently studying at Dartmouth. He recounts his experience with this initiation tradition and how it made him already feel a part of something.

  • So during homecoming weekend at Dartmouth, there is a Dartmouth tradition that tons of alumni come back to campus and are welcomed back into the frats- and each class builds its own bonfire structure, so my class, being a freshman would be 19, and the number of the year you graduate is placed on the top of the structure ( the structure is made out of wood and it is 50 feet high) I didn’t personally participate in making it but my class did. Then on the night of the bonfire, the entire freshman class starts at one dorm and moves through the campus picking up other freshman from each dorm building and eventually making their way to the green, which is where the bonfire getting ready to be lit. Then the freshman are welcomed into an inner circle around which all the other classes and alumni are standing and chanting. The bonfire is lit by select freshman, those who built it, and the freshman class begins to run around the bonfire the number of laps of their graduating year- meanwhile, all the surrounding upper-classmen heckle the freshman to run across the inner circle and touch the fire (which is completely guarded by Hanover police and security because its technically considered trespassing). Eventually, someone finally breaks free of the lap running and tries to touch the fire instigating others to do the same. Literally the police tackle people. This has been a tradition for a really long time, President William Jewett Tucker introduced the ceremony of Dartmouth Night in 1895
  • me: so what is the significance of touching the fire?
  • If you are caught then you are brought to the police station and the understanding is that an alumni will bail you out of jail, but if you’re not caught, you are seen as a legend from your fellow classmates and the older kids.
  • I first heard about this tradition from a sophomore, who touched the fire himself, and was clearly still prideful of that, it was within the first couple of weeks of school.
  • I actually did an interview about this in the school paper, but touching the fire for me provided the best welcome possible into dartmouth and solidified the fact that this is a good place for me.

ANALYSIS:

I think that initiations can be really important for anyone in-group. In my opinion they immediately create a sense of community and a feeling of belonging which is so important for a group to stay strong and connected.

Childhood
general
Initiations
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bloody Mary

“Ok. So when I was in elementary school, there was this myth that you went in the bathroom, turned off the light, spinned around three times fast, and looked in the mirror, chant Bloody Mary three times, you would see Bloody Mary. And Bloody Mary was this fictitious ghost.”

 

What did she do?

“She would just appear in the mirror. She was a scary ghost looking thing and she had red eyes.”

 

Did you ever do this ritual yourself?

“Yah.”

 

Did she appear to you?

“So here’s the thing. I think there is some biology behind this. If you spin around three times really fast and you look straight, your vision is all kind of blurry, so you do see some kind of image. And when all of the other younger girls were there, it was Bloody Mary! In actuality, it was an after image.”

 

Who told you this story?

“It was told amongst the little girls. Like they wanted to go to the bathroom and try this out. This was elementary school. Second or third grade. We should go do it now haha.”

 

What do you see as the significance?

“Looking back on it, it resembles my childhood and all of the imagination it used to have. It was a happy carefree time in my life with my friends, … and Bloody Mary haha.”

 

Analysis:

I agree with the informant that Bloody Mary usually marks a period in childhood because it is frequently performed by youths. The story represents the imagination and fear found in children and the eagerness to perform such rituals to become part of a group.

 

For another version of Bloody Mary, please visit: (note a similar mention of Bloody Mary’s distinct eyes)

http://anitasnotebook.com/2012/08/faces-in-the-mirror-the-true-story-behind-bloody-mary.html

Wirawan, Anita. “Faces In The Mirror: The True Story Behind Bloody Mary – Anita’s Notebook.” Anita’s Notebook. N.p., 14 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Adulthood
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Senior Lawn and Patio

“So at my high school we had a senior lawn and senior patio. And in everyone wanted to go on it but only seniors could go on it because it was a special privilege when you reached that age. Each year, there would be a big ceremony on um the last day of classes before finals in which that years seniors handed the lawn and the patio to the juniors.”

 

Where did you first hear this story?

“When you got to the high schools, one of the first things they tell you is to not step on the senior lawn or patio. And from that, you hear the story of how the lawn and patio are passed down on the last day of classes from the senior class to the junior class.”

 

What happens when you step on the lawn or the patio?

“You get thrown in the pool. Two seniors will pick you up and throw you in the pool. I saw it once.”

 

Explain?

“It was a joking thing; they were using it to demonstrate for that year as an example. They had a little seventh grade boy. They recorded this and showed it at morning meeting to the whole school. They did that every year. Every senior class would have a ‘Don’t step on the senior patio’ video.”

 

What do you think this means?

“It is a just a privilege that has to be earned. It is embedded in tradition, it has been carried on since the schools founding many decades ago. It is an initiation for senior year. It kicks off senior year. Everyone is really excited and they feel really accomplished. Its something you have been longing for three years and the anticipation has been built up.”

 

Who generally tells this story?

“Seniors will generally tell you this story. Any upperclassman when you come in as a freshman.”

 

Analysis:

This story shows a unique way that a community determines maturity. We can see that the patio distinguishes the mature, older group from the younger kids. The passing of the lawn represents that the younger group have finally reached a level of maturity and an age deserving of this important lawn. The informant made the lawn appear to be a facet in the “coolness” of being older, a prize to work towards throughout high school. The lawn and patio signify an important turning of age for this informant.

Adulthood
Initiations
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Red Wedding Dress in Chinese Cultures

“So Chinese women typically wear red wedding dresses because it symbolizes good luck … happiness and good fortune. Also it signifies a prosperous marriage.”

 

When did you first learn of this tradition?

“I first learned about this tradition when flipping through old photo books of my grandpa’s wedding to my grandma. My grandma was wearing a bright red dress and I asked my dad why, and he told me that it symbolized good fortune for the marriage.”

 

Will you personally follow in this tradition?

“Personally, I will probably stick to the American tradition of a white or ivory dress because I grew up in America.”

 

What does this story mean to you?

I” personally, directly I don’t have the tradition, and I’m probably not going to follow it when I get married, but knowing that my adoptive family has been following the tradition of wearing the red dresses really roots me to where I was adopted from. I was adopted from Southern China.”

 

Who usually talks about this story?

“Mainly my dad’s side of the family who are all Chinese Americans. Every time someone is married, there is a child born, or Chinese New Years it just intertwines with traditions in general and we usually talk about it then. Red is a very prominent color in Chinese culture because it represents good fortune.”

 

Analysis:

I’ve heard a lot of references about the color red symbolizing good fortune in Asian culture, but I was surprised to find out how interwoven it is into some of the Chinese traditions. The story of the red wedding dress demonstrates the informant’s connection to her Chinese background. While she does not think that she will follow in this tradition, the informant still values the history and family connection to the dress color. The red wedding dress also symbolizes an initiation into maturity, and granting good luck in this process of marriage. I also think it is unique that her adopted family and her biological family all have connections to this tradition.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Initiations
Legends
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The OJ Simpson Metaphor

The informant (A.H.) comes from a Black Christian family. A.H. does not identify with Christianity.

Now well retired from the game at 54 years old, A.H. played football in the NFL from 1983 to 1987; first drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, then transferred to the Seattle Seahawks, and finally the San Francisco 49ers. Since then he has coached youth football teams, and works now as a financial analyst. A.H. was over house for dinner one Monday evening, and after our meal I interviewed him for football specific occupational folklore. I asked about the superstitions, traditions, and legends A.H. had come across during his career as a professional player.

A.H.: “I remember growing up I was a huge OJ Simpson fan. I think every kid my age that grew up in my area that wanted to be a running back wanted to be OJ. And I remember reading in an article somewhere that he never ate before games. He had said somewhere that he wanted to know what it was like to be hungry, and he thought that it would transfer over into games. I think I might have been in high-school when I read that. It affected the way that I ate, like I would never eat the night before the game or morning before the game. The interesting thing is when I coached, I passed that on to the players that I used to coach. He said something like, if you didn’t eat it would make you like a hungry dog. You would play better. Every guy has his superstition before the game… So I saw one of the kids on Facebook that I used to coach… A lot of those kids are coaches, and they’re passing that stuff on now.”

I found A.H.’s story compelling, because what began as Simpson’s individual superstition was perpetuated by his success, and eventually A.H.’s success. As seen with the OJ Simpson metaphor, a young generation of football players dons the occupational superstitions of their predecessors as a rite of passage in the hopes to achieve similar success on the field. A.H. was well spoken, and seemed to enjoy revisiting memories of his time in the game. He was equally, if not more enthusiastic about the legacy he left behind as a coach.
Not only does A.H.’s story provide an occupational superstition, but also a new interpretation of a popular metaphor. Specifically, in English speech, ‘hunger’ serves as a metaphor for desire or motivation. In this particular superstition, the hunger metaphor is associated with the desire to win the game. For a popular example of the hunger used as a metaphor for motivation, see Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Freshman-Senior Brawl

Piece:

Freshman-Senior brawl: at the end of each year, the senior boys and freshman boys gather in the schools old gym (this tradition is unknown by the school’s faculty) to have an unofficial freshman-senior brawl to celebrate the moving up of freshman to sophomores and the graduation of seniors moving on from the school. “I do this to you so you can do this to freshman some day.” The idea is that freshmen are hated for being new, young, and naïve and this is the last chance for them to be bullied before they are no longer freshmen. The seniors sort of intentionally go easy on the freshman because they’re 18, whereas the freshmen are 14.

Information & Context:

My informant for this piece is a student at the University of Southern California who graduated from the boarding school (Cate) from which this tradition originates. His knowledge of the tradition dates back between 3 and 11 years ago, though it is reasonable that it has existed for longer.

Thoughts:

It is curious to me that a ceremony of physical violence can be viewed as a positive thing. My informant explained to me that it was seen as a right of passage—after which, both parties move up in the world. I would point out that both parties would move up, regardless of the ceremony, but it is important to note that this is how the community reacts to such a passage. It becomes a “you get bullied now so you get the right to bully later” type of scenario.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Humor
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Celebration of the First Birthday in Korea

Context

The celebration of a baby’s first birthday in particular is widely practiced across the world, as infant and child mortality rates were much higher in previous eras. In the eastern Asian regions, this traditional celebration includes a ceremony where the objects are placed in front of the baby and good things are said about the baby’s future based on the grabbed object. In my native South Korea, the objects typically associated with the occasion are books, writing tools and money. Other objects – even microphones and calculators – can also be used in the celebration, though that depends on how traditional the practitioner wants the celebration to be.

Informant Information

The informant is my uncle, who recently celebrated the first birthday of his twin sons. He first learned of the tradition in childhood, then through from his mother and grandmother. As a celebration for his sons, the performance of this tradition was of a personal importance to him. I was unable to attend the celebration in person, but I was able to ask the informant about it during spring break.

According to the informant, he placed a pencil, a book, money and a ball of strings – traditionally included symbols/items – on the table, but he also placed modern picks: a computer mouse and a basketball. The traditional symbols refer to a future in education, academics, riches and healthy life, respectively. The informant said that his contemporary additions represented “technological savvy” and “athleticism”. In the end, both his children picked up the pencil and the informant wishfully said that he was “happy he shouldn’t have to worry about their [the twins'] grades”.

Analysis

It can be observed that the practice of traditional celebrations sees variation based on the practitioner, as do works of folklore in general. Though it is entirely up to choice to follow tradition or not, the informant’s use of contemporary objects to update the objects to be grabbed by the baby show that celebrations can be altered to be contemporary yet not taking away from the traditional meaning of celebration.

To see the traditional Chinese version of this tradition, see “To Catch the First Year” in the Folklore Archives
(http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=30617)

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Aussi Hunt Down

Informant Background:

Informant’s Story:

When living in Australia I had created a punk-rock band with a few friends. Eventually we became fairly successful and toured around. As time went on, some of the band members were replaced, but the drummer and myself stuck around. We began to take the whole thing very seriously over time and decided that we were sick of replacing members so we created this absurd initiation process to see who was going to be the most dedicated. The process went something like this: At first we’d just get to know the potentials – heard them play, listen to their old bands music, talk about music, get drinks, check out some concerts. Then we started giving them all these sorts of tasks to do, like errands, phone calls and other random shit we seriously didn’t think anyone would do. We then pushed it to something a bit more extreme where we told them to get on our friends tractor with us in the middle of the night and drive through the forest. We then had other friends dressed in gorilla costumes who’d throw balls at us from the trees. They’d then pop out of the trees and attack us, of course going easy on the prospect so that he could try to save us. Eventually we’d reveal this was a joke and after a moment of shock and anger, the prospect would just laugh about it. One time though one of the prospects thought they were real gorillas, not just some jack asses trying to pick a fight, and he started to go kung fu on these guys. One of friends had a rib broken so we of course stopped the thing. We ended up getting 3 dedicated band members from it. They were with us to the end of the band days. Starting out though we didn’t seriously think anyone would stick around for the initiation. Punk music breeds some dedicated lokes.

About the Informant

The informant is a freelance construction worker who grew up in both American and Australia. While in Australia he played in a punk rock band for 6 years. He also became a father 12 years ago. Since then he’s been constantly leaning about the pervading sub cultures and rituals for children that were non existent or drastically different from his formative years.

Analyses:

I see this as a testament to the value of having one invest a great deal into something before having them join in order to create sustaining commitment. Sort of like what a fraternity does. And it is when these sorts of things work that long standing folkloric initiations come to be. This is definitely a bit much for just joining a band, but it clearly fixed their problem.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Great Norwegian Graduation Rager

“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day  that you celebrate Independence Day  and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like,  not a lot, but  maybe one out  of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”

 

The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.

This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.

What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.

Humor
Initiations

The Drop Bear Prank

“We’ve got a koala bear, which is one of the laziest animals. I don’t know where the tradition came from, but we tell tourist that koalas will drop down from trees and attack people. We like to tell tourists this to scare them. We like to “take the mickey” (make fun of) with people who have never been to the bush before.”

According to the informant, the drop bear is the name of a common prank that is pulled on tourists who have never been to Australia before and are unfamiliar with what life in the country is actually like. Because many of these tourists are afraid of the many poisonous animals that can kill them in the Australian wilderness, Australians like to intensify these fears for their own enjoyment by warning tourists that carnivorous koalas (otherwise known as drop bears) like to drop from trees and viciously attack anyone below. Angus claims that this prank is considered truly successful if a tourist returns home still believing that drop bears exist.

The informant, Angus Guthrie, is a 20-year-old student who was born and raised in Australia. Because he and his family have been in the country for a very long time, he believes that he is quite familiar with Australian folklore and traditions. While Angus does not know where he learned this prank from, he does know that it is a reaction to the stereotype that Australians live on land that is highly unsafe. Australians instead want to be known as a fun loving group of people. Angus believes that this prank helps them spread this image.

This prank is intriguing because it reflects the Australian value of being viewed in a positive light. It is clear that they resent the view that Australians do not live on safe land. What this prank allows them to do is allow foreigners to discover an image that better suits them. When people finally realize that drop bears are not real, that is when they are finally able to see what the Australian lifestyle is actually life.

For a complex example of the drop bear prank, look here: Janssen, Volker. “Indirect tracking of drop bears using GNSS technology.”Australian Geographer 43.4 (2012): 445-452.

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