USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Baby’
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Mexican Pregnancy and Menstruation Beliefs

LP’s (the informant) family is originally from Mexico. She learned this superstition from her mother who advised her not to eat certain foods when she was menstruating. I remember when I was roommates with LP my freshman year, and her mom would bring her certain foods that she believed would help reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. For the pregnancy part, she said her entire family believed in the tradition and that her mother used this method to determine the sex of a baby, and has never been wrong.

Both of these things apply to women, either pregnant or menstruating women specifically. Therefore, the following needle test is used on a pregnant woman, usually within the home.

“During your period, don’t eat spicy stuff because those make cramps worse. Don’t eat watermelon because that makes it worse too, or any watery fruit will hurt you. It’s bad to eat these when you’re menstruating. Also, when you’re pregnant don’t eat watery foods because they’re afraid the baby will slip out. Ha, it’s so strange….Oh also! When you’re pregnant there’s a test to see if you will have a boy or girl baby. Someone will put a needle on a red string and dangle it over the mother’s stomach when she’s lying down. If the needle starts swinging back and forth it means it’s a boy, and if it goes in a circle, it’s a girl. My mom has done this and has always gotten it right. Also if your pregnant stomach is bulging out, it’s a boy, if it’s round and droopy it’s a girl.”

I’m very curious as to how this needle test came about. Is there some sort of reasoning behind it? LP did not know how it came about, so she wasn’t able to answer me. I’d like to know where they got the idea about the direction of the needle swinging indicating the sex of the baby.  Additionally, LP tried to explain the reasoning behind eating certain foods during menstruation and while it seemed plausible, I don’t think it’s scientifically accurate. 

Musical

Trot Trot to Boston

Folklore Piece

‘This is a song my mom would always sing to me and my siblings when we were little. She’d place us on her lap and move them up and down while she sang “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Lynn / Look out little [T.R.] / You might fall in!” and then pretend to drop us between her legs. The second first was “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Town / Look out little [T.R]/  you might fall down!” Then repeat the dropping motion. Finally, “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Dover / Look out little [T.R]/  you might fall Over!”

 

Background information

“Yeah, I learned it from my Mom. I mean, I don’t really remember learning it, and I certainly don’t really remember her performing it, but I’ve seen her do it with some of my younger cousins, and I have too. Uh, I don’t know, I just, I like the piece because it’s catchy, and it makes me nostalgic about Boston and my Mom and stuff, you know? You’ve probably heard it too, right?” ( I have)

Context

He certainly did not bounce me on his lap, however he did say that he “would definitely do this with his kids when he’s older, no matter where he lives. I just like the way I hold on to something from my home town, you know? Being 3,000 miles away, like, you lose a lot of that. I think I wanna move back eventually, but who knows?”

Analysis

My mom also performed this song for me when I was younger. I, too, perform it with my younger cousins and babies from the Boston area. I’ve always found it so interesting, because growing up in a town north of Boston where most people move to from all over the country, we don’t have too many unique traditions or pieces of folklore that bring us together as a town. But this song, even though it’s about Boston, is shared amongst almost all of us in the metropolitan Boston area. I tried to find the origin of this story, and was unable to locate a direct source. However, the book Trot Trot to Boston, published in 1987 is referenced as saying that it is a Mother Goose poem. Additionally, there are a number of variations of the poem I found. An online forum found here has at least 8 variations of the song.

The informant said that it reminds him of his mother, too. It’s funny how songs that are performed to us when we are children – often before we can even remember – make us so nostalgic. Certainly we can’t remember the circumstances under which these songs were performed. However, we know that our mothers took care of us at a time that they sang this song, and it’s so embedded within us, associated with childcare and motherly love, that it’s hard not to look at it so fondly.

 

Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

100 Day Party for South Korean Babies

The informant, my friend, is a 20-year-old college student. All of the informant’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from South Korea, but both of her parents have lived in the United States their whole lives.

While we were in line to order at a local Chipotle restaurant, I asked the informant if any specific traditions or customs related to her South Korean heritage have stood out to her the most throughout her life. She hesitated for a moment, and at first failed to answer my question. A few minutes later, she began to describe a coming-of-age ceremony that was held for her as a baby.

“Traditionally in South Korea, when a baby makes it to 100 days it means that they’re going to live a long life. So at 100 days the baby’s family holds a ‘100 Day Party.’ The babies wear a traditional South Korean outfit and there is a whole feast for the family. During the ceremony there are a lot of different bowls, and each one contains something different like a dollar bill, different types of food, some thread, or a pencil. The baby is set in front of the bowls and whichever ones it puts its hands in are supposed to represent what type of life it will have. So if you choose the pencil you’re supposed to be intelligent, the dollar means you’ll be rich, and the thread means you’ll have a long life.”

This ceremony marks the point at which a South Korean family truly celebrates the life of their new child without hesitation or worries of health complications leading to a premature death. It seems to be a remnant of the lack of healthcare and prevalence of childhood mortality that existed across the globe several centuries ago, since in recent years child mortality rates in developed nations like South Korea and the United States have fallen drastically as a result of increasing knowledge in the health sciences as well as greater availability of medicine and healthcare services. I asked the informant if she remembered what was in the bowl that she picked on her 100 Day Party, but she did not. For the informant’s family, then, the party served more as a celebratory event than a true predictor of their child’s life trajectory, since her lack of knowledge with regards to the object that she picked had no bearing on the personal and career choices she has been allowed to make throughout her life. I also asked the informant if she plans to hold a 100 Day Party for her children, if she has any, and she responded that she does. It is realistic to say that this folk tradition will continue to exist for future generations, as it is a fun and exciting event that many would have no moral hesitation holding for their child.

Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“String and Ring Test”

The informant’s family comes from the Bahamas. She was born in the Bahamas and is a talented Bahamian woman. Her mother and she were extremely close and she learned a lot of the folklore that she shared with me from either her mother or from being with her mother. Eventually her family moved to Florida where they learned American cultures and were able to compare and contrast the two. 

The custom…

…is performed if a woman is pregnant at her baby shower. A ring is paced on a string and she holds one end of the string in one hand and the other end of the string in the other and pulls the string so that the ring will move. If the ring swings back and forward the baby is predicted to be a boy, and if the ring stays in the middle of the string the baby is predicted to be a girl.

The informant born in the Bahamas and raised in Florida, learned this custom as a young girl. Her mom would take her to baby showers of her mother’s friends. “It was so exciting” the informant said, “to go and experience the pregnant ladies as they would celebrate the new life they were creating”. At these baby showers, very similar to the ones we in American are use to, they perform different customs or rituals to either predict the baby’s gender, when it will be born, and just as a well to celebrate the almost to be mother and the new life she would carry inside of her. To explain it to me (a Wyoming resident with no exotic traditional background) the informant said, “You know like the old wives tales? That is kind of what this is. I know you’ve heard of the saying If the belly is high the baby is a girl and if the belly is low the baby will be a boy, it is really similar to that I guess. My culture just does it [the string and ring custom] for fun, but we actually believe in it [its results]“.

When asked how this tradition started, the informant replied, “I’m not sure, I’ve never asked where they got it from, I just remember it being performed at almost every Bahamian women’s baby showers I’ve went to. I am sure the ones where it wasn’t performed, probably the woman pregnant wanted the gender [of the baby] to be a surprise”. If mothers don’t perform this when they want the gender of their baby to be a surprise, I suspect that usually the custom has correct answers which is really neat.

Analysis…

I think that this custom, ritual, or tradition is sort of similar to the “belief” that Americans have about pregnancy from old wives tales. I was extremely happy when the informant connected her custom to a belief that I was familiar with to help me understand why they do it. Similar to here, I think that the custom is sort of for fun, but when it boils down to it, whatever the results of either how a person is carrying their child or what the string and ring test shows, is a legitimate prediction of the gender of their child until it is born and they are able to learn the truth.

Legends
Narrative

Mysterious Stranger: Baby Catching Edition

My friend has some family lore that her aunt tells about when her cousin was 3 she was sitting on a balcony a few stories up and somehow managed to fall off..  My friend’s aunt, the baby’s mother frantically ran downstairs to check on her child, who she expected to be dead, if not seriously injured.  When she came downstairs she found the toddler sitting on the floor.  When the mother asked her daughter what happened she claimed that “a man caught me” but when the mother looked around there was no one around.

My friend told me this story when I prompted her for any legends.  She didn’t seem particularly put off by the uneasiness of the tale, it was simply a story that had ben retold by her family so often it was very ordinary at this point.

This seems to be a  quasi ghost story, with a disappearing savior as opposed to a ghost that explains an unexplainable phenomenon, but still gives an air of unease.  Yes, the stranger hypothetically saved the toddlers life, but why did he not wait to stick around?  If a baby falls from sky and you have the decency to catch it, wouldn’t you also have the decency to return it to its parents? That would be what any normal person would do.  So the ghost in this story is both a savior and a sinister figure.

This story reminded me of a disappearing hitchhiker story that I read, which is similar in that it also tells of a figure, who disappears.  The figure can often provide some form of advice to the other person in the story.  This seems to be a parallel about the phenomenon where people enter and leave our lives very rapidly but cause catalytic change.

Foodways
Holidays

King Cake

One of my co-workers lived near New Orleans, so she told me about a food tradition in New Orleans during Mardi Gras known as a King Cake.

“It’s called a King Cake and it’s Mardi Gras and they bake it and you can get them everywhere. It’s like a pastry that has cinnamon in it, it’s like a big cinnamon roll, it’s in the shape of an oval, like a ring, and there’s icing on it and all these sprinkles, like green, yellow, and purple sprinkles for Mardi Gras. You bake the cake and once you get it there’s a little figurine, like a baby, about the size of your thumb and you stick it somewhere in the cake and then you cover it up and as you eat it, whoever gets the baby in their piece of bread has good luck for a year.

Q: Can you buy a cake that has a baby in it or do you have to make it?

“That’s the thing, it’s actually kind of a problem, because some people swallow the baby if you eat it too fast. So, when you buy the cake you can get them in there already, but most of the time if you get them at a Rouses, it’s like a chain grocery store, they’ll have them taped on the top of the box and they’ll give you the figurine and the person who buys it sticks it in there, so they know not to give that piece to a little kid…You frost it so you can’t see the hole, so I would stick it in and then mess the frosting around so you couldn’t tell where it was. And then you get good luck for a year.”

According to my informant, because the cakes are meant for Mardi Gras, you probably wouldn’t see those types of cakes during the rest of the year unless they were specially ordered. Also, it would be considered strange to eat a King Cake that didn’t have a baby inside, since the type of cake and the folklore surrounding the baby figuring go hand in hand.

For more information on this topic see:  Barclay, Eliza. “Is That A Plastic Baby Jesus In My Cake?” The Salt: What’s On Your Plate. NPR, 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 01 May 2014.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Italian Christening robes

“On the Christening robes of babies, they have these little charms, little golden charms. There’s a monkey fist, a bull horn, all different ones, and they’re all supposed to keep the evil eye away.”

 

My informant comes from a devout Italian Catholic family. Although the evil eye is not a Christian belief, it has seeped so deeply into the culture from pre-Christian folk beliefs to the extent that a modern Catholic family believes in it enough to take precautions against it harming their infants. Again, there is the idea that celebration can draw the wrath of the evil eye; even a religious celebration is dangerous.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs

Chinese Saying: We Found You in a Trashcan

Contextual Data: After talking to me about another Chinese folk belief, a friend of mine quickly continued into this account of another folk saying that her parents had been saying to her ever since she was little. The following is a transcript of her description.

“I don’t know why, but in every Asian society, like every child is supposed to be found in a trashcan. You’re not conceived, we found you in a trashcan, and it’s kind of like a, like a ‘diamond in the rough’ kind of thing…where, um, ‘We’re really happy that you’re here, and like, you have life and we love you and everything.’ But, um… but, it’s—I dunno. It’s kind of like, it’s like: ‘You’re a jewel and we, like, we found you. We picked it up. And we were like graced by God that you gave — that you’re here with us today.’”

- End Transcript – 

My informant did a fairly thorough job of explaining the significance of this saying — that it is essentially a way of saying “you’re special” and “we’re luck to have you with us.” I think idea of a parent letting their child know that they do value them and that they are special is a big part of the reason why people might continue to use this saying — it’s essentially an expression of love and affection. I did ask a couple of other Chinese friends about this, however, and they mentioned that they had no recollection of ever being told this, which suggests it may not be a saying that is as widely known and/or confined to the Guangzhou region in China, where my friend is from.

Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Pregnant Woman Ghost

Informant Background: The informant is a student in Los Angeles. His family is originally from Indonesia. His parents moved to the United States and they now live in New Orleans. He speaks only English but he said his family still practice many Indonesian traditions especially folk-beliefs. He travels back once in a while to Indonesia to visit his relatives.

 

Okay, so there is this woman who was pregnant but she wasn’t married…she doesn’t have family or relatives…then when she was giving birth to her baby she died ‘cause the baby somehow came out of her back. …And then she became a ghost who looks like a woman but she has this bleeding hole in her stomach. She would appear with long black hair over her face while holding her dead baby …you know like those Asians ghost you see in movies where it’s like a girl with super long drapy hair in front of their face.

The informant heard about this story through his relatives in Indonesia. He is not quite sure what situation the ghost would appear but he said that she is one of the well known characters in Indonesia traditions.

 

 

I think this ghost story shows the improper ritual for two of life’s most celebrated moment: birth and death. The spirits of the mother and child transform into ghosts because they did not get a proper burial. It is also similar to other ghost stories where the ghost is created because the person died too young, in this case both of them.

The hole is a reflection the improper birth and death of both mother and child: the mother who died trying to give birth and the child who died before even being born. Souls or spirits can become ghost because of improper death or death rituals. Similar to other origin of ghost instead of being released into heaven the spirit stays on earth looking for family and relative for closure. It was both unconventional birth and death that leads to the belief of this ghost.

The absence of a proper burial is evident to the lack of family. The woman was pregnant without a husband, which is deemed unconventional and unacceptable by many societies. With no family she had no one to give her a proper funeral. Her ghost, in my opinion, is then her spirit that lingers around looking for family to give her closure.

I think this story could also be an indirect way to teach girls the consequences of going against traditions. Since the woman in the story did not have a proper wedding, she then was not able to give birth properly: going against tradition in this case not only lead to her death but an unsatisfying afterlife.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Signs

“If you eat a double cherry when you’re pregnant, you’ll have twins.”

The informant, then twelve years old, first heard this phrase from her uncle, whose wife was pregnant at the time.  Her uncle and aunt were gathered with the family and announced their pregnancy.  Later after dinner, the family was eating cherries together and was discussing whether the baby would be a boy or a girl, when the topic of twins came up.  The informant’s uncle saw her aunt eating a double cherry and said, “Did you know that if you eat a double cherry while you’re pregnant, you’re going to have twins?”  My informant doesn’t really believe that this is true because she does not believe in superstitions, although it is a superstition that everyone in her family likes to joke about, because it also happened to come true.  Her aunt ended up giving birth to twin girls six months later.  This is why the informant likes to retell the tale, because it makes the superstition much more mysterious and believable when it actually comes true.

I believe this superstition is highly unlikely to be true because the events are completely separate, and that the informant’s story just happened by coincidence.  However, superstitions are always driven by the chance occurrences that happen to confirm them, making some people believe that they’re true while they may completely be random happenings.  I believe the informant tells the story only to joke around, poking fun when pregnant women are around.  The superstition is so seemingly arbitrary that people tend to believe that nobody could possibly create such a fantastical story up, so it must have some sort of truth behind it.  This is how the superstition of double cherries is spread and dispersed.

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