USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘birthdays’
Adulthood
Childhood
Initiations
Musical
Protection

An Extra Birthday Candle

Informant: The informant is a twenty-two-year-old named Samantha. She graduated from Providence College last year and is currently working in New York City as an Advertising Sales Assistant for VERANDA Magazine. She lives in Yonkers, New York with her parents and has lived there for her whole life. She is of Italian, English, and Russian descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on the living room floor at her house in Yonkers, New York during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: I learned that you when celebrating someone’s birthday, you always need to have one more candle than necessary on the birthday cake. This candle has to be left unlit. I learned this from her grandma. For kids, this extra candle is one to grow on, so it symbolizes the hope that they will grow big and strong in the following year. On the other hand, for adults, this extra candle is for a long life and luck.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s a family tradition. It reminds me of my childhood because I always had an extra candle on her birthday cakes. Also, this concept always excites children who want to grow and become big and strong. As an adult now, I likes the idea of having this candle to promise a lucky year. I definitely plan to pass this tradition on to my children one day.


Personal Thoughts: This tradition is interesting to me because it highlights the fact that superstitions and traditions in general are not only for children; they are important to adults too. While kids love the idea of growing up to be big and strong, adults do not easily forget such traditions they celebrated growing up. They keep the tradition alive by changing its meaning to something which they want in their lives no matter how old they are- good luck in the next year.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle

No Early Birthday Celebration

The superstition: “It’s bad luck to celebrate a person’s birthday before it happens. It’s because people can’t possibly know that they will make it to your birthday, so to celebrate beforehand is the opposite of humble, I can’t think of the word right now.”

The informant is Indian American. Her parents are both from India, but she was born in California. She’s not very religious, but she considers herself culturally Indian. She grew up hearing this superstition from her parents, so she has always followed it. It seems rooted in spirituality, if not outright religion, which matches the informant’s cultural sense of being Indian without being religious. The reason for the superstition makes sense to me, that you’re never sure of the next day, so don’t be presumptuous when thinking about the future–to live every day grateful for simply waking up. It also mirrors beliefs outside the Indian culture, such as Christian prayers thanking God.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Protection

Drinking Seaweed Soup

Drinking Seaweed Soup

미역은 피를 깨끗하게 해주니까 먹는거야. 그래서 임신한 엄마들이 먹는거야.

니가 너의 엄마를 기억하기위해 생일날에 매년 먹는거지.

미역은 엄마의 젖도 깨끘해주니까 엄마들은 먹어, 아이를 위해서.

 

You drink miyuk gook (seaweed soup) as a mom while you’re pregnant to give good nutrients to the child. Miyuk is known to cleanse the blood, so it is good for pregnant women. After the child is born, the child eats seaweed soup on his or her birthday every year to continue to receive good nutrients as well as to remember the mother who bore him or her.

Miyuk also helps make the breast milk healthy. The mother ultimately eats miyuk gook for the health of the child.

 

general
Life cycle
Musical

A Happy Birthday song

A Happy Birthday song

My friend Kirsten is a fellow freshman at the University of Southern California, studying International Relations, as well as someone with whom I went to high school and preschool in Pasadena, CA. In the intervening time between our shared educational experiences, she attended a small, alternative K-8 school, also in Pasadena, called Sequoyah. The third child in a family of four children, she has an older brother, an older sister, and a younger sister who each, also, attended Sequoyah. She shared with me the birthday song (distinct from the copyrighted, ‘traditional’ “Happy Birthday to You”) that was sung throughout the school year upon the occasion of any classmate’s birthday.

(See hyperlink at top for tune.) The lyrics go:

“It makes me think of the good old days,

Happy birthday to you!

You’ve sure grown out of your baby ways,

Happy birthday to you!

It’s your [age – i.e. “15th] birthday, wish you many more,

Health and wealth and friends by the score,

Let’s cut the cake and let’s eat some more,

Happy birthday to you!”

 

She describes that, “The way we did it at Sequoyah would be like every time someone had a birthday, they would bring dessert for the class, and then, after school, we’d all gather and eat whatever they had and then we’d sing the song. So whenever it was someone’s birthday we’d sing that,” and “you did it from first grade to eighth grade, it was the whole school,” the whole school career, and evidently sung multiple times per year. Though she doesn’t know when or from where the song originated, she knows that it was a school birthday tradition at least since before her brother started at the school, four or five years before she did so herself. But the interesting thing to note is that, for her at least, the song transcended school tradition and entered into her birthday ‘vernacular’ at home: “At home, we do both. We’ll sing the normal happy birthday song, and then me and my little sister will sing the song – ‘cus, like, we both do [it] every birthday even though my brother and my older sister have stopped singing it… So, like, me and [my younger sister] keep doing it.” Though she and another mutual friend with whom she attended Sequoyah never sang the song for any of our friends’ birthdays in high school, it was mentioned a few times, which I recalled and so asked her to sing it for me for this post. She went on to say that “part of actually why me and [my sister] keep singing it is that it [a birthday] doesn’t really feel complete if we don’t sing it, or like, I don’t know if I would necessarily teach it to my kids or something to that extent, but I guess, in my own family, or like if were to do it with [our mutual friend] or someone [i.e. another Sequoyah alum], then I would feel like I would have to sing it.” This statement seems to indicate that the song is meaningful for my friend, not just as a traditional piece of her childhood that she “Can’t remember a time, really, where [she] didn’t sing it,” but as symbol of unity and a marker of identity and belonging among students and alumni of her school.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A twist on the traditional American birthday

Ok… so we have a tradition in the family that—probably in the summer… at least the extended family on my mom’s side—we get together in the summer and we celebrate our birthday. It’s never really anyone’s actual birthday we just celebrate everyone’s birthday on one day because of convenience and it gives us an excuse to get together. Also it’s kind of hard for all of us to get together during the year because we’re all gettin’ older now and we all have stuff to do and we could never get together on birthdays so we just created one big family birthday. We all give gifts to each other—usually small with, like, cards or something. One year my cousin got me a uh… a pair of uh…  really cool earrings… like black and gold ones—really cool! I still wear them today actually. Um… but yeah it was just something we’ve always done, something we’ll keep on doing until the older cousins get married and move away. It had nothing to do in particular with sports or anything. It just was because none of us really had time given that one of our cousins moved to San Diego and lives two hours away, and getting together on actual birthdays is way more inconvenient so… we just get together on family birthday.

 

The traditional American birthday is celebrated on the day of the person’s birth (typically for the entire day). Gifts are presented to the person who gains a year of age on that day. Birthdays are some of the few times when it is perfectly and socially acceptable to shamelessly desire to be the center of attention.

 

Haley’s family alters the traditional American birthday celebration in multiple ways: unlike the traditional birthday, her family does not celebrate on the official day of birth. An acknowledgement of the arrival of said day takes place, but no one plans to do anything special. Gifts are not presented at this time, and, thus, this family tradition strays even further from the traditional American birthday. Finally, the “family birthday” for Haley’s family is not about one particular person but rather about all. The traditional focus on one individual finds no place in this family event. In contrast, the day Is more about community and the gathering of a busy family spread out over the state of California.

Customs
Folk medicine
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Korean Ritual: Eating seaweed soup on your birthday, leads to a longer life.

In Korea, everyone eats seaweed soup on their birthdays as it brings them a good year and also a long life.

My informant stated that ever since she could remember, her mother would make her seaweed soup on her birthday. She stated that when she asked her mother why every year and on everyone’s birthday they eat this soup, she stated “By eating this soup on your birthday, you will live a longer life.” When I asked my informant where this belief came from, she stated that the long seaweed represents a longer life line. She also stated that pregnant mothers eat this soup once a day for a month during their pregnancy, so that their child will live a long life.

My informant states that she keeps this ritual alive as she makes this soup for her children every year for their birthdays. I believe that this belief came from the nutritional value of seaweed. Seaweed is also a very affordable and cheap food for people in Korea. I believe that in the poorer areas of Korea, seaweed was easily attainable and thus became a staple for birthdays and in general for subsistence. The symbology of eating a long piece of food on one’s birthday to elongate the eater’s life is also a nice symbol.

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