USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘candles’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Humor
Life cycle
Signs

Birthday Candles Prediction

Text:

P: If you blow out the candles, the amount of times you, it takes for you to blow out the candles is how many children you’re going to have

J: Wow

P: Oh wait, that means you’re going to have one child, cause you blew once

 M: Nooo.

J: See I thought you were saying you get what you wish for and M doesn’t want to have kids, so….

P: But yeah that’s why I said that you’d have zero because I thought it started at zero but I guess it starts at one.

M: But the abortion negates it.

Context: The collector is noted by the letter J. Informant P is the one who knows of this custom, and informant M is celebrating her birthday. Informant P learned this belief from her Indian parents.

Analysis: This custom celebrates not only the birth of the person blowing the candles but also their potential fertility and their future as a reproductive being. That said, the idea of blowing out the candle isn’t necessarily inherently sexual, but instead is just a physical way of blowing out the flames. Perhaps the flame is a representation of single life without children and each failed blow is a child that fails to tame the fire of the blower’s sexuality. However, this isn’t meant to be a ritual to bring on the children but is instead a predictive belief. Despite this, I am confused as to how to reconcile with the fact that people have multiple birthdays. Does the number of blows add up from year to year? That seems impossible given that humans don’t tend to have 13 children (assuming that the counting stops once the being is fertile. Or is it an average of all of the blows per birthday? Regardless, the belief itself isn’t concerned with the mathematics of the custom but instead is primarily focused on celebrating birth and fertility.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Santa Lucia Candle Crowns on Christmas

Main Piece
Put that down, that on Christmas eve, Santa Lucia, L-U-C-I-A: Girls would wear real candles in their hair on Church service on Christmas eve, in a crown. It was really annoying because the wax would melt into the hair, and you always thought your hair was going light on fire.
I’m not sure what exactly it stemmed from – I know it is an old Swedish tradition. I don’t just remember why – people didn’t ask, people didn’t care, but we did it. There is definitely a reason behind it, but we definitely forgot it.

Background
The informant had grown up in a religious home, and made note of the different traditions she saw over the course of her life. She took part in this tradition, and therefore can talk about her experience. This occurrence was during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and she is unsure if they are still continuing the tradition, although she believes that they are.

Context
The informant who provided this information is a 52-year-old Caucasian women, born and raised in Southern California. The information was collected while sitting outside her home in Palm Desert, California, on the 20th of April, 2019.

Analysis
This tradition is really interesting to me, due to the fact that I never personally experienced this tradition. Being raised in the same religious way as the informant, I would have expected to have seen this tradition, yet I have not. I do think that it seems like a dangerous tradition, and I am glad to not have taken part in it or seen it thus far. I believe that the tradition relates back to Saint Lucy and her martyrdom, using candles to light her way bringing food to hidden Christians in the 3rd century. I find it interesting however, that the informant does not know what the tradition actually represents, but they still continued practicing it. I think this may be due to the idea that the tradition is representing the religion in a way, and although even if not known the exact reason, the commemoration of the religion is enough for the informant.

For another version of this tradition, please see Florence Ekstrand’s 1998 Lucia, Child of Light (Welcome Press).

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Candles

You are supposed to light up a candle, so that the spirit of a recently passed family member or loved one can be guided to heaven. The candle is supposed to keep away the bad demons and evil itself from guiding the spirit away from the path to heaven. If the candle gets blown out, you need to restart the process and pray so that the spirit can also use your voice as a guide to “the light.”

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Ruby is a young Mexican-American woman who truly connects to her Catholic roots and leads her way of life through that method. She is also a single mom who works at a Non-Profit feeding the homeless of Los Angeles

general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Alpha Phi Omega Initiation

“I don’t know how long it’s been in practice, but like every time like we wear pins, like a pledge pin on the right side [of your chest] when you’re pledging and then you put it on the left when you have been initiated. So, ‘cause the left side is your heart, so like the service pin is more on your heart like, you’re like in. Um, and then during the initiation ceremony we like light candles for each, kind of characteristic we talk about, um, and then we also, when people are ushered in to the initiation ceremony they’re, they have to close their eyes and not look and they get in a line with hand on shoulder, like in lines of maybe ten people and then someone leads them who’s an active member already to lead them to the place of the initiation. And then once they’re all there, um, they can open their eyes and then they, everybody says their name in order and they say the oath repeating after the person leading the ceremony. Um, let’s see. That happens once when you find out you’re gonna become a pledge and that happens another time when you’re initiated to become an active member. The pledging period is, like, a semester long, basically . . . It just seems like it’s always been done that way and so, when I experienced it as a pledge, it’s how I also experienced it as an active, like it, it feels like it’s always been that way.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies biology and is currently applying to medical schools. This interview took place in the new Annenberg building when I was having a conversation with another friend about superstition and the informant started to volunteer information about the rituals that have taken place in her life. She is a part of the campus service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, or APO and has been for all four years she has been at USC. APO is co-ed and is somewhat culturally removed from USC’s other Greek life. It states its principle values are “leadership, friendship, and service” and the members of this service fraternity are supposed to embody those values in their everyday lives.

 

This ceremony is clearly a liminal moment that has been ritualized. It is a way for new members to join the fraternity on a consistent basis while knowing that they have the approval of the active members. Essentially, it is a way of very clearly establishing who is a part of the frat, who is not, and who is in the process of joining. I thought it was interesting that the informant interpreted the movement of the service pin from the right side to the left side as having to do with the left side being where your heart is. Part of me believes this interpretation is influenced by her studying biology and the human anatomy currently being the most important area of study in her life, while the other part thinks this is probably the original symbolic meaning of the movement. Having the pin on the right side of your chest makes it merely a form of decoration, at most an acknowledgment that you are interested in being a part of this organization. However, as soon as you move it to the left side of your chest, it is a statement that the organization is a big part of your life as it is next to one of your most vital organs.

 

The repetition of the initiation ceremony is important, as it gives the active members and pledges a period to adjust to the change in the community. It is noteworthy that the active members light a candle for each “characteristic” that an APO member should embody, i.e. leadership, friendship, and service, as this means three candles are lit and three is an important symbolic number in American culture. I think the reasoning behind making the pledges close their eyes when they are led to the ceremony has more to do with symbolism than it does with keeping the location of the ceremony a secret. The pledges are going to find out where the ceremony is as soon as they open their eyes, so there is really no reason to think that keeping the location a secret is an important part of the ritual. Rather, I think it has to do with the fact that when the pledges close their eyes they are in a location that represents their lives before APO, and when they open them they are somewhere that represents the their new lives with this fraternity. This action also increases the suspense and sacredness of this ritual. That an active member leads the lines of pledges into the ceremony shows the approval of the existing members of APO and is an important step in making this outgroup a part of the in-group.

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