USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘catholic’
Childhood
Musical
Myths
Narrative

Arky Arky

This is a song that was taught to L.D. as a child in Catholic school. It teaches the biblical story of Noah’s ark and the flooded Earth that lasted 40 days and nights.

Lyrics:

The Lord told Noah
There’s gonna be a floody, floody
The Lord told Noah
There’s gonna be a floody, floody
Get those children out of the muddy, muddy, children of the Lord
The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky
The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky
Build it out of gopher barky, barky, children of the Lord.
The animals, they came, they came in by twosies twosies
The animals, they came, they came in by twosies, twosies
Elephants and kangaroosie, roosies, children of the Lord
It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies
It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies
Almost drove those animals crazy, crazy, children of the Lord
And so on for a few more verses L.D. forgot. They even taught basic choreography for the kids to perform with the song, such as two fingers held up peace sign-style for the “twosies, twosies” line.
The existence of this method of teaching a “kiddie” version of a myth (especially one so apocalyptic) shows the given church’s priorities in making sure children grasp and retain these tales from an early age. The song is also usually performed after a few rehearsals by the kids for the adults, making it a task for the kids to remember it and turn them into the storytellers. It all helps the myth pass on to the next generation basically.
Folk Beliefs

The Ursuline Ghost

(trigger warning: talk of self-harm)

 

INFORMANT: Do you remember the ghost story about the nun that haunts Ursuline?

 

ME: Yes I do, but go ahead and tell me about it.

 

INFORMANT: Okay so in the entryway of the highschool Ursuline, they have an old picture of a class where you can actually see this ghostly figure in a window in the background. The legend is that the nun killed herself in the school and is now cursed to walk the halls for eternity. I remember when I took a tour of the school, I got goosebumps and instantly creeped out. I didn’t even know the story at the time but I knew that place was haunted. It’s also just super old and creepy looking

 

Background

The informant fully believes that the school is actually haunted by the nun and found the picture that everyone references online. She originally heard the story from one of her friends who attends the all girls school and has since passed it onto her friends at her school as well.

 

Context

Ursuline Academy is an all girls private Catholic school in Dallas, Texas. The informant is currently a student at a different, co-ed private school in Dallas.

 

Thoughts

The idea that the nun was forced to haunt that school as a result of killing herself is a statement about the catholic roots of the school. In Christianity, suicide is considered a sin instead of a result of depression. This concept that suicide is a punishable act may have contributed to this story (it should be noted that there is no record of a nun ever dying on the school’s grounds- much less commiting suicide on school grounds). On the other hand, Christians believe in Heaven and Hell and therefore don’t believe in ghosts. So the idea that a servant of God would be damned to haunt Earth forever is a naturally rebellious idea that goes against traditional beliefs.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph — Prayer for Good Luck

Text

The following piece was collected from a seventy-three year-old woman from Vail, Colorado. She is Irish Catholic. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Oh, whenever my family needs a bit of luck, or we think someone else could use it, all you have to say is ‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.’”

Collector: “Then what’s supposed to happen?”

Informant: “Nothing is supposed to happen. It’s just a way of trying to get some extra help from above.”

Collector: “When do you say it?”

Informant: “Well, we’ve always said it whenever we see an ambulance. If one drives by with the sirens, you say a quick JMJ and that helps. Or…haha… if you need some help on a test you think you did poorly on, I would always write JMJ very small in the corner of the paper right before I turned it in. Couldn’t hurt.”

Context

The Informant learned this practice from her father, who would always stop the car and make the kids said JMJ if they saw an accident or an ambulance. It later leaked into other aspects of their lives, more lighthearted in nature. The Informant always felt more confident, or at least hopeful, about a test that she had written JMJ on. She believed that with God on her side, there was such a better chance of things turning out well in the end.

Interpretation

            I believe this piece to be interesting in the ways it can be applied and at the same time very familiar to me. Growing up, my family’s mantra for a quick bit of help or luck came as a result of very quickly saying “Come, Holy Spirit”. Hearing another family that has a similar practice, but different words is heartwarming to me, because I enjoy hearing that people have faith in small phrases, that saying them can bring good luck and fortune.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Old age
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mexican Novenario

The majority of Mexico follows the Catholic religion, and in doing so, the rosary is an integral part of every day life, bringing about the goodness that only Divinity is able to bring. When someone feels that their death is near, family members and friends go to their home every day and say the rosary, praying together for some sort of miracle. If it is perceived that the person is bound to pass, they pray for their peaceful passing. Once a person has actually passed, they participate in what is called the Novenario. Through the Novenario, family and friends bring their rosaries to pray for nine days, as it remains a crucial aspect of that person’s ascension to Heaven. At the end of the nine days, it is customary to eat a final grand meal to thank the life of that particular person and all those who participated in the prayers. Traditional dishes include tamales and mole. Once this is complete, the person is expected to be in the hands of God.


 

The interlocutor has taken part in many Novenarios because of her relationship with her Mexican family members who have passed, mainly extended family members that she was connected to but did not have an intimate relationship with. She mentioned that the most excruciating Novenario she witnessed was the one that was in service of her own mother. The Novenario transpired as usual, but the interlocutor mentioned that this was an especially unique Novenario because the entire house was filled with many more people than it was designed for. Many women cried as they clutched their rosaries, muttering prayers amid the clamor of food preparation. In this aspect, the interlocutor felt immense comfort despite her sorrow. She mentioned that the Novenario, while integral to person who has passed, serves to comfort the living in their sadness.

The myriad religious connotations through the Novenario illustrate the reliance on religion during a time of loss and reflection. It is the backbone in which the Novenario is based, proving that many pious Mexicans rely on religion for comfort and peace of mind through their unwavering faith. The nine days spent praying acts as a sort of watch for the spirit, keeping the person company on their difficult journey from the physical to the divine. They protect and help guide the spirit that would otherwise get lost, utilizing prayer and presence to aid their passing.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Catholic Polish Christmas Tradition: Oblatek

Content: Oblatek (pronounced “Obwatek”)
Informant – “Oblatek is an unleavened wafer. On Christmas, the head of the household breaks off a piece of the wafer and gives it to his spouse with some message. Could be ‘I know I am not perfect, but I will try harder,’ or ‘the best of everything for you.’ It’s a confession of love. Then the wife breaks off a piece and gives it to the next oldest person in the room with a wish of her own for that person. And so on and so forth until everyone has a piece. Everyone shares a message with someone.”

Context:
Informant – “It’s about love. Sharing love and well wishes at Christmas. It’s a family bonding activity. The wafer is very similar to a communion wafer.”
The informant learned of this tradition from his family. He used to do it when he was a child.

Analysis:
It’s very Catholic and very Polish. The bread, though similar to communion wafer, is a uniquely Polish recipe. It’s interesting that the informant never lived in Poland, and only practiced this ritual in America. It was, perhaps, a way for his family to preserve their cultural identity while simultaneously observing a religious holiday.

Myths
Narrative

Virgin Mary

Main Piece:

 

The following was recorded from the Participant. They are marked as BDV. I am marked as DG.

 

BDV: I feel like Filipino’s in general focus a lot on the Virgin Mary… Ok, so yeah there’s this woman named Mary, she marries this man named Joseph and…because I guess you are supposed to marry virgins back then ,she was a virgin so Joseph was like “ok cool”, and then the angel Gabriel comes down and announces to Mary that she is pregnant, and she doesn’t know what to do because she’s a virgin, she’s like “how did this happen,” so she tells Joseph and instead of freaking out-well he probably does freak out-but he says “it’s ok I forgive you. We’ll just deal with this baby.” And and it’s unclear whether he believes she didn’t sleep with anyone else, but but yeah and then she goes to tell her sister Elizabeth and Elizabeth is like wow I’m also having a baby and she’s going to name her son John, because the angel also told her to name-told Elizabeth to name her son John… Um, yeah.

 

DG: Where did you hear it, like from your family?

 

BDV: No, I aggressively went to Sunday school when I was younger because my parents made me, and I-that is how they told it… No they probably told it more eloquently but they told the story. I didn’t read the bible much when I was younger.

 

DG: How old were you when you heard this?

 

BDV: Um, I would say probably 5–kindergarten.

 

Context:

 

The conversation was recorded while sitting outside of a coffee shop at the University of Southern California. The interviewee heard the story of the Virgin Mary while at Sunday School, and also later at home.

 

Background:

 

The student was born and raised in Northern California. She is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is the fourth generation to grow up in America, but is Filipino. She speaks several languages, with English being her native language.

 

Analysis:

 

This is one of the most common stories that is known about the Bible. Most people, even if unreligious, know at least part of the story of the Virgin Mary. I did actually find it really interesting, though, because although I’m no longer religious, I did grow up Christian and I had never heard the part about Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, so that was an interesting addition to the story. I also was intrigued by the participant saying that Filipino’s are often very into the Virgin Mary story-it made me wonder what about it in particular made it such an item of interest, more so than in other cultures?

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Traditions

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as NC.

NC: Another tradition we have is Christmas morning. We have a very specific routine on how to like—attack the day. So first, everyone had to, like, wait for everyone else to get up. We normally had a preassigned time when we allowed to wake up the parents. Normally—I’m the youngest—normally I’d wake up first, then I’d wake up my brother, and then we would wake up my sister. Then, after that, we would wait, and all go down at the same time. No one was allowed downstairs before everyone’s allowed downstairs, so we’d all go down together. This includes parents. No one was allowed downstairs until the whole family was ready. And then we would go into the kitchen, and we would let my mom start preparing the coffee cake, because we would always have a coffee cake for breakfast. And once she had put that in the oven—she had already set up all the ingredients the night before, so she just had to mix them together and put it in the oven, we were then allowed to open the stockings. After that, once the coffee cake was done, we would eat breakfast and clean the dishes, and then we could open the presents around the tree. And we did this one by one, looking and commenting on each present, telling stories why we gave the present to each other, or why Santa gave it. And that was our day. I think this is funny because we’re actually Jewish, so this has nothing to do with anything that we believe in. It was just like, a fun tradition, that became very systematic.

BD: Who set this tradition? Your parents?


NC: I guess—my mom is Jewish, and my dad is Catholic, but he doesn’t celebrate Christmas. He’s from Spain, and they celebrate Three Kings’ Day, not Christmas in the same way. So I don’t really know, I guess it evolved as we got older.

BD: Where’s your mom from?

NC: She’s from New York.


Analysis: The thoroughness of this holiday tradition was both startling and quite entertaining. It reminds me also of another Christmas tradition I had listened to, and I am surprised at the ease with which immigrants to the United States adopt some very American traditions. As the informant said, his family is Jewish, so Christmas Day should not be that big of a deal. However, his dad is Catholic, though this does not seem to affect their traditions very much. Perhaps it is explained by his mom’s background—she is not first generation, and perhaps helped to start what the informant thinks is a more “American” Christmas tradition.

 

Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Three Kings’ Day

My friend Rudy, who is Mexican-American, shared the following description with me of how their family celebrates Three Kings’ Day:

“Three Kings’ Day is a really big one- that one we celebrated specifically. So that was like, January 6th, it’s the day that the three wise men finally reach Bethlehem with the baby Jesus. And um we- you’re actually not allowed to throw out your Christmas tree, in like, Mexican culture, like until Three Kings’ Day. So you have to keep your tree until then because that’s like, the official like, end of the season. And like, you put your shoes out and you leave food for the camels and then they fill your shoes with like sweets or a toy as a thank you for um, feeding the camels and giving them a rest. And like as a congratulations for being a good child. And so that was um, always important, and then you have a rosca de reyes which is um, a bread shaped like a crown so it’s like, circular bread. And um, there is sugar on it and dried fruits and there’s also tiny baby Jesuses inside it…There’s like multiple babies in roscas sometimes cause people like, like to play with fire. And um, well it’s like, when you get the slice and you get a baby Jesus inside your slice then you are obligated to throw a party on February second. And that’s the uh, day that Jesus is presented to the temple. Um, so you have to throw the party that day. But at that point it’s less about Jesus and more about more partying.”

When I heard Rudy’s description of the rosca de reyes, I recognized it as a variant of the “king cake” eaten in New Orleans on Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras king cakes are also circular and have a tiny plastic baby representing the baby Jesus baked into them. The version of the king cake tradition I learned from my aunt, who lives in New Orleans, says that the person who gets the baby in their slice has to buy the cake the following year. The king cake/rosca is a prime example of folkloric foodways that are present, but variable, across cultures.

Customs
Gestures
Signs

A Catholic Tradition Honoring My Mother

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Spanish

Age: 20

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 13, 2017 (Skype)

 

Mike is a 20 year old man, born and raised in New York, who is a mobile phone salesman in New York City. He is a high school graduate whose family is of Puerto Rican Heritage.

 

Interviewer: Good Afternoon. You mentioned that you follow a tradition your Mom taught you. Could you explain please?

 

Informant: “Ya it is like I am Catholic you know you know and we really go by this Catholic thing like every time I do the cross. Every time I pass a Church, I do the cross. And I feel if I didn’t do the cross that I would feel different.”

 

Interviewer: You mentioned you would feel different, why?

 

Informant: “Like this was a thing, you know the do the cross, that I use to ah see my Mom do every time, you know, we were passing a Church. Like it ah didn’t matter if youse was on a bus or a car or like just walking down a street, um she would always cross herself.  Then… then I was, you know older then a little kid, ah every time she crossed herself you know and if I was wit her, she would stare at me if I didn’t cross myself.  So I guess, like um I would um feel different like I wuz disrespecting my Mother, you know.  So like , I am a Momma’s boy, she is very close. And um I don’t want to, you know give her anything that wouldn’t be very respectful. Does that make sense to you?”

 

Interviewer:  Yes it does. It is a very nice thing to do. Do you do the sign of the cross even when she is not with you?

 

Informant: “Of course, it’s like so deep in my bones and mind that it is like ya I am like a robot! When I see the church, like I have to stop and do my cross, you know.  It is so beautiful cause I see my Mom smiling a lot every time ah um I do that.”

 

Thoughts about the piece:  

Devoted Catholics worldwide have been making the “sign of the cross” since the 400s: http://catholicstraightanswers.com/what-is-the-origin-of-the-sign-of-the-cross/

Here is a demonstration of how to do this movement prayer properly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpRzqXG1dhc

 

 

 

 

Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Burying St. Anthony in my Backyard

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 35

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 12, 2017 (telephonically)

 

Ethan is a 35 year old man, born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who is employed as food vendor at a local food market. He is a College Graduate iand majored in Business Administration. He is 4th generation American

 

Interviewer: Good Morning. You mentioned that as a child you remember a family ritual. Would you mind sharing it with me?

 

Informant: Of course, I would be happy to.  So anytime anybody would move into a new house it was my grandmother on my Dad’s side, the Catholic side of the family, not the Jewish side, um there is a patron saint I believe St. Anthony which is the Saint of lost things or something like that. And she would give us a little doll; and we would bury it in our backyard and that way if we lost anything we would just pray to Saint Anthony then that object would be found. And I am not sure about the origins but I know that I buried that St. Anthony in my backyard

 

Interviewer:  Did you ever find anything that you lost?

 

Informant: “I once misplaced my favorite batting glove and could not find it.  And ah a few weeks later my grandmother was visiting and she took out of her purse the glove. She asked if it belonged to me. She told me that she took it by mistake when she was bundling her clothes.

 

Interviewer:  Did you attribute this to St. Anthony?

 

Informant: Well I remember being so excited, I think I must have been 10 at the time or 9 cause I was in the 4th grade, when I received the glove from her and I said to her that I guess St. Anthony found it and um all I can remember having the greatest smile I ever saw from her

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: Um not much other than it was a nice little touch that it is a nice little tradition that my grandmother passed down that I was happy to continue forward. While I doubt it worked, this tradition makes me think about my grandma.

 

 

 

Thoughts about the Piece:

Anyone who has lost something has “prayed” to find it but Catholics pray to a specific individual for help. For the text of the prayer see: http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=150  Other stories of St Anthony novena anecdotes can be read here: http://www.holysouls.com/stanthony.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

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