USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘catholic’
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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legends
Narrative

The Nuns and the Indigenous People

Informant is a sophomore at USC majoring in Computer Science. He attended Catholic school from Kindergarten to 8th grade. This is a story that he heard during this time.

“This is a story that I heard from a priest when I went to Catholic school in elementary school. So two of the most faithful nuns were sent from the Vatican to a foreign country to spread the word of God, and when they arrive, they got lost. These nuns had brought nothing but their Bibles and the clothes on their backs, and had no food and water. They couldn’t find the village that they were looking to convert, so they wandered around lost and hungry for three days. Finally they ran into an indigenous person, who asked them why they are there. They said that they were there to spread the word of God to the villagers, to which the person said that he would help lead them to the village. So, they started walking to the village, which was multiple days away, and as they’re walking, the indigenous person showed them plants that they could eat and the plants that were poisonous. After the first day of travelling, they take a rest. The next day, the person tells them that they are only one day away, but that they must trek through wetlands in which there are no edible plants. And, um, the nuns say to gather all the food in the area, to which the indigenous person responds that if people before had taken everything, then they wouldn’t be alive today. They all argue over taking some or all of the food, and the nuns decide to go with their plan. One of the nuns reaches to a bush to grab a berry, when suddenly lightning comes down and strikes the bush, killing all the food on it. At this point, the nuns realize that the indigenous person was being more Christian than they were. Basically, the point of the story is that by coming to the indigenous land, the nuns had brought Christianity to these people without even trying.”

Do you remember how you and your classmates reacted to the story?

“Well I had to hear it basically every year, so I got real tired of it by the end. Plus, it seems super unbelievable, but apparently it’s a true story and a miracle. Either way, it’s something that they told a lot in my Catholic school.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

“This is a story that is supposedly true, but is within a religious context so its validity is questionable at best. It is very interesting in that it shows Catholicism in the context of indigenous conversion, although it is very watered down in that it omits much of the violence that went into the conversion of indigenous populations. However, this story is very much geared towards believers of the Catholic faith, as it would be most believable if the audience believed in the miracles of God.

folk simile

“I’m Sweating like a Sinner in Church”

My informant is my grandmother, who is quite a devout Catholic and has lived in the deserts of Phoenix most of her life. During one of my visits home this year we went to a baseball game together. We were sitting in the sun and I heard her exclaim on of her favorite phrases, “good Lord, I’m sweating like a sinner in church.”.

Me: “What do you mean when you say that?”

DC: “It means that it’s really, really hot out and you’re sweating quite a bit. Like a sinner, sitting in the presence of God would feel nervous and sweat I suppose. It’s not meant to be super serious, just a funny thing to say when you are sweating a lot and you might be embarrassed about it.”

Me: “Do you remember where you heard it first or learned it from?”

DC: “No, I can’t say I do.  I may have picked it up from my mother, but I’m not quite sure. I’ve always just kinda said it . . . I don’t think your grandpa ever said it or any of siblings for that matter . . . so maybe I picked it up from a friend along the way? I don’t know really.”

Analysis:

This phrase most likely means that a person is sweating like one would imagine someone who has sinned would sweat if they were sitting in church and haven’t repented. Like, they are lying to God and are sweating in nervousness because they suppose God knows, but they are there anyway. It comes from my grandmother who is a devout Catholic, so in using this phrase she is performing her Catholic identity to those around her who are also presumably Catholic or Christian and would understand what she meant by a sinner sitting in church. We also live in quite a warm climate, where any time spent outside between the months of March and October results in sweating, so sweat being the object of a simile makes sense in that it is a common experience felt by everyone around them. It is meant to be comic and making light of the situation because the person exclaiming it, is most likely uncomfortable and is calling attention to the situation in a comic way perhaps in order to alleviate their embarrassment of sweating so much in public.

Folk Beliefs
Myths
Protection
Signs

Our lady of Guadlupe

8) Our lady of Guadalupe

Our lady of Guadalupe is the mexican reincarnation of Virgin Mary.

Long time ago in Mexico, the Spaniards/white mexicans were in charge of both property and the Catholic church while the Mestizos and the Native Americans and in general darker skinned mexicans were the peasants and doing all the hard work, and it was basically a feudalism situation.

There was one peasant named Juan Diego, and one day when he was just going about his daily routine, he heard a voice calling for him. Thus he followed the voice, and ended up on a hilltop where the Virgin Mary appeared to him; she was pregnant and and praying and she was standing up on a dragon. Virgin Mary told Juan Diego that she wants him to build a church on this hill.

However Juan Diego was full of doubts; he argued that since he is  peasant, he has no power and money, and that no one will listen to him, and thus he left. Since then, Virgin Mary appeared to him and requested this of him two more times, till Juan Diego finally decided to try to make it work.

Juan Diego went to the local priest that was in charge of the area, and told him that he has had a vision, but the priest laughed at Juan Diego and told him that Juan Diego doesn’t know what he is talking about; he is a peasant. Thus, when the Virgin Mary came to him one more time, he told her that he was sorry and that there is nothing he can do for her. The Virgin Mary then told Juan Diego that she’ll help him.

The Virgin Mary made a rose bush grow even though it was the middle of the winter; she told Juan Diego to pick these roses and carry them in his clothes (a serape) to go see the priest again. When Juan Diego reached the priest, he let the roses and the serape fall to the floor and somehow the image of the Guadalupana appeared. The priest then was shocked and hurried people to go build the church.  

Now Juan Diego is a saint, and the Guadalupana is really really important to the mexicans.

Miriam told me this story after I asked her to tell me some stories of her hispanic culture. Miriam is an artist, and she really likes the portraits of the Guadalupana and thus why she is all the more interested in the Guadalupana. She had always knew this story growing up because her family is religious, and out of the three stories that she told me, she performed this one with the greatest enthusiasm and the outmost details.

I had always known the symbol and the image of the Guadalupana but I never knew the story behind her before. This was pretty eye opening to me, but again it is very similar to many other religious stories that involves people who were sent visions.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends

The Rougaroo

According to the informant, the Rougaroo is a folkloric creature who wanders Louisiana looking to attack children who have not fulfilled their Catholic duties.


 

What’s the Rougaroo

BW: I will tell you what’s known in the deep bayous of Lousianna is the Rougaroo. The Rougaroo is a creole mythological creature based off a bunch of different characters. Characters from African folklore, catholic folklore and Native American follore. The Rougaroo is essentially a werewolf that wanders around the dark quiet swamps of Southern Louisiana.

How did you hear of the Rougaroo?

BW: My mother used to tell me this story–about how when she was a little kid, her grandmother would talk about the Rougaroo coming to the little kids that didn’t fulfill their Lenten promises… It’s an indescribably terrifying creature. It’s faceless, uncanny. A very dark way of making kids eat fish on Fridays and stuff.

Your mother is from Lousiana?

BW: Yes, she is from LaFourche, Lousiana. L-A-F-O-U-R-C-H-E.


Interestingly, the legend of the  Rougaroo is not native to Lousiana, but is a creature of European folklore. Specifically, French. However, it has traveled with high French population that lives in French Louisiana. Most likely a factor of historical colonization, what is now “French Lousiana” was originally colonized by France as “New France”. Since then, although the land is in the continental United States, there still exists some French demographics and culture. Therefore, the “Rougaroo” is a French invention (to scare the earlier generations into subscribing to Catholic practices) that spread to Louisiana through colonization of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Customs
Holidays
Myths
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Posadas

“From the 15th of December to Christmas Eve, we have posadas. We re-enact the journey of Joseph and Mary to find a place to stay.”

 

The source says that his local church would hold the posadas every year. The re-enactments would take place twice a day, one performance in the morning and one in the evening. It sounds similar to the Stations of the Cross and the re-enactment of the Nativity scene. It’s all about getting into the “true spirit of Christmas,” which for the source and other church-goers was always about accepting Jesus into one’s life and being more like Jesus. It’s strange, though, because the posadas don’t feature Jesus. So maybe this tradition is more about family in general and how everyone journeys to one home on Christmas Eve to come together and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The fact that it ends on Christmas Eve is also significant. While the most obvious reason is because Joseph and Mary “found lodging” by December 24th, the less clear reason is because of the value Latin Americans place in Christmas Eve. For other cultures, Christmas Day is the most important day. That’s when everyone gathers with their family for food and games and whatnot. But Latin Americans host what’s called Noche Buena or “The Good Night” which takes place on Christmas Eve. What most other cultures do on Christmas Day, Latin Americans do on Christmas Eve. Why? Who knows! I asked the source what he thought about this, and he said it’s because Christmas Day is for you to spend only with your immediate family rather than every cousin and great aunt and uncle.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Absence of baby showers and wedding showers to ward off the evil eye

The following family tradition/belief was told to my by the informant while talking about some of her family’s customs and traditions.

“When people get married or have children, we don’t have bridal or baby showers normally because it’s like, we think of it being bad luck because it’s something really good happening and to draw attention to that really good thing in your life is like asking for trouble, and so there’s this idea of the evil eye that’s watching and the evil eye, if it sees that you’re too happy or just ‘oh everything is just so perfect, my life is so great, I’m gonna have a new healthy baby’ or ‘I have a beautiful new marriage,’ it’s like drawing attention to that goodness is gonna make someone take it from you, and so our tradition is not to have a bridal shower for like a wedding or a baby shower… I think it stems from my grandma who’s Italian and Italian people will even wear around their neck or put on their baby’s christening robes little charms and there’s different ones; there’s like a little monkey fist, there’s a gold horn… there’s a bunch of different ones, and that’s supposed to ward off the evil eye so that even after the marriage or after the baby’s born, after these good things happen in your life, it keeps the evil eye from taking them away from you.”

The informant didn’t know what the different charms like the monkey fist or the gold horn symbolized when I asked her about it; she just knew that they were an important aspect of Italian cultural beliefs. She also mentioned that it was ironic that Italians tend to be quite Catholic (including her own family), but having lucky charms and believing in the evil eye is somewhat of a pagan custom.

The evil eye is a folk belief that’s shared amongst many different cultures, but it’s interesting to see that it even exists in Catholic culture. Maybe it’s an inconsistency in belief, or mutually exclusive from peoples’ Catholic beliefs. The informant also mentioned that if someone in her family married someone who insisted on having a baby or bridal shower, that they wouldn’t oppose it too much. So, this seems to be a loosely followed tradition, in the sense that the family prefers to follow it, but is not too strict about it if someone marrying into the family considers it an important part of their family tradition.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays

Easter Lamb Cake

*Collector note: The Lamb cake in question is a cake in the shape of a lamb, not a cake made from lamb.

Informant: “In my family, we always had a lamb cake for Easter, I think this was a Central European tradition, mostly in Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. When I grew up in Chicago, there were a lot of German people in the neighborhood, and there were always German bakeries full of lamb cakes around Easter. The connection to Easter was that Easter was about Christ, you know, the Lamb of God. And so we would eat these lamb cakes for Easter. My mother would make it, so else sometimes we bought them in bakeries in Chicago. My aunt [M] said that her mother made lamb cakes as well. I always thought it was funny having lamb cake because we would tell people about it and people would say ‘oh, it’s like a meatloaf or something’ when really there was no lamb in it, is was just shaped like a lamb and didn’t have any meat at all. Though I know some people would sometimes hollow out the cake and put strawberry jam inside so when you cut it it looks like its bleeding [laughs]. I know other people would color their lamb cake with red food coloring to make the inside look like meat, but I always thought that would seem a bit to gory for me”

The informant is a 77 year old retired anthropologist living in Portland Oregon. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Kingdom of Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic) in the 1890’s to escape the economic turmoil within the country in that time period. She was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and studied anthropology at Stanford University, during which time she became interested in learning more about the traditions of her heritage. She has on several occasions traveled to the Czech republic to visit relatives there.

Collector’s analysis: This particular tradition is an interesting take on some very core Christian symbolism. In the Christian faith (or perhaps, more specifically in the Catholic faith), there is this idea that the religious figure Jesus Christ was sacrificed for mankind. Because of the old, pre-Christian tradition of sacrificing ‘pure’ animals for religious purposes including lamb, Jesus Christ is frequently referred to as “The Lamb of God”. Thus, there is a connection between the Easter holiday and lambs. As for why the tradition is eating a lamb shaped cake rather than an actual lamb, the most likely explanation comes from the Catholic tradition of not eating meat on religious holidays, to which Easter was no exception. It should also be noted for this reason that the Czech republic, as well as the other Countries that the informant believes this tradition originated from, were all primarily Catholic nations during the period of time in which this tradition originated. As a side note, in this collector’s opinion, these cakes are absolutely delicious!

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish-Catholic religious rituals

INFO:
Receive blessed chalk from priest. Above each doorway to your house, write the initials of the three Wise Men: Balthasar, Caspar, Melchior. Then you light some incense by those doors. For his family, Christmas didn’t end until the Epiphany, that’s when the Wise Men find Jesus, which was January 6th.

For Christmas and Easter, you exchange an oplatek (a more synthetic-feeling communion wafer). You’d take a piece from a plate and then go around to each of your family members and break off a piece of their’s yourself and take it, and then they’d take a piece of your’s, and you’d all wish each other well. After everybody’s exchanged and had a piece with everybody else, you eat it.

BACKGROUND:
The informant participated in these rituals growing up and still participates in them now, usually in family-based groups of six or seven people, all Polish-Catholic.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
The informant isn’t particularly religious now, so it’s interesting to me that he still participates in these deeply religious ceremonies in the presence of family. Additionally, though I’ve heard of the practice of taking communion wafers, I didn’t realize that there could be regional/event-based differences in the supposedly universal, standardized practice.

[geolocation]