USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘celebration’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Swedish Birthday

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Informant: This is like a birthday ritual, that’s very common in swedish cultute. It’s not really anything major, but it’s tradition. So basically your family will wake you up on your birthday very early in the morning before you do anything else. And then the birthday person is still in bed and is woken up by the family coming in and singing happy birthday and bringing presents. And then also you just have some breakfast in bed and open presents and take pictures. We always open our presents in the morning. It’s very Swedish.

Collector: How long have your parents been doing this to you for?

Informant: This has happened to me since I was a kid. I got a bike once, when I was 5 and I was super happy, I opened all of my presents in my bed, and then I walked down and it was something in the living room and it was covered by something and I uncovered it and it was a little bike. It was great, and it made me happy for the rest of the day.

Collector: Do they bring you a cake when they wake you up?

Informant: No, they don’t really come in the morning with a cake. They generally reserve the cake for afternoon or at night. Sometimes, they will put a candle on a platter and will bring something small for me to eat like an orange. We do it for my parents too. My mom will like wake up earlier without waking up my dad if we’re doing it for him.

Collector: So they do it for everyone on every birthday regardless of how old you are?

Informant: Yes, my parents actually made me come home this year to brazil so that they could wake me up like this and celebrate my birthday. It’s always been tradition, so even though we are far away, we have to be together for our birthdays. Also, we sing a special birthday song in Swedish.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s nice, I feel surrounded by love and its your birthday and your parents and your friends and all the attention is on you. I would hate to wait, I love that it’s early and they come in the morning to wake me up, it’s so much better than waiting until a birthday dinner. It’s a really nice time to get together with your family and celebrate your birthday and get attention and love and all of that stuff. It’s very Swedish to be family oriented.

In my family, we always celebrate birthdays at night. That might be because Brazilian culture involves a lot of partying, and partying usually happens at night. I have never celebrated my birthday in the morning. My parents have obviously told me happy birthday when they see me in the morning, but it’s not really a big deal. It’s a much bigger deal at night when we go out for dinner with family and friends, but during the day we go about our day as usual. I think it’s interesting how much Swedish culture differs from my Brazilian culture. My friend loves being woken up early in the morning for her birthday, whereas my parents know that if they woke me up early, I would not be happy. Neither would my parents if the role were reversed. So although birthdays are big things in every culture, I find it cool how the celebration of birthdays differs within different cultures.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bulgarian Name Day

The informant is a 20 year old male who moved from Bulgaria to Chicago as a child. He tells me about a name day tradition that he continues to celebrate even living in the US, and how he feels it’s an important part of his culture and life.
Name day is a celebration for your name and is celebrated just like a birthday. Mine is January 7th because it correlated with my name. Name days comes from the Orthodox Christian religion and its saints. The Orthodox calendar is full of days devoted to different saints. In the past, when Christianity was establishing itself as a main religion in Bulgaria, people began giving their children the same names as the saints from this calendar. People believed that the child named after a certain saint will be looked after and blessed by him/her. Over time, people started celebrating the day kind of like a birthday!I learned about it through my family and it has been a tradition to celebrate it every year, even though we have stopped following many other traditions since we moved from Bulgaria to the US. My family celebrates it by giving decently small gifts or money to the person who’s name were celebrating, and in return the person either buys cake or prepares dinner. Other families go out to restaurants or bars but my family prefers to keep it intimate. Not every name has a date for celebration, only certain common slavic names like mine; Ivan. Celebrating means a lot to my family and we continue to do it every year because it makes us proud to follow traditions from the country were from (Bulgaria).
ANALYSIS:
The informant spoke about these name days as if it were a second birthday. He explained that as a kid he would look forward to it just as much as he would his actual birthday and received gifts and attention all the same. I found this piece interesting because I have really never heard of people having a special day like this each year besides a birthday. It is very common for people to celebrate different days and occasions of coming of age, but this seems to be considered just as important as a birthday each year. I also think that having a whole day dedicated to you because of your name might offer an extra sense of pride and connection for people to their names.
Childhood
Musical

Rompe La Pinata Song

Lyrics:

Quien rompe la piñata yooooooooo
que la rompa felipe nooooooo
que la rompa isaito nooooooo
que la rompa julito noooooooooooooooo
que la rompa jaimito siiiiiii

mamita mamita yo quiero llorar
si no me dan un oalo pa romper la piñata
mamita mamita vendame los ojos
que yo quiero ser quien rompa la piñata

damela dale a la piñata
rompela rompe la piñata (4 veces)

Informant is a 39 year-old Ecuadorian male. He used to live in Ecuador, and has moved to the United States with his family.

Informant: In Ecuador, as far back as I can remember, they used to play this song for me and for the kids in the family now. They always play this song on the speakers at children’s birthday parties, when they break the pinata or when they do the cake.

Collector: Why do you think they play this song?

Informant: The song is very fun, and happy. It’s very encouraging to the kids, specifically it says to break the pinata. It’s specifically for the pinata, but it doesn’t have to be.

Collector: Where did you learn it from?

Informant: It wasn’t that I learned it, I just remember that it was always played. I would go to family functions, and for kids it was always playing.

Collector: What does this song mean to you?

Informant: I think a lot of it is not just tradition, but it also has a sense of nostalgia, or a rite of passage.

Collector: What ethnicity is the song for?

Informant: It’s mainly for people of Spanish descent, because the song lyrics are in Spanish.

I think that this song is like similar to the traditional “Happy Birthday” song in America. It’s upbeat nature and happy lyrics calls for celebration. The lyrics of the song reflect the activity it’s intended for: breaking the pinata. So, the song is also reflective of the traditions performed at Hispanic birthday parties.

Customs
Festival
Foodways
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Coming Together of Matzo Ball Soup

Original Script: “Every year…even to this day, we made Matzo Ball Soup for high holidays. It is basically, the chicken soup of the Jewish people. It is my favorite traditional Jewish dish and the recipe has been passed down for generations…Every year, I go to the grocery store and get everything I need: the chicken—the whole thing cut up—, the celery, carrots, onions, fresh dill—none of that pre-packaged crap—celery salt…Then I go home and take out a huge soup pot that can hold 12 gallons. I put everything in the pot…have my kids, and husband help…it is a long process that can take up to seven hours. After it is cooked I let it cool and I make the matzo balls and add it to the soup. The next day, when it is time celebrate, I heat them both up together and it is delicious! It is usually always eaten to the bottom of the pot, but if there is a left overs I freeze the soup to heat up for later. My family, my kids, my nephews and nieces, love it. It is something everyone looks forward to when we get together. I don’t only make it for high holidays, there is always an excuse to make it…when I am sick, when my kids are sick, when my husband is sick, hell, when I just want to eat it, I make it.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Cheryl grew up in a predominately Jewish household in Skokie, Illinois. Her stepfather’s, Obbie, mother had witness the holocaust and he had also lost a sister to a concentration camp, which concentration camp is unknown. Very proud of his Jewish heritage, Obbie, Cheryl’s mother—Riki—, Cheryl’s siblings—Victor and Hope—and Cheryl grew up a very conservative Jewish family—celebrating all of the Jewish high holidays such as: Yom Kippur, Shabbat, and Passover—as well as attending Synagogue every Sunday.Cheryl had learned the recipe from her mother, and has been something that has been passed down through the generations of their family. To Cheryl, she not only loves the Matzo Ball Soup because of its taste, but she also enjoys the fact that it is something from her whole family enjoys and is something the family can do together.

Context of the Performance: High Holiday food—a food usually made in correlation with Jewish holidays.

Thoughts about the piece: After interviewing Cheryl, and having a Jewish heritage as well as tasting her Matzo Ball Soup myself, I can understand her fondness for the soup. However, I believe the soup is also associated with the coming together of a group of people with the same religious background and is associated with a group identity. The preparation of the soup has become a family tradition as it is performed over many years—thus it became a tradition that celebrates the heritage of the Jewish people. It is also interesting to note that those performing and the audience are the same people—the family, albeit that more of the extended family is associated with the audience as well. The cooking of the Matzo Ball Soup can also be associated to that of a ritual that is in the beginning of a sequence of events for a festival. (It can also be observed that the freezing of the Matzo Ball soup can be considered the closing ceremony. What is interesting is the fact that is traditional meal is something the family makes when someone is sick, or they just want to eat it. Perhaps, performing the cooking of the soup after the time and place of festivals make the family reminisce on being surrounded by family—which in turn makes them feel better. Thus, Matzo Ball Soup becomes a folk material object.

Foodways
Game
general
Holidays
Legends
Myths
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

New Years Tradition

A is an 18-year-old woman. She is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. She considers her nationality to be American, but more specifically she is one quarter Greek Cypriote, one quarter German and half Argentinian. that being said, she strongly identifies with her Greek roots. She is fluent in both English and Greek, and is currently learning Mandarin.

A: For the New Year, and this is a pretty common thing in a lot of Eastern European countries, but for the New Year we bake like a special like New Years bread/cake thing, um, which is called, um “vasilopita.”

Me: Sorry, could you spell that?

A: Yeah. um, in English, it’s spelled, v-a-s-i-l-o-p-i-t-a.

Me: Perfect.

A: It’s a, direct translation is like King’s bread. Um, there are two different stories I’ve heard. This one, one of them, is that, um, there was like a ransom, like a town was under siege, the robbers demanded a ransom, and like they had to collect like all these family jewels and gold and stuff, and a priest was trying to return it to the family like Ayios (saint) Vassilis, that’s why it’s named after him, um and what he did to smuggle it under the noses of the robbers is he baked all of their goods into a, like, cake. And he was like, this is a cake, like don’t mind me taking this out of the palace. And like the story goes that he like cut all the cake and magically every family like got the right stuff returned to them. So whoever gets the coin in the cake, like their part of the vasilopita, gets good luck for the year.

Me: What’s the other story then?

A: The other one is a very similar story, except it wasn’t he snuck it out from the robbers, the robbers were so like amazed by how like the town came together to give them all the bounty that they like let them have it and then it got baked into a cake. So one of them’s much nicer and the other one’s like funny and sneaky. But that’s like a common myth, ’cause like a lot of greek families do it, um and something, like I don’t know if evryone does this, but like when you cut the cake, first you cut a piece for God, then you cut a piece for Jesus, then you cut a piece for the house, then you start cutting pieces in order of who’s oldest who’s at that New Years celebration.

Me: What happens to the other pieces?

A: You search through them to see if there’s a coin in there. ‘Cause Jesus needs the good luck apparently. Yeah, so you just leave them uneaten, or like you eat them afterwords.

Me: So if God or Jesus or the house gets the coin, then?

A: Then they have the luck. Actually I have yet to ever, well, I had the house get the coin once. Which is fine, ’cause you’re like yay, everyone in the house is going to be lucky.

Me: Oh, okay. I thought it was like the actual foundation of the house.

A: Oh, that would be really funny.

Me: Like the house is lucky. It will not fall victim to any floods…

A: Actually that could be a thing too, like no floods, no earthquakes, like…

Me: Your house will not burn down this year.

A: Yay. Gosh, that’s been just been happening to me so frequently, I could really use the coin. Um, and like sometimes it’s in the uneaten part of the cake, and so you just work though it for the next few days, but it’s yummy. It’s a good cake.

Me: It’s kind of like Mardi Gras and the little baby.

A: Yeah.

Informant A talks about a New Years tradition that she and her family along with many other greek families do on the holiday. She talks about the history of the cake which is called vasilopita and how there is a coin baked into the cake. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake gets good luck for the following year. Respect for religion and age are shown in this tradition with the order in which the pieces of cake are cut and distributed. God, Jesus, and the house are included in the tradition and are given priority over the people at the party, pieces are cut for them in the order listed above. The older people at the party are also given priority as the piece are then distributed by age from oldest to youngest. This is much like the tradition of baking a baby into the cake at Mardi Gras and was likely the basis of the Mardi Gras tradition. The priest, Ayios Vassilis, in the story is also the same person that the Greeks use to represent Santa Claus.

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.

Childhood
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Half Birthday Celebrations

Informant S is 21 years old from Boise Idaho. He is a Philosophy major who also plans on attending Medical School. He is half Columbian and half American.

Basically every March 1st, my dad would send me a card or message of some sort, um celebrating my half birthday, which for some reason he gave a lot more priority to than my main birthday. We would usually go out and get half a cake or a doughnut, something that is representationally less than a cake, sort of driving home that half part. Then depending on what age I was going to be he would give me like half as much money. So if I was going to be like 14 years old, he would give me 7 dollars for my half birthday. And he would just do a lot of stuff that involved halves like half a card. Or if I wanted to eat something like a chocolate bar, he would give me like half of it. It would always be really fun to see what half things he would give me.

 

Analysis:

This half birthday celebration is a parody of a normal holiday of a birthday. It is a way for the informant and his dad to bond and poke fun at the usual way that birthdays are celebrated. This creative way to celebrate birthdays made the informant feel special and excited for the fun things his dad would come up with.  This special tradition forms a unique bond together between both of them.

Customs
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Czech Funeral

“I went to a funeral recently for my Czech nanny who passed away recently. Hana practically raised me, so her death was very, very difficult for me. I thought that I wouldn’t even be able to handle going to the funeral, my emotions were so high. But it was unlike any funeral I have ever been to. Most funerals are miserable, everybody crying, everybody in black. They’re awful experiences, and I hope you never have to go to one. But this one was different. This one was exactly what I needed to help grieve. So it was actually a celebration of her life. Whenever anyone spoke, they were just to recall fun times they had had together. Her favorite music was playing. Everyone was wearing bright colors. The old and the young were all mingling and engaging with one another. It was beautiful. I think that’s how a lot of the world celebrates death, or at least they should. I think I heard someone say that it’s the Czech . . . or I guess Slavic people in general have a healthier outlook on death than most.”

The informant has never lived outside of her hometown in Orange County. The experience was so novel to her that it began to represent much of her understanding of modern European culture, as she now believes that such funeral practices are more common in Europe. The informant really stressed the communion of the old and young at this funeral, as no one was segregated into groups based on age or gender. Given the deep Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions of the Baltic regions of Europe, such an funeral seems very uncharacteristic, given traditional Christian death rituals. Perhaps this informant’s experience is indicative of changing times in which, as she said, a healthier outlook on death has become the norm.

Customs
general

Friday Pizza

Every work week from 1978 through 1998, my informant had pepperoni pizza on Friday nights. It changed pizzerias as the informant moved (Melo’s in Pleasant Hill, and then the main pizza place on Bainbridge Island), but the custom remained the same. The informant stopped when he moved to Hong Kong because he couldn’t find decent pepperoni pizza there, and then shifted the practice to the weekends when he returned to the United States.

This pizza was a celebratory event, a treat at the end of a work week no matter how stressful or easy that week was. It’s subconsciously carried on in his family, as Friday night is the most likely night on which they order pizza for celebrating the end of the week, relaxing afterwards and preparing for the week ahead. It’s an adaptable tradition, as it changed over time when other factors in his life changed.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Diwali Celebration

Informant Bio: Informant is my father.  He was born in Mumbai, India and moved to the U.S . when he was 22.  He still remembers many of the poems and songs from his childhood.  He is fluent in over five languages and provides the original folklore and translations below.

 

Context: I was interviewing the informant about childhood traditions, rituals, songs sung and tales performed.

 

 

Item: “As a kid growing up one of my favorite, perhaps my most favorite holiday was Diwali, or Devali.  We waited for that holiday for months, and, uh, preparations were all around us, you know, my mother used to be busy for months making sweets and goodies that could be shared with family and friends during the holidays.  It actually was a great time of the year weather-wise; we had our half-yearly exams in the schools just before the Diwali vacation so we were more relaxed for the three-four week holiday across schools and colleges across the country.  No matter where you went people would be preparing or anticipating Diwali.

 

One of the things I enjoyed most as a kid was going to different sweet and gift shops with my dad.  You’d be buying custom packages of sweets and you could pick and choose what you wanted in the box.  One of the things I enjoyed the most was that you were allowed to taste everything in the shop.  I really enjoyed this process especially since we would never normally buy these kinds of things.  I’d give my suggestion to my dad and he would listen and agree – this was my bonding time with my dad.  These boxes were decorated extensively and wrapped, and we would then go to different peoples homes where he would give them the gifts with me by his side.  I would shake hands with the people and greet them, wish them ‘Happy Diwali’, and in general have a very pleasant experience and be able to meet different people and see new places.  Most of these people were my father’s business associates or people who’d done him favors throughout the year.  He remembered most of the people who he felt he owed something.  The gifts were a way to give back and everyone accepted gifts at this time.

 

Diwali is, uh, in some sense a religious holiday depending on the religion that you follow.  India has a lot of religions and lots of uh, variety of people with backgrounds, ethnicity and culture, but somehow all people celebrated this particular holiday.  Rich and poor, Hindu and not Hindu, children and adults all participated.  It’s like Christmas in the U.S. in that you cannot move around without being touched by the holiday.  Growing up, Diwali was not commercialized like Christmas is in the U.S. however.  Diwali is when businessmen closed their fiscal year and represents the start of the new year based on the Lunar calendar.  There is no consensus on the exact calendar so Diwali is celebrated at different times throughout the country (sometimes a day or two ahead or behind other places).  It falls on the last month of the year (in the no moon phase of the lunar calendar).

 

The festival itself is five to six days long, and in some parts of the country it stretches to fifteen days.  It usually falls somewhere in October or November.  Uh, mainly most of the people celebrate five days.  The first day is called ‘Dhanteres’ meaning the thirteenth day of the lunar calendar on the no moon side.  Dhan means ‘wealth’ and, that’s the day that businessmen especially would worship their books, and sort-of be thankful for the good year that they’ve had, and, uh that’s a big celebration and right after that there are some sweets and other things that are distributed.  Bonuses are given out to employees and it is a very happy day for most people.  They worship the books and wealth because in Indian culture wealth is not taboo; the pursuit of wealth is considered part of every person’s endeavor.  It is believed that if you are wealthy or if the goddess of wealth has bestowed her blessings on you, it just means you are being rewarded for your good deeds in the past life.  If you continue doing good deeds, you will be rewarded in the future life if stuff isn’t working out right now.

 

The following day is called “Kali Chaudus”, with Kali meaning evil, occurring on the fourteenth day of the lunar cycle in which the evil is won over by goodness.  It is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

 

Then comes the Diwali, which is, uh, on the day of the New Moon.  The way the festivities work is that all throughout these holidays people wear nice clothes with the women dressing up.  On that particular day of Diwali there are feasts all over the place.  This is the thing that people really look forward to.  How do people spend months preparing for this?  Girls and older women especially would adorn the entrances to their homes with what is called ‘rangoli’ right outside the door on the side.  They would make dry paints on the floor itself and go in different designs with some of them getting really elaborate, making different shapes.  Basically this is all to welcome visitors that they would be expecting in the holidays.  It reaches a point where regionally people may have competitions among the amateur artists in which the best rangoli is chosen.  The other thing that children were involved with, and this probably didn’t happen throughout the country but did in the area I grew up, was the people in the neighborhood would get together and setup in one of the building compounds that is fenced off.  It would be a 20 feet by 20 feet area in which they’d make different sculptures, statues, a water dam, or maybe scientific experiments.  This would be strung together in an elaborate showing and people would come visit and provide feedback, criticize or admire the work that was done.  You always wanted to put on the best show, it was kind of like show and tell in that you wanted to show the best stuff possible.  There would be more regional competitions which sort of brought out the competitive spirits and different kind of activity that you don’t get involved with during the year or normal school days.  I, as a kid, spent a lot of time trying to come up with ideas and putting these things together.

 

One of the big things during this time is firecrackers.  There were no restrictions about lighting them up.  They were freely available in stores, in fact this was a boom time for all the small shops that carried them.  Surprisingly, there were very few accidents where people got hurt.  I lit up a ton of firecrackers (and everyone else did too).  Every morning, starting around 4/5AM until 8/9AM you’d hear firecrackers and then again at night from 7PM to midnight.  This went on in every street in every corner of the city.  Yes it was noisy, but this was Diwali so people were celebrating so people would expect it and get used to it.

 

The other thing that would happen was just before Diwali people would decorate their homes with different lights, after all this is the festival of lights.  So, they would have electric bulbs sort of strung together in different patterns, decorative lights, and also some, uh, lanterns that are hand-made and oil burning flame.  These lanterns would be all over the place and people would make very elaborate shapes and be artistic with the light.  It looked beautiful; wherever you turned, you saw lights and the celebration, and that was Diwali.

 

This went on and on.  The day after Diwali, businessmen would worship the goddess of wealth and start their books for the new year.  There was no money exchanged but orders would be placed so it was sort of a big start for the new year.  People would be very joyous and contracts would be exchanged.

 

The next day is considered New Year’s Day according to the Hindu calendar.  That morning, people would get up early both children and adults.  They would wear their best clothes that they saved/planned to wear.  People would go out to friends and relatives’ houses, teachers, doctors and dentists houses and would knock on their doors and wish them happy new year.  They would be invited in and would take a little bit of snacks and sweets and went from home to home and place to place.  This would go on for almost a whole day.

 

The following day, the second day of the year, is called “Bhaibeej” or brother’s day.  Sisters would invite their brothers and their family to come to their home for dinner, and, uh the brother would bring some special gift for the sister and sort of vow to protect her that no harm would come to her that year.  That basically would end the Diwali.  Some parts of the country would have extra days of a Mini Diwali celebration with the same festivities on a smaller scale continue.

 

Analysis: Diwali represents the triumph of brightness over darkness and good over evil.  The festival legend surrounds the return of Lord Rama from a fourteen year exile.  He was fighting the demon king Ravana and succeeded.  People lit a path of oil lamps for Lord Rama and his family to follow back to their palace.  This would be an extraordinarily happy time that calls for celebration, as Diwali does.

 

Highly illuminated homes signify a connection to the skies and heavens; people are trying to show respect while also garnering a connection with the heavens for the attainment of wealth, happiness and prosperity (all associated with light).  The use of firecrackers helps call attention to the heavens of humans and their happy expressions.  The significance of light could also be investigated on an internal level.  We want avoid being consumed by darkness, but instead exude the light so that we can make the world around us a better place, achieve illumination of the soul and be closer to the heavens.

 

Interviewer Note: I included some pictures of the rangoli and Diwali celebrations in the attachment labeled ‘Diwali Pictures.docx”.


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