USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘celebration’
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Megilah Reading

Every Purim Jews congregate to listen to a reading from a book called the Megilah which features the backstory of Purim. It’s the most outwardly religious part of Purim. The congregation is encouraged to be active and loud, reacting verbally to every single mention of the characters’ names in the story. Mordecai and Ester (the Jewish heroes) get jubilant cheers every time their name is read while the bad guy Haman is booed. The congregation is even traditionally encouraged to drink so much that they can’t tell whose names to boo or cheer.

Again, this is the religious part of Purim but the encouragement to chime in makes it stand out from other Jewish holidays in a way that fits the extra cheerful celebration of Purim. While this folklorist’s congregation doesn’t drink during the reading, it does fit the rest of the relatively lax nature of the event.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Name Days

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. While discussing how she celebrates Easter as a Greek Orthodox, she mentioned another tradition that caught my attention.

 

Background: The tradition is referred to as Name Days, and has been a custom of Greek Orthodox culture for centuries. My informant explained that she and all of her siblings celebrate their name days, as they are all named after saints.

 

Main Piece: “For Greeks, your name day is more important than your actual birthday. Your name day is the birthday of your icon, or the saint that you were named after. Me and my siblings are all named after saints, and the same goes for my more distant relatives. Greek Orthodox people are really into using generational and famous names that are important in their history. So I’m named after Saint Katherine, so my name day is some time in November, but my actual birthday is in May. Obviously being in American culture now, my birthday is equally as important, and I celebrate it with my family and friends, but my name day is still a huge deal in my family. On my name day my parents always go all out with the presents, we have my whole family over, and it’s just a big celebration. The same goes for all of my siblings. It’s pretty great because it’s like having two birthdays every year that are equally as celebrated. I also see how important it is to my grandparents especially that we celebrate name days so it’s something I definitely want to pass on to my kids too.”

 

Analysis: I found this tradition very interesting, as I had never heard of Name Days prior to this encounter. After doing additional research on this ritual, I learned that they are actually celebrated in many countries across Europe and Latin America. It’s a nice way to celebrate yourself, as well as the historical icon that you were named after.

 

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Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Chuppah

Context: My informant is a 37 year-old Jewish woman who recently moved to Los Angeles from Toronto. She was preparing for her upcoming wedding when she began to discuss what Jewish traditions she planned on incorporating in her ceremony. In the piece, she is identified as J.T. and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: The Chuppah is essentially a canopy in which the bride and groom and their family members stand under in a Jewish wedding ceremony. The tradition can be traced back to biblical weddings in Jewish culture, and is deeply rooted in its’ history and religious customs.

 

Main Piece:

DS: “You mentioned your fiancé is Christian, are you still going to have a traditional Jewish wedding?”

JT: “Definitely. My family is fairly religious, and he’s in the process of converting right now, so his family is open to keeping it more traditional too.”

DS: “What are some of the traditions you’re going to include?”

JT: “Well, pretty much everything. A Rabbi is speaking at our ceremony, we’ll be reciting the seven prayers and the blessing over the wine, the chuppah, and of course breaking the glass at the end of the ceremony.”

DS: “Do you mind elaborating on the importance of the chuppah a bit?”

JT: “Sure! The chuppah is pretty much a canopy, and it represents the home that the bride and groom will build together. Couples usually decorate it beautifully for their weddings. I’m planning on having mine strung with vines and white roses. It’s supposed to stand with all four sides wide open, to represent a home with open doors that’s welcoming and loving. Hospitality is something that’s highly regarded in Jewish culture, as I’m sure you know.”

 

Analysis: Since I come from a reform Jewish family, I’m aware of most traditions, but I don’t have much background knowledge on the meaning behind them, so it was interesting to hear the symbolism behind this tradition in particular. Having attended quite a few Jewish weddings, the Chuppah is always the staple of the ceremony, and is always decorated beautifully.

 

Annotation: For more on Jewish wedding customs and the history behind the Chuppah, reference to:

Goldman, A. L. (2000). 3. Weddings. In Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today (pp. 69-86). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

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French New Year Traditions

The following is a piece from a friend whose parents are French immigrants.  I am represented by K and the informant is represented by I.

Piece:

K: Go ahead and tell me about your tradition.

I: So, in January, the start of the new year, there’s a tradition called Gallete du Roi, which translates to… uh, King’s Cake… and… one person will start by hosting a party in which… uhm, we make dinner, and you invite your group of friends over, and then you make the King’s Cake, which is usually almond paste and phyllo dough on top, with a little ceramic baby Jesus or baby Mary or baby lamb or something inside, and then… uhm… you cut the- you cut the pie, and the youngest person at the party like goes under the table or hides or something, and they dictate who each piece goes to.  So it’s … non…biased.  And then… uhm.. and then you eat the cake and whoever gets the baby is the King or the Queen and they choose their King or their Queen to host the next party with them and the guy brings the wine, the woman makes the food- bakes the cake- which is just really.. not… gender… equality… if you ask me, but uhm, and then the party keeps going all throughout January, and there’s another tradition we do!- Well, it’s not really a tradition, it’s like uhm, on the first day of January, so it’s like the first day of the new year, uhm, you hold a piece of like- like a gold coin in your hand. Uhm, or anything that has gold in it, like real gold… uhm, and you make crepes and you flip the crepe with the gold in your hand, and if it lands well and doesn’t break, you’ll have prosperity in the new year, and if it breaks or it doesn’t happen… you’re… gonna be poor.

K: And where’d you learn this from?

I: My momma.

Context:

We were sitting outdoors in a shaded area by a couch, working on a group project, but only the informant, one other member of our project, and I were there.  I asked the informant if she had any traditions or interesting pieces of folklore she would want to share and she readily agreed.  It was a really nice day out and the conversation felt very natural.

My Thoughts:

 

Her family is from France and she very strongly identifies with her French roots.  I thought this tradition was pretty interesting because it’s very religious, and my friend isn’t that religious, really, but she considers it more of a cultural tradition.  I know that this tradition is also very cultural, as well.  My family calls it Three Kings Day, but we don’t really celebrate it.  I went to Catholic school growing up, though, and I know we always had the cake in our of our classes, but the cake we ate was different than the one the informant described.  In Latin culture, this holiday also involved leaving shoes out, which my dad has told me about.  I think it’s cool to see the evolution of this holiday based on ethnicity.  It’s interesting to watch how it changes from place to place and how there are little cultural differences.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Seaweed Soup on Birthdays -A Korean Tradition

Main Text:

HK: “On somebody’s birthday it is tradition to have seaweed soup”

Collector: “Can it be any kind of seaweed soup?”

HK: “I don’t think it really matters, but there are a lot of traditional recipes for seaweed soup out there”

Context: 

HK moved to the Unites States from South Korea when she was in kindergarten. After being raised in different parts of Asia an coming to the United States HK has acquired many traditions, customs and folk beliefs that have been passed down from her family. The ritualistic act of eating seaweed soup at someone’s birthday is just one example of a ritual that HK told me during my collection helps to keep her culture alive. She said that at least for her family specifically, having rituals and customs like these allow for people living in the Unites States to still connect with their family and homeland in Korea. This connection that HK feels to her culture and family is one reason that she says that she will continue to educate and pass down this seaweed-eating ritual. Another reason that she says that she remembers such a ritual is that it has happened on every one of her birthday’s so that if she evert had a birthday without it, it would not actually feel like a special moment anymore to her.

Analysis:

According to HK when asked why the meal of choice for a birthday is seaweed soup she said that it is related to another ritualistic act what they give to the mother after giving birth because it helps to nourish the body. One obvious interpretation of why it is a Korean tradition to eat seaweed soup at the birth of a child and at a child’s birthday party is the nutritional value of seaweed. Seaweed has high quantities of calcium, magnesium, iron and other important nutrients.  It makes sense for a mother to eat this after brith for this reason because magnesium and iron will aid in a quick recovery of the energy and bloodlust that naturally occurs at birth. The second reason for why this tradition may have occurred in the first place and is still being passed down is the accessibility to seaweed. Most of Korea is bordered by Ocean where seaweed is highly accessible. This accessibility could lead one to believe that seaweed has been eaten as this tradition for centuries because it is cheap and easily accessible to even the common folk. This ease in retrieving and eating the seaweed has led to South Korea pressing about 90 percent of the country’s seaweed crop and to cultivate it they just let it grow on ropes that float near the surface of the water by tethered boeys.

To summarize, in addition to the explanation that HK provided of feeling close to one’s family and culture, there are two other explanations that help understand the reasons that it is traditional to eat seaweed at birth and on somebody’s birthday: The first reason is its obvious nutrient values that help growth and recovery of one’s body and the second reason its Korea’s ease in accessing such a food and its large farming industry that has been built around this access.

 

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May Day: Stillman Valley High School Traditions

The following is a conversation with MA that describes her interpretation of the May Day celebration from how her high school celebrated the springtime festival. For a full history of May Day traditions in America, please see Allison Thompson’s 2009 May Day Festivals in America, 1830 to The Present (McFarland & Co.).

 

MA: So, we had the seniors eligible to be on May court and they would be elected by the student-body to be on that. Then first the sophomores walk around with flags and make an arc for the May court to walk through when they are announced and then people sing to the court and we always did a boy/girl cheer routine. Then the juniors would wrap the May pole in ribbons and the May queen would be crowned by the May queen of the previous year […]. It was a celebration of summer coming and purity. I know the actual May Day is on May 1, but ours fell on a different day every year, probably for school coordinating reasons.

 

EK: Did you were anything special for the occasion?

 

MA: Yeah, so freshman didn’t participate unless they were in the cheer routine. Sophomores wore pastel sun dresses, juniors wore big, pastel, poofy dresses, and seniors just had to wear some type of pastel formal wear, their guidelines weren’t as strict because they were seniors. I remember I wore a pastel green poofy dress, kind of like a Quinceañera dress, during my senior year.

 

EK: So, what did this celebration mean to you?

 

MA: Well I participated in it all four years; I was a cheerleader, so I did the cheer routine my freshman year. I know it was a celebration of spring and rebirth and summer coming and purity. For a lot of us in high school though it was just about dressing up and always happened before Prom, so whatever seniors were elected to be on May court were probably going to be on the Prom court too, haha. I just really liked dressing up and celebrating the event with my friends and family that would come to watch.

 

My Interpretation:

MA is the only person I know who has participated in a high school May Day celebration. I’ve known of the festival previously, however now it also has a bit of a negative connotation. I know that it is also considered International Workers’ Day, where people will take to the streets in political protest in several areas. It is interesting to me that while certain traditions of the celebration are upheld in some areas, such as in Stillman Valley High School where they have pastel colors and the May pole and the customary dancing, in other areas there is fighting, arrests, and riots. In MA’s recollection, though, she seemed to look forward to the celebration each year, really enjoying her high school’s unique tradition.

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Karneval/Fasching: A German Celebration

The following is GK’s recollection and respective interpretation of her experiences at Karneval/Fasching celebrations in Germany.

 

GK grew up in Germany as a Lutheran and celebrated Karneval throughout her childhood and young adult years. In her description of the holiday, she says that Karneval was like the Mardi Gras equivalent in Germany. It occurred right before Lent, starting fifty-two days before Easter and then ending before Ash Wednesday. Growing up in Ansbach, in Southern Germany, the festival was called “Fasching” there.

 

GK says that on the first day of the celebration, all of the women in town would dress up in costumes and gather in the streets to march around. They would do silly little things, such as cutting off the bottoms of men’s ties and in exchange would give them a small kiss on the cheek. GK notes that the bolder ones (women) would plant a kiss on the boy’s lips.

 

Then, there was “Rosenmontag” (Rose Monday), which occurred [on] the Monday after the celebration began. There would be a parade in her town and she and her brother would watch on the side of the streets and small floats and marching people came through the streets. People were dressed up in costumes that were very colorful or fantastical, too. Good food was everywhere for everyone to indulge in. There were bratwursts, German pretzels, Berliner donuts (called Krapfen in German) filled with a berry jam, all being sold by vendors in the streets. Though she was younger and couldn’t participate in these activities, she remembers the bars would be open all night (her parents often went there to celebrate during this time). When GK was older, she and her friends had Glühwein together, a spin-off of wine. She describes it as a “red wine drink mixed with hot apple cider and spices.” She also says that “people were always drinking, celebrating, and dancing.” When World War Two approached and Hitler’s grip on Germany got stronger, some of the floats and people marching in the streets conveyed his messages, she recalls. “Those were some of the more uncomfortable years and less people wanted to go. But you still had to, otherwise the Nazis would think you weren’t in support and would come after your family,” she says.

 

The Last Day of the celebration was on Tuesday, right before Ash Wednesday. In Germany, it was called “Karnevalsdienstag,” (Shrove Tuesday). It’s the last day of parades and parties, and this is also the day that is the same as Mardi Gras in other places in the world.

 

On Ash Wednesday, GK remembers that there was a custom of burning the “Nubbel,” which is a straw, life-size doll. It would customarily hang outside of bars or in town squares and when it was burned it symbolized the doing-away of all the sins committed during Karneval time. She notes that this part never occurred in Ansbach, but rather in bigger cities in Germany. She only witnessed it once when she travelled to a larger city with her girlfriends.

 

GK remembers Karneval as some of her better memories from Germany before and after World War Two. Several bombs had struck her hometown, so she says that being able to look back on the celebrations and good times she had with her friends and family before these tragedies will always be something that she cherishes.

 

My Interpretation:

Karneval, better known as Fasching to her, seemed to be a celebration that really affected and influenced GK’s life. It’s clear that some of her best memories of her hometown came from this celebration, which mean a lot to her as many of her memories include taking shelter in bomb shelters and seeing the aftermath of her town, destroyed by bombs during World War Two. While reminiscing on her memories, it was evident that GK misses her home and the Fasching celebration that she used to partake in. However, she spoke very romantically about it, as if it were the festival of the century; nothing could ever be better than Fasching. Whether it was because it was part of her childhood, or really that spectacular of a celebration, Fasching seems to be a very influential festival for the German people, with several of their traditions and customs performed/practiced throughout the days it occurs.

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Advent Spiral

Content: Advent Spiral
Informant – “The Advent Spiral is a somber ceremony for grades 1-8. It happens in the winter. Fresh pine boughs are laid in a large spiral in the center of a dark room. Paper star mats are spaced out equidistantly along the spiral. In the center of the spiral is a single lit candle. A class enters the room. There might be a harp player in the corner, or it might be silent. One by one, a child enters the spiral. Each child has an apple with a candle stuck in its center. The child walks through the spiral, lights their apple candle from the candle in the center, then places their apple candle on one of the star mats. Then the child sits outside the spiral. Once everyone has gone, the room is full of light.”

Context:
Informant – “Walking into the spiral symbolizes walking into the spiral within yourself. Lighting the apple is like lighting the flame within yourself. The apple itself is a symbol of new life. This ritual has is based on the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Celts. They took an ember from their city, from their central sacred hearth of their city temple and transported it carefully to the new land. They took an ember from their holy hearth to whatever land their were colonizing, and then they would light their first sacred hearth with that ember. All the fires were started from that first original coal. That sacred fire is holy, regardless of the religion. It symbolized them carrying their religion forward. It symbolized a unity with the old land, a unity with their culture and religion. That’s similar to the advent spiral. The students place their apples on the stars. Stars represent our connection to the cosmos, an outer world, a spiritual world. It shows that you are giving your light to the whole world. By the end of the advent spiral, the whole room is filled with light. It’s symbolic of what we want the students to do. It’s not Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, whatever. You are a light filled person, and as you grow older share your light so the world becomes a light filled place.”
The informant learned about this ceremony when she started teaching at Waldorf.

Analysis:
The use of pine boughs reminds me of Christmas trees. They are evergreen, a sign of life in the dead of winter.
I couldn’t find any references to Greeks, Romans, or Celts transporting sacred coals on Google. Still, I agree with the informant’s interpretation of the ritual (i.e. it is symbolic of sharing your inner light with the world to make it a brighter place).

For another version and explanation of this festival, see “Winter Spiral and the Meaning of Advent.” www.clws.org/events/winter-spiral-and-the-meaning-of-advent/.

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Oysters For New Years in Bayou, Louisiana

Folk Tradition:

“Basically my godmother’s niece married this guy who lives in Bayou, Louisiana so it’s like two hours away from New Orleans?  And it’s a really tiny town and their whole schtick is that they have oysters. It’s like where they farm all these oysters. So oysters are really special or whatever there. Whenever she married him or whatever it became their tradition to to harvest them on New Years Eve. And then they like all make them. And now we all go over to my godparents house on New Years. And my godfather is a really good chef and shucks them and he makes different oyster dishes and we eat them.

We started having this be a party when I was in high school so like four years ago ish? But they’ve been doing this forever, they just didn’t start coming over till they had a kid. Then it became more of a family thing. Their family will come to New Orleans and we’ll all meet there. Now my friends fight to like come with me. It’s like a fun thing cause my godfather’s a really good chef. Oysters are so special to Louisiana, but its a really niche tradition and cool. But Bayou is not that far away from New Orleans and not that many people in Louisiana know that people there only eat Oysters for New Years. For them it’s like the way thanksgiving is with turkey.” 

Context:

New Year’s in Bayou, Louisiana.

Informant Background:

The informant is 20, from New Orleans.

My Analysis:

This is a perfect example of folklore transcending geography. While the oysters on New Years are a tradition unique to the Bayou region (Informant specified that people in New Orleans, only two hours away, generally don’t even know about this tradition), this family brought the unique folk tradition to New Orleans, where it is now being shared with friends of family and extended beyond the Bayou region exponentially. My informant now resides in LA and she says that should she get married and settle here, she will institute this tradition in her home.

After doing some digging, I discovered that this tradition is of French origin:

Beardsley, NPR. “For the French, New Year Means Good Oysters.” All Things Considered, 04/20/19, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6707229.

This makes sense as Louisiana is proud of its heritage, being colonized by dominantly French immigrants. Perhaps the reason the tradition has only been preserved in the Bayou region is because of the higher proportion of French immigrants there than in New Orleans. Again, this is an example of mobile folk traditions, having been brought to Louisiana by the French.

 

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Astrological Indian Wedding Ceremony

Context/Background: The Informant is an Indian-American who has witnessed wedding customs tailored to suit an astrological calendar in order to promote success and prosperity of Indian Marriages.

Informant:

“When you get married and you’re supposed to check like… the person’s astrological sign or something- or when they were born and then you like compare the two. And that timing will like… determine when it’s okay for the literal marriage ceremony to take place. So the wedding can go on for the entire day, but the time the wedding ceremony takes place happens at on specific dates and times. Obviously, some people just ignore it… but like… in the summertime, I was in India and my cousin fully like… he fully got married. Like had a wedding in the middle of the night. So that happened. If you look it up online, I’m sure you’ll find something. And there’s like a special calendar that you can buy from the temple that’ll like tell you! Like, Oh! This is your day, and this is their day, like it’s cool to get married on this day. And like, yeah my grandma has one in her kitchen and she like… refers back to it sometimes, and it’s like ‘When is it okay?'”

Introduction: The Informant was introduced to this custom through her family; more specifically, her grandmother.

Analysis/Interpretation: I find this ritual interesting because I’d never seen marriages that strayed from a daytime setting. The notion that the actual ceremony should occur at a specific time is actually really sentimental and I’d find much meaning in designating a particular time to get married. I feel as though many astrological encounters have been accentuated more recently in popular culture, but to find them more engrained seriously in cultures’ traditions opens up another insight on it. This leads me to wonder how other cultures may have additional differing wedding customs which I’d like to explore in more depth.

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