USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘christmas’
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Cookies

Main Piece

“At Christmastime we make these very specific Christmas tree cookies, they’re almond cookies and we make them with a cookie press which squishes out dough into the shape of a Christmas tree. My family makes just a ton of them, and the cookie press we use has been in the family a greater part of the century. The weird thing is, if you make them any other shape, they don’t seem to taste the same. Instead of making chocolate chip cookies and putting those out for Santa, we put out these.”

Background

Informant

Nationality:  American

Location: Connecticut

Language: English

When I asked the informant what they thought of the tradition, they responded with the following:

“The cookies are really damn good. We make them with my mom’s parents, and aunts

and uncles on that side of the family. My more extended family send cookies to each other, and those are the cookies that we send to other relatives…it’s a traditional sending…family recipe cookie.”  

Context

The informant and their family only make these cookies around Christmas Time, and only with their grandparents.

Notes

My family has our own cookie making traditions, and so it was nice to hear about another family’s traditions. The cookies we make are also almond cookies, but we make them into candy cane shapes and we don’t use a cookie press.

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Smith Family Christmas: Ritual/Tradition

Some rituals, we actually have a lot of rituals around Christmas time. Ever since I think you guys – I think we’ve done it every year come to think of it – well it became more difficult with you guys away at school. But when you guys were younger, we’d go out together every year to the farm near Northgate – Pazzani or Prazzani or something – and we’d get a Christmas tree. You guys would run all around trying to find the perfect tree.

 And -um- uh you guys had to find one with enough space for all those ornaments. (chuckle/scoff) I swear half that attic is just ornaments. That’s another thing – the ornament… ritual I guess where you guys get the ornament symbolizing the big thing that happened that year.

 Oh! And then there’s the huevos rancheros. Yeah, I’ve got no idea why we do that every year (laughs). I think I just made them one Christmas morning and you guys seemed to really like them, so I started doing it every year.

Pronzini Farms is the name of the place the Informant carelessly guessed at. He seemed a bit confused when I asked him why these rituals were important and why he liked them. “What do you mean?” he said, “It’s stuff like that that makes a family a family.” Just like a society or culture, you can learn a whole lot about a family by studying their rituals. The ritual of getting a new ornament each year that’s symbolical of an accomplishment or rite of passage has been going on seemingly forever. There are ornaments from ever year since I was born, so he assumes the ritual began then with the classic ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ ornaments. Unbeknownst to me, the ritual of an annual Christmas ornament is established. It represents a ritual-turned-rite of passage. The annual ornaments, a lifetime of memories, are passed down, handed over to hang on their own Christmas tree in their own home.

Beyond the more typical Christmas symbols like trees and ornaments, the Christmas morning huevos rancheros seem more of a tradition than a ritual. Up until I was in high school, I remember having a casual breakfast, maybe cereal or a pop tart. According to the Informant, he just had the ingredients to make his huevos rancheros one Christmas morning and the tradition was born. It’s not done to celebrate anything in particular. It’s done because we’ve done it in the past, which makes it a great example of tradition.

I had never thought about how many rituals my family has revolving around the Christmas holiday. I struggled to think of any, but the Informant sure didn’t. He had to think for a couple seconds, but quickly arrived at three rituals revolving around a single holiday. Not only did I not recognize the annual ornament as a ritual before, I had never thought about the sentimentality of each and every ornament in the sequence. It’s a timeline of my entire life and one day it will hang on my own tree next to my children’s annual addition.

Customs
general

The Pickle Game

Main piece:

The Pickle Game can be played throughout the Christmas season. One member of the family may start by clandestinely hanging a pickle or pickle-shaped ornament on the Christmas tree among other ornaments.

Whenever other members pass by the tree, they can look for the pickle! And if they find it, they should move it and re-hide it themselves. Typically, there is a reward for finding the pickle – usually food or a sweet treat.

On Christmas morning, the pickle is hidden one final time for a special prize. After rushing down the stairs, children compete to see who will “pluck the pickle” and get a special treat (which is usually shared with their siblings in sportsmanship).

Context:

Game described by Laura Monk, second-generation Austrian-American. Many of Laura’s family traditions are imported from Austria and reflect her grandmother’s upbringing. These traditions are carried on in her family today.

Background:

Although believed to have originated in Germany as “Weihnachtsgurke”, the tradition is unknown in that locale. There are various other origin stories as well, some domestic.

Analysis:

This is a fun hide-and-seek game which can be enjoyed both passively throughout the holiday season and actively on Christmas morning. It is both silly, and sincere. It’s also difficult to spot a dark green pickle among the leaves of a pine tree.

For more on the Christmas Pickle, see James Cooper’s article: “https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/christmaspickle.shtml”

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Posadas

I interviewed my informant, Brianna, in the study lounge of the band office. Because of her upbringing in Mexican culture, she was able and eager to share a lot of folklore and folk traditions. One thing she wanted me to document was Posadas, which she learned about from her grandmother and her mother. The following is the information she shared with me during the interview:

 

Posadas are special events leading up to Christmas. It’s a movement of the community or church that happened once a week a few weeks leading up Christmas day. The community members follow someone dressed as Mary and Joseph to someone’s home. The home welcomes them in, and they have a big party.

 

My informant made sure to note that in her mother’s village, they put the woman portraying Mary on a live donkey for added effect.

 

She used to do it in her neighborhood back home (San Siro, San Luis Potosi). Everyone was invited for food and a party. A portion of the people were invited early for food, usually close friends and family. Then the whole town is invited after the dinner for the party and music.

 

This all leads up to Christmas day. On Christmas, everyone celebrates at home — which is where everyone celebrates the birth of Jesus. A certain ritual also involves putting a doll figure of baby Jesus in a manger. My informant noted that her grandmothers was 10X bigger than the other dolls because it’s the most important thing in the display.

 

I asked my informant if she had any other thoughts, to which she responded: “The first time I did it, I was in Mexico, so it was pretty wild.”

 

Analysis

I have never heard of such extravagant pageantry to celebrate the Christmas season. This festival in particular is very important because it brings the community together and affirms their identity. It’s unclear whether everyone partakes in the celebration because they are Christian, or just because they are part of the community. Regardless, Posadas is obviously a very important annual event that encourages synthesis through performance.

 

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

German Santa

I interviewed Audrey when I met her in Everybody’s Kitchen, a USC dining hall. Audrey spent some of her childhood in Germany, so she wanted to share some of the German folklore she knew. This includes the legend of the German Santa. The following is lifted from the interview:

 

Audrey: “So I learned this from my fifth grader german teacher when we were learning about German traditions. Okay, so, on St. Nick’s day — the 6th of December — German kids leave their shoes outside the door. Good kids get stuff like candy and toys, and bad kids get coal. But that’s not all bad kids get. German Santa goes into their bedrooms, and puts them in a burlap sack. And then he takes them out back and beats them — just beats them in the sack.” [She mimics the action she is describing]

 

Me: “Did you ever partake in this tradition?”

 

Audrey: “Well, I took part in American St. Nick’s day. I would leave my shoes by the fireplace… and I was never taken out back and beaten in a burlap sack, so I don’t know about that part. But I always got candy and toys in my shoes.”

 

My informant then noted that she vaguely remembers learning that German Santa had an assistant named “Krampus.” She didn’t have enough knowledge to talk about him, though.

 

Analysis

I am aware of the Krampus and the tradition of leaving out shoes, but I’ve never heard of Santa being the one that takes naughty children to be punished. The legend of German Santa seems to be used to scare children into behaving, much like many other fairy tales (Although, this is considered a legend instead of a tale because it takes place in the real world with questionable truth value).

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A “Non-Christmas” Christmas

Informant Info: The informant is a 21-year-old male who was born and raised in Chanhassen, Minnesota. His parents both moved to America from India when they were in their twenties. He is currently a student at USC studying Electrical Engineering.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: I remember you mentioning going home for Christmas last year. Can I ask what your family does to celebrate Christmas?

 

Interviewee: We don’t do anything for Christmas religiously, but we do get into the spirit of it. We will put up trees, lights, ornaments on the trees, you know all the usual. My brother always makes an ornament every year. But then… we just leave and go somewhere else ironically… Like we’ll come out to Santa Monica and stay with my cousin because my parent’s like the warmer weather. We don’t really do presents or anything of that nature. To us, it’s mostly just about spending time together with the family.

 

Analysis:

This isn’t that surprising, given that the informant’s parents are both from India and are not Christian. However, growing up in a very Christian town (and country) they have adopted some of the traits of Christmas that aren’t associated with religion. I find it interesting that above all else, family bonding is always the most important Christmas tradition across the board.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Portland Christmas (Childhood)

Informant Info: The informant is a 22-year-old male who was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and comes from a Catholic family. He currently is a senior at USC and is very into half-marathon and marathon racing.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: Growing up, did you have any big holiday traditions?

 

Interviewee: I would say my mom is the biggest proponent of like keeping the traditions strong in our family. I would also say that Christmas is definitely the one that has most traditions surrounding it. When I was a kid we had ones that would be like kind of like silly now. We would we all do the mass on Christmas Eve together to a Catholic Mass. Before that we always went off to a nice dinner. And at that point nice was Olive Garden for me. So that’s what I though was a nice dinner (laughter). That was a joy. But I think later on I realized that Olive Garden was not indeed a nice dinner, so we changed it up a little bit. But up until I was probably in like the seventh or eighth grade, I uh – We did that as a tradition. So, would go out, we’d have the same waitress at the Olive Garden and we’d have our same meals. I would always order the same thing you know like a fettuccine alfredo and a raspberry lemonade. I remember that very clearly. And then after that I would go to Mass. I think it used to be at 10:00. And then we come home, and we do our little rituals….we had a very set routine before we go to bed on Christmas Eve. We would come around, my mom would have the cookies that she would have out, uhh she’d bring a variety of cookies into the living room and then be laid and

we would each have one or two of those. And then we would read a book. So, we’d have like a massive stack of Christmas books in our living room. And you choose two to three for people to read and at that everyone would be getting pretty tired, so my mom would usually read it and we kind of like were falling asleep. But before that we actually would write a letter to Santa. So, one interesting thing about my parents is that they still will not openly admit that there is no Santa. So even though it’s all kind of like tongue and cheek at this point… Like it’s a bit silly that we still have to write a letter to Santa even though you know as the youngest I’m 22 years old and so that’s kind of like I would say had an example of like the emphasis my mom has on tradition. And so we always write a letter to Santa and maybe cookies and a beer at this point. Uh and so, in the morning, Santa has written back and has eaten the cookies and has drank some of the beer as well. But then in the evening what we do is we have the cookies then we have my mom read the story and then we write a letter to Santa and then we open one present. When I was a kid that was like what I really looked forward to and now as the presents dwindle underneath the tree…We’re like kind of like “Well I really don’t need to because that’d be opening like half of my presents under the tree!”

So we still most of that, I still have like that tradition of it. And then we go to bed. Usually right around midnight. When I was a kid I would always try and stay up as late as I could, as always, and try and listen for Santa coming in. And now I’m like just like a homebody. So I’m like already so exhausted and like “I’m going to sleep, I’ll get up in the morning” and then I would say like in the morning it always would be I would be the first one up. So I would be because I was young as I was usually the one to get up and like my brothers and sisters who are teenagers they would sleep in later. I would always get up and I would try and run to the kitchen and my parents would get up and grab me and not let them go in there quite yet because whenever we wanted to open our presents or see our stuff from Santa we would always have to be there together so I would just sit in parents room and I’d be like sitting from 6:30 to 8 just waiting for everyone to get up and it was the longest hour of my life. Eventually it’d get later and later the older we got.

Anyways, then we would go into the living room together and our presents from Santa wouldn’t be wrapped, they’d be in or by our stocking, so we’d go and see if we got what we wanted and them we went. Then all the other presents would be wrapped so we would do our Santa stuff at first and then my mom would start making breakfast and she’d made most of breakfast the day before. We have really big, really big breakfast with like a casserole and bacon and grapefruit and cinnamon rolls and stuff like that. And that’s something I always look forward to and it was like the calm before the storm of seeing what our Santa presents were and opening the wrapped presents. Instead of just going in and ripping them open, my mom always made sure we had always taken turns, or all had one at a time to open. Afterwards, she’d make sure you wrote thank you notes afterwards. When I was a kid, I was kind of impatient but now I appreciate it. So that was like when I was a kid and those were my habits and traditions. As I’ve gotten older, they’ve changed and adapted slightly but not by much.

Analysis:

The informant’s family Christmas seems to be a very traditional American and Catholic Christmas. On a religious level, it is one of the most important holidays, and he holds Christmas Mass to be very dear to him. On the other end of the spectrum, it seems extremely traditional in terms of it being a time that the family can be very close together. His family traditions of having a large Christmas eve dinner, opening one present at a time, and having a large meal on Christmas align with my own family’s traditions and shares similarities with many other Christmas collections.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Portland Christmas (Adulthood)

Informant Info: The informant is a 22-year-old male who was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and comes from a Catholic family. He currently is a senior at USC and is very into half-marathon and marathon racing.

Interview Transcript

Interviewer: As an adult, what are you Christmas traditions like now?

Where we’ve changed our Christmas Eve traditions a little bit as we’ve gotten older is about when I got to high school. There’s a place called the Downtown Chapel or St. Andre Bassett that has become like our parish… So, I’m a Catholic so Christmas is primarily a Catholic holiday for us not necessarily or whatever like an Amish holiday. So, we would go and that became our parish. But they are in downtown Portland, so they are a really big resource for people experiencing homelessness. So, they had a lot of like programs on like every day of the week. On Fridays they had soup kitchens. All that stuff. So, it’s like that’s like the mission of the of the church more so than normal church that we used to belong to. We made our tradition started for me in fifth grade and in making it like our full tradition when I was like maybe in eighth grade or ninth grade is that we would go down on Christmas Eve during the day and you would serve a t a Christmas party. So, they had like a Christmas party where they host like over 200 or 300 people who were experiencing homelessness in Portland and they have all this food and coffee and they have like different Christmas movies playing and they have chances to make like gingerbread houses and all the really, really, fun Christmas related things and just an opportunity for them to get out of the cold. And so that’s what we’ve now been doing every single year since like middle school and since then I look forward to Christmas a lot more because it reminds me a little bit more of like how fortunate I am and also like the chance that I can still interact in my parish even when I’m coming home from college. And so we do that and then after that we go to watch downtown at this place called Dan and Louise which is like a chowder… A clam chowder spot. And it’s like actually not particularly good food. Like I think it’s fine but like it’s more become tradition so its not like we can stray away from it even if we wanted to. And then we all go get a picture with Santa. Now literally I’m 22 and the youngest and my brother is almost 30 and we still get pictures with Santa. It is ridiculous, but we are not able to sway my mom in that sense.

And usually it’s like I would say that Christmas is one time that my family is coming and spread throughout the country and it’s hard to try and find time where we can all be together. But my mom made a really, really, really, big effort to kind of make sure that we’re all together on Christmas which is something that I appreciate more and more as I get older. So, I think that having some normalcy of most of the traditions that now seem kind of arbitrary or like silly or like things like I’d be fine changing if it wasn’t the tradition. I think for her and it provides a sense of security and family comfort. So that’s kind of like what I interpret as our traditions for Christmas but definitely one of our most tradition laden holidays.

Analysis:

It is interesting to see how the informant’s Christmas traditions have evolved as he was growing up. The context behind this collection refers back to a previous collection of his Christmas traditions as a kid, and how they have changed as he has gotten older. It’s interesting to examine how he looks most forward to volunteering and serving the community on Christmas now, whereas a kid he seemed to only look forward to the presents.  This seems to be primarily influenced by his mom, who he mentioned held traditions to be extremely important.

Holidays
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Texan Christmas

Informant Info: The informant is a 20-year-old female who was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Her mother is Caucasian, and her father is Hispanic. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and works for Walt Disney World.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: Do you have any major holidays that you celebrate? How do you celebrate it?

 

Interviewee: My family has celebrated Christmas the same every year since my brother was born almost 25 years ago. We start Christmas Eve as you would any holiday by prepping “dinner” for around 3 o’clock. We all get in our Sunday best and eat Christmas Eve dinner as a family. After dinner, dessert, and a lot of laughs we sit in the living room reminiscing old Christmas memories. My personal favorite is the one my Grandaddy used to tell about how ecstatic I was to receive a hot wheels toy at a mere 3 years old. After story time we each open a few presents which are the same every year. We start with our matching Christmas jammies and we all change into them immediately. Then my grandma hands us each three boxes. One has pistachios (And uhh..I don’t know the origin of that one). One has a check. And the last has an ornament she found earlier in the year that reminds her of us. After we hang our ornaments on the tree we write our letter to Santa. Each sibling alternates writing it each year and since there’s 4 of us we get a pretty decent break! Last we set out milk and gingerbread cookies for Santa and hang up our stocking, including ones for our fur babies. Then we all go to sleep and wake up not so bright and early Christmas morning!

 

 

Analysis:

Within this one family, there are several interesting pieces of folklore, that I was unfortunately not able to fully get out of the informant. Her family seems to hold on to old traditions and memories, yet the origin is unclear. She says that her family has been doing this for at least 25 years. By the sounds of it, many of the traditions, such as the matching pajamas or the pistachios, fall into the genre of practical jokes. She claims that she loves everything about her Christmas and plans on doing the same thing for her kids, once she has a family of her own. In addition, this tradition seems to share similarities on a macro level, such as a large family dinner on Christmas Eve, writing letters to Santa (a common folk tradition), hanging ornaments, and leaving out milk and cookies.

 

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas presents & Christmas stockings tradition

My mother has established a very specific way that we do Christmas presents and stockings in our family and it goes as follows:

Stockings are opened on Christmas morning only with our immediate family (extended family waiting in another room) and takes place sitting on my parents’ bed in our pajamas. We would then go downstairs for the rest of the presents.

As young children, we would receive one big gift from “Santa” that was left unwrapped under our fireplace, and the rest of the presents were found under the tree and were addressed from the respective person who bought them (Dad, Mom, Grandma etc.)

As older adults, we still open presents but we open a couple from immediate family members at Christmas Eve dinner and the rest Christmas morning, without an unwrapped gift from Santa.

 

 

Background: Tamara has lived her entire life in Southern California and moved her family to Malibu in 2001. She is married and has two children.

Context: My mom started this tradition in our family once me and my brother were both born, and we still do it to this day on Christmas. I asked my mom if she came up with the tradition on her own last weekend while we were at a family dinner and she said she started it when she had kids.

Analysis: As a kid, I thought this was customary, and everyone who celebrated Christmas did it in the same way my family did. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized every family had their own unique Christmas traditions, and how much I appreciated my own. This tradition that my mom started years ago is something I will definitely carry on when I have a family of my own, and I am excited at the idea of adapting it in my own way, while continuing my mother’s ritual.

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