USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘christmas’
Holidays
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Tales /märchen

Le Pere Fouettard

Context:

The informant – MZ – is a middle-aged woman originally from the French Alps, now living in South Florida. Growing up, her mother was French-Moroccan, and her father was Moroccan-Algerian. She is one of my mother’s close friends. The following is from a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about any French-Moroccan traditions she remembers growing up.

 

Piece:

For us in Europe, all across Europe, when we have parades for Santa, there’s always the bad guy, we used to call him Le Père Fouettard. Fouet means whip, so he was the whipper. So we had this guy who was kind of a monk, with a brown cloak. And he would be along with Santa Claus, along with the parade. And during the parade, we’d have Le Père Fouettard, and it was like, be careful if you don’t behave! The Père Fouettard will come and whip your ass.

 

 

Analysis:

Fairly clearly, Le Pere Fouettard is a variation of Krampus. I think it’s very interesting that, though Krampus is a prominent figure all across Europe, this specific variation exists in France’s Christmas tradition.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Material

Venezuelan Hallacas

Context: The informant was speaking of Venezuelan foods eaten during Christmas, and she began to expand on this recipe and the history of the food.

 

Piece:

Informant: Ah ok um so one tradition that we Venezuelans try to do every year is hallacas. And hallacas is a dish that originally comes from when we were conquered by the spaniards and it was it is made with, it is like a tamale but it combines um chicken, pork, olive, raisin, and it is said that it is the leftover from the slaves, what they ate. And the tradition is that family gets together and one person prepares the inside and one person cuts the leaves um and it is actually wrapped in plantain leaves and it’s a tradition that goes from family from family, and there is a saying that the best hallaca is always from your mom. And every family has their own way of doing it.

Collector: Is there any specific part that this matters to you

Informant: I actually haven’t done it myself, but in my family I remember my mom would put boiled eggs on it and that is specific to region I am from, Puerto Ordaz. Other people will put other extra ingredients depending on the region or family.

 

Background: The informant, a middle aged Venezuelan woman, currently lives in Boston but lived the majority of her life in Venezuela. She still practices a lot of Venezuelan traditions, especially in her cuisine. The hallacas are an example of a Christmas dish in Venezuela.

Analysis: This recipe is very historically connected to the Venezuelan people. The dish is said to be made of the scraps that the slaves were left to eat during the Spanish reign. This implies that this tradition has been practiced since then and continues to be a major part of the Venezuelan cuisine. It also reflects how history is important to the Venezuelan people, as it is displayed in the recipes of their dishes. The community aspect in the cooking of the dish is also very unique, as it brings together the family to work together during Christmas time– a time that is typically focused on family. It also has multiplicity and variation within the recipe, as it becomes personalized to the family and/or the region they are from.

Customs
general
Holidays

German Advent Calendar

Context: The informant was talking about differences in American and German culture. This is one of the major differences she saw with American Christmas and German Christmas

 

Piece: Another thing Germans do is the called an advent calendar so like you can buy one with chocolates from um like Trader Joe’s like 25 to 1 and it like counts down to Christmas, but what my family did is like they had this really big one actually like that was just like a bunch of pouches so it was like reusable. And so my grandparents would ship a package like 2 months before Christmas and we fill it up and like they’d putting numbers like little napkins wrap candy with it and we’d like fill it and like every day unwrap one. Sometimes they’d have an ornament, sometimes it’d have like five bucks in it, sometimes it’d have like a couple candies And it was like a family thing so there’d always be stuff in the pouches and we’d open it together and even now I buy the chocolate ones even though it’s not the same, but it’s like such a big part of the countdown.

 

Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent. Her family practices this tradition every year.

Analysis: This piece demonstrates how German culture created the advent calendar and how it has morphed in American culture. The German tradition is a personalized set of gifts for a family in order to count down for Christmas. There is an element of surprise that creates anticipation and helps preserve the tradition. But in America, the usual advent calendar sold is a chocolate calendar where each chocolate that counts down to Christmas has a different shape or flavor. American culture has commercialized and mass produced this tradition that originated in the individualized German version. It shows how American ideals have shifted the tradition and created a new version. The personalized version in German tradition creates more of a sense of community and gift giving, in the spirit of Christmas ideals, rather than the manufactured American version.

For another version of the German advent calendar, see: Haring, Carol. “Christmas Activity: Create an Advent Calendar.” Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German, vol. 25, no. 2, 1992, pp. 191–192. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3531917.

 

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Santa Lucia Candle Crowns on Christmas

Main Piece
Put that down, that on Christmas eve, Santa Lucia, L-U-C-I-A: Girls would wear real candles in their hair on Church service on Christmas eve, in a crown. It was really annoying because the wax would melt into the hair, and you always thought your hair was going light on fire.
I’m not sure what exactly it stemmed from – I know it is an old Swedish tradition. I don’t just remember why – people didn’t ask, people didn’t care, but we did it. There is definitely a reason behind it, but we definitely forgot it.

Background
The informant had grown up in a religious home, and made note of the different traditions she saw over the course of her life. She took part in this tradition, and therefore can talk about her experience. This occurrence was during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and she is unsure if they are still continuing the tradition, although she believes that they are.

Context
The informant who provided this information is a 52-year-old Caucasian women, born and raised in Southern California. The information was collected while sitting outside her home in Palm Desert, California, on the 20th of April, 2019.

Analysis
This tradition is really interesting to me, due to the fact that I never personally experienced this tradition. Being raised in the same religious way as the informant, I would have expected to have seen this tradition, yet I have not. I do think that it seems like a dangerous tradition, and I am glad to not have taken part in it or seen it thus far. I believe that the tradition relates back to Saint Lucy and her martyrdom, using candles to light her way bringing food to hidden Christians in the 3rd century. I find it interesting however, that the informant does not know what the tradition actually represents, but they still continued practicing it. I think this may be due to the idea that the tradition is representing the religion in a way, and although even if not known the exact reason, the commemoration of the religion is enough for the informant.

For another version of this tradition, please see Florence Ekstrand’s 1998 Lucia, Child of Light (Welcome Press).

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Eve Fondue

Piece:

Interviewer: “Can you explain the fondue Christmas Eve tradition?”

Informant: “Yep! So, fondue goes way back when to me being a kid… and we did this at Christmas Eve with the Hardy family, and we called it ‘hunkso’ – I’m sure you’ve heard that – ‘hunkso meat’ or a ‘hunkso party’ and… I don’t know, we started the fondue tradition in the 70s and it is something that has carried with us ever since, and now we do cheese and it’s a lot more elaborate.”

Background:

The informant has grown up with this tradition as a part of her family since childhood. The piece is important because it is representative of Christmas Eve and family camaraderie during the holiday season.

Context:

The informant (my mother) and I discussed the tradition at our home kitchen table, but the tradition itself that she is describing is performed only on Christmas Eve with extended family.

Thoughts:

Given that I am an active participant in this tradition, hearing about its origins was very interesting to me because I was able to witness how it has evolved over time. The family no longer calls it ‘hunkso’ for whatever reason (this was actually the first time I had ever heard it referred to by this name, despite what my mother said during the interview) and we have expanded the tradition to include cheese fondue, shrimp, and chicken in addition to the original beef. This is the perfect tradition for a holiday meal because the fondue format forces the meal to progress very slowly since each person can only cook one or two bites of food at a time, meaning the time in between bites is spent enjoying the company of extended family.

Foodways
Material

Scalille

Scalille is an Italian dessert that is usually made and served during Christmas time. Scalille in Calabrese dialect means little ladders or little stairs, and it is made of dough that is twisted a few times to create the shape of ladders. The ladder is meant to symbolize the ladder in which one may travel to heaven and be a servant to God. Because it connects heaven and earth, angels are able to travel down the ladders as well to do God’s work on earth.


The interlocutor mentioned this particular dish as a Christmas dessert that he has enjoyed throughout many holidays spent with his family, especially as he played a partially active role in the kitchen making the scalille. Both of his grandmothers have made scalille and have passed down the process to him. His knowledge of the biblical connotations of scalille originates in his Italian Catholic faith, as well as the lore surrounding the making of scalille. He regards this dessert as one of his favorite aspects of the holiday season, especially the process of making it with his family. An interesting aspect of the interlocutor’s relationship to this dessert is his strong identification with its divine implications, as he adopted a sort of reverent tone when relaying the biblical meaning behind scalille. This reverence was carried into his mentioning of making it with family members as well, which illustrates the importance of both religion and family through Italian holiday celebrations.

Italian culture largely involves the influence of religion into its identity, especially during times of religious celebration due to the fact that Christianity remains a particularly dominant religion in Italy. An interpretation of the religious connotation with this dessert can assert Italian desire to connect with heaven during a special time, as well as the desire to associate oneself as a servant of God. Scalille can connect two worlds together, providing consolation and peace during a special time of the year.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fasting before Christmas– Russian Tradition

“There are many interesting events during the Christmastide. Traditionally Russians have kept a 40-day fast before Christmas. On Christmas Eve they’ve prepared a delicious meal known as ‘kutia.’ It’s a porridge made of wheat or barley and mixed with honey. Today, people use rice and dried fruits to cook this dish. On the night of Christmas it was habitual to visit the relatives and neighbors, to eat kutia and sing carols. Young girls would also arrange fortune-telling nights.”


The interlocutor has visited Russia multiple times, and due to her frequent visits, she has become close friends with a particular native Russian. The folklore that she has shared with me is derived from her native Russian friend. The interlocutor has not celebrated a holiday in Russia, but she has heard of the laborious preparation for holidays such as Christmas. Some particularly Christian families participate in the 40 day long fast, while other religious families fast for as little as three days. She also relayed her desire to celebrate Christmas in Russia because of the communal aspects of the holiday, and while she experiences similar communal practices in America, she wishes to eat the kutia and participate in the various Christmas time activities that are unique to Russia.

The fast before Christmas appears relate to the Nativity fast that most Christian and Orthodox people participate in. This serves as preparation, mental, spiritual, and physical, for the birth of Christ, especially as one is meant to revere his birth. The varying amounts of time in which families fast illustrate that religion and adherence to it is not universal. The kutia mentioned also obtains religious significance through its ingredients. The wheat relates to bread, or the body of Christ, and the honey and fruit relate to fertility and the resurgence of life. It is by way of this dessert that religious Russians are able to celebrate their religion during a particularly holy time of the year.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese Food on Christmas

Interviewer: Does your family engage in any Jewish culinary customs such as eating kosher?

SS: We aren’t kosher but like a lot of other Jewish Americans we actually eat Chinese food on Christmas which is an interesting tradition. 

Interviewer: Can you tell me more about this?

SS: I’ve been doing it since as long as I can remember. Every Christmas for dinner me and my family has a bunch of Chinese food and has a really good dinner usually with my immediate family, my cousins that live in Los Angeles, and my grandparents. 

Interviewer: When did you start doing this?

SS: It’s something that my family does every year and that we got from my dad and his side of the family. He did it with his family growing up and they passed it down to ours.

Interviewer: Who else that you know does this?

SS: I actually know quite a bit of Jewish people who do this. I have a bunch of family friends who do it and most of my relatives.

Interviewer: Do people outside your family do this in the same manner or is there any differences?

SS: Well actually most people I know have the meal Christmas morning. My family is a little different we like to do it for dinner

Interviewer: Do you know where this custom came from?

SS: I’m not all entirely sure. However, my dad has explained it a little bit. He basically said that it started decades ago when his parents were kids and that it is used as a way to feel connected to jewish culture on a day where we feel a bit outcast from the rest of society. It’s a way for us to engage in an activity on a day where most of the world is doing something completely different. 

Interviewer: How do you personally feel about this tradition your family has?

SS: I personally love it. I feel like if my family didn’t have this especially at a young age Christmas would have been a weird day for me. But instead, I have something to look forward to. It really brings us together and we always enjoy it a lot. It’s also nice to know that I’m doing something similar to friends and family in my Jewish community. 

Context:  I received this explaining of a Jewish folk tradition from an 18-year-old male Jewish from Los Angeles. He practices Judaism and been raised in a Jewish household his entire life. This interview was done in person at the USC Leavey Library. 

Analysis: This is folk tradition of Jewish people eating Chinese food on Christmas day is an interesting one. It is an example of a community creating a tradition in order to feel connected to their own identities and their communities in a creative manner. 

 

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Setting an extra plate during Christmas

Content and Context:
Informant -“I remember my mother did this several times. At the Christmas meal, my mother would set an extra seat and an extra place setting. Now the tradition is in case someone shows up, but I always associated it with the people who weren’t with us. That’s how I like to think of it.”

JK – “The people who aren’t with us. Does that mean people who have died or people who just aren’t there?”

Informant – “Either way. When I say prayers at home now, I always add that I ask god to take care of those who aren’t with us. That means your dead grandparents and those who are away.”

JK – “Did the Christmas tradition lead to this added prayer?”

Informant – “Maybe the thought did. Not consciously. It just seemed to me that our meals couldn’t possible be complete without recognizing the absence of those who couldn’t possibly be there.”

Analysis:
It’s interesting that the informant did not carry the tradition forward, but rather his interpretation of the ritual. While his mother wanted to be prepared for unexpected guests, the informant wanted a reminder of guests that weren’t coming.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Catholic Polish Christmas Tradition: Oblatek

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

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

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

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