Original Script: “Well…I always knew that I wanted to raise my children Jewish, but I also did not want to take away their heritage of their father from them as well….so every year, we would celebrate the eight days of Hanukah and Christmas. It was funny…I remember when my children would go to synagogue after the winter break and my kids would tell the other kids about how they celebrated both Christmas and Hanukah that year…and you know kids, they always want presents. So they thought Jay and Ab got twice as many presents every year…but oh boy that was far from the case. We would open one gift every night for Hanukah, usually the presidents were items that would go with another Christmas one…as to give a hint what their presents were…If Hanukah fell on Christmas then we would wrap the kids presents in Hanukah wrapping paper and put them under the Christmas tree…then instead of celebrating the last few nights of Hanukah they would just open all the presents…It was really fun. The house was always decorated in Christmas and Hanukah decorations it was awesome of my children. It is funny, when my children were little they would say we are Jewish and Catholic, when I tried to explain to them that that is not possible…that they were Jewish but celebrated catholic traditions, they would continue to say it. Hahaha, they even sometimes still do even if they are older!”
Background Information about the Piece by the informant: While Cheryl is now divorced from her husband is now remarried, her new husband is also Catholic and the tradition of the collision of Christmas and Hanukah still remain the same. Cheryl grew up in a predominately Jewish household in Skokie, Illinois and grew up in 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. However, Cheryl had gotten married to a Catholic man in her late twenties, which enabled her as well as her husband (who she is now divorced to) to raise their children in a home that celebrated both Hanukah and Christmas. Mark, Cheryl’s ex-husband, grew up in a very Catholic household, attending church every Sunday as well as always attending midnight mass for Christmas. However, even though he stopped attending midnight mass when his children were born, he still instilled the catholic traditions of Christmas in the household.
Context of the Performance: Celebrating Christmas and Hanukah together
Thoughts about the piece: This was a very interesting piece of folklore that I had collected, simply because it brought two very prominent traditions—Christmas and Hanukah—together. It is a very modern take on conservative religious holidays in the combining of two completely separate religions. It is almost as if the two children were the mediators—the peacekeepers, if you—of the two traditions. Where the wintertime specifically was when the two holidays collided.
It is also interesting to note that even though Cheryl had stated that the children celebrated both holidays, sometimes at the same time, they were distinguishable from each other. For example, the wrapping up of the specific Hanukah gifts in Hanukah wrapping paper and the decorations around the house being both Christmas and Hanukah. This comparison brings up the question why there were not specific decorations for multiple wintertime holidays instead of the decorations being segregated into one category (i.e. Hanukah and Christmas). However, it is still an interesting notation of the collision of the two holidays, especially when Cheryl stated that if Hanukah fell on Christmas they would just open up all their remaining Hanukah gifts on Christmas and not celebrate the rest of the eight nights of Hanukah. Furthermore, when Cheryl had stated that most of the kids in the synagogue idea of Christmas and Hanukah celebrating together was foreign to them, it made me think why it was so much more common now in days (many of my friends celebrate both Christmas and Hanukah).
I followed up with Cheryl after this question came to mind, I had found that many of her Jewish friends that she grew up with, are now married to Catholic or Christian men who celebrate Christmas, the traditions of that she described in the interview are, in fact, conducted the same way. To me, this seems like a transformation, or even evolutionism, of the separate entities of religion and the separate groups that follow with the specific religion. In this case, this cohabitation of Christmas and Hanukah create another group of people that celebrate both—it is a collision of folk groups into one folk group.
L is a 53-year-old homemaker living in Winnetka, IL. L grew up mainly in the northern suburbs of Illinois, but she also lived in Germany and England for a while when she was younger. L speaks English primarily but she is learning French. L attended both the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin Madison for her undergraduate college education. L considers herself to be American. She does not really identify with her Welsh ancestry.
L: Krampus is from centuries back in Germany.
Me: So who is Krampus?
L: Krampus was an evil elf who would watch children to make sure they were good and if they weren’t goo then they would punish them. It’s like the the line from Santa Claus is Coming to Town: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” Krampus is always watching.
Me: Did you ever tell your kids about Krampus?
L: No, we told them to look out the back window to see the deer and we told them that they were Santa’s reindeer, and that they better be good or Santa would know. They were so well behaved after that. We also used a garden gnome and told them it was an elf.
Me: Wow, that’s manipulative.
L: Well, folkore is a parent’s way to get their children to behave.
Me: Yeah, I can see that.
L: But my friend Kathy told her children about Krampus to make them behave as children. The kids are still obsessed with Krampus. The have Krampus dolls, they have paraphanalia all over the place.
L does not believe in Krampus, nor did she tell her kids about him. She knows the story because she heard it when she lived in Germany for a few years as a child as well as from her friend who did tell the story of Krampus to her children. Instead of Krampus, a scary figure, L used real things like deer and gnomes to convince her kids that reindeer and elves were watching them to make sure they behaved. This worked well because the kids saw the “elves” and “reindeer” with their own eyes and therefore had less doubt that they were real.
Here is a link to the imdb page for the movie that came out last year based on this tale: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3850590/
D is a 57 year old man. He is a practicing cardiologist at a hospital in the northern suburbs of Illinois. He identifies as American as he grew up in Boston, but he strongly associates with his Scottish heritage as well. D completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth University and he attended Cornell University for his degree in medicine. During his studies, both undergraduate and med school, D studied abroad in France two times. While in medical school, D studied at the Faculté de Médecine et de Maïeutique de Lille in Lille, France. English is his primary language, yet he is also fluent in French.
Me: What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?
D: I have a lot of favorite Christmas traditions, but one that I am particularly fond of that has been passed down from my mother are her Christmas morning Christmas buns.
Me: What are Christmas buns?
D: Christmas buns are made from pillsbury crescent roll dough slathered in melted butter, and lots of cinnamon and sugar, wrapped around a marshmallow and baked. The whole family pitches in to make them and while they are baking we listen to Christmas music and drink Irish coffees and hot chocolate. No one is allowed to open their presents until the Christmas buns are ready to be served.
Me: When did this tradition start?
D: In the 1960’s.
Me: Why did it start?
D: Because it sounded delicious. And it is delicious.
Me: And you guys have been making them every year since then.
Though he likely has many different holiday family traditions, D chose Christmas buns as his favorite. The familial attachment to the tradition seems to mean a lot to him. The fact that the recipe is from his childhood and his mother used to make it every Christmas makes it more important for him to keep the tradition going. His family now all participates in making the Christmas buns before opening their presents every Christmas and not only are they tasty, but the act of making them is fun as well. The joy of Christmas is spending time with family and enjoying ones company, and by making these Christmas buns every Christmas morning, they start the day off right.
Collector: Do you have any holiday traditions?
Informant: Um… let me think first. Okay, I guess for Christmas, uh, my entire family gets together the night before on Christmas Eve, and we have a dinner party, and then we just stay up until midnight, when the, when it becomes Christmas Day. And then we all just go around the room and hug each other and say Merry Christmas. So then, everyone goes home to their own homes, and the next morning, my parents, my brother, and I have breakfast in our pajamas and then we open Christmas presents, while watching A Christmas Story.
My informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. She is studying psychology. She is from Orange County, California.
This is an interesting family tradition because I think it’s very common to do this with families. My family does this type of thing as well where we gather for Christmas Eve and then the smaller family gets together Christmas Day to open presents.
Original Script: “Okay…so…you know how traditional Americans have ham or even turkey for Christmas? My family does Fish. We get a ton of it. Shell fish, Salmon, trout, everything….We have always done it that way. The first time your mother, Cheryl, came over for Christmas…she thought we were nuts! But after she had the smoked salmon…damn…your mother’s face was like, ‘oh I need to get more of this.’ But, I do understand why some people think it is strange….when I went to school and we all talked about what we did over the holiday’s, I always talked about the fish dinner we had, and kids thought it was strange…but not to my family. Everyone helps out…I make the shrimp cocktail, my sister makes the smoked salmon, my mother cooks the lobster and crab…my brother brings some trout…hell…even your mother participates and she brings the shrimp scampi…that stuff is good. Oh…and we can’t for get the good ol’ wine. I drank that stuff when I was a kid every Christmas…and I will drink it to the day I die..haha.”
Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Chuck Lanzer grew up in up-state New York and currently resides in the tri-state of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York with his wife, Cheryl Lanzer. Chuck grew up in a predominantly Italian Catholic home. Every year, the family—about 20 people or so—gets together to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. Chuck says that this tradition has continued throughout his family for generations, even his great-great grandmother had participated in it. It is something he has always grown up with, and the wine, he presumes, is from his Italian heritage. The family even has a wine cellar on their ground floor.
Context of the Performance: Christmas Dinner with the Lanzer family in Upstate New York (Newburgh, New York).
Thoughts about the piece: After interviewing Charles Lanzer II, I found this tradition to be quiet interesting and did some extended research on the topic. I had question Chuck’s mother, Carol Ann, about the tradition. She had told me that Chuck’s father’s, Charles Lanzer’s, family had come from a town in Italy that was famous for its fish. This town was called “Genoa.” (For more information about Genoa, see an article by Peter Davison published in the 1999 issue of the The Atlantic Monthly titled “Italy’s Greatest Seaport).
Here, fish was something often eaten in by the locals, after all it was, and is, one of the most notable seaports in Italy. Furthermore, Carol Ann mentioned that after immigrating to upstate New York, the family had missed their Italian town and wanted to keep some of their heritage with them. After reading this, it makes sense that Chuck’s family use fish during Christmas. It is something that holds ties to their past—to their heritage. In this case, it is particularly interesting that heritage and tradition collide. Wanting to instill their Italian heritage in their new, American life, the family had used a tradition to do it—a mode of activity to reflect their past of their ancestors in which they utilize fish. Additionally, the family also drinks wine, in which Chuck had mentioned that he drank it when he was a child. Even though not common in the Unites States—even having a law that a person may not drink until they are twenty-one—Chuck’s family still gave the children wine, because that was a common Italian tradition to do.
It is also interesting to note that the family has a kinship system in which my mother, Cheryl Lanzer, cooks in order to gain entry into the family; in order to gain acceptance from the group, Cheryl performs a ritual in making Shrimp Scampi. It is an initiation in order to gain access and recognition from the group as one of their own. This tradition is also related to aesthetics of folklore; the reason why Chuck and his family use fish in their Christmas dinner is related to their identity as Italian folk. Furthermore, while Cheryl can never be invited into their heritage, she is invited into their tradition.
Additionally, while Chuck and his family do have an emic view of why they use fish during Christmas dinner compared to those of an etic view (like Chuck’s old classmates), it is a way Chuck and his family create a link to the past and their original heritage. While Chuck and his siblings might not of necessarily known why they used fish for Christmas dinner instead of the traditional ham, they did participate in the tradition every year, which is a prominent trait of folkloric traditions. In which Chuck, his siblings, even his father and grandparents, are not necessarily from Genoa, Italy, but do perform traditions that represent their past heritage from Genoa, Italy.
1 Davison, Peter. “Italy’s Greatest Seaport.” The Atlantic 1st ser. 284.1999 (1999): 32-37. Rpt. in The Atlantic Monthly. Vol. 284. N.p.: n.p., 1999. 32-37. Ser. 1. The Atlantic. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
“Ok so the Rangerette Christmas tradition of the White Elephant was when every single member came with a silly gift, and we put them all in the middle, and one by one, we grabbed a gift, opened it up, and if you didn’t like the gift that you got, then you could like switch with somebody. It was pretty fun. So there was this picture that has been going around for I’d say about six years, six plus years. And it’s a very hideous picture of this one girl that was on the team and it was framed and she was the captain of the team and so you are pretty unlucky if you get that picture and the next year you bring it back so that way it stays in the circle, the rotation.”
Informant: The informant is a nineteen-year-old college freshman from Dallas, Texas. While in high school, she was a member of the Jesuit Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team. She attended the all-girls Catholic high-school, Ursuline Academy of Dallas, the sister school of Jesuit Dallas (an all-boys Catholic school). She began dancing when she was three, performing ballet, jazz, and lyrical styles of dance, which eventually led her to the high-school drill team. She currently attends Oklahoma State University.
The Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team is an extracurricular activity unique to Texas and a few other southern states. The team performs at the half-time of football games on Friday nights, as well as at basketball, soccer, and rugby games. They wear leotards with fringe skirts, fringe and sequin overlays, gauntlets, a belt, white cowgirl boots, and sequined cow-boy hats. The season does not end with football season; rather, the team continues to perform at Jesuit events and participates in two dance competitions in the spring. Because this team is a year-long commitment, there are many extenuating traditions that serve to unify and “bond” the members of the team, in order to foster a spirit of sisterhood.
Because of its association with Catholic schools, the team celebrates the Catholic holidays. Therefore, they have embraced the White Elephant, a game that is practiced at many Christmas gatherings in the US, and embedded it with their own tradition. Sitting in a circle with everyone on the team is a significant bonding factor, as no one is left out of the festivities. The picture of the captain may be unique because there are several stories surrounding the girl in the picture about how disliked she was because of her harsh manner of running the team.
The picture itself makes the captain look like a mix-between a clown and the Joker, which I believe represents the distaste the team had for this specific captain. I think this is an exhibition of the dynamics of a team. There may be one girl who is in charge, and she may be very talented in her own right, thereby expecting more from the team. This expectation may be exemplified by her harsh policies, therefore breeding contempt amongst the team. When the team does not like their captain, they are likely to come up with something like this picture as a way of bringing her back down to their level.
In addition, the captain is always a senior, but the other seniors on the team may not like taking orders or instruction from a girl who is their age. If this picture was first brought about by the seniors, then it would once again exhibit the desire to belittle the captain in order that she might remember that she is no better than the rest of the seniors, despite her rank.
The tradition of passing this picture around as giving someone bad luck is what I believe to be symbolic of the fragile threads of kinship that hold a team together. What may unite the team could be their dislike of the captain, and by randomizing who is going to receive the picture, and therefore “bad luck,” there is a reinforcement of the equality amongst team members. It is also something for all of the team members to look forward to as they wonder who is going to receive the picture the next year.
So the German tradition of krampus, ah, was brought to Sweden some times during the Dark Ages…and back then, this was before like, Santa Claus came around. And he was only like Saint Nick, or a similar…like before he was actually Santa Claus he was like this Saint guy, right, that was giving gifts away. And the Christmas bok, Julbocken, would accompany him and if you hadn’t been a good child, he would put you in his sack, that he brought with him, and beat you. Uh, and if you’d been really bad he would put you in his sack and take you away. From your family. And how this was celebrated was basically, young University students, would go around to houses, carol singing. Wearing all these, the outfit of the bok – it’s a Swedish word. It’s basically like a goat head with horns. And they were mischievous. So it’s like a mixture of trick-or-treating and carol-singing, into one. And this would be used to threaten children to behave. And that lived for like, forever. Long time.
Is it still going on?
No. Because it’s sort of…that tradition of going around, sort of died off when Santa Claus came around. Basically Santa Claus was different, in Sweden, until Coca-Cola came to Sweden. And then all of a sudden Santa Claus was red. Before that he wasn’t. And Santa Claus…I’ll get back to that thought. The Christmas bok is now, under the Christmas tree you have one out of…what is the uh, horses eat?
Hay. Yeah, out of hay, it’s like a figurine made out of hay, that you put under your Christmas tree, as a like a, oh he’s already been here. Because they would leave that, after the visit.
Oh, he would leave a little figurine?
The University students?
Yeah. And usually they got served alcohol, you know, that’s why they were going around. And if you didn’t, then you know, they would do something mischievous.
And the first Santa Clauses weren’t actually Santa Clauses as the way we think of it, basically they were gnomes that cared for the farmhouse. They cared for the whole plot of land where they lived. So they lived under the houses, and they would take care of that. And that was sort of like their gift to, to the people inside. And every year you would have to put out a bowl of oatmeal, outside. Almost like cookies and milk, but a poor version, and outside. So they would continue taking care of the farm. Most of the Swedish stuff has to do with nature. So the gnomes, they were friendly, taking care, making sure that plants grew, all that stuff. And they would come together, for a time period before Santa Claus became Coca-Cola-ized, the Christmas bok and Santa Claus would come together, and Santa Claus would give the good children gifts, and the bok would give them beatings. So they both have sacks – one is empty and one is full of gifts! Cause if you’ve been bad…you end up in the sack and get beaten.
So there was one Santa Claus? Or every house had their own?
No every house had their own, yeah. Houses weren’t close to each other, cause we didn’t have cities obviously, so it was more like a big farm. And each farm had their own, so each little village had several. Yeah. So each plot of land that you owned had their own little gnome taking care of it.
There’s a lot of mythology used to keep children at bay. For instance, in the wintertime, if you go outside the wolf’s gonna eat you.
Did your mom ever tell you that?
Uh, not me. But her generation. Because when I grew up, we were modernized in cities. So I’m too young to have that sort of thing. But if you go back, like at the turn of the century, that was definitely going around. Like that was the way to keep children in. So you had: don’t go into the forest at wintertime, cause the wolf will catch you and eat you; don’t go out in the summertime cause the trolls will take you…and they would trade you for a troll kid. So basically if your kid was misbehaving, it was thought that your actual kid had been taken by trolls, and they had left a troll kid. If you went down to the lake or the spring, the Naked Man would take you.
Naked Man? What’s that?
Naked Man…he plays his violin. Beautifully. So beautifully that you cant withstand it, so you have to walk closer and closer and closer, and once you’re close enough he’ll grab you and pull you into the stream and you’ll drown and die. He’s a naked man, yeah. And his name is, like…Naked Man. Näcken. That’s his name. So that’s sort of like the Elements protection.
The above traditions and folk beliefs function not only as lower mythology, for example every household having it’s own spirit or small deity looking after the house and harvest, but also as a way to make children behave and stay out of harm’s way. The rituals and practices of the University students going around to the houses, as well as the figurine, reinforces the threat of the Christmas bok. In addition, the participation of the University students allows them to be involved after their belief in such stories and characters has passed, and they in turn get to have their fun and mischief and alcohol, a part of the transition between being a child who believes these stories but before they have children of their own. As the informant pointed out, these traditions are fading out, mainly because of the urbanization of Sweden – families no longer have their own large plot of land, and instead people live in cities.
I caught my friend watching her family videos on YouTube so I asked her what was going on, and she explained to me some of her family traditions.
Informant: “Every Christmas eve, everybody gets a stuffed animal in my family and we put on Dolly Parton and Kenny Loggins Christmas CD. And play it around the house. And you select a leader so the leader is doing a dance move, and everybody copies.”
Collector: “Can you tell me more about these artists? Is there a reason why…”
Informant: “Cause ‘I believe in Santa Claus’ is the best Christmas song ever.”
Collector: “Does she sing the best version, or the most popular version? Or why that one specifically, because I’m sure there’s many versions of that song.”
Informant: “Its catchy. Everybody loves Dolly Parton. I don’ know, my mom likes country music, so…”
Collector: “Is this just your family, or do other families in Ukiah…”
Informant: “I think it’s just my family. We have so many stuffed animals. Like, everyone. I think I probably, when I was growing up I probably had like 20 stuffed animals. Maybe people just gave me stuffed animals for like, every holiday”
Collector: “Do you know why?”
Informant: “I don’t know why. It’s probably like an easy gift. When I was a baby. That’s probably why.”
Collector: “So this family tradition… when did it start? Did it start with your parents?”
Informant: “That’s a good question… it started with my parents’ generation for sure… but also, my parents’ parents, my grandma like, had this space where there was a fireplace in the center of the room, and they lived without electricity, so they’d always play the record and dance around… and then like, having no access to like, electronics or whatever… like, their popular culture was record players… or records, not record players.”
What the informant mentions at the end about records is particularly interesting because it points to a cultural shift in the way that family members interact with each other. This Holiday tradition started with my friends’ family at a time with a lot less technology than we have now, and they have maintained their family tradition of doing the Teddy Bear Dance, even though technologically they could engage in other more “modern” forms of entertainment. Although instead of using a record player they probably use a CD player or some sort of speaker system that hooks up to a digital music player, the spirit of the dance is probably kept largely the same. Family traditions like this are fairly common, and can vary widely depending on the family.
While talking about family traditions, my friend started talking about a peculiar custom her family does for Christmas.
Informant: “The angry elf comes on Christmas Eve and, um, he like, he’ll hit you with a soft present. It’s usually pajamas wrapped in newspaper, and like it’ll be when you’re not looking, you’ll get hit behind the head and… one time my cousin Lucas like he saw the elf and he jumped out the window to go find the elf. He like, dive rolled out the window. He opened the window to go catch the elf. He never caught the elf.”
Collector: “But like, obviously someone…”
Informant: “Yeah, as I grew up I figured it was my mom, and my brothers. And we still do it like, well, the elf came! And like, I’ll do it to my parents now. Its fun”
Collector: “Where does your mom come from? Like, does she throw it through the window?”
Informant: “No, she wasn’t actually outside the window but like when my cousin chased after the elf, he was like putting on a whole show, like ‘I think he ran outside the window!’”
“Oh, I see”
Informant: “It was intense”
Collector: “Is this something that just happens within your family, or have you heard of anyone else doing this?”
Informant: “I’ve never heard of anyone else doing this”
Collector: “Do you know how it started?”
Informant: “I don’t. Probably when the three kids were there. It was me and my two brothers. It was all like, all my house. Like everyone just put on this big show. Probably the idea of elves came from the Waldorf School that they went to, because you leave your shoes out, and then on Christmas eve the elves fill your shoes with candy. I think that’s a German tradition.”
Collector: “And you’ve done this ever since you can remember? This angry elf thing?”
It’s interesting to see that different families have different Christmas gift-giving traditions. Some have Santa Claus, others elves, and others have both. It’s also interesting to see how families continue traditions of magical gift-giving beings long after their kids have grown up and no longer seriously believe in these beings, in order to continue a family tradition.
The informant is an 18-year old college freshman at USC majoring in environmental studies and geology. She is of Irish and English descent, and when she is not at USC lives in Las Vegas with her parents and two siblings. I asked her about what her family does to celebrate Christmas. She said although her family is “not very religious,” they do have a Christmas ritual they do each year.
Informant: “I can tell you what I do for Christmas, I guess. So, we always, in the morning…Well, the night before we have to make a casserole. I know it sounds disgusting.
Interviewer: “What’s in the casserole?”
Informant: “I can ask my mom for the recipe.” [Recipe provided beneath interview.]
Interviewer: “Did she learn it from anyone, or was it a recipe from a book?”
Informant: “Both my parents learned it from their parents. We have to make the casserole the night before. And so then in the morning, we’ll wake up…so all the kids have to stay upstairs and we have this landing you can look over, but we aren’t allowed to look over it or go downstairs until my dad has his video camera and then he records us all coming down the stairs together. We go in a circle after our presents are sorted and one person opens and then the next, etc. We go through the whole thing until everyone is done, and one of my parents will put the egg casserole in. Once it’s ready, we eat that, and we just go and play with our presents. It’s so good, it’s like breakfast food, called egg casserole. It’s so good.”
2 pieces of bread (need to rip apart in small bite sized pieces)
1 pound of hot sausage
1 cup of mile
2 pinches of salt
2 pinches of pepper
Dry mustard (No exact amount, but around the same amount as the salt and pepper)
Brown the sausage. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
Place in baking dish over night.
Next morning—preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook for 45 minutes. It might need an extra 15 mins. Closer to one hour.”
My informant told me that it was a casserole passed down to her mom, as opposed to some other treat, because in Ireland—where her family is from (my informant described herself as “very Irish”)—they were very poor and as there was a lack of food, casseroles were something that could be thrown together using whatever they had. I thought it was super interesting that my informant perked up when she talked about he casserole and said multiple times how good it was. Food is fuel, but it is much more to people. There are emotional connections to food—memories of specific times or holidays or family members associated with certain foods—and that is passed down through families from one generation to the next is one example of this importance.