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

Reindeer Chow: Martha Stewart’s Fakelore becomes Folklore

Folk Tradition:

I don’t know where my mom got this and it’s pretty vague. But my mom used to make reindeer chow. I totally bought into it when I was a kid. It was basically she would make this, and I would always help my mom with this, but we would make bowls of just oatmeal (dry oatmeal), glitter, and I think rainbow sprinkles? And then we put it outside our front door Christmas eve. This was in addition to milk and cookies for Santa. I would go to bed early and I’d wake up the next morning and it would all be gone. And of course my stupid fucking kid brain would be like, ‘They came to eat it! My parents can’t eat oatmeal and dry glitter they’d die!’ And then I found it on a Martha Stewart website reposted from some Etsy thing it’s everywhere. I don’t know where she found it or if it’s that old.”

Context:

“Christmas time. This definitely started just with our [nuclear] family, but I think she heard about it from other people she’s friends with. Cause people went all out for Christmas where I’m from even though they’re all Jewish. Cause it’s fashionable. My mom is Jewish. We also celebrate Hanukkah but only for the presents…She just wanted us to celebrate Christmas cause she wanted to give us presents. I love that my mom put so much effort to make sure we just really had a special Christmas.” 

Informant Background:

The informant is 21, from Los Angeles. His dad is Catholic and his mother is Jewish. His mother started this tradition in their family and he said he intends to recreate it for his children.

My Analysis:

I think this piece is unique because it is an example of someone from outside the religious community trying to adopt the folk practice of that religion. I grew up Christian and never knew of this practice, so it is my inclination to assume that it started as fakelore probably created by crafting websites to sell more glitter around the holidays. However, since the informant said he found it on multiple websites and portals as an adult, many people around the U.S. at least appear to be practicing this new holiday tradition. This is similar to the “elf on the shelf” concept, which is fakelore turned folklore. Now that a new wave of children have been raised with this custom, they will pass it on to their children. The descent of practice is what makes it genuine tradition, regardless of how it began.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

German Holiday Foods

Abstract:

This piece is about specific German foods, specifically baked goods, that are eaten at Christmas or other special occasions.

Main Piece:

“My maternal grandmother came from Germany, first generation, so her parents came from Germany. So she had a lot of German traditions, but the ones I remember the most about her had to do with baking and very special baked goods and pastries for certain occasions. She made something called a stollen every Christmas morning she would make it fresh and everyone had to have their stollen before they could open their presents. When there were special occasions, like when we had lots of family around she would make lebkuchen and she even had a special pan for it. It was a pastry with fruit on the top and it was amazing. But she always insisted certain pastries for certain occasions.”

Context:

This subject is an adult woman who remembers her grandmother and the traditions from her German heritage she brought to the holidays. The subject has German ancestry that would be highlighted through foods at the Christmas time or when there were large family gatherings. She learned these foods from her grandmother. Though she does not continue the tradition exactly, she makes cinnamon buns that her family must eat before opening presents these days.

Interpretation:

These kinds of foods remind me of baked goods traditions like having cake on your birthday or a wedding cake. The idea that there are certain pastries for certain occasions rings true with those kinds of baked goods as well. I think it is nice that the subject also tries to keep the tradition alive in her own way by making cinnamon buns. This kind of shows the evolution from one kind of cultural food through the change of culture the subject is in. As a person that does not identify as German, the subject makes the tradition “her own” in a way, while still holding on to her heritage.

Customs
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Heiliger Abend

Main piece: In the informant’s family, they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve rather than the normal American practice of opening presents Christmas morning. They call this Heiliger Abend, or Weihnachten, which translates to Holy Night. When a family’s children are young, all gifts from family members were exchanged during Heiliger Abend, while gifts from Santa (mainly gifts to the kids) are opened on Christmas morning. However, if the of the children grow up and therefore move away from the Santa myth, each present gets opened on Christmas Eve. During Heiliger Abend, pierogi and potato salad is served, and whole family gathers together to sing Christmas Carols (both in English and German).

Context: The informant (DB) is a first generation immigrant from Germany; her mother is from Silesia, Germany, and her father is from what was previously known as East Prussia, so she is fluent in both German and English. She was raised Christian but does not consider herself very religious. She grew up in Orlando, Florida, has two kids, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Our conversation took place while eating quesadillas for lunch in our home in Atlanta. DB said that the custom of Heiliger Abend originates from her German roots, but that she adapted the traditions to her modern, American family. DB has kept the tradition alive because, as a child, it took her a long time to realize that celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve was abnormal in the U.S – “it never occured to me that Christmas in the morning would be any fun anyway.” She feels very close to the rest of her family in Germany when she celebrates Heiliger Abend as well as her family in America, as the tradition feels intimate and unique. “As you get older, it isn’t even about the presents anymore – it’s about the experience.”   

Personal thoughts: DB does not perform some key traditional practices commonly associated with Heiliger Abend (i.e. placing a boot outside for Saint Nicholas on December 5th, attending a church service the morning of December 24th, ringing a bell to signal the arrival of presents), which perhaps speaks to the ways in which modernity causes individuals to shave down their traditions to make them more palatable or modern. However, DB has also added a tradition of her own that make her Heiliger Abend unique – Christmas Caroling, which is certainly not a simple or easy tradition to perform. Hence, maybe the informant is simply customizing traditions to her own liking rather than feeling forced to cut certain actions out; modernity can be used and viewed as a tool for evolution, rather than a weapon for deconstructing age-old traditions.

Customs
Game
general
Holidays
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

White Elephant

Main piece: In White Elephant, each family member buys a gift – some are perverted, some are not – and they all go into a random pile. Everyone picks a number that determines what order people pick their gifts in. The person with number one will be the first person to pick a gift, and the next person in line can choose whether to steal that gift or take their chances with a random pick from the pile. If somebody’s gift is stolen, they can choose another gift in the pile or steal from another player. This continues down the line, and everyone besides the first person will get a chance to choose a new gift or steal any previously-picked gifts when their turn comes, until the end.

Context: The informant is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. BN believes that the game originated in the the Southeast, as she originally learned of the game through her mother’s family. She’s always remembered it because they play the game every Christmas without fail, and the outrageous or sometimes provocative gifts are always memorable. BN cites the time her grandmother received a vibrating hairbrush, an innuendo that was laughed at among the adults without fully exposing the younger family members to “adult things” – after all, it is just a hairbrush, and no one is willing to let the impressionable children in on the joke.  

Personal thoughts: Oftentimes, people put extensive money, time and consideration into the gifts they buy their loved ones; modern society has convinced us that monetary value is one of the sole factors of worth. White Elephant forces people out of their narrow mindsets for what constitutes a good gift for someone. Gifts should not always be about giving a valuable or sought-after item, and this simple game teaches individuals how to appreciate a gift they didn’t necessarily want or ask for. It is about presently enjoying your time with your family, laughing at the unexpected moments, and going into a situation free of expectations. Moreover, while innuendo is often used to cloak satire or criticism, BN’s family uses innuendo to poke fun at each other in a lighthearted way, in which everyone bonds by sharing the same embarrassment, a concept reminiscent of practical jokes at weddings.

Customs
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Santa Mouse

Abstract:

This piece is about a holiday legend of Santa Mouse who rides with Santa in his sleigh on Christmas Eve and leaves little presents in the tree if you believe in him.

Main Piece:

So when I was a little girl we had a story my mom use to tell us at Christmas that there was a little mouse that would ride in the sleigh with Santa and he was called Santa Mouse. And Santa Mouse would leave you a little present at the top of the tree if you believed in him. And the way he would find out if you believed in him is if you put a white light at the top of the tree, so when we put all the lights on our tree every year, we had to make sure there was a white light at the top to alert Santa Mouse to leave his presents. On Christmas Eve he would climb up to the tree, with his little mouse body climbing up the tree, to leave presents for us – little tiny presents at the top of the Christmas tree.”

Context:

This subject learned this story as a child from her mother. She is from Buffalo New York and her mother’s side was German and her father’s side was Irish. She remembers this story because it was a tradition she and her family would follow every year. She passed it along to her children and there is even an authored story these days that she reads to her family now as part of the tradition now.

Interpretation:

I think this is a similar tradition to Elf on the Shelf. It seems to have started in a cute way to bring more celebration to the holiday season, though it is not certain when this tradition started. Today, like Elf on the Shelf, it seems to be commercialized with books and other products to be sold along with the tradition. The white light part of the tradition is interesting, because other people who participate in this tradition don’t always do that particular aspect of the story. In other versions, people must leave out crumbs of cookies for Santa Mouse, like leaving out carrots for the reindeer.

Citation for Santa Mouse Book:

Brown, Michael, and Elfrieda DeWitt. Santa Mouse. Sandy Creek, 2008.

Customs
Holidays
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Three Wise Men

Context:

The informant recounts the different religious and cultural stories that he heard while growing up as a child.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

S: Do you have the thing of the three wise men? It’s a Catholic thing.

 

C: No… can you explain it?

 

S: Like you put your shoes out and then the three wise men from Jesus’ birth come and give you gifts

 

C: Oh.. is that it?

 

S: That’s pretty much it. Like parents put money in your shoes obviously instead of the three wise men. It usually happens around Christmas but I forget the exact date.

 

C: Oh so is this something that you or your family did?

 

S: Yeah. Well it’s a catholic thing. Popular in Spanish speaking countries.

 

 

Analysis:

Biblical stories are often told for the lessons they are able to impart on the listener, but also for entertainment. The tale of the Three Wise Men is one such story that encompasses many functions. The three men are figures of great status in society and they all see an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a special king in Israel. This marks the coming of Christ into the world and the spark of Christianity as it exists today. To welcome Jesus’ arrival, they presented him with gifts that hold symbolic meanings in Christianity. Gold was given as something that is associated with kings and the idea that Jesus was to be the King of other kings. The other two are Frankincense, a symbol used to show that people would worship Jesus and
Myrrh, a perfume that showed Christians of Jesus’ eventual suffering and death. The act of giving gifts is still something that we do til this day and it is curious to see if many base their tradition of gift giving to this tale in the Bible.

 

For another version, see: All About the Wise Men

https://www.whychristmas.com/story/wisemen.shtml

Cooper, James. “The Christmas Story – All About The Wise Men.” The History of The Christmas Story — Whychristmas?Com, www.whychristmas.com/story/wisemen.shtml.

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.

 

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