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

African Christmas Festival

Main piece:

On African christmas festival, the kids sing african songs such as “christmas in africa” song. The song is about family gathering in Christmas and slaughtering a cow and chimombe (means cow). Whenever there’s a festival, there’s a slaughtering. All of that was in the informant’s school. She said that maybe in rural places they might still be against white people and avoid white tradition. However, she is from the part of Africa that is urban and the capital city.

On that day, they eat Christmas cookies and cake but if they want a more traditional food they eat sadza or fried worms, which some people like and some don’t.

She recalls performing a play. In the play, she married a guy. Since it’s christmas they’re coming back to their hometown and the family celebrates their return. They’re so excited that their son is bringing wife. In a Zimbabwe wedding, the whole family gathers and in a book it says they are supposed to hide in a rock and come out.

Yulule is the sound that comes up from stomach that the natives make. Even though the informant is not a native, she just copies them. The sound means that you’re happy.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Informant knows about this festival because she participated in it when she lived as a foreigner in Zimbabwe. She was the main character (wife) in the play.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It happens during Christmas. This particular event was at an elementary school.

Personal Analysis:

This festival seems very different from the American traditional Christmas festivities. I don’t think anything is similar except christmas cookies. Americans sing songs too, but I’ve never heard of a “Christmas in Africa” song before. As a non-native in Africa, the informant has a more objective view on this festival because it was new to her at one point too.

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

An Indian Christmas

Informant SM is a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He is 20 years old and originally from India. He is very passionate about philanthropy, specifically helping poorer parts of India and aspires to one day become a doctor.

The informant tells me(AK) about how his Indian family celebrates Christmas and the winter time as a whole. He is very happy to share this and it seems as though talking about the Christmas time reminds him of very fond memories.

SM: I don’t celebrate Christmas in the traditional religious manner. It’s all about the gift exchange and just spending time with family for us.

AK: Do you have you any other traditions that are related to Christmas?

SM: We always put out stockings and because we have a younger cousin, we always put out milk and cookies to kind of show the fact that Santa may be real.

AK: Do you think the way you celebrate Christmas is very similar to the way other Indian people celebrate it?

SM: To some extent yes, but I know of a lot of Indian families that don’t even exchange gifts. Of course there are some Christian Indian families who definitely celebrate Christmas much more religiously than we do. But I think Christmas is just all about spending time with family and being around family. Everyone has Christmas off, so no matter how you celebrate, it’s the time of year where you can just be around family. I think that’s the biggest thing about Christmas, and everyone regardless of how they celebrate can take solace in the fact that they can be around their family. This is really important to me also because now that I’m in college, I’m not able to see my family as much as I used to.

AK: Yeah, I totally agree. Thanks for sharing with me man.

I found the informant’s experience with Christmas to be very similar to my own. Although my family does not always explicitly exchange gifts or put up stockings, we always celebrate the festivities together. For example, we have gone on day trips together to nearby beaches or unexplored cities. Other times we simply spend time together during the day, then watch a movie we all have not seen at night. I will say that as a child, my family definitely celebrated Christmas more traditionally. We would purchase a tree and put gifts under the tree.

general

Krampus

“Krampus is essentially an Austrian antithesis to Santa. Whereas Santa visits the good kids and gives them gifts, Krampus is said to visit the bad ones and give them coal or take them away. What’s really interesting about this is that many Austrian parents will dress up as Krampus on Christmas, and then actually snatch up their own children or the children of neighbors at night to scare them into being good. It’s kind of terrifying from our perspective, but it’s apparently completely normal in Austria.”

 

This was collected from my friend here at USC, and although she isn’t Austrian herself, her best friend throughout her childhood was fully Austrian. She spent a lot of time with the girl’s Austrian family, especially around holidays, so she is actually pretty familiar with their customs. To her, Krampus isn’t exactly scary, and she kind of has a soft spot in her heart for him, just because it reminds her of her friend’s family. I kind of like the idea of Krampus, just because it’s something so different than what we are used to in America; I don’t think running around pretending to kidnap kids at night would ever fly in the U.S.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Mexican Christmas

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).

K- “For Christmas every year my family makes tamales and posole. My mom’s side makes tamales and my dad’s side usually makes posole. We celebrate it Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Depending on the family since we interchange every year. One day we have posole and the other we have tamales. When it comes to opening the gifts, we always wait until 12 midnight. We basically start on Christmas Eve and end at midnight. If we have little kids, we let them open their presents up at 10. And that’s it, only the little kids. Everybody else has to wait until 12.”

What is a tamale and posole?

K-“Ok a tamale is like maza (corn dough) with meat inside, or it can be cheese and chile, or sweet with pineapple or strawberry. Posole is like a soup with grano (white hominy) and we make ours red because there is usually red, white, and green. We always do ours red. You can put cabbage and onions and chile if you want, lemon, or radish.

How long, that you are aware of, has this tradition been going?

K-“Since I was born. Before I was born. “

Analysis- This Christmas tradition gives some background into the way the informant’s culture functions. They are a culture centered around family that likes to maintain its traditions. They like to include everyone by switching families every year. Even though the family is no longer in Mexico, they continue to have the traditions that they grew up, which will be later adopted by their children. They also belong to a culture that likes to celebrate and enjoy every moment together. It is very good that everyone is part of the tradition, even the small children.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Boxing Day

Main Piece: “The day after Christmas is Boxing Day. And…uh…it used to be that the people who had more would, on this day, give some of the food that was left over from Christmas to the poor, so some of the food would be boxed up and taken to places where poor people either lived or went for food. The original purpose of this day was not fulfilled when I was a child. It was probably that way 100 years before I was born. It was a holiday in England where people would get together and have another lunch with other relatives or friends. So usually on Christmas day, one would have…um…lunch with your immediate family and you’d open presents. On Boxing Day, you’d usually go to another relative’s or the relatives would come to you. So two big meals- one on Christmas Day and one on Boxing Day.”

Background: The informant believes that because Boxing Day became a national holiday, people forgot about it’s original purpose. Instead, people like to celebrate because no one has to work on Boxing Day. He says it became insulting to take food to the poor on Boxing Day and there were no longer places to take the food, anyways. The informant’s family would celebrate Boxing Day with relatives and friends. The informant enjoyed “the company, another nice meal, and the spirit of Christmas because the decorations stayed up.” Boxing Day was celebrated with a late lunch of the Christmas Day leftovers and afterwards, he was able to play with the presents he’d received on Christmas.

Performance Context: We spoke over the phone.

My Thoughts: Perhaps since England has become a much wealthier country, its holidays have become financial sources of marketed celebrations. Instead of the original charitable intention of Boxing Day, it is now a reason to use Christmas leftovers for another celebration. I find it interesting that it is actually taboo now to share leftovers with a less fortunate community. Similar to the ways Appurdai explains an Indian interpretation of leftovers as forbidden, England has adopted a culture of impoliteness surrounding leftovers. I remember my own interpretation of Boxing Day as another gift box(!) as it was celebrated in my home. Boxing Day traditions remain as a continued celebration with family and friends, engaging in shared meals and gift exchanges.

Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Annual Christmas Dinner

Main Piece: “At the end of the Christmas term in December in school…um…everyone would have to sing in the choir. So a big choir was assembled and everyone had to sing in it in a carol service…so we’d sing a lot of carols. And then afterwards, we would have a nice dinner which was probably the only nice dinner we’d have that term. And then we would each be given a Christmas pudding to take home to our families.”

Background: The informant says the tradition went on about 100 years before he attended boarding school (in England) and continued until the school no longer existed. He says he enjoyed singing the carols because this was the time everyone began to feel Christmas had arrived, even though it was still a week before Christmas. The informant says, “everyone loved the frivolity and the presents they’d get on Christmas.” He remembers that the dinner was infinitely better than the typical dinner, but would fall short of a nice Christmas dinner today. The meal included meat, potatoes, and vegetables. The dinner was noteworthy to the informant because it was the best dinner all term and he enjoyed everyone’s company before they left for winter break.

Performance Context: We spoke over the phone.

My Thoughts: Because the informant was not fond of the typical boarding school dinner, the Christmas dinner was especially exceptional. The tradition was rooted in routine: singing in the choir followed by a dinner that remained the same meat, potatoes, and vegetables, and sending each boy home with a Christmas pudding. It is remarkable that this tradition persisted as long as it did. The informant recalls his anticipation of this annual dinner as it was much more luxurious than what he was used to. The  dinner (singing carols, eating a nice meal, enjoying company) brings to mind a classic retail image of Christmas.

Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gross Norwegian Food

“So we have this little tradition in Norway where we eat lye fish. Do you know lye? Do you know what lye is? So lye is a liquid obtained by leeching ashes or strong alkali. So you literally put a fish in ash and you let it rot. Then you leave it in the ash or lye until it becomes so fermented that all that’s left is the part of the fish that doesn’t serve any function, the jello that’s only there to make sure that the rest of the body stays where it should be. And that’s what you eat. Once a year. For Christmas, primarily. And you eat it with so many things on the side that you disguise the taste of the fish. So like, the whole point is you use as many small dishes as you can. You can’t just eat the fish because the fish tastes horrible. And we all agree that it tastes terrible, but we all keep eating it because it’s tradition. It comes from Lofoten. It comes from way up north. It comes from a way of preservation. So it was back in the day when we didn’t have refrigerators or anything like that. They could put the fish on lye. And then that would… You know, it rots, but you can still eat it. It’s like, yeah, it works. It’s called lutefisk.”

 

Lutefisk sounds like an absolutely awful dish. It seems the source felt that way about it anyway. He recalls eating it every Christmas ever since he was little. No one enjoys it, his family merely does it out of tradition. The tradition, like he said, stems from old times when fish couldn’t be preserved in refrigerators and whatnot. So instead, people would preserve fish by keeping it in ash.

It sounds like this dish wasn’t invented intentionally. Ash was probably used to preserve other things, and they had no idea the effect it would have on fish. They probably preserved the fish in ash or lye for a couple of days, came back, and seen a whole different product than they were expecting. I’m surprised it’s still around though, considering the method of making it and what it actually is. Must be a very strong tradition for people to still be eating it today.

People probably hated it back then, too, but like the source said, with enough side dishes, the fish could be forgotten. It probably allowed ancient Norwegian peoples to still take in some kind of protein during the heavy winter months, along with whatever nutrients they got from the harvest.

 

For more on this recipe:

Legwold, Gary. The Last Word on Lutefisk: True Tales of Cod and Tradition. Minneapolis: Conrad Henry, 1996. Print.

Holidays

The Baby Jesus gave me my presents

Background

The informant spent the early years of her life in Venezuela, but her family moved to the United States when she was 9 years old. She only remembers some of her life in Venezuela.

Context

The informant shared this story while having a lunch break during a leadership retreat. People were discussing when and how they discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real and she laughed and explained that at the age we were finding out that Santa wasn’t real, she was just learning that the idea of Santa even existed.

Text

[I was unable to get a direct transcription of what was said]

The informant said that she had never heard of Santa Claus until she got older when talking to other American children. Instead, on Christmas, her parents told her that her presents were given to her by the Baby Jesus himself (Niño Jesús). She would have to place her shoes in front of the nativity scene, and the next morning her presents would be on top of them.

Thoughts

The informant talked about this tradition as if it was humorous because of how different it is from American tradition, but in a way that celebrated that difference rather than making fun of it. It seemed like she is able to use her Venezuelan Christmas traditions as a way differentiate herself from her purely American peers and connect herself with her Venezuelan upbringing, even though she seems very much American now, having spent over half of her life in the U.S.

Customs
Holidays
Myths
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Posadas

“From the 15th of December to Christmas Eve, we have posadas. We re-enact the journey of Joseph and Mary to find a place to stay.”

 

The source says that his local church would hold the posadas every year. The re-enactments would take place twice a day, one performance in the morning and one in the evening. It sounds similar to the Stations of the Cross and the re-enactment of the Nativity scene. It’s all about getting into the “true spirit of Christmas,” which for the source and other church-goers was always about accepting Jesus into one’s life and being more like Jesus. It’s strange, though, because the posadas don’t feature Jesus. So maybe this tradition is more about family in general and how everyone journeys to one home on Christmas Eve to come together and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The fact that it ends on Christmas Eve is also significant. While the most obvious reason is because Joseph and Mary “found lodging” by December 24th, the less clear reason is because of the value Latin Americans place in Christmas Eve. For other cultures, Christmas Day is the most important day. That’s when everyone gathers with their family for food and games and whatnot. But Latin Americans host what’s called Noche Buena or “The Good Night” which takes place on Christmas Eve. What most other cultures do on Christmas Day, Latin Americans do on Christmas Eve. Why? Who knows! I asked the source what he thought about this, and he said it’s because Christmas Day is for you to spend only with your immediate family rather than every cousin and great aunt and uncle.

Customs
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

No Such Thing As Too Many Parties

Original Text: “En el día de los Reyes Magos, se pone un bebé en la Rosca de Reyes. El que corta el pedazo con el bebé tiene que hacer una fiesta con tamales el día de la Candelaria el 2 de febrero.”

Transliteration: “On the day of the Kings Magicians, you put a baby in the Thread of Kings. He who cuts the piece with the baby has to make a party with tamales the day of the Candelaria on 2nd of February.”

Translation: “On the day of the Three Kings, you put a baby in the Thread of Kings. The person who cuts the piece with the baby has to host a party with tamales on the day of the Candelaria on February 2nd.”

 

This is a Mexican tradition, similar to that of New Orleans’ King Cake. You bake a baby doll (not an actual baby, of course) into a cake known as the Rosca de Reyes or “Thread of Kings” as it translates into English. The person who gets that piece is then in charge of hosting the celebration for the Feast of Candelaria. The Feast of Candelaria celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary in Tenerife, Canary Islands. The source fondly remembers celebrating both Three Kings Day and the Feast of Candelaria when he was younger. Much like Christmas, it brought the family together.

Both of the holidays involved in this tradition speak to Mexico’s roots in Christianity. The Feast of Candelaria, however, is made uniquely Mexican in this tradition because of the making and sharing of tamales, a food native to the country. While other Latin American countries do make tamales, none of them celebrate the Feast of Candelaria like Mexicans do. I also find that this speaks to Mexicans’ fondness of celebrations. This tradition guarantees that someone else is going to throw a party in the next few weeks. That’s three big celebrations in a row: Christmas, Three Kings Day, and the Feast of Candelaria.

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