USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘christmas customs’
Customs
Holidays

Czechoslovakian Christmas Chimney

The following Czechoslovakian Christmas tradition was performed in the USC Village on April 12th, 2019. Every Christmas eve, while the informant’s family eats dinner “there’s like this little wooden box that’s open at the top and decorated to look like a chimney, and we call it ‘the chimney.'”  Everyone has a ribbon with their name on it and “you pull your little gift out of the open chimney and it’s your first Christmas present of the year.” Gifts include items like notebooks, pencils, and “little treats to get excited for Christmas”. 

The chimney came from their Czechoslovakian neighbors (the Kysela family) who are “our best family friends and that started with their great grandma. They had done the chimney forever, was always a tradition of theirs and because we’re so close they made us a chimney.” This Christmas tradition combines the tradition of opening one gift the night before and the lore of Santa coming down from the chimney.

Customs
Holidays
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Posada

Context:

The informant is a 31-year-old Mexican American woman who will be called SA. SA knows of this folklore piece because she participates in it every year with her family. The Main Piece of folklore is told through her own words.

Main Piece:

On Christmas Eve, my family will get together and split into two groups for Posada. Each person in the group has a candle in hand with a protector from falling wax. One group will stand outside the front door of the house, and the other group stands inside the house right behind the front door. The group outside begins to sing the first verse of the song, followed by the group inside that sings the following verse. This pattern continues throughout the entire song, until the end when everyone celebrates that Joseph and Mary have found shelter, and the group outside comes into the house.

Background:

The informant knows of this folklore because she takes part in it every year on Christmas Eve. This was something passed down from elder to elder in the family. It is a part of her religious beliefs as a Catholic. It is a very important part of their culture and their family as it is a tradition that brings the family together.

Notes:

Posada is a Christmas Mexican tradition that revolves around the Catholic religion in which a reenactment is held with family and friends. The reenactment is of the pilgrimage to Bethlehem by Joseph and Mary in search of shelter on Christmas Eve. The reenactment may be different depending on the family and their own traditions. The song that is sung, is often sung in Spanish. The Lyrics are as follows:

En el nombre del cielo, os pido posada, pues no puede andar, mi esposa amada.

Aquí no es meson, sigan adelante, yo no puedo abrir, no sea algún tunante.

No seas inhumano, tenos caridad, que el Dios de los cielos, te lo premiará.

Ya se pueden ir, y no molestar, porque si me enfado, los voy a apalear.

Venimos rendidos, desde Nazaret, yo soy carpintero, de nombre José.

No me importa el nombre, déjenme dormir, pues ya les digo, que no hemos de abrir.

Posada te pide, amado casero, por sólo una noche, la Reina del Cielo.

Pues si es una Reina, quien lo solicita, ¿Cómo es que de noche, anda tan solita?

Mi esposa es María. es Reina del Cielo, y madre va a ser, del Divino Verbo.

¿Eres tu José? ¿Tu esposa es María? Entren, peregrinos, no los conocía.

Dios pague señores, vuestra caridad, y que os colme el cielo, de felicidad.

Dichosa la casa, que abriga este día, a la Virgen Pura, la hermosa María.

Everyone enters:

Entren santos peregrinos, peregrinos, reciban este rincón, no de esta pobre morada, sino de mi corazón.

Esta noche es de alegría, de gusto y de regocijo, porque hospedaremos aquí, a la Madre de Dios Hijo.

 

English Translation:

Pray give us lodging, dear sir, in the name of heaven. All day since morning to travel we’ve given. Mary, my wife, is expecting a child. She must have shelter tonight. Let us in, let us in!

You cannot stop here, I won’t make my house an inn. I do not trust you, your story is thin. You two might rob me and then run away. Find somewhere else you can stay. Go away, go away!

Please show us pity, your heart cannot be so hard. Look at poor Mary, so worn and so tired. We are most poor, but I’ll pay what I can. God will reward you, good man. Let us in, let us in!

You try my patience. I’m tired and must get some rest. I’ve told you nicely, but still you insist. If you don’t go and stop bothering me, I’ll fix you, I guarantee. Go away, go away!

Sir, I must tell you my wife is the queen of heaven, chosen by God to deliver his Son. Jesus is coming to earth on this eve. (Oh heaven, make him believe!) Let us in, let us in!

Joseph, dear Joseph, oh how could I be so blind? Not to know you and the virgin so fine! Enter, blest pilgrims, my house is your own. Praise be to God on his throne! Please come in, please come in!

Everyone enters:

Enter, enter, holy pilgrims, holy pilgrims. Welcome to my humble home. Though ‘tis little I can offer, all I have please call your own.

 

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.

Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish Christmas Eve

Context/Background: The Informant is of Polish descent and her grandparents and mother strongly identify with the Polish culture. Growing up, her grandfather orchestrated a celebration for their family which was centered around Christmas Eve and engaging in the tradition of sharing a “piece of you,” to show love and appreciation while celebrating largely at night with much festivity.

Informant:

“Like… in Poland, we celebrate on Christmas Eve and you go to a midnight mass, but when you’re having dinner. you like… exchange… you like have your own wafer. My grandpa’s the one that orchestrates our thing, but you walk up to everyone in your family and you tear off a piece of their wafer and tear off a piece of you and it’s like showing them you love them ’cause it’s like… you’re giving something to them. We do that every Christmas Eve. And in Polish tradition, you stay up really late on Christmas Eve and eat a ton of food.”

Introduction: The Informant’s Family

Analysis/Interpretation: I’ve previously heard about some experiences from families that stat up until midnight (Christmas Eve, transitioning to Christmas Day) and celebrate in the middle of the night, opening presents and what not. This is a little different in the aspect of the wafer tradition. I find that custom to be very sweet and reaffirming in order to build onto your relationship with your family. I also think that because the Grandparents organize it, there’s something additionally special that’s added because there’s a sense of them passing on to the following generations and organization for them. I can personally understand this in some regard because on my mother’s side of the family, it’s always her older relatives that organize the events, particularly the family reunion they hold.

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