USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘color’
Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holi – Hindu Festival

“So Holi is a Hindu festival, traditionally a religious festival, that kind of symbolizes the beginning of spring and the end of winter. It’s kind of like a fun festival where people kind of get together and meet people and have fun. It usually involves wearing white clothing and throwing vibrant, colored power at each other; there is usually a lot of music and street food involved as well.  However, in recent years, more people who aren’t Hindu have been participating, and it’s become more of a cultural thing that a lot of people celebrate rather than just a strictly religious Hindu celebration. This is kind of due to the fact that we throw colored powder at each other, and people see that as a lot of fun. So a lot more people have gotten involved, especially in the United States and other western countries, where they kind of do a similar thing where they throw colors at each other like Color Runs and such. So Holi has kind of moved to the rest of the world instead of just sticking in one culture.”

Context: The informant is an Indian American student. The informant was describing the spring festival Holi to her roommates following USC’s plan to have a Holi celebration on campus in order to explain exactly what it was. The roommates had heard of the holiday, but wanted to know about why the holiday was celebrated. As shown in the text, SV sees the festival as an easily transmutable tradition that can participated in by anyone, regardless of their culture, religion, or status.

Analysis: The spread of religious festivals and occasions to various regions of the world that may not know that religious backstory is reminiscent of a more secular shift by the ritual. The shift of the Holi festival to other areas of the world demonstrates the universal appeal of the customs associated with the festival. This is demonstrated by the adoption of throwing colored powder in the Color Run, a secular, non-Hindu activity. Having a particular aspect of a festival to be so widely loved allows many people to participate and increase awareness of respective holiday. This is evidenced in the fact that often the parts of each culture that members of other cultures will remember are associated with festivals or holidays. For example, when we think of American holidays, we think of Thanksgiving–which is quite appealing food-wise. This holiday is usually one that is inclusive, and many families will invite others to come and eat with them.

While some would think that this could be seen as cultural appropriation, this goes against the spirit of Holi. In India, where there is a strict socioeconomic hierarchy, Holi is one of the few days of the year where everybody, regardless of religion or caste can go into the streets and celebrate spring. It is an amazing festival that brings everyone together. Therefore, allowing other people–either non-Hindu or not Indians–to participate in Holi, demonstrates the openness of the festival.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

The Luck of Red – Chinese Superstition

“So there is a kind of tradition in China, that for example, I was born in the Year of Rabbit, so when it is the Year of Rabbit again, I need to wear red underwears again for the entire year to ensure luck and happiness.”

Context: The informant, YT, is a student at USC originally from Shanghai, China, and is one of my roommates. We were discussing weird superstitions involving luck that our families abide by, and she brought up these superstitions that involve the color red. According the the informant, red is very influential in Chinese culture, and is largely associated with China on a global scale. YT, though not very superstitious, is still impacted by the widespread folk belief, and ends up abiding by this superstitions partially.

Analysis: Color is an incredibly important component of many cultures around the world. Specific colors can be seen as lucky, unlucky, beautiful, or cursed; the way that a culture sees these colors greatly impacts the superstitions of that nation. For China, red holds several meanings. First off, red was seen as bringing good fortune and luck, which is showcased in the initial red underwear superstition. Another component of this superstition is its reliance on the importance of Chinese zodiac. Chinese zodiac is assigned to each person based on the year that the individual was born in, in a 12 year cycle. It is also believed that when the year of your Chinese zodiac returns, that year will be an unlucky one; therefore, this superstition is an attempt to counteract this unluckiness. Masking the unlucky year with an article of clothing is there was of restoring joy and luck into the world.

It is also important to comment on the importance and proliferation of superstitions even in the modern era. Most of the Chinese superstitions have persisted in the culture for many years, so it could be thought that the folk beliefs would slowly die off as time went on, but such is not the case. YT is not superstitious, however, she continue to follow the folk beliefs because of the influence of those superstitions. For many members of the younger generation, they follow the folk beliefs because they think “what is the worst that could happen?” and that any potential luck that they obtained would be beneficial. Due to this mindset, young members of the Chinese culture continue to abide by this folk belief.

Festival
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holi

“Holi is one of the most celebrated Indian festivals because of the color it adds to everyone’s life, literally. It is a jubilant two-day festival which my family celebrates by lighting a bonfire on the first night to cleanse all the bad and evil. The next day is all about the festival of colors and we start by applying powdered colors on each other followed by dancing and eating delicious meals. Holi gives us a chance to be reborn and melt away the bad and negative things within us.”


 

Though Holi has arguably made an appearance into the mainstream through uses of color at various festivals, the interlocutor asserts that Holi is the best celebration that involves color. He has actively participated in Holi celebrations throughout his entire life, claiming it was an event he looked forward to each year. He remembered the agonizing anticipation he felt as a child waiting for this festival to arrive, as it was a time in which his energy could be channeled into something wild and fun without restraint. Holi, he stated, is the time when no one can hold back on their energy; everyone has to keep their spirits high throughout the entirety of the two days. He also mentioned that he mutters good wishes during the prior bonfire, mainly to strengthen the positive and purifying effects of the fire. He claimed that while Holi is meant to be a fun break from every day life, its cultural significance allows every participant to reconnect with themselves and the community in the most exuberant manner.

The vibrant colors of Holi tend to speak for themselves, illustrating the brightness and positivity that Indians seek and value. The two days demonstrate immense stamina, also demonstrating an incredible desire through the process—people would not be so incredibly energetic for two days if they did not have the desire to take a break from the trials and tribulations of life. Despite the myriad colors used to celebrate, there appears to be quite a distinct dichotomy between the forces of good and evil. The bonfire and the many colors are meant to dispel the forces of evil, allowing the good to prevail through it. Yet, good takes on many different forms for various people, and the numerous colors and sparks of the bonfire allow that good to manifest itself through its diverse configurations. Thus, Holi is a celebration that is communal while also obtaining the ability to be personalized for everyone involved.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Crash Course in Indian Culture (Holi/Colors/Bindi/Henna)

Continued from the prior interview. Collected from 20 year old female. Indian, raised Hindu. Here she talks about the festival of Holi, as well as the importance of color and how that is demonstrated at weddings and in traditional garb.

Informant: In the spring we celebrate Holi, h-o-l-i. That is when everyone throws colors at eachother . That is for a couple of reasons. This one is hard because I don’t know the whole story about it, I just know the general gist. There is a demonness, like a bad guy who is a woman. And her name is holika, h-o-l-i-k-a. That’s where the name comes from. And I am pretty sure she was evil and somehow either she just died in a fire or someone killed her using fire, but because she finally died, we all celebrate holi as we all are hapypy becuasse spring came out of that. So holi is also the celebration of the start of spring. That is why you throw colors and stuff because spring… colors… happy. So when you celebrate holi, everyone has a bunch of colored powder and a bunch of water and you just kind of throw them at eachother and you say happy holi. It is also a happy time. I don’t think… maybe it is just we never celebrated them… but we don’t have any depressing holidays. You know how like Jewish people have Yom Kippur and stuff like that. We don’t really have that because there is no like, in Hinduism there’s not really like in Christianity and Judiaism where hthey have sins and atonement and all that crap. Hinduism, which is really why I like it, it is not about doing bad things and making up for them, it is more just about positive ways to live your life. So that is why they are all around central tennents like karma… doing good things comes around. That is a huge thing for Hinduism. There are a lot of other stories. There are books. The ramayan is all about rama, but there are a lot of gods in Hinduism. There is another book that is about a lot of them. It is called the mahabaharta. That is the story of ginesh, who is our elephant god. There are a lot of stories in it, but one of the stories that is the most important is talking about ginesh and how he is with his parents and basically the reason why in Hinduism your parents are so important is because someone told ginesh “circle around your world twice.” And what he did was walk around his parents twice because your parents are supposed to be your world. There are just a lot of loyalty stories like that. There is another story, that is called the gita, I think that is g-i-t-a. bhavagad gita. People chant that.

Me: what do you mean they chant it?

Informant: there are a lot of verses to it and sometimes when you pray, some people have whole chapters memorized and they will say them. But that is a very long story. That story is about a normal human guy named arjun. He is in a war. It is a war between 2 families. He is on one side and all of his brothers are on the other side. And he doesn’t know whether he should or shouldn’t fight against his family. He doesn’t know what to do. So he is visited by a god named krishna, who is one of the gods that is always depicted as blue. And the god coaches him and talks him through what he should do. And that is basically the whole gita. It is another story about loyalty and karma. Those are the main things of Hinduism which is again why I like it. It is really not an intrusive religion. It is very spiritual, like these are some good things that you should keep with you as you live your life. It is a pretty chill religion.

Me: Where did you learn all of this?

Informant: Sunday School. When I started to go to Sunday school in kindergarden, it was held out of a temple because it was very few people. But then it expanded and all of these indian people came out of no where. Then there was like hundreds of kids so we started having it at an actual elementary school because we needed to have classrooms. It totally expanded… because you know indian people run the world. It got crazy. We had a website, they published a text book for us. We got sweatpants and sweatshirts. It went crazy.  There are a lot of kids who already know everything because their parents teach it to them, obviously my parents know it too. My grandparents reallyyyyy know this stucf because older generations know it more. My parents wanted me to go to Sunday school because they wanted me to make some indian friends. It wasn’t really about learning hindi. My Sunday school we had language class and we had culture class. The culture class was where we learned all of this religious stuff. Or culture stuff. We talked about the differences between americans and Indians and all that kind of stuff. And hindi class, like language class, is specifically where you just learn hinidi or gidrathi. Hinidi is the language my mom’s side of the family speaks and gidrathi is the langage my dad’s side of the family speaks. They’re from 2 different parts of india. We just learned hindi because I think hindi is the national language of india so my parents were just like, ehh. My mom is very fluent in hindi, she is a hindi teacher so they were like, just learn hindi. So that is what we learned. That is all hindu stuff. As far as indian cultural stuff goes… but then again at the same time, if we are going to talk about weddings as being an indian thing. At the same time, there are a lot of different religions within India. They all have different wedding. Muslim weddings are way different than hindu weddings. And so I guess this is still hindu, but the whole idea is like, everything is still really loud and fun and colorful. Brides wear red, you know that. They always wear a sari. We put… in English it is henna… in hindi it is mehndi. I wish I knew the significance of it. I honestly think it is just a really beautiful art form. I am sure there is a story or a reason why we put it on, but I think it is just another way to make you look really beautiful. It goes on your hands, your feet, sometimes up your arm to your elbow at least. So the bride gets the most intricate mendhi, and everyone else in the bridal party gets both of their hands done. They make weddings really colorful because it is such a happy event. White is actually a sad color. So at funerals, when we have them, everyone wears white. No one wears black. Black is never worn to anything. And also, we don’t really have funerals. People don’t really get buried. We have cremations. Hindus believe in reincarnation. So if you are burned than your ashes go up and you can come back as something nice if you did good things in your life.

Me: Do you know why white is sad? Because that is the opposite of American culture

Nayna: I think it is because how people see white as pure and clean, that is our thing. So white is pure and cleansing so you wear that just to celebrate because when you creamate someone that is their purest form. You are burning them. I think that is why white is a nice color like that. Because black is just like never touched. We never wear black to anything. I don’t think white is really a sad color actually, it is really just a very full circle, ending color. Everything else, happy events, everything is always colorful. Weddings are always super colorful. Colors are hugely symbolic in the hindu culture. Holi is huge. You make these things called remgolis and they are basically big pieces of art and they are all different shapes and you color them in with the colored powder. Color is huge. Like indian women wear bindis on their foreheads when they wear their indian clothes. But also when religious ceremonies happen, you put a tikka on your head, but you use red powder and make a dash. That’s religious. Bindis are more for fun, to be pretty. More art and decoration for your body. There is a lot of hindu things. Boys, when they turn 11, 12, 13 or 16, some teenage year, they have something called a thread ceremony and only boys have it. It is like a right of passage, becoming an adult thing. It is a lot of prayers. You get threads tied around you as a bracelet and you keep it on for a while. We actually use a lot of thread in Hinduism. I think temples have what they think is holy thread. It is really just normal red thread. A little prettier. There is some red, some gold. We do a lot with thread. Another thing we do is, it is called rakshabandan. It is a brother sister day. Sisters tie a rakhi, it is like a bracelet, on their brother. It can just be a piece of red yarn or a thread. My sister and I like to make it fun, so we make a bracelet for our brother. So basically that is supposed to be protection for him. For all bad things that could come his way. So raksha means protection. Bandan means to tie. So literally tieing protection on your brother. And then your brother gives you like a present or something on that day. You feed him something sweet. You tie your rhaki, and he gives you a present. So it is like sisters protect brothers, brothers protect sisters, something like that. Oh by the way, I think I was supposed to tell you that like the bindi. The significance is that it is supposed to be like a third eye. So it is supposed to ward off evil. It is supposed to look over you. Red is really important. It used to be in the olden days that married women would put the same red power that you put here [touching space between eyes], they used to put it in their parts. In the part of their hairs. That is supposed to signify that you are married.

Me: Do you know why the part of their hair?

Informant: I guess it just so that you do not have to wear it on your forehead. It is very old. People do not walk around with that anymore. It used to be. Married women also tend to wear a red bindi. And widowed women wear a black bindi. My gradmother, when her husband passed ago, way before I was born, she always wears a black bindi on her forehead. Sorry… I keep talking!

Analysis: The informant does a lot of subtle analyzing of what she is saying as she goes.  She clearly takes a lot of traditions and myths with a grain of salt.  Rather than actually believe xyz, she believes in the moral behind it.  She already understands that reason why there are a lot of traditions and stories which makes my analysis much less needed.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Colorful Birds

While my informant grew up in Los Angeles, my informant’s family is from Yucatan, Mexico and he frequently goes down to visit his grandparents who live on a ranch.  He heard this information when he was a child visiting his grandparents. His grandfather taught him this:

“If a Colorful birds like parrots, appear in your yard, it means there is good news coming”

 

My informant says that he learned this after he saw a parrot in his grandparent’s backyard when he was a child.  His grandfather then told him this sign.  According to my informant, parrots are rare in the area of Yucatan where his family originates.

This is similar to another Yucatan saying where black birds are premonitions of misfortune.  It also reflects the other saying in that while black birds are common, colorful birds are very rare.  This might mean to the people who live there that trouble and misfortune are very common and good luck is rare.  This is in accordance with many areas in Mexico having high mortality and poverty rates and thus more likely to experience hardship.

Childhood
Folk medicine
Foodways

Chinese Custom: Wearing White

Last month when I was home for Spring Break, my mother once again berated me for wearing a cream colored hair bow. She says that in China, wearing white in your hair means that someone in your family has died and it is taboo to wear white in your hair when that is not true. In Chinese culture, the color white is the color of mourning and death. So, a lot of the times people wear white to the funeral.

This has always been interesting to me because in American culture, people wear all black to funerals and white is the color of pureness and innocence. Then, a woman wears white at her wedding to represent her final transference into womanhood. In Chinese culture, brides often wear red and gold because red is the color of happiness and gold represents wealthiness. I feel that color is always such an interesting kind of symbolism in today’s culture. In each society, certain colors mean different things and can transfer different messages. I know that roses are always a big deal because if a guy gives a girl yellow roses, he only wants friendship, they have to be deep red to be romantic.

Game
general
Kinesthetic

Children’s Game – American

The informant says he “probably learned [the following game] in elementary school or something”:

The game is called “Red Light, Green Light,” and the basic rules are that one player allows the rest to rush forward from a start line when he says, “green light,” and has his back turned, but the other players must stop suddenly if the leader says, “red light,” and turns around, lest they be caught moving and get sent back to the beginning. The first player to reach and touch the leader becomes the next leader. Here are the rules in the informant’s own words: Red Light, Green Light

When asked when the game was usually performed, the informant responded, “I don’t think I played it any time beyond, like, elementary school, or . . . Either during recess or with some friends of mine at, like, a kiddie birthday party—four, five, six, seven, you know, something like that.”

The informant’s opinion of the purpose of the game is that it allows children to “get some of their inherent sneakiness, you know, resolved without getting into any real trouble, ’cause the worst that happens is you get sent back to the beginning of the line.” This might be construed as a useful function, making children more governable the rest of the time; however, the informant thinks the game is more “a subversive game designed to, uh, uh, to effectively teach people that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t get caught.” In his words, the game is “designed to teach you to be sneaky—the idea that if someone’s not looking, you can get away with something.” He concluded by saying, “I’m not sure that, ultimately, the message is all that positive.”

The informant compares “Red Light, Green Light” to other games that might be considered folkloric cognates—“Mother May I” and “Simon Says”—commenting, “There’s a whole sort of series of games that’s about can you follow instructions, can you be sneaky without getting caught.” However, Rae Pica and Mary Duru, authors of the book Great Games for Young Children, have a different concept of what the game is supposed to teach: “listening skills,” “traffic safety skills,” and “self-control” (47), among others. Clearly they endorse the game from an adult standpoint and do not consider it subversive. That the game is included in their book is evidence of multiplicity, and there is a slight variation in their rules for the game:  instead of being sent back to the beginning, children who get caught moving are designated as “yellow lights, which means they must walk in place until the signal to go is given again” (47). And instead of the person who reaches the leader first getting to go next, Rae and Duru recommend a less partial system of deciding an order in advance (47). Clearly the name “Red Light, Green Light” has a terminus post quem of the invention of the stoplight, but the cognate games that the informant mentioned may be older.

Source:

Pica, Rae and Maray Duru. Great Games for Young Children: Over 100 games to develop Self-Confidence, Problem-Solving Skills, and Cooperation. Beltsville, Maryland: Gryphon House, 2006.

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