USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘colors’
Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Venezuelan Yellow Underwear Superstition on New Year’s Eve

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old college student who was born in Venezuela and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, described various rituals and superstitions that relate to both her passion for theatre and her Venezuelan nationality. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant recalls a Venezuelan superstition that people take part in during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Text:

Informant: On Venezuelan New Year’s, we have a tradition that… it’s kind of weird… we have a tradition that you’re supposed to wear yellow underwear on New Year’s Eve. It’s supposed to be good luck, but I don’t really know. My mom always told me it was thing, but she and my dad never did it. Then I was like, “Well, I want good luck!” So, I started doing it. Maybe it’s like yellow and like gold and gold having to do with riches or something… maybe it’s something like that. But we always would talk about it and do it. I purposefully bought a piece of underwear the other day, so that I know I would have it for this year, because my other pair is too old. So yeah, I definitely intentionally do it and it’s another integral part of my New Year’s Eve experience every year.

Informant’s relationship to the item: Though the informant’s parents do not take part in the New Year’s Eve tradition, the informant has taken it upon herself to buy multiple pairs of yellow underwear in order to take part in the Venezuelan tradition. This demonstrates her belief that the practice holds some form of validity, in spite of the fact that no one in her immediate family practices it. Additionally, she expressed some embarrassment while she was describing the superstition to me, due to the nature of the tradition. Yet, she still reaffirmed her belief in the folk ritual.

Interpretation: The Venezuelan New Year’s Eve tradition of wearing yellow underwear is a good example  of a superstition that involves a color that holds symbolic significance to a group of people. Throughout the world, colors are culturally-encoded; sometimes a color’s symbolic meaning is more universal and other times it varies throughout communities. In this case, the yellow underwear seems to represent good luck and good fortune because yellow and gold are often associated with money, wealth, and riches. In more recent years, which has seen Venezuela living through one of the worst economic collapses in the world right now, the New Year’s Eve superstition likely is even more significant to Venezuelans than before. The tradition could also serve as a very tragic reminder of current misfortunes.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

The Colors of the Devil

Informant: The informant is Janet, a fifty-six-year-old woman from Yonkers, New York. She has lived in the Bronx and Westchester County, New York throughout her entire life. She is of Italian descent, is married, and has two children.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on a couch in the living room of her house in Yonkers, New York over my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: In the late 1980s, I was working at Whitehall Laboratories in New York City. One day at work, I wore a beautiful black skirt and a purple jacket with black trim, with matching purple and black suede shoes. While walking through the office, a coworker I barely knew said to me, “Oh, you’re wearing the colors of death.” A little while later, when I was back at my desk, my phone rang, and I was told that my cousin Maria died. Years later, my nephew was attending College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and he gave me a purple and black coffee mug, to represent his school’s colors, for Christmas. I refused to use it for months, until I thought that I was being ridiculous. So I used it one day, and that night, I got a call that her aunt was very ill and was rushed into the hospital. I wouldn’t throw the mug away because I was scared that it would only add to my bad luck. So I left it at the top of the cabinet and haven’t touched it since then, in 2012. Ever since, I totally avoid the colors purple and black together, and purple in general.

Interviewer:Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: This idea is very important to me. I feel unsafe wearing this mix of colors and won’t let my children do it either. I always warns people who wear these colors together to be careful because I truly believes that they are the colors of death.

Personal Thoughts: I think that this is very interesting because I’d never thought of purple as a color associated with the devil. Also, what’s interesting is that Janet has two instances of hard proof of this superstition. These pieces of proof could not have occurred because this superstition was in her head. These unfortunate events happened and were entirely out of her power.

[geolocation]