USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘customs’
Customs
Festival
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Easter Bread

The informant was sharing an important Greek Easter tradition within her family:

*Names are reduced to initials

Me: Can you tell me about the Easter bread you make?

Informant: Tsoureki is a traditional Greek Easter bread that’s prepared during Greek Easter week. It’s usually braided and the red eggs go into it. It’s all we served on Easter Sunday. And um…it’s a sweet bread and again, the egg symbolizes resurrection.

Me: Yum!

Informant: Sometime’s It’s braided and sometimes it’s braided in a round loaf with a cross on the top,

Support: which is our family tradition

Informant: Lots of Greeks do it though. The cross is a byzantine cross so it’s this shape

*She shows me her necklace*

Support: The curled edge is how I make it. Our family recipe came from my great-aunt that’s Aunt G. That’s where we get the recipe from.

Context: 

The Informant is a Greek woman who was born in the United States. She currently lives in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Though she was not born in Greece, her parents immigrated to the US and she was born into a very Greek community in Phoenix, AZ. The performance was held during an Easter party, in front of her younger sister.While the informant does not usually make the bread, her younger sister always does and she provided supporting information.

Analysis:
It’s very interesting how humans can adapt easily but also stick to tradition as we see with the bread. The recipe has been passed down through generations and while there are so many different recipes this one stuck and has meaning. The way the bread is formed has also stuck as the sister describe, as she always makes it in a curled manner. Finally, the younger sister is always the one who makes the bread for the family, which shows her role in maintaining the family tradition. It is very interesting that people are so adaptable, but also find ways to maintain systems that work.

Customs

Seal Beach “Rubies” Tradition

Main Piece: “Me and my friends, 8 of them, they were really close, and I didn’t become a part of their friend group until late middle school. But after I joined the group we all became super close and did everything together. One tradition that we had.. I don’t know it’s kind of hard to describe but, I grew up in Seal Beach. It’s a small town on PCH between Long Beach and Huntington Beach. It’s super low-key, no tourists, and no sketchy people. It’s a very small community and everybody knows everybody in the town and everyone feels really close to the town. At the heart of the town is a Main Street and a pier that extends out past the sand on the beach. At the end of the pier, there was a rubies that was there that we used to always go to and spend time and eat lunch or dinner. But then one day it closed down and everybody in the community was super sad and my group of friends especially was really bummed out about it, because it was one of our favorite places. They gated off the section of the pier where the Rubies was. The Rubies was closed down and nothing replaced it for about 10 years, and then one day the Rubies caught on fire (probably because of an arsonist or something) and the Rubies burned down to the ground. Because this fire was pretty drastic, they removed that part of the pier, but the fence that would section off the pier to where the rubies was is still there. And because this was such a huge part of our childhood, no matter where we were, if we were out on the town we would always walk to the end of the pier and touch the fence. We literally did it every time, and no matter what you had to walk all the way to the end and touch the fence. Even when I go back home for breaks and for the weekend, my friends and I still do this.”

 

Background: KS and his friends hold the town of Seal Beach very dear to your hearts. He mentions that it is a very big community based town, and it is very normal for people to never leave the town. In fact, he said that it was very common for families to raise children and then once those children grew up and finished school and such, they would come back to Seal Beach and raise a family of their own. KS said it was very normal for people to live and die in Seal Beach, because the community is so important to everyone there. KS also mentioned that the pier is a huge part of Seal Beach, and the Rubies was a great communal meeting point so the feeling of touching a very iconic part of Seal Beach, solidifies the love and appreciation for the town.

 

Context of the Performance: KS told me this tradition that he and his friends have while we were discussing some of our favorite traditions in our friend groups. His tradition is very community based and it is so unique to one specific place, that he really felt emotional telling this story of how much he loves his towns and his friends.

 

Analysis: This tradition is very heartwarming and is a fantastic snapshot of how important traditions are in the realm of community and friendship. Unlike many communities in America, Seal Beach is very clearly a tight knit community that puts an immense value on community, friendship, and togetherness. The weight that this one restaurant has in this friend group and to the community as a whole, further accentuates that great emphasis on loving the community and each other. And while there are certainly some communities in the country that fit this mold, it certainly does go against the general American values of individualism. For me, the town I grew up in did not have this great of an emphasis on community, and it was still very much a community that favored individual success over being tight knit. So I find it fascinating that there are towns throughout the country that go against these American norms, and in turn create a very real and communal atmosphere for the population that lives there.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general

Horse Riding Tradition: “Never let a fall be the end of your ride”

Main Performance: “So at the ranch I ride at, there is this unspoken rule that everybody has to follow, it’s a tradition of sorts as everyone practices this at the barn. But basically, the custom is that if you fall off your horse, whether it be during an event, or while practicing, or even just riding out in the country, you have to get back on your horse afterwards. It is something that I have always been taught while growing up, and it was something that I saw every other rider doing at the barn. It was just expected that you never let a fall be the end of your ride.”

 

Background: GR grew up with a long history of horse riding, and that is one of her most favorite things to do when she has the free time and is able to make it to the barn. GR mentions that a big part of the tradition also is trying to earn the respect of the other riders at the barn who generally are either watching or riding horses themselves. Because this is a community built around the nature of never giving up as GR told me, making sure to get back up on the horse is huge to earning that respect form the more veteran riders. Additionally GR mentions that at the barn she was raised at, it was never okay to simply do things half way. It was expected that when you do something at the barn, you do it at 100% no matter whether or not you succeed, it is far more important that your effort is there. And GR also says that on the barn, while it was okay to not succeed every time, it was always preached that if you are going to practice something, you need to make sure you practice it right. Falling off the horse is the last thing the horse remembers, and GR said that its so important that you don’t end a session of a failure for the horse. GR said that undoubtedly this mindset of resilience and challenging yourself is a staple of her horse riding community.

 

Context of the Performance: GR told me this custom, while we were talking about the things we would do in our free time, and what types of hobbies we like to do. Since GR is from an area where horse riding is far more popular than in California, GR was able to inform me about some of the expectancies that come with riding horses.

 

Analysis: This custom is such an interesting tradition as I this idea of “you gotta get back on the horse” has definitely circulated in other parts of the country as a metaphor for never giving up. It is fascinating to see this saying and custom being used in a place where it is quite literal, and that getting back on the horse is so important not only for gaining respect and being a good rider, but also it is to help the horse not end the ride on a failure. In America, there is a huge cultural emphasis on never giving up and putting in 100% effort in the things that you do. This custom in the horse riding community is a perfect microcosm, and operates as a literal iteration of the belief that you must always keep trying even when you fail. Failure is a part of life, and seeing the fact that failure is accepted in this community as long as you get back up and learn from it, greatly represents the major American value of never giving up.

Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish-American Thanksgiving

D.F. – “Every year, my family and I go to my Grandfather’s house in Oceanside CA for thanksgiving.  And during the beginning of that week, my Aunt and her family fly in from MN to start cooking.  That’s usually a Monday or a Tuesday.  They start preparing that early.  Sometimes we come Wednesday night before thanksgiving, but usually most of us come on the Thursday morning.  My family usually says that we’re gonna leave by 8:30, but we always leave like a half hour later.    And then we get to oceanside, an hour and a half away, and my Mom is always in charge of the appetizers, and she usually has too many appetizers, all from Costco, and they all have to be KOSHER.  And then, the other families get there.  And then, we all bet what time my uncle and his family are gonna get there because they’re always late.  So then everyone puts down bets for what time he’ll get there, minute by minute, I’ve won a few times.  Once they get there, that’s the pause in the day when we have to figure out what we’re going to do because that’s when everyone’s cooking and they don’t like it when everyone is in the kitchen.  So my cousins and I go play pool at my Grandpa’s senior living house thing.  I didn’t get to start doing that until I was 14 because that was the minimum age; I was really excited.  We play pool for a little while, are forced to come home, everyone sits down at the dinner table (about 25 of us).”

“There are a few people who are assigned to bring in food from the table, and it’s very important that if you did not get asked to do this, that you sit down.  We start with appetizers; now, don’t forget that we already had appetizers, but now we have these sweet&sour meat-balls that my grandma used to make for dinner appetizers.  Sometimes we have matzah ball soup sometimes, if my aunt is up for it.  My other aunt always makes small challahs for everyone.”

“Everyone goes in a circle throughout the meal, saying what they’re thankful for, that year, in front of everyone.  Eating ends.  My brother and I get s**t every year for not helping clean up enough.”

“. . . My other aunt is always in charge of the deserts.  They’re never very good.  After desert, we all take our family photo every year on my grandfather’s couch.”

 

Such structure.  This is in many ways similar to my own Thanksgiving memories, but this seems to have a lot more structure.  My family is pretty tightly wound, but every year, thanksgiving is a very laid-back holiday.  It seems that this is not the case in this household.  Thanksgiving festivities are among the most prominent folkloric experiences in the United States, as most people who live in the country choose to celebrate with loved ones and friends.  It’s interesting not only to see how similar everyone’s Thanksgivings are, but also to examine how the days often differ. Also, it’s fascinating that this person’s religion intertwines here with their nationality.  Even on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, when one’s religion is largely unimportant, her food must remain kosher.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Turkish Superstition: the Evil Eye

evil eye

What is the Evil Eye?

P.N. – “So, the evil eye protects you, your family, your household, from evil.  And this is a myth, and also a glass object.  Every [Turkish] family has an evil eye in their house . . . My family thinks that if you tell somebody something good that’s happened to you, there’s gonna be envy there.  And they’re gonna somehow will nature to get rid of that opportunity for you.  The evil eye is meant to protect you from that.  So we have evil eye’s in different parts; like, for instance, we have one in our car to prevent a car crash.”

“We have an evil eye in front of our house.  You’re supposed to have an evil eye on top of the doorway to prevent bad things from entering.  One day, during the time when I was applying for colleges, it BROKE.  I remember, because my mom thought that that was a good thing.  “It’s done it’s job,” she said.  And so she put a new one up, and I got accepted into USC!”

“Another example was this: I was wearing my first ‘sexy dress’ in high school to this New Years ball.  I had a hair piece, everything. I looked good.  I was showing some cleavage.  My aunt put an evil eye in my jacket, and said it would protect me from the boys.  I still have it there in my pocket.”

What does the Evil Eye mean to you?

“The Evil Eye reminds me of my parents, because I have always considered them to be the most superstitious people.  And I guess when I think about other types of ‘evil eyes’ in other cultures, it feels like it brings me closer to those people as well.  There’s definitely a sense of identity with everything I’ve said here.”

Immediately, this made me think of the Jewish Mezuzah, which is a similar concept to the Turkish Evil Eye.  The Mezuzah, a small piece of parchment scribbled with specific verses from the Torah, is put on a family’s doorway to prevent any bad luck from entering the home.  When I brought up the Mezuzah to this person, she smiled, and informed me that she knew of the Mezuzah already.  The evil eye is definitely something that reflects one’s culture, one’s traditions, and one’s superstitions.  It’s for this reason that I am such a fan of the Mezuzah, as well as the evil eye now; it’s because I, as well as countless other people from a number of different cultures, can relate very strongly to it.  How different can two peoples really be, when they’re unified by so many aspects of life? 

Customs
Foodways

Mao Zedong’s Birthday

  1. The main piece: Mao Zedong’s Birthday

“Okay, so Mao Zedong’s birthday is December 26th, and on that day, we eat long noodles. It’s because if you cut the noodle, you’re cutting his life. Which doesn’t really make sense because he’s dead.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“Mao Zedong is the communist leader of China, and he’s very important because he led the communist revolution and changed China forever, for both better and worse.

“Oh yeah, everyone loves Mao. Mao’s on all the money. It’s either Mao or flowers. It’s the day after Christmas and the day before my mom’s birthday.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This tradition of eating long noodles on Mao Zedong’s birthday symbolizes a long life for him, and, accordingly, for the communist nation and ideals that he created. I think that this is a key example of the usage of folklore to build nationalistic sentiment and to increase feelings of personal connection and importance to central sociopolitical powers. Even though the informant is from a later generation from the one in which Mao Zedong was active and alive, the fact that this tradition continues years after, even after his death, shows the lasting impact of using folklore as a nation-state building device.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18-year old female of Japanese and Chinese descent. She grew up in Oahu, Hawaii in a family that had moved there five generations earlier, and explained how none of her parents or grandparents knew any Japanese or Chinese. Celebrating Japanese and Chinese cultural traditions helped her feel more connected to her heritage growing up, because she felt that her parents and grandparents were very disconnected from the culture other than with these traditions.

Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Protection

Padre Nuestro- Blessings

Every single time when you pass by a church, or any holy site, you give yourself a blessing. Doing so, it shows respect to the Saint of the church as well as providing you protection from the sacred site as you continue in your journey.

-

Ruby is a young Mexican-American woman who truly connects to her Catholic roots and leads her way of life through that method. She is also a single mom who works at a Non-Profit feeding the homeless of Los Angeles.

Customs
Folk speech
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

How to Name Scottish Royalty

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate comes from “a long lineage of Scottish kings and clan leaders of a certain group of isles.”

The Tradition: In Scotland, the ritual for naming a child in a family line, particularly if they’re royalty, is to simply add the prefix “Mc” or “Mac” to the name of the father and make that the child’s surname.

Example: My roommate has an ancestor with the full title Angus McRonald McDonald Sworely, King of the Isles. Thus, he is alternatively know as King Angus, Son of Ronald McDonald Sworely, who was himself at one point King Ronald, Son of Donald Sworely.

(Note: The proper spelling of the surname “Sworely” is unknown.)

Analysis: I found this Scottish process of naming is most comparable to the Vikings’ method of creating the “____son” surname (Ex: Lief Erikson, or Lief, Son of Erik). I put a little research into the claims my roommate made, and the only thing I found off about the whole thing was that the names mentioned above are in fact “MacDonald” rather than “McDonald” (I kept the piece above as is for the sake of putting down what I was told by my roommate).

Foodways
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bagna Càuda

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. AB and his family have made a special Italian dish called Bagna Càuda for Easter for many generations. Bagna Càuda is a traditional Italian dish originated in Piedmont, Italy, which is typically made during the winter months of December and January:

AB: “Ever since I could remember, my Noni would make Bagna Càuda for Easter every year. It’s always been something she has enjoyed making.”

Where did your Noni learn this particular traditional meal?

AB: “She actually learned it from her parents who also learned it form their parents. Once my Noni’s parents immigrated to the United States from Italy, they brought the recipe with them and continued to pass it down throughout the years.”

Can you please explain what kind of Italian dish Bagna Càuda is for those who are not familiar?

AB: “Yes it’s kind of like a fondue, but it’s not like a cheese. It’s more of an oil, garlic, anchovy mixture that is really thin. It’s not a thick mixture. You take whatever it is whether it’s cabbage, mushrooms, red peppers, meat, or chicken and you put it in the garlic, the oil, and the anchovies and mix it all around and let it sit for a while. Once it is ready, it taste delicious.”

As a fellow Italian, I am familiar with this dish being made on Christmas and New Years in particular. Why did your family choose to carry on this dish only on Easter?

AB: “Well my Noni told me once that her parents often would make too much food on Christmas and New Years and there wasn’t enough time to get everything ready so they decided that they would only make this dish on Easter.”

Who do you invite over for Easter dinner?

AB: “Well since it’s Easter, we try to get all of our family members together to celebrate. We also invite a few friends to join in on the celebration. My Noni always ends up making too much food, especially the Bagna Càuda, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Will you continue to pass this traditional meal on as you get older?

AB: “I definitely do plan on carrying on this dish as I get older. Luckily I paid enough attention when my Noni made it over the years so now I can make it myself.”

What does this traditional meal mean to you?

AB: “Bagna Càuda is a dish that will forever remind me of the times as a young boy and the times that my Noni shared with her parents and the times that are spent over this meal.”

Analysis:

AB has fond memories of celebrating Easter with his grandmother and his family. AB’s example of the Italian dish, “Bagna Càuda,” is a representation of a family tradition that has been kept alive over many generations in an effort to preserve his family’s Italian nationality. As a fellow Italian, I am familiar with Bagna Càuda, as my family has made it before during the winter holidays, however, I found it very interesting how AB’s family only makes the dish on Easter. The ritual of making Bagna Càuda every Easter is a way that AB’s family connects to their Italian heritage and it keeps the memory of his grandmother’s parents alive. His desire to uphold his Italian roots is evident and he will continue to carry his family’s ritual along with him.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestures

Baseball Rituals: “When in Doubt, Tap the Hip”

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. Informant AB also plays club baseball at USC:

AB: “I play baseball and it is my favorite sport to play. I have been playing since I was 5 or 6 years old and I am still playing on the club team at USC.”

Do you have any particular rituals or customs you perform prior to a game?

AB: “Yes I have two main rituals that I do in baseball. So I play “infield” and when you’re in the infield you are always taking your one-two step to get ready for the ground ball before the pitcher hits so that you are ready to field it, which is pretty common for everybody, but one thing I do just kind of on top of that before every pitch is that I take my glove and I kind of almost tap it on my left hip ever so slightly to just shift the glove in my hand so it feels better in my hand. It’s just something that makes me more comfortable, maybe more confident in feeling grounders and being ready for the potential play coming my way. I also wear the same pair of baseball sliders that I never wash. I’ve had them for years and years and I wear them at all my practices and games. They make me feel more positive about each game or practice because of all of the great wins and experiences I’ve had while wearing them.”

Who did you learn these rituals from?

AB: “My dad actually played baseball for most of his life and when I was little I would watch him play. I would see that he would do the same gesture I do today. I remember asking him one day why he would tap his hip with his glove and he said it would help him to focus and center himself during the games. When I started playing in little league, that’s when I started doing the same gesture my dad did. I guess watching him as a little kid, I picked up on some of the things he did while he played. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

What do these rituals mean to you?

AB: “Well, growing up watching my dad play and learning my ritual from him holds a special place in my heart. I really looked up to him when I was little. I just think it is something special. It brought us closer together.”

Analysis:

Informant AB’s baseball rituals were passed down by someone he looked up to as a young child and is something that he continues to do as an adult. As America’s favorite past time, there are countless folk beliefs in baseball that surround good and bad luck such as rituals being practiced during the seventh inning stretch, to verbal lore being performed during the game. I think it is interesting how as a young child the informant noticed the rituals his father would perform while out on the field and how much of an impact his father had made on him growing up. Their passion for baseball and their father-son dynamic depicts how rituals can be passed down to the next generation through a strong familial bond.

 

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