USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘customs’
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.

 

Customs

Sana Sana

”Sana Sana, Colita de Rana”

“Heal Heal, butt of the frog”

“Whenever someone gets a boo-boo, you rub it and say the phrase. It’s supposed to make it feel better. I learned it from my family, mostly from the women (Mom, Grandma, Aunt). It wasn’t really something men in the family would do. It was done a lot more to my brother than it was to me, cause he was a baby and always cried. It actually does sound kind of ridiculous once you translate it *laughs out loud*”

Boo-boo’s are an inevitable part of the rowdy and rambunctious days of childhood. Scrapes, cuts, and bruises happen regularly, and most parents have their own ways of cheering (or toughening) their children up. This example I found interesting, as I had never heard it before. I laughed along with the informant and my roommate at the translation of the phrase. I would even contend that the ridiculousness of the phrase (and the humor resulting from it) may be the overall point of the custom; one of the best ways to distract anyone from pain is to make them laugh.

I also found the gender component of the custom interesting. There seems to be some sort of cultural stigma against men “babying” their children in this instance, something I can relate to from my own childhood.

Customs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bujería

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

Brujería (Quemada)  

The informant’s cousin Pache was in love with a gipsy and traveled around Spain with him. He taught her how to be a brujería, translated in english as a person who practices voodoo. Her favorite bruja, translated as what the person practicing voodoo creates or potion, to create was a Quemada, in english Quemada is translated as burned, but it is in this tradition a potion used to fend off evil. A Quemada “spell” is made by first an alcoholic beverage mixed together in a huge clay pot, an incantation is spoken over the mixture, the mixture is lit on fire (where quemada comes from), and the people involved drink the quemada. This ritual was meant to get rid of evil spirits so Pache and her boyfriend would do the quemada usually to people who were just married to rid them of evil spirits in their relationship.

Analysis…

Rituals similar to this are definitely not practiced in the culture that I am constantly in. I am not familiar with them, but when I hear about them I am seriously intrigued. It is extremely interesting that voodoo and potions are viewed as a way to rid a person, house, or relationship of evil spirits. When the informant was telling me about her cousin and what she experienced and the rituals that she performs really struck me as interesting. I guess for me, I didn’t realize it was a real cultural tradition in modern culture to practice these types of practices. It is interesting also that Pache usually only performs these rituals when a couple is married and maybe if someone buys a new house. I connect this to religion because people are married and that is an important step religiously, and people moving into a house usually will pray over the house because they want to purify it. With Pache’s Brujería, it is really similar, she performs her ritual at weddings and to rid evil spirits. Maybe in some way the two are connected and that would be another interesting subject to explore.

Customs

Don’t correct your ballroom dance partner

“So there’s a whole, uh, laundry list of tips for doing well at a competition, and uh, interacting with a dance partner. As it turns out, interacting with a dance partner is a lot like having a life partner in the sense that you’re stuck with them, uh, until something terrible happens and, well that’s we call them your dance wife. I don’t like those terms myself, but they’re on t-shirts, too, you can find, uh, I’m, uh, you know, ‘I heart my dance wife’, uh. Uh, so, there are some rules, though, like there are rules for being in a real relationship. Rule one is that you, um, never ever want to correct your partner, if you can help it, because if they are your dance partner, then that means that you two are probably at the same dance level, which means that if they are doing something stupid, you are also doing something stupid, probably even more stupid than them, because you are the kind of person who wants to correct them, and you probably never realize the stupid things you are doing yourself, and you never get called out on because your dance partner doesn’t want to do the same thing, so your dance partner because it’s rude and you are probably the one to make a mistake in the first place. They’re probably doing just fine. So there’s that.”

 

The informant is a PhD student at the University of Southern California, studying linguistics. He is also a member—and next year’s president—of the University of Southern California’s Ballroom and Latin Dance Team. He specializes in the American Smooth dances (Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Tango, and Foxtrot), though also knows the International Latin dances and many social dances, like Hustle and Salsa. He has been in the USC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team for 2 years, and did ballroom dance at the University of Michigan for 2 years. He competes in the Silver and Gold level Smooth dances, and has placed highly in numerous competitions.

 

The collection was made after asking the informant about certain customs of ballroom dance for when you are interacting with your dance partner. What he speaks of is a common concept among many ballroom dance couples, and is considered necessary for a successful dance partnership.

 

Ballroom dancing is different than many other dance forms, because it is entirely danced with a partner. If there is solo work, it is in connection with what your partner is doing. How dancing with a partner works in ballroom dancing is that there is one person who is designated as the “lead” and one who is the “follow.” Leads are generally male and follows are generally female, but that is certainly not exclusive. As the names suggest, it is the leads job to lead the follow in the many dance. The lead is in charge of moving the couple around the dance floor, deciding what moves to do where, and matching the tempo of the music. The follows job is to follow all of this, without any verbal communication with the lead. All the follow has to go on are hand signals and what ballroom dancers call “connection” which is the tension between the two dancers’ hands which allows the lead to move the follow where he will.

A dance partner, as the informant explains, is often compared to a life partner because of the amount understanding and respect that must be felt by both dancers. Even the least active dance couple is still required to be in incredibly close quarters with their dance partner for at least a few hours, and the most active dance partners practice a few hours a day together. Any anger or mistrust can escalate quickly and dissolve the partnership as easily as any relationship. That is why dance partners are often referred to as “dance wife” and “dance husband” as the informant says.

One of the main guidelines to a successful partnership is to never correct your dance partner. This is not something anyone is officially taught, but something that can only be learned by listening to other couples mention it or watching how they work together. Each dance couple has a different dynamic, yes, but all of the very successful partnerships, the ones that last for years, have this in common. It is as the informant says: if you are correcting your dance partner, than you are likely doing something even worse because you are focusing on them not yourself. There must be come constructive criticism during practices, especially if one person is teaching the other a new move, but the corrections should never be constant and should never get personal. This will lead to the deterioration of the partnership over time.

Customs

Taking Off Shoes – Japanese Domestic Customs

About the Interviewed: Yuki is a Japanese student  from the University of Hokkaido, currently studying western art and culture. She’s currently participating in an American homestay at a friend’s house in Southern California. Yuki is ethnically Japanese, and she’s said that her family has lived in Japan for a long time. She’s about 21 years old.

My subject, Yuki, was telling me about the customs involved when entering a Japanese home.

Yuki: “Japanese people don’t wear shoes in the house. We have a Gedabako [shoe rack] for putting shoes when you enter the house.”

I ask Yuki why she thinks that Western People and Japanese People have different ways of doing things.

Yuki: “I don’t understand why westerners wear shoes and walk on the floor. You can get dirty. In Japan, we walk on the floor in our feet, so it’s good to keep the floor clean.”

I tell Yuki that it might be because Japanese floors are lined with tatami mats, which Japanese people sleep, eat, and generally walk upon barefoot.

Yuki: “Not all Japanese people sleep on mats. But it’s important to keep them clean. (laugh) Walking indoors with shoes on is still something I find difficult.”

Summary:

In Japan, it’s seen as customary to take your shoes off when you enter the home. This is probably because Japanese people typically walk around barefoot, as well as sit upon the floor when they eat and sometimes sleep.

Japan isn’t the only culture in the world that has a custom against using shoes indoors. Countries in Europe, like Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia, as well as other Asian countries like Thailand and Korea, also have taboos against getting the floors dirty. I think it’s interesting that certain cultures are fine with the sanitation limits of using shoes indoors, yet others are more wary. Customs are oral traditions that are performed/enforced to maintain a cultural standard.

http://expatsincebirth.com/2013/11/24/take-off-your-shoes-please/

Customs
Folk Beliefs

“Fight Heat with Heat”

“Fighting heat with heat. During the hot and humid summers, Koreans have the belief that eating hot or spicy things can cool you down, as well being in hotter places.”

Grace explained this seemingly paradoxical statement, that after being in an even hotter place or eating a hot thing, the original hot temperature of the summer will seem cool. She said that hot soups and spicy dishes are popular to eat in the summer, as well as are Korean spas. These spas are called jjimjilbangs, which have hot rooms of varying temperatures, in which people basically go inside to sweat. Supposedly after being in these rooms, people feel refreshed and cool, and sweating is even suppose to improve the skin, working also as a beauty treatment. She herself partakes of this tradition, as for some reason when the weather starts to turn hotter, she’ll find herself attracted to steaming soups and enjoys visiting the jjimjilbangs with her friends.

At first I found this tradition to be a bit puzzling, but after Grace’s explanation, I came to understand it. I’m not sure if I can personally relate to it, as when summer comes, I find myself craving ice cream and smoothies, not hot soups, but it does make sense that after being in a hotter condition, the original condition does not seem as bad.

Customs
general

Greetings in Indonesia

 

“When you greet someone in Indonesia, they only touch your hands on the tips very gently using both hands. So if describe it, it’s like you stand facing each other and put your palms together. And then with your hand, you will touch the other person’s hand only on the tips. This is hard to explain in words. They never grab your hand to shake it like in the western way. Also, if you are a young person and you greet the elders, first you kiss the elder’s hand and then you bring the hand onto your forehead gently. That’s how you show your respect. Between females, when they greet each other, they share kisses on both cheeks, also very gently almost not using their lips.”

This way of greeting, for my informant, looked very elegant and polite. She thought it was a better way than the custom of shaking hands in Western culture. It is very polite which is an important part of the culture in Indonesia. It also shows respect to each other and to elders, which is another important part of the culture. This way of greeting is more personal than just shaking hands, it helps to start relationships between people in the correct path.

For myself, I also find this way of greeting to be very elegant. In Korean culture, we also show respect to our elders by bowing, although handshakes are also common. Handshakes can sometimes have different connotations than just greetings however, as we are even taught of the best way tot deliver a handshake in professional situations. A firm but not too overbearing grip is usually recommended, as different pressures can have different meanings. When there is tension between two people, they are often depicted as aggressively shaking each others hand, trying to win over each other with the strength of their grip. In this way handshakes can almost be something condescending or something used to analyze the other. However, the Indonesia custom is not like his as it shows deference to each other and affection in their relationships.

Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

German Tradition: Sylvester/ New Year Celebrations

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So for Sylvester, in every major city, and pretty much all of Germany, you are allowed to shoot fireworks at the turn of midnight.  And this day is a holiday, but some shops are open like, until 6:00pm.  And then people will go to their houses, or friend’s houses, or even parties. But usually first, the evening starts with a dinner. Like, not just with your close family, but it is with your friends too.”

Interviewer: “And why do they call New Years ‘Sylvester’?”

Informant: “I have no idea, I mean I never thought of it as ‘New Years’. It is just the name we gave it.  I think it is some religious guy… Oh! And on Sylvester everyone always watches Dinner for One.  It is one of these things where you have a certain tradition, and you don’t really know where it comes from but you grow up with.  And Dinner for One is a common thing for Sylvester because the butler in the show keeps saying ‘same procedure as every year?’ So he is referring to the routine, and that some things don’t change even though the year changes.  I don’t know, it’s just one of these traditions that you don’t know where they come from, but you grew up with them so you don’t really question them.  So yeah.”

Analysis:

Much like in America, Germany celebrates New Years by partaking in special events such as the shooting of fireworks at midnight and spending time with friends and family.  On New Years it is important to spend time with friends and family because it is a way of expressing to them that you appreciate and love them, and you want them to be in your life at the start of the new year.  This indicates that you are wishing your relationship with them to extend into the new year, and many years afterwards.  The shooting off of fireworks is a sign of celebration, much like it is in America.  However a difference I noticed when I celebrated New Years with my informant was that in Germany people are allowed to fire the big fireworks, but where I am from in America only city workers are allowed to shoot off the big fireworks because it is considered too dangerous for other people to do.  Even though firework regulations change based on where you are in America, the fact that there are not as many regulations on fireworks in Germany indicates that the German government probably trusts it’s people with the explosives more than the American government does with their people.

In Germany, ‘New Years’ is referred to as Sylvester.  My informant was not sure as to why this is, which indicates that the tradition of calling ‘New Years’ ‘Sylvester’ comes from old, long forgotten beliefs. In my research I discovered that the term ‘Sylvester’ is of Isreali origin because that is what the Isreali people call the New Years celebration.  Sylvester was the name of the ‘saint’ and Roman Pope who was in charge of the Catholic church during the 4th century.  Pope Sylvester is best known for convincing Constantine to forbid Jews from living in Jerusalem.   All Catholic ‘Saints’ are awarded the day Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory, and December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day.  Due to the anti-Semitic tone of this legend, perhaps one of the reasons why my informant was not aware of the true origin of Saint Sylvester Day was because Germany has been very careful to distance themselves from their negative history in WWII and the Holocaust.

The final Sylvester tradition my informant mentioned was watching Dinner for One every year.  This english film is played every hour on television during Sylvester and it is very popular in Germany because as my informant pointed out, it reflects on the idea that even though things are changing there are some things in life that will always remain.  Some people feel anxiety towards change, therefore I can understand how in this idea that there is “the same procedure every year” is reassuring to those fearful of change.  The film is especially popular among the wealthier German class because there are jokes in the film that only the wealthy would understand, such as the knowledge of serving the right kind of alcoholic drink with the food.  This comes from upper class dining beliefs that for example, port is an after dinner drink therefore it should be served with the final dish, fruit.  The film is also in English, which is a language that only educated German people would understand.

My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany.  She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree.  She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.

Watch Dinner for One:

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

German Tradition: Saint Nikolaus Day

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So Saint Nikolaus Day is on the 6th of December. And that is just Germany though, and I’m not sure about other European countries.  I know that for example, people in Spain do it on the 6th of January.  I don’t know why we choose that date, I’m sure it has some religious background, as everything in that time. But I don’t know why we celebrate it in December and not January.  Maybe it is to get people excited for Christmas. It’s kind of the beginning, like the very first Christmas event.  So when St. Nikolaus Day arrives, everybody is getting into the Christmas mood. And it somehow commences the Christmas time. So on the evening of the 5th of December, children have to clean their shoes, like their boots, and place them on the windowsill. But only very clean shoes are allowed to be on there.”

Interviewer: “And that is to show that the children are good children?”

Informant: “Well yeah, that is part of it. And you clean you shoes to ask St. Nikolaus to put small treats inside, overnight. So on the 5th of December, children place their shoes there and go to bed. And on the 6th in the morning, they wake up and check their boots to see if something has been put in there. Usually, if the children have behaved fine over the year, St. Nikolaus brings treats. But they are special treats… like walnuts, and also oranges, the small ones… clementines? And also some chocolate stuff.  And if you are bad, you would get sticks and stuff. I don’t know, I never had that. But they have a special name… a rod? And that would be to express that the child was misbehaving.  And St. Nikolaus Day is only for children.  Oh! And you can put spices on the oranges, like cinnamon or nutmeg? And it is arranged in small stars, like they put stars on the oranges.  And usually the boots are supposed to be red boots.”

Interviewer: “Why red?”

Informant: ” I have no idea. Probably the same reason… that the Christmas man… how is he called?”

Interviewer: “Santa Claus.”

Informant: “Santa Claus! Right. Because he is wearing a red coat.”

Analysis:

Saint Nikolaus Day is very similar to the tradition we have in America of hanging stockings over the fireplaces to get little gifts from Santa Claus.  Much like our stocking tradition, Saint Nikolaus Day puts a high emphasis on rewarding good children and punishing bad children.  In both traditions, good children receive gifts for their good behavior and bad children receive something that is symbolic of their naughty behavior such as coal in American tradition or a rod, which is used to spank bad children, in German tradition.  Saint Nikolaus is essentially the German version of Santa Claus.

In addition to what my informant told me, I also found some more interesting information on the legend in my research.  Saint Nikolaus, or Saint Nicholas as he is commonly called, was known to leave coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.  Sometimes a Saint Nikolaus impersonator would visit children at their school or at their home and ask them if they had been good, helpful, and polite.  The impersonator would then check his golden book to for the child’s record to see if they were right.  This is much like our idea that Santa Claus is ‘making a list, checking it twice, and he’s gonna find out who’s naught and nice’.  During the interview I asked if she knew about the Krampus, which is a demon who accompanies Saint Nikolaus and takes away naughty children to eat them for Christmas dinner.  She said she had never heard of the Krampus before.  I thought this was odd because I was sure that the Krampus was a German legend, but I was only half right.  The Krampus is legend found in the Alpine regions of Europe such as Austria and has it’s roots in Germanic folklore, which is why I thought the Krampus was a part of German tradition.

In my research I was not able to determine why the 6th of December is the chosen date for Saint Nikolaus Day, but I agree with what my informant said about Saint Nikolaus Day marking the start of the Christmas season.  In America we seem to start Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving, because this is when people generally start shopping for Christmas gifts.  I do not know why Saint Nikolaus Day is done earlier than Americans version of the day, which is on Christmas Day when children open their stockings that they had set out the night before on December 24th.  However I agree with her in that Saint Nikolaus Day is a great way to start of the Christmas spirit and get into the gift giving mood.

My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany.  She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree.  She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.

[geolocation]