My informant comes from a Christian household, and she told me about the prayers she and her family said before meals together:
“So what it is, is we have a family prayer that we say before every meal, but specifically dinner, when we’re all eating together. Um, and it’s something I learned from my parents because they both growing up as kids had their own family prayers that they said before meals, so when they were raising my brother and I, they came up with their own for our family. So my mom typed it up and cut it out with these fancy scissors so it looks nice, and she put it in a frame and hung it up right by our dinner table. So, whenever we sit down to have dinner, we always say it before we eat. And we say, ‘God is great, God is good, and we thank God for our food. Amen.’ And that’s something that when we get together with our other relatives—with our extended family—it’s something that they now say as well, because it’s been a tradition for our family so it carries over. And they have their own prayers that they say that we all say now too, so we have like, three small prayers that we go through as a huge family before we eat.”
Christianity was very important to my informant when she was growing up. She went to church every Sunday, and she says religion was extremely influential on her worldview and morality. Since coming to college, she actually stopped going to church. She is part of a Christian youth group on campus, but she says that her religiosity has waned since high school. Even so, when she returns home from college for vacations, she and her family still recite this prayer before every meal they eat together. She appreciates that they have this tradition. It not only reminds her of her Christian foundation, but also of the closeness of her family. This short prayer is a way for my informant’s family to give thanks for what they have and reflect on what they see as God’s impact on their lives. It also commemorates the beginning of a special time: family dinner. Because of all these reasons, this simple tradition has great significance for my informant. One thing that intrigued me about my informant’s account is that she says it’s a prayer that her parents thought up together before spreading it to their children and other relatives, as well as whoever joins them for dinner. Yet despite my informant’s assuredness that this prayer is entirely her parent’s creation, I remember hearing something very similar to it before. One of my good friends used to say a prayer much like this one before she ate with her family. My informant’s parents might have gotten the idea for their prayer from other similar variants, and then made it their own by writing it down and spreading it to their own family. The development of this prayer is one that reminds me of the way other folklore spreads: it is learned from one or more sources, and then spread in a slightly new way.
The informant is 77 years old. She was born in Minnesota, and is of Swedish and Finnish descent.
Over Easter Brunch, my informant supplied me with some traditional Swedish folklore. The first thing that came to her mind was a recipe for Lutefisk that her family used to make. This is what she told me about the traditional Swedish recipe:
“Lutefisk is an old Swedish fish dish. It’s cod preserved in lye. I think my mother used to soak it in milk, or actually probably water. The only time she would make it was Christmas Eve. I used to help a little bit, but I think I mostly got in the way. It was actually really disgusting. No one liked it, not even my mother who spent the time making it every year! I don’t know why we kept making it for so long, but it was a traditional thing that made us feel more connected to our roots. After leaving the old country, it was nice for my parents to have a little something traditional, even if no one really enjoyed it!”
I agree with my informant’s reasoning about why the tradition continued. If no one actually enjoyed eating the lutefisk, then it was most likely made as a way to stay in touch with the family’s Swedish heritage after moving to America.
1 piece dried lutefisk, sawed into 6 lengths
2 tablespoons lye
Prep: Soak the fish in water for 3 days. Add two Tbsp. lye into a gallon of water. Soak for 3 days in this solution. Then soak for 4 days in water, changing water every day.
Cooking: Tie the fish loosely in a square of cheese cloth. Drop in a large enamel pot of boiling water. Cook 10 minutes or until well done. Remove cheese cloth put on a platter and debone. Serve with a mustard sauce.
My informant sung me a song that she said is often sung at the sleep-away camp she attends in the summer called Camp Hayward:
“Camp Hayward born and
Camp Hayward bread and
when I die I’ll be (pause) (clap)
Camp Hayward dead!
So, rah-rah, Camp Hayward, Hayward
Rah-Rah Camp Hayward, Hayward
We love Hayward, we love you!”
My informant said that she and the other campers were taught this song from the leader of the camp at their first camp-fire session. After that, the campers would sing it before every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is a happy song that gets everyone into the spirit of being at Camp Hayward. To this day it still reminds her of her experiences there. She told me that her younger sister, who also attended the camp, will often subconsciously hum the tune before they eat with their family.
I went to a similar camp when I was younger. We had songs that we sung before eating, but we called them “dinner songs.” They were similar in purpose, and often included the name of the camp in the lyrics. It was meant to keep us happy and our spirits up. Now, my friends and I will often sing the songs together as a way of connecting and remembering the time we spent there together.
My informant told me about the tradition of “Monday Night Dinner” at sororities at USC
“Every Monday all the girls come to the sorority house for dinner. They all dress in fancy attire and arrive at the houses around 4:45pm. The new members make “deliveries”, which is when before dinner they bring gifts and notes to the different frats that are having Monday Night Dinner too. After they finish they come in and sit down to dinner. As they eat, boys from different frats come in and make deliveries to the house. The girls clap as they come in and each gift is delivered to the specific girl. They can be anything from a romantic bouquet to a funny card from a friend. It is also a way for frats and sororities to strengthen their relationships with each other by sending deliveries to certain houses.”
My informant told me that she enjoys the tradition, and she likes to take advantage of it for flirting with boys. If you like someone, you can send them a delivery.
I am in a sorority on campus and I enjoy the tradition of Monday Night Dinner as well. I have utilized it to ask certain boys to our House Invites and also to send funny notes to friends. I’ve also noticed that boys who are usually very shy will use this as a way to communicate with girls that they like. I’ve also noticed that if girls “hook up” with boys over the weekend it is often customary for the boy to send the girl a delivery on monday, such as chocolates or flowers, as (although it seems ridiculous) a “thank you, I’d like to kiss you again some time” kind of delivery.
I also talked to my friends who are in sororities in other schools and none of them were familiar with the tradition of “Monday Night Dinner”. It seems to be a unique tradition to the Greek System at USC. It has been happening for as long as many of my friends can remember, so I assume that it is something that the Greek life likes to keep alive to pride itself on its heritage.
My informant, whose background actually features multiple nationalities, remembers her traditional dinner that they had every New Years day for good luck. It consisted of pork and sauerkraut. When she talked of this dinner she actually referred to it as a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, the Pennsylvania Dutch actually referring to German Immigrants, a mispronunciation of the German word for Germans, Deutsch.
The sauerkraut is cooked in a crock-pot with the pork for the entire day, and my informant said that apples were sometimes included in the pot with the sauerkraut to make it sweeter. Considering the abundance of apples in the region, this is no surprise that they were used.
The Pennsylvania Dutch traditional dish from which my informant’s contemporary meal comes from is actually something known as hog maw, which was pork sausage and potatoes stuffed into in a cleaned pig’s stomach, boiled, and sliced.
My informant also mentioned that kielbasa, an Eastern European traditional sausage, was also included with the shredded pork and sauerkraut. This influence comes from the Pittsburgh area, which features a large eastern European population that immigrated to the area for jobs in the steel mills around the turn of the century 1900s.