USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘family’
Earth cycle
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions he shared with his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, which I think underscores the great importance of Chinese New Year for him; the fact that he travels to convene with his family while not being intimately close with them shows how much the tradition matters to him. The subject gave me a general overview of the traditions associated with Chines New Year but did not elaborate on specific details.

Main Piece

“For Chinese New Year’s it’s a huge deal for our family so we’ll have a meal together, but, like, it’s supposed to be a time where everyone goes home, so I try and do that as well. And, um, there’s a lot of Chinese cultural traditions associated with that: like the types of meals you’ll cook, how you eat them and like getting money from elders.”

Folk speech
Proverbs

“The Best Construction”

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. I think that this proverb reflects the down-to-earth and positive nature of the subject’s father. I haven’t encountered the exact version of this proverb anywhere else, but similar sayings exist sharing the theme of ‘seeing the best in other people’.

Main Piece

“My dad would always say, like, if we would complain about another person and say they were really mean he would say “Put the best construction on everything” so you don’t know, maybe they had good intentions, so think the best of other people.”

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

“It’s Worth Doing Well”

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. I think that this proverb especially reflects the down-to-earth and hard-working nature of the subject’s parents. I’ve heard similar renditions of this proverb (i.e. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right”) from other sources throughout my life.

Main Piece

“My mom would always say “if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well” so, like that means don’t do a sloppy job or half-heartedly do something.


 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Smith Family Christmas: Ritual/Tradition

Some rituals, we actually have a lot of rituals around Christmas time. Ever since I think you guys – I think we’ve done it every year come to think of it – well it became more difficult with you guys away at school. But when you guys were younger, we’d go out together every year to the farm near Northgate – Pazzani or Prazzani or something – and we’d get a Christmas tree. You guys would run all around trying to find the perfect tree.

 And -um- uh you guys had to find one with enough space for all those ornaments. (chuckle/scoff) I swear half that attic is just ornaments. That’s another thing – the ornament… ritual I guess where you guys get the ornament symbolizing the big thing that happened that year.

 Oh! And then there’s the huevos rancheros. Yeah, I’ve got no idea why we do that every year (laughs). I think I just made them one Christmas morning and you guys seemed to really like them, so I started doing it every year.

Pronzini Farms is the name of the place the Informant carelessly guessed at. He seemed a bit confused when I asked him why these rituals were important and why he liked them. “What do you mean?” he said, “It’s stuff like that that makes a family a family.” Just like a society or culture, you can learn a whole lot about a family by studying their rituals. The ritual of getting a new ornament each year that’s symbolical of an accomplishment or rite of passage has been going on seemingly forever. There are ornaments from ever year since I was born, so he assumes the ritual began then with the classic ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ ornaments. Unbeknownst to me, the ritual of an annual Christmas ornament is established. It represents a ritual-turned-rite of passage. The annual ornaments, a lifetime of memories, are passed down, handed over to hang on their own Christmas tree in their own home.

Beyond the more typical Christmas symbols like trees and ornaments, the Christmas morning huevos rancheros seem more of a tradition than a ritual. Up until I was in high school, I remember having a casual breakfast, maybe cereal or a pop tart. According to the Informant, he just had the ingredients to make his huevos rancheros one Christmas morning and the tradition was born. It’s not done to celebrate anything in particular. It’s done because we’ve done it in the past, which makes it a great example of tradition.

I had never thought about how many rituals my family has revolving around the Christmas holiday. I struggled to think of any, but the Informant sure didn’t. He had to think for a couple seconds, but quickly arrived at three rituals revolving around a single holiday. Not only did I not recognize the annual ornament as a ritual before, I had never thought about the sentimentality of each and every ornament in the sequence. It’s a timeline of my entire life and one day it will hang on my own tree next to my children’s annual addition.

Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nowruz – Jumping over Fire

The following informant is a 22-year-old Persian-American women from Southern California. In this account she is describing a tradition that is done before Persian New Year (Nowruz). This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: For Persian New Year, what you do like the Wednesday before, is you jump over fire. The point is to basically like ward off the bad vibes of the past, and like my parents told me that if I ever don’t jump over the fire then, like you don’t actually go into the New Year with bad vibes, but like the bad vibes are going to be more prominent. So, I will always try to go to whoever’s house to jump over fire, because you know, bad vibes.

K: So do you normally go to your family’s house?

S: Yeah or like, this year I jumped over a candle with my friend, still works

K: Do all Persians partake in this tradition, or is it a specific to Persian-Americans

S: Yeah, all Persians do it, or like 70… 80… like 90%

K: Do you have to do it in a group or can you do it by yourself?

S: No, you can do it by yourself, but it’s just more fun to do it with your family. So that you can jump with someone else, so you are both leaving bad vibes in the past, that is like what typically happens.

K: What does it mean to you, to partake in the tradition?

 

S: Um, I don’t really believe that you actually leave bad vibes back in that sense, like you don’t have to jump over fire to get rid of the bad vibes of the past year. But I think it is a fun way of keeping a tradition, a cultural tradition alive. So, to me it’s just a fun cultural activity, and even though a lot of Persians don’t live in Iran, they still do it.

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. I was visiting the informant at USD, and after providing a different collection of folklore, she continued on to talk about this tradition. The conversation was recorded and transcribed

Thoughts:

I think it is a wonderful tradition. As the informant describes you don’t actually have to believe in its ability to ward off, as she says, “bad vibes” in order to participate. Any Persian can participate anywhere in the world, but still feel connected to one another.

Legends
Narrative

Djinn Attacking a Boat

Item (direct transcription):

So my mom tells me that, uhh, my grandma once told her of a story of something she saw when she was coming back from visiting her parents in their hometown. And this was before the Independence War in Bangladesh, so most of the traveling was done by boat, because Bangladesh used to have lots of water, lots of waterways, and traveling by boat was actually faster than actually going by land.

So, anyway, my grandma was coming back from her hometown, and she was on a boat. And it was, like, around midnight, right? So, dark everywhere and she’s on this boat with some other people who are also traveling. And they’re going along slowly. So then they see this, like, light up ahead. It’s coming towards them. And suddenly it defines itself into, like, a saucer shape. The way my mom said my grandmother described it was that it was like an upside-down pan. You know, something you cook with. Just upside-down. And under it was just fire, just fire coming out.

And, umm, apparently it attacked their boat! And… and like it circled around the boat, and made like waves, like, come up toward the boat, and, like, rock the boat quite a bit. And after, like, harassing them, like, a bit, it, like, flew up into the air, and, like, came down at them as if it was going to crash into the boat and, like, kill everyone. But then it just swerved away at the last second. It did that a couple times, and then it just flew away.

Background Information:

The informant was told the story by his mom, whom was told it by her mom, the informant’s grandmother.

The informant’s grandmother and her fellow passengers believed that they were attacked by a djinn. The informant elaborates that Islamic literature describes djinn as creatures of fire that can fly and assume any form. The informant says that Muslims are more likely to attribute strange occurrences to djinn than to aliens. He believes that what Americans think of as aliens, Muslims think of as djinn. Also, he says the that djinn are believed to come from a separate planet, so they are really quite similar to a modern American belief in aliens.

The informant himself wouldn’t hazard a guess as to what his grandmother saw, though he insisted he believed that the incident did actually happen.

Contextual Information:

The telling of this particular story seems to be mostly constrained to the informant’s family. The informant had not told it to anyone outside his family before, and only thought to tell it to me when I asked about stories of supernatural encounters than he knew of.

Analysis:

This story matches the format of a typical memorate. The informant even seems aware of this, realizing that his grandmother only thought her experience was caused by a djinn because that was a dominant folk belief in her culture.

general
Holidays

Aerosols, C4, and High-Powered Rifles

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (EC) and I (ZM).

ZM: Do you do anything, like special, around Christmas? Other than like the goulash?

EC: Not really. We have a lot of like very family specific traditions, um, because my grandparents owned like a huge ranch in Napa and had like a winery and everything. And so like, that has been like in the family for generations and so like a lot of our holiday tradition’s centered around like going up to the house and like being rednecks in general.

ZM: What do you do?

EC: Um like, on Easter, we would like blow things up. So like, for Easter I might get some aerosol paint cans and then some like C4 explosive and put them together and then shoot it with a high powered rifle just to see how big of a fireball I can make.

ZM: (laughs) And that’s just… because they live on a ranch?

EC: That’s just our family. Yeah.

ZM: Do you go every year and like blow stuff up? Is that like a…

EC: Yeah. It actually burned down, so like not in the last year with this recent fires, but yeah um before that we would go for like every holiday, like Fourth of July, Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, other random stuff.

ZM: And do you blow stuff up every holiday?

EC: Basically. Every holiday involves shooting guns in our family.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with EC originally about her German traditions.

 

Background: EC is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. She is of German descent.

 

Analysis: I thought it was ironic that EC and her family always try to create the biggest fireballs that they can on the ranch and it ended up burning down, but the two events were completely unrelated. The actual act seemed unrelated to the variety of holidays it is performed on. The explosions seem more like something they do when they’re together and they just happen to be together on those holidays.

 

Foodways
Holidays

Goulash

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (EC) and I (ZM).

EC: Stuff that we would do is we would eat goulash on holidays. Which is like a German stew.

ZM: What’s in it?

EC: Umm… It’s just basically a stew I guess. Like vegetables and some form of meat. I feel like…it was probably just like beef or something normal like that, but like it has a German name so…

ZM: Who makes the goulash?

EC: My aunt does. So… yeah.

ZM: She’s the one that was in the military?

EC: Umm my uncle by marriage was in the military and then she is my like blood aunt. My dad’s sister.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with EC about her German traditions.

 

Background: EC is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. She is of German descent. She was born and raised in Sacramento. Most of her German traditions were not passed down, rather influenced by aunt’s family who lived on a military base in Germany.

 

Analysis:I thought it was interesting that even though EC is “significantly German heritage-wise,” the only German traditions practiced by her family are not due to their lineage rather a modern-day influence.

 

 

 

Proverbs

When Mama Ain’t Happy…

Main piece:

When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy.”

Context:

Expression described by Laura Monk, raised in Southern Illinois and Kentucky. She is a mother of three known for her liberal use of anachronisms, sayings, idioms, and expressions.

Background:

This phrase is used frequently among rural midwesterners, and refers to the necessity of caring for the head of one’s household (traditionally, the mother) – though it can also be used to refer to any motherly figure.

For instance, a father might warn his children with the phrase when they misbehave. By making their mother miserable, the children are assuring their own misery later.

But it can also be used in a preventative, positive sense. If a family is taking good care of their mother, then they’ve assured their own happiness.

Lastly, the statement can be used as a warning. If a mother wishes to threaten her family, she might remind them that her happiness and theirs are closely tied by utilizing this proverb.

The implicit statement here is that Mama puts up with a lot, and that when she isn’t happy, it’s the fault of those around her.

Analysis:

This expression reflects the values of care for women, love and respect for one’s mother, and supporting one’s family which are present in the communities that use it.

general
Legends

Nezha

Folklore:

The next folktale is titled Nezha and is originally from China. The tale tells the story of a man names Nezha who was the son of a military commander. Before he was born his mother was pregnant with him for three years and three months. Immediately after birth Nezha was able to walk and talk having skipped infancy. As he was born under unusual circumstances his father believed he was a demon and attempted to murder him at birth but failed. One day Nezha and and his friends were playing by the ocean when the Underworld King kidnapped one of his friends. Enraged Nezha searched for his friend and fought with the Underworld King’s son severely injuring him. When the Underworld King hear of Nezha injuring his son he went to the emperor and threatened to dishonor Nezha’s family. To not bring dishonor to his family Nezha dismembered himself. Later his mother build a temple for Nezha, which became well known for granting miracles and wishes to its visitors.

Background & Context:

This story was collected in a casual lunch setting. The informant was a 21 year old junior at USC. She is ethnically Chinese but has grown up in New York her entire life. The way she found about this folktale was by watching a popular Chinese from several years ago, that is a remake of this traditional tale.

Final Thoughts:

I thought this story was interesting because it could be conveying a message about someone who might not fit into the standards set by society and be considered abnormal. Like Nezha someone could suffer discrimination from others only based on their differences from the norm. The story’s message  focuses on how someone who does not fit societal norms can be more severely punished for their mistakes than others and is consequently more likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts and depression. However an aspect I found interesting is how the informant originally heard about this folktale. As she learned about it through mass media. I think learning about folklore through media is unique and good way to teach the newer generation about old traditional folktales.  

 

[geolocation]