Tag Archives: family

Japanese New Year Feast

Piece
Every year, the informant cooks a Japanese New Year Feast for their family. It is an all-day affair where hundreds of guests, friends and family, can come and go to eat lunch and/or dinner and socialize with those present. The informant makes the following traditional dishes:
Ozoni (rice cake in vegetable soup) is the first thing eaten on New Year’s day and wishes good health and prosperity to the family
Gomame (dried sardines) to bless attendees with health
Kombu Maki (rolled kelp) to bring happiness and joy
Kuri Kinton (sweet potato or lima bean paste with chestnuts) to bring wealth
Renkon (lotus root) as a symbol for the wheel of life
Daikon (white raddish), carrots, and other root vegetables to promote deep family roots
Ise ebi (lobster) for the festive red color and to symbolize old age and longevity; note: the lobster must be served whole and cannot be broken lest the spine of the old ones break
Context
The informant learned to cook and serve these dishes from their mother and has trained their daughter in how to give the feast. To the informant, The New Year is the most important holiday of the year as it is when the entire extended family comes together. Food preparations begin weeks before the event and there are leftovers for days after as a result of the concern that the table could run out of food.
My Thoughts
Some of the foods look similar to an object such as the lotus root looking like a wheel or the lobster’s spine curving like the spine of an older person while others symbolize good things for their cost or how the word for the food sounds similar to the word for whatever it symbolizes. The feast was a time to celebrate and welcome the New Year and do things that would hopefully ensure prosperity. It was a time where social barriers could be crossed and family meant everything. The extensive amount of time taken to prepare the foods probably shows the care that the family and friends have for one another and the desire to serve each other. The pursuit of good fortune in the food symbolism is an acknowledgement of the lack of control that they have over many aspects of their lives, particularly for the peasants who depended so much on the rulers of their areas.

Christmas Chimney

Main Piece:

This is the transcription of an interview I had with the informant about her Christmas traditions. 

“So my dad’s grandma, my great-grandma, she made us this chimney. Like out of wood. And we put it on the dining room table on Christmas Eve. My mom is always in charge of it. And she puts tiny gifts like pencils or a piece of candy in the thing, like in the chimney. Then there’s a ribbon that’s attached to each gift that has a name of a family member on it. There’s one for each of us. And then after Christmas Eve Mass we come back and have dinner and stuff and after dinner we get to pull the string with our name. So it’s like the first gift of Christmas”

Background:

The informant comes from a very tight-knit family. She grew up near all her extended family. Her great-grandmother is of Eastern European descent. 

Context:

I was talking to the informant about traditions that make her think of family and this was one of the first she told me.

Thoughts:

The holidays produce a lot of traditions and customs important to families. This “first gift” of Christmas often mirrors what is discussed during Christmas Mass from the gift of Jesus’s birth to the gifts the Wise Men bring to the child. This provides a small tradition the family can do to physically celebrate the holiday in a way that combines the Santa ideas of Christmas as well as the biblical meaning.

White Rabbit

White Rabbit is the first thing said on the first day of every month. It is meant to bring good luck and prosperity for those who participate. If words have already been spoken on the first, White Rabbit is not said.

The informant learned it from her family, specifically her dad, when she was younger. Her whole family participates. She follows this because she believes that if anything could possibly bring her good luck, it is worth doing. It is meaningful because she knows her family does it and it is something that she can share easily with her friends.

There are other additional forms of this same piece of folklore performed in different manners. Some other words are said instead of White Rabbit. My own family says Rabbit Rabbit on the first of every month. I learned it from my father, who learned it from an old colleague at work.  Possible origins of this tradition could be the concept of the lucky rabbit’s foot, traditionally from a white rabbit. It could be a manifestation of this but in a less brutal manner.

Advent Calendar

An advent calendar is a folk object typically used around Christmas time in between family members. It is a physical calendar with doors numbered 1 through 24, each representing a day up until Christmas Day. The subject used two different types of advent calendars. The first was a personal calendar that featured one chocolate a day. The second was a recurring wooden calendar featuring a house, significantly larger than the chocolate calendar. The doors were still labeled 1 through 24 but were not prefilled. Family members would get gifts for each other and place them in the days and the members would take turns opening the doors on the corresponding date of December.

The subject was taught this folk practice by their mother. Her mother would buy these advent calendars while they lived in Scotland together when the subject was younger. The subject remembers it because of the enjoyment she found when she was a little girl. She then introduced the tradition to her own family, and now they do it every year together. They think that it is a fun way to show appreciation and give smaller gifts to other family members. In addition, it gets everyone prepared for the Christmas season and keeps everyone in the holiday spirit, much like Christmas songs.

I think that folk practices such as the advent calendar are used to embody the intended spirit of Christmas more successfully. The idea of Christmas is to spend time with loved ones like friends and family and to give gifts and spread joy. In my opinion, acts like these are less about the gifts and more about the comradery and kindness, further spreading the sentiment of Christmas. It allows Christmas to be less of a build-up towards the monetary gifts one receives at the end, and more of a drawn-out feeling for people to share. Other similar things to this would be Christmas lights or carolers during the Christmas season. Although vastly different forms of folklore, both are about mood and time rather than one big buildup.

Nowruz (Persian New Year) Celebration

Main Piece

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant, identified as SK, and myself, GK.

SK: One unique holiday that I celebrate is Nowruz, which is known as Persian New Year. This year it fell on March 20, but the date changes each year.

GK: Why is that?

SK: This is because the holiday falls on the first day of Spring Equinox. So it depends on when exactly the sun crosses the celestial equator.

GK: How do you usually celebrate this holiday?

SK: Um, there’s a lot of things we do. One of the more intriguing events we partake in is called Chaharshanbe Suri. This is a tradition where you jump over the fire, as it serves as a way to purify yourself from all of the sin you’ve partaken in. We also usually have a big feast where we eat Kashke Bademjan (Eggplant Dip), and chicken soltani. 

GK: How long have you been celebrating this for?

SK: It’s been 16 years now. 

Background: The informant, who comes from Persian heritage, knows of this holiday due to the fact he has been celebrating it for the majority of his life. His father, was originally born in Iran, migrated to the U.S. when he was a kid. And with this move, he brought the many traditions and customs along with him. Those traditions have thus been passed on to his son, who deeply enjoys the holiday as it brings his whole family together throughout the start of spring. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this holiday over Facetime. 

My Thoughts: It was very intruiging to hear about the Persian New Year and how different their traditions are vs. our New Year traditions here in the United States. I feel like ours is more of a celebration, while there’s is more of a reflection and cleansing. You could see this through the Chaharshanbe Suri. Hearing about these traditions of the informants makes me want to be more reflective while celebrating New Year’s and think of what I can improve on for the next year. In addition, it was really interesting to hear about how this holiday is connected with the earth cycle. I’ve always wondered why some holidays change dates each year, and that answered my question.

The Heidelmann Lodge

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from dialogue between my self, GK, and the informant DH.

DH: One of my favorite memories as a child was going to the “Heidelmann Lodge” with my family and getting to spend time with them. 

GK: Where is this lodge located?

DH: It is located at the Donner Summit, in Northern California. Trukee California to be exact, which is about a 7 hour drive from Los Angeles. 

GK: Tell me a little about the history of the lodge. 

DH: I think it was founded in 1947 by a man named West Heidelmann. It took about two years to build, and there were originally only 10 members at the time. It has always been a part of the San Francisco Nature Friends and now and days requires a membership for entry. 

GK: How does one become a member?

DH: It’s a pretty straight forward process. First you usually need to get a letter of recommendation from an active member. Then from there, you will be able to submit an application and have it reviewed by the board of trustees. And then if you get approved, you are required to put in five “work days”. This includes either cleaning the kitchen, cleaning the bathrooms, or working one of our special days such as: Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day Weekends. 

GK: What is there to do there?

DH: In the lodge itself, you could play ping pong, cards, there’s a piano, board games, and many other things. However during the day, we are usually outside. Depending on the season, we will usually be skiing, or going down to Donner Lake. Both are only five minute drives from the Lodge.  

Background: The informant knows of this organization through his family. They have been members at the Heidelmann Lodge for over 50 years and have been going during the summer each year. This place means a lot to the informant because it is where he got to spend a lot of time with his cousins and other family members. In addition to that, today it serves as a great place to visit his brothers and sister and get to see his nephews and nieces. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this face to face.

My Thoughts: I feel like this place is so much more than a lodge to the informant. It feels more like a gathering place for families to get to see one another. In addition it also feels like a bridge for different generations of a family. For example, the informant went while he was a kid, and got to enjoy all of the amenities and the fun times with friends. Now, he brings his own son to this place, and I’m sure he feels the same way his dad once felt. I’m sure the two have shared many of the same memories in the lodge, as it has supposedly not changed much throughout the years. 

Jumping off the Couch into the New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.

Interviewer: So do you have any New Year’s traditions that you take part in?

Informant:Yes I do! Every year at midnight, everyone has to get up on the couch and jump of right as the clock hits midnight so that we’re jumping into the new year. My mom used to do it in Denmark and I always loved doing it so I saw no reason to stop.

Interviewer: and no one else you know does that?

Informant: Not that I know of…. Some of my American friends like to take a shot at midnight haha but i feel like our way is a little more sentimental. 

Background:

My informant is a woman in her 50’s, originally growing up in Denmark and moving to the United states in her early 20’s. She has exceedingly liberal views, and has been a mother for a majority of her life. 

Context:

I talked to my informant over the phone during the 2020 Coronavirus Epidemic. 

Thoughts:

I love the idea of “Jumping into the New Year” as a sentimental way of not just finishing off a year, but having a good start to a new one. The differences between Danish culture and American culture are also highlighted here, since most special occasions are celebrated with drinking in America, while family, friends, and good virtue take precedent in most European culture. This definitely doesn’t mean that Danish people don’t like to drink, however, because they definitely like to party

A Friendly Ghost

Context: While sitting with my family for our weekly Shabbat dinner, I decided to ask my family members if they’d ever had experiences with the supernatural. My mother shared a rather lovable encounter that had stuck with her for the last 29 years.

 

Background: The story takes place in 1989, about one year after my sister – her first child – was born. Her younger brother had suddenly passed away in 1985, one year before her wedding.

 

Main Piece: “She was almost 2 I think. Dad was always leaving really early in the morning and would work until late at night, so it was always just the two of us alone together in our old apartment. I was always so nervous around that time, I was scared to be alone with the baby because I had no idea what I was doing. That night I finally got her to go to bed after she was crying and crying for hours. Right after I put her down I was sitting in the rocking chair in her room and I was just thinking about [her brother], and I just thought to myself, I wonder what it would be like if he was here, I wonder if he would think I was a good mom. I kept thinking of what it would have been like if he had met her and seen me as a mommy. I remember I started dozing off and started imagining him standing with me and holding her in his arms, and at that exact moment, [my sister] started saying ‘agha, agha’, which is man in Farsi, and started pointing to the corner of the room. She only knew how to say a few words at the time, and I just remember I had goosebumps all over my body. It was as if she and I saw the same picture that I was imagining in my head. Or maybe he came to visit the both of us. I can’t tell you what happened that night, all I know is that there was no one else in that room, but it didn’t feel like it was just the two of us.”

 

Analysis: While this was not a typical “ghost story”, it definitely qualifies as some supernatural encounter. My mother has always been a very spiritual person, but always tried not to talk about death or the afterlife, and usually deflects when talking about her brother who had passed. It’s interesting to hear that individuals can still feel a supernatural presence. 

Salt Balls From the Dead Sea

Context: A friend of mine had missed about a week of school, so when she finally returned, I visited her at her apartment in Downtown to catch up and hear about what had been happening.

 

Background: My informant explained that she had been falling victim to a string of bad luck for about one month. She was very sick and decided to spend a week at her parent’s home in Beverly Hills to recover. While at home, her mother instructed her to take a bath with salt balls that she brought back from the Dead Sea in Israel. Salt from the Dead Sea is known to have different forms of healing power, both internally and externally. She believes that this ritual has the power to heal, as well as dissolve negative energy. 

 

Main Piece: “For the last month it was just thing after thing coming my way. I was feeling pretty down overall. I kept getting sick over and over again. I had a couple of ruptured ovarian cysts. My family was fighting a lot and it was getting really heated and out of control. I kept losing things, I was doing poorly in school. It was just so much negativity surrounding me and I was losing my mind. So I go home and I was just miserable so my mom gave me these salt balls she brought back with her from Israel. The gist of it is like you can either use them in the bath as a bath bomb or something, or you can use it as a scrub in the shower and just scrub it all over your body until it dissolves into your skin. The salt in general is a healer, it heals physical cuts and wounds and it’s supposed to help your skin. But a lot of people think it heals internally too. It’s really renewing and cleansing both inside and out. My mom always tells me that it dissolves the negative energy, the illness, just the bad all around. She says it’s purifying and yeah it cleanses the toxins out of your body, but it’s supposed to really boost your energy and stamina too. I sat in the bath with it for like an hour a couple of times and I honestly felt so much better. There’s definitely things I’m still dealing with, but I swear afterwards I just felt completely cleansed. I felt at peace with a lot of things, I just felt the negativity clear from my mind. It could have been some placebo effect type of thing, but it helped regardless.”

 

Analysis: People from all over the world visit the Dead Sea, and revel in the salty pool of water. It attracts tourists for its’ power to make the body completely float, and for the physical healing power of the salt. What I found interesting was this interpretation of its’ power to heal internally – to heal energy, to erase negativity, and to cleanse the body and the aura.

 

Lentils on Monday

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: It was a Monday afternoon and my informant was eating a bowl of lentils, she explained that she did so every Monday, as explained by a common Peruvian folklore custom. Her parents and grandparents have followed this tradition for as long as she can remember, and she feels that it’s something that connects her to her family, even while she’s away from home.

 

Main Piece: “So every Monday I make sure to eat a bowl of lentils. Back at home, my mom would make them for dinner every Monday night for our whole family to eat. No matter what else she made, there were always lentils involved and we always had to have at least one bite, no matter how badly we didn’t want to eat them. The reason is that it’s supposed to bring or attract money, prosperity, and good luck. I’m not sure where this tradition started, but my grandparents grew up on it, so did my mom, and she makes sure we all take part in it too. Peruvians use a lot of foods to represent or attract different things into life. Food is a huge part of the culture. I’m not sure how much I believe that this tradition works or anything like that, but it’s something that I’ve done for so long that it feels natural to continue. Little things like this keep me connected to my family which is important to me now that I haven’t been able to see them since I’m away at school.”

 

Analysis: The continuation of cultural traditions and rituals is something very important to the elders of immigrant families. It’s easy to assimilate to the current lifestyle of where a person lives, so it’s refreshing to hear that first or even second generation immigrants keep their culture alive.