USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘family’
Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Presents in Shoes During Christmas

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College.This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening. The informant and I were alone in a private space, and, out of her collection of folklore, this is one that she chose to share with me. In this account, she is describing a tradition that she experienced when she celebrated Christmas in Mexico with her family when she was a young girl. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Um, ok, so, the folklore that I am talking about is, ummm, connected to most of my extended family. Um, most of my extended family on the one side of my family still lives in Guadalajara, which is a state in Mexico. And although I don’t go down as much as I used to, one time when I was about eight years old we were there around Christmas and one sort of tradition that they have in Mexico that is pretty common is that instead of using stocking—the way that a lot of, um, American households use to hold presents—they instead use shoes. So if you, um, put your shoes or your boots in front of the fireplace, then the next morning that’s kind-of where your Christmas gifts and presents will be.

K: When exactly, like, did this happen?… Like what year?

E: Ummm, I think the year… Ok, so I was in 4th grade, which means I was ten, which means it was ten years ago, which means it was 2009. Actually I think it was 2008, let’s do 2008.

K: Have you like heard of this tradition outside of your family?

E: Yes, because it’s like pretty commonly done… I think it’s not only in Mexico, though, like I’m pretty sure people do it in Europe, too? I just don’t know that it’s like… Or I haven’t heard about it as widely like in the U.S.

K: Um, can you just set up the context of when this would happen? I know you said it was during Christmas, but can you be more specific?

E: Um, ok, so kind of like the idea is that… like… on any Christmas morning, instead of like kind of the more conventional U.S. version of kind of waking up to like stockings with presents in them, it’s like boots or shoes with like smaller presents in them. But it’s kind of like akin either way.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that the concept of putting Christmas presents in shoes was quite intriguing, and I wondered if there was a legend, myth, or tale that created this tradition of putting presents in shoes. Though my informant never mentioned a reason why this became a tradition in her family, she did mention that she knew that it was not just something that occurred in Mexico, but in Europe, as well. I did some investigating and found that in the days leading up to December 6, which is St. Nicholas’s feast day,  children in Europe put their shoes or a special St. Nicholas boot out in front of the fireplace at night to find them filled with presents the next morning. Some differences between this tradition and my informant’s experience is that my informant put her shoes out on Christmas Eve day rather than in the many days leading up to Christmas, and also the mere fact that she celebrated this in Mexico rather than in a European country. Perhaps the reason there is such deviation between the way it is traditionally celebrated from the way my informant celebrates it is because Mexico is so far from the origin of the tradition,  which allowed for the tradition to take its own form and adjust to its new culture (as folklore should).

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Dreams Predict Death

VG: Ok, so you said you have a superstition?

AM: I am 99% sure I know how I’m gonna die and when.

VG: Uh-how?

AM: Once a month, I have the same exact dream where I’m driving in a car during the rain and ss- what is it- we end up hydroplaning and falling on train tracks and not um having enough time to get off the car and getting hit by a dream. What is it- every month the dream changes just a little bit, but it’s always us driving, hydroplaning, and then ch- hitting a ditch.

VG: So you believe in the power of recurring dreams?

AM: Yes. Every month for the past three years.

VG: Do you know the specific day?

AM: No. All I know is is it’s raining really bad and we’re on the highway.

VG: Wow…who’s- you say we, whose in the car?

AM: Usually, my dad, my mom, and me.

VG: Wow…have you told them about it?

AM: Nope..not yet.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Variable, Southern California

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context:  This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore. This story came after a few others from a friend in response to the prompt “weird beliefs.”

 

Analysis: This a great example about the folklore and folk belief in reoccurring dreams because it offers such a precise description of what AM experiences in the dream. This precision is most likely because of the recent development of this recurring and very consistent dream. I also think it is interesting to note the absence of supernatural elements of this story. Frequently, people have monsters, paranormal activity, etc. in their dreams, so the fact that this story is based in reality effectively conveys the idea that this could be an omen – it is much closer to things that could actually occur. Possibly, the realistic narrative of the dream is related to the recent development of this dream. AM is a college freshman, so this dream could reflect feelings of fear about growing older and separating from the family. 

Additional reading: Kaivola-Bregenhøj, Annikki. “Dreams as folklore.” Fabula 34 (1993): 211-224. This article offers a great explanation about dreamlore as well as the relative novelty of its performance.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Wart treatment

Text

If you have a wart, cut an onion in half, rub it on your wart, and bury it in the backyard on a full moon.

 

Background

The informant learned this remedy from her mother and said that it was a very common one that she fully believed in when she was a kid. She said that not only did all of her friends know about this trick, but her husband who grew up on the other side of the country knew of a very similar remedy growing up. She believed it when she was much younger and practiced it frequently as she struggled with warts, but as she got older, she realized that it didn’t actually do anything

 

Context

The informant is a woman in her mid forties who grew up in the small town of Garner, Iowa (population: 2,000 as of 2018). She attended public school and grew up in a very rural area where she worked on the farm that her parents owned.

 

Thoughts

Warts are certainly unsightly and could even be embarrassing for a young child. Children can be mean and a child may be teased for having something that made them stand out in a negative way like a wart. Warts are also something that happen for seemingly no reason at all and are uncontrollable. Freezing off warts is possible, but the informant may not have had access to a doctor who provided this service being from such a small town. Because of all of these reasons, it makes sense that the informant practiced this remedy even though there seemed to be no scientific reasoning behind it. It gave her a feeling of control over this fairly uncontrollable blemish.

 

Adulthood
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mazel Tov! You’re Married!

Piece:

Interviewer: “Did you incorporate any like folk traditions into your wedding?”

B.F.: “Yeah. We did the traditional breaking of the glass.”

Interviewer: “Can you expand, please?”

B.F.: “So, um, at the end of the ceremony the groom stomps on a glass and everyone shouts ‘Mazel Tov’ (which means congratulations in Hebrew). My parents did it at their wedding, you Uncle Dan did it at his wedding, it’s just, just something we do.”

Interviewer: “Did it hurt your foot?”

B.F.: “Ha. No. We used a cloth.”

Informant:

Informant B.F. is a middle-aged man who is of Ashkenazi Jew descent. He grew up in a low-income, divorced parent family and lived in many different locations growing up. He worked hard in school to become successful and does not have a deep cultural connection with his past, though is grateful for it because her believes it has shaped him into the man he is today. Although he had a Bar Mitzvah and his grandparents and other relatives are practitioners of Judaism, he personally does not practice the religion anymore.

Context:

I asked B.F. to briefly sit down for an interview for my folklore collection project. When asked about wedding traditions, B.F. recalled this from his own.

Interpretation:

While B.F. is not a practitioner of judaism and was not at the time of his wedding, he still found the tradition breaking of the glass to be something he needed to do at his wedding because it was a traditional thing the men of his family had done. He is actually not even sure what the breaking of the glass symbolizes. He is not a traditional man but finds that certain traditions make him feel closer to his family. B.F. is not sure where he learned about this tradition, but remembers it from jewish weddings growing up. I think this folklore piece is important because it shows that a person does not have to be a believer in the beliefs behind folklore to practice the folklore. Folklore traditions can be more than just the beliefs that started it, and can take on a new meaning of familial ties and heritage. While this is a popular wedding tradition, B.F.’s unique take on the meaning stood out and was significant to me as a collector.

Annotation:

Mazel Tov – End of Ceromony – Seth breaks glass. Produced by Karen Orly, 2010.
Youtube, Karen Orly, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sXl1Bbe4Yk.

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Folk speech
Humor
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hail, Hail — Happy Birthday Rendition

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty woman from San Jose, CA. The woman will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “My family has a very specific Happy Birthday song.”

Collector: “How so?

Informant: “We have, like, twelve songs we sing. Well, that’s an exaggeration. We have like five one we sing after the original Happy Birthday.”

Collector: “Will you sing it haha?”

Informant: “Haha..umm… okay. So it’s normal Happy Birthday, yada yada, then it’s ‘Stand up and tell us your age’, then it’s ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’, then you launch into ‘May the dear Lord bless you’. And then it’s everyone’s favorite one, ‘Hail, hail.’”

Collector: “How does that one go?”

Informant: “So there are hand motions too. Every time you sing ‘hail’, you have to throw your hands in the air. And the rest of the time, you’re swinging you arm back and forth.” (Does a motion similar to a yee-haw – bent elbow, fist near the chin, and swing it to and from.)

“Hail, hail the gang’s all here!

What the heck do we care,

What the heck do we care,

Hail, hail the gang’s all here!

What the heck do we care now!”

Context

            The Informant learned the song from her father, who supposedly claims he came up with it. The Informant, however, tells me that she believes it was a school chant the students would cheer at their school’s sports game. Nonetheless, it has been apart of every Happy Birthday song she has every sung at a family gathering. The Informant loves that her family has their own way of singing Happy Birthday. They treat it as a secret of sorts: if you know the song and the motions, you’re part of the inner circle.

Interpretation

            I was thrilled to hear this new rendition of Happy Birthday. While I was aware there were many versions of Happy Birthday, specifically those when you add “cha cha cha” or the one about how old you are, I had never heard this piece before. The added interpretation of the Informant’s belief that it acts as a method of deciphering who is really a part of the group and who is not is an added benefit. This song celebrates the one whose birthday it is while also celebrating the bond and closeness of a people who all know the same secret.

 

Childhood
Customs
Folk speech
general
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Secret Family Call

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty-two year-old girl who is also a student at USC. . She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “My family does a special call to let each other know where we are.”

Collector: “What does is sound like?”

Informant: “One person would go ‘Who who-oo!’ and then if another person in the family hears it, they have to respond ‘Who-oo-O! Who-oo-O!’”

Collector: “So what is it for?”

Informant: “Basically, it’s a way to keep track of all the younger kids. I have a bunch of siblings, so if we ever lose track of one of them, it’s a way to quickly call out to them and find them. Or have them call out to us.”

Collector: “Does it work?”

Informant: “Always.”

Context

            The Informant learned the call from her older sibling, who learned it from their father who came up with it. She believes in the family call’s ability to help make people’s location’s known, both in a lighthearted way and a method of finding a younger kid if they were to wander off at a grocery store. She remembers it for the frequency of which she and her family uses the secret call.

Interpretation

            I loved hearing about this secret family call. I believe it to be a fun and effective tool. To me, having insider knowledge, in the form of a secret family call, is a perfect way to feel a part of something. Secret calls as a form of familial folklore is reminds people that they are part of a group, a group that cares about safety and awareness of each other enough to have designed an entire secret system as a way to be aware of each members’ whereabouts.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general
Protection

Lemon Juice and Salt Water — Healing

Text

The following piece was collected from a thirty-year-old Mexican-American woman. . She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Mi mama used to tell me us to squeeze lemon juice onto cuts my brothers and I would get.”

Collector: “To clean them?”

Informant: “Si. She said it hurt because it was cleaning. She would make us put salt water in mouth when throat hurt.”

Collector: “Did it work?”

Informant: “No se. We did it because she said.”

Context

            The Informant learned this unique way of healing small ailments from her Mexican mother. The Informant remembers because she would always try to hide some small scratch or sore throat from her mother so she wasn’t forced to pour lemon juice on the cut or gargle salt water. She never liked it, but she believed they worked, mainly because from a young age, her mother would tell her they would.

Interpretation

            When I first learned of this method, I was reminded of another method of helping small hurts. I was once told to rub mud on a bee sting to make it stop hurting. While I believe that the lemon juice and salt water have more legitimate healing properties, I think that the intent behind both practices is similar. I think the purpose of these processes is that within the application and resulting sting of lemon juice and salt water, the hurt is more in that moment of application. But following the short but intense sting, the pain itself has lessened. More than simply helping because healing properties they both may have, they are used as a distraction method, a way to lessen the pain in the long run.

Adulthood
Childhood
Customs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish Baby Shower Custom

Text

The following piece is a Jewish custom collected from a twenty-two year old girl in a library with a group of other girls, all studying. The girls were discussing an upcoming family pregnancy. The “Informant” shared the following information with the table. I will be referred to as the “Collector”.

Informant: “Apparently, in Jewish culture, Jewish women aren’t allowed, or like supposed to have baby showers. Apparently it’s bad luck.”

Collector: “What does that mean?”

Informant: “Well, Jewish women are not supposed to prepare for the baby before it is born. It’s bad luck to receive presents for the baby before it’s born. So, like the mother or friends can accept the presents but she can’t give them to the mother. Also, you’re allowed to paint the baby’s room but you can’t bring in the crib. So when the mother finally goes into labor, whoever had the presents or other baby stuff goes to the house and sets up the crib and baby’s room with all the presents. So that it’s ready by the time the mom and baby come home.”

Context

            The Informant learned of this custom from her friend who is Jewish. When questioned, the Informant said that her friend’s mother was the one who told her and was very strict about the tradition. Her mother did it and all the women of the family still uphold the tradition. The Informant remembers learning of the tradition very clearly because she remembers her friends’ anger at the tradition overall.

Interpretation

I had previously never heard of this Jewish custom. I was surprised to hear that it was still very much a part of Jewish women’s practices and belief system. I understand how some of the preparation for a baby coming might lead to superstitious beliefs, or the thought of jinxing the pregnancy, but the idea that the baby shower in particular is bad luck was surprising to me. I’ve always thought that the purpose of a baby shower was to welcome bother the woman to motherhood and the baby to life. It has always seemed to me to be a celebration of life. It’s interesting to me to know to understand the other perspective that it might be an unlucky aspect of the pregnancy.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph — Prayer for Good Luck

Text

The following piece was collected from a seventy-three year-old woman from Vail, Colorado. She is Irish Catholic. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Oh, whenever my family needs a bit of luck, or we think someone else could use it, all you have to say is ‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.’”

Collector: “Then what’s supposed to happen?”

Informant: “Nothing is supposed to happen. It’s just a way of trying to get some extra help from above.”

Collector: “When do you say it?”

Informant: “Well, we’ve always said it whenever we see an ambulance. If one drives by with the sirens, you say a quick JMJ and that helps. Or…haha… if you need some help on a test you think you did poorly on, I would always write JMJ very small in the corner of the paper right before I turned it in. Couldn’t hurt.”

Context

The Informant learned this practice from her father, who would always stop the car and make the kids said JMJ if they saw an accident or an ambulance. It later leaked into other aspects of their lives, more lighthearted in nature. The Informant always felt more confident, or at least hopeful, about a test that she had written JMJ on. She believed that with God on her side, there was such a better chance of things turning out well in the end.

Interpretation

            I believe this piece to be interesting in the ways it can be applied and at the same time very familiar to me. Growing up, my family’s mantra for a quick bit of help or luck came as a result of very quickly saying “Come, Holy Spirit”. Hearing another family that has a similar practice, but different words is heartwarming to me, because I enjoy hearing that people have faith in small phrases, that saying them can bring good luck and fortune.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Magic
Narrative
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Haunted Babies

The informant was telling me of a belief that there are different kinds of babies. She explains how some babies are possessed by spirits when they are born below:

There is one kind of baby that only cries at night and it cries really loud. We have a specific phrase for them yia cu long which means those babies are haunted by some kind of ghosts, because like when a baby is first born they seem very vulnerable to ghosts, so they can easily see ghosts since they’re just born. If a baby is always crying at night it means yi cu long, meaning they are kind of haunted by ghosts, and so that’s why the baby is terrified and he always cry during the night. So in some of the culture what they will do is they will actually have like a person to do some ceremony in order to get the ghost out of their body or stop them from haunting the baby, so it’s like a witch but not really, and then after that the babies are not supposed to cry anymore during the night.

 

So like one of my mom’s friends, his grandson actually all of a sudden started crying at night everyday and he finds someone to produce the ceremony or whatever, and the baby actually stopped crying.

 

Context:

One day when we were talking she told me she had some interesting pieces of her culture that she could share with me, so a few weeks later we met a little café on campus at USC. We sat outdoors while she shared this tradition with me.

Background:

My informant was raised in China until middle school. When she was sixteen years old she moved to the US where she attended a boarding school in Maryland for high school. My informant transferred to USC for her sophomore year of college.  She was telling me about a superstition in Chinese culture that is practiced when babies are crying. A family friend of her mother had a grandson who was crying and ‘haunted’ by a spirit, and when this ritual was performed, the baby stopped crying at night, meaning the spirit was gone.

Analysis:

I found it intriguing that babies can be ‘possessed’ by spirits because they are weaker and new to the world. Even more so, I think it’s incredibly that my informants family friend’s grandson stopped crying after the ritual was performed, which gives the ritual more credibility.

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