USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Family tradition’
Customs

Chinese philosophy told by my grandfather

The informant talks about her grandfather teaching her a well-known philosophical passage and somewhat like an idiom

Informant: Then he would tell ma another story about being ambitious, or living out to your full capacity from Zhuangzi again. “If you are a bird, you should be the biggest bird in the sky, 大鵬鳥. They are so big that when they spread out their wings, the occupy half of the sky.” I would challenge him “It doesn’t make sense. Then there would be only 2 birds in the sky because 2 would cover the whole sky!” Then he would tell me that “If you are a fish, then you should be the biggest fish in the sea. The big one that’s called the whale.” I would tell him, “No, sorry grandpa, whale is not a fish, it is a mammal!”

But then when I went back to Penghu, where my grandpa lived for 10 years of his life since he came to Taiwan with his father when he was 11, I finally realized how come he was so strict and serious all the times. We got off the bus at the community center where they were offering the elderly a luncheon that day. All elders sat up straight listening to the head of the village talking, no one was walking around, no one was talking, they all sat up straight listening. Then we went to a small park. The decoration at the park was red lantern with 三字經, another didactic passage telling us how to behave well, to be loyal to your emperor and filial to you parents and stuff. They got a grant to refurbish a section of the village where no one lived there many more. They made ceramic plates on the house, again with all didactic passages like honor your words, work hard, don’t be lazy, be polite and kind to others…

Growing up in Taiwan, I knew the phrase 慎終追遠, which means to know your ancestors. I probably used it hundreds of time writing essays and stuff, but I never really felt what it meant. This is the sad part of the modern day education, we learn many things as a knowledge, the meaning of those words literally, but not really felt it. You would have to really spend the time to talk with, live with, go back to the environment he grew up, then you would really understand how and why he was the way he was. I thought I knew my grandfather, but I always hope he would not be so dead serious. But it only took me 10 minutes setting foot in the village he grew up with, then I understood why he was so serious, then I really understood the meaning of 慎終追遠.

 

This is a very important part of the chinese culture, displays of filial piety is incredibly deep-rooted in our culture and it is something that is taught to toddlers in the east still practiced today. This is something that is quite lacking in the west, except for Hispanic culture as I am told. That aside, growing up in America, I rarely see filial piety being practiced. After hearing this story it really is interesting that coming from a Taiwanese family as well, although my parents do not feel that I must be obligated to be filial to them unlike they have been taught all their lives, it is something that is very eye-opening to me.

Customs

Family customs during Lunar New Year

The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.

Informant:

Our house has specific dishes that we make:

蛤蠣 (Ha Li)- These are small clams. After eating the clams, we put the clam shells under the table. this is to signify having money, as olden times clams were a symbol of money and wealth with pearls and such.

年糕 (Nian Gao)- This is rice cakes. This is a homophone to 年高 (Nian Gao) which implies promotions or prosperity year after year.

鯧魚 (Chang Yu) – A type of butterfish. we are supposed to eat fish because it is also a homophone in an idiom 年年有餘 (Nian Nian You Yu). This means to wish abundance year after year, so every lunar new year we eat fish. In my family, we eat this specific type of fish.

I personally do not know why we eat that specific fish, I do not think it was because it was anyone’s favorite or anything. I think it was just a really cheap fish back in my grandparent’s time so it kind of became custom to eat that specific fish. We still practice all of these traditions today, including putting the clams underneath the table. This was interesting to hear because I had never asked or understood what doing all these actions implied, because I was rarely in Taiwan to celebrate lunar new year, I had no idea what or why my family would do such specific things.

 

Customs

Duan Wu Festival

The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.

Informant:

端午節 (Duan Wu Jie) is the festival celebrating the beginning of spring. The tradition is to make 綜子 (Zong Zi), which is commonly called sticky rice pudding. It is contained using bamboo leaves and wrapped very tightly using a string. It can contain various other ingredients, but my family likes to put in: beef, beans, egg and mushrooms. Instead of the traditional way of steaming it, my grandmother boils it, which is a technique southern Taiwanese people do instead of the conventional and traditional way of steaming it.

香包 (Xiang Bao) is a small parcel that contains some kind of beans that has a certain smell to keep bugs away. The parcels are then hung around the house to keep away mosquitos. They are also considered to be toys that in my grandparent’s childhood would use to throw and hit other kids with it.

This specific festival was something I had known only about eating sticky rice pudding, but none of the other traditions that I had ever practiced. Knowing these new practices are very helpful for understanding my own culture and having a better grasp of my own roots.

general

Tomb Sweeping Day

The informant is my father who has always grown up in Taiwan but came to America for grad school. Understanding both cultures, he has a very wide understanding of the traditions in our household and its practices.

Informant: 清明節 (Qing Ming Jie) – Tomb-sweeping day is a day of respecting one’s ancestors and going to their burial grounds to pray and clean their tombs. In our family, our ancestors are all on a big mountain with a very large grave that holds all of my ancestor’s ashes. Due to the large mountain and many other patrons, there is a group that stays there and periodically cleans the gravesites monthly. So because we do not have to do any of the cleaning, we bring food and drinks to offer to our ancestors. Inside the tomb site, we have a whiteboard that we use to leave our names down every time we visit. It has become a tradition for us to all write our names down every visit along with the date. Because you and your cousins are in America, you guys cannot attend Tomb Sweeping day, so we always write down your names instead.

I always understood that this day was to sweep your ancestors’ tombs, but since I have never experienced it, I never had to do any of the tomb sweeping myself. Honestly, my dad said that after our ancestors have bought that specific land on the mountain, we have never had to do any of the tomb sweeping, which in a sense defeats the whole purpose of the tradition. To better accommodate the traditional holiday in Taiwan, it has become a family reunion day for our family.

Customs
Foodways

Pelmeni

My informant’s grandmother is Russian, and what was a common food in her country became a family tradition for holidays and other get togethers once they moved to the United States and settled in New Orleans. Her memories associated with that side of the family always involve making pelmeni together, giving it a lot of sentimental value. It’s interesting how the tradition is passed down and each person has their own role that they fill, including the younger children being given something to do so that they also feel included.

“Whenever we’re all together, we always make pelmeni, a Russian dumpling. My great grandma would sit down and make everything by hand (dough, meat, etc) and would pound out hundreds of absolutely perfect and soft pelmeni, the most amazing you will have in your entire life. She had 5 kids, the oldest is my grandma and youngest is my Aunt Tanya (a 24 year difference between them). As a little kid, would go to grandma’s house and get little wrappers and sit around the table and make the dumplings. My grandma would give my little sister one tiny piece of dough and meat, and my sister would fix it and say “okay that’s good but I think you could do a little better” with same piece. She would play with same piece of dough and meat for hours while the older kids and adults made the actual pelmeni. My great grandma’s five kids each have several kids who have several kids, so I have tons of super close cousins all living in new Orleans. The torch was passed down from my grandma and my mom is now the honorary one in charge of making them, and it will probably be passed on to my sister later on, since she has the knack for it.”

Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Buns

D is a 57 year old man. He is a practicing cardiologist at a hospital in the northern suburbs of Illinois. He identifies as American as he grew up in Boston, but he strongly associates with his Scottish heritage as well. D completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth University and he attended Cornell University for his degree in medicine. During his studies, both undergraduate and med school, D studied abroad in France two times. While in medical school, D studied at the Faculté de Médecine et de Maïeutique de Lille in Lille, France. English is his primary language, yet he is also fluent in French.

Me: What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?

D: I have a lot of favorite Christmas traditions, but one that I am particularly fond of that has been passed down from my mother are her Christmas morning Christmas buns.

Me: What are Christmas buns?

D: Christmas buns are made from pillsbury crescent roll dough slathered in melted butter, and lots of cinnamon and sugar, wrapped around a marshmallow and baked. The whole family pitches in to make them and while they are baking we listen to Christmas music and drink Irish coffees and hot chocolate. No one is allowed to open their presents until the Christmas buns are ready to be served.

Me: When did this tradition start?

D: In the 1960’s.

Me: Why did it start?

D: Because it sounded delicious. And it is delicious.

Me: And you guys have been making them every year since then.

D: Yeah

Though he likely has many different holiday family traditions, D chose Christmas buns as his favorite. The familial attachment to the tradition seems to mean a lot to him. The fact that the recipe is from his childhood and his mother used to make it every Christmas makes it more important for him to keep the tradition going. His family now all participates in making the Christmas buns before opening their presents every Christmas and not only are they tasty, but the act of making them is fun as well. The joy of Christmas is spending time with family and enjoying ones company, and by making these Christmas buns every Christmas morning, they start the day off right.

Childhood
Folk speech
general
Life cycle
Musical
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Bath Song and Family History

A is an 18-year-old woman. She is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. She considers her nationality to be American, but more specifically she is one quarter Greek Cypriote, one quarter German and half Argentinian. that being said, she strongly identifies with her Greek roots. She is fluent in both English and Greek, and is currently learning Mandarin.

A: Um, I don’t know if this is a me parable or family parable but I really hated taking baths when I was little, so they used to sing a song about a little kid who wouldn’t take baths and would turn into a pig. Cause she was so dirty. But I think its real because it actually has a tune, like I don’t think my Grandmother actually made up a song, but the song is like “I’m a little piggy, cause I stink a lot,” basically in Greek. And it goes like “well you’ll turn into a piggy too unless you take a bath.”

Me: Aww

A: So yeah, I was afraid I was gonna turn into a barnyard animal. It was fun.

Me: But you took the bath!

A: This is true.

Me: Did they sing this to your siblings? Do you have other siblings?

A: I don’t, I’m an only child. And this was with my grandparents too, and I’m the only grandchild as well.

Me: Aw. But you’ll probably do it with your kids too.

A: Oh yeah. It was so much fun. It’s got it’s own song! My grandfather told me a lot of stories about donkeys, I don’t remember exactly what they contain, but every story that had a moral always involved a donkey. Like a donkey on an adventure.

Me: Your grandparents liked farmyard animals is basically…

A: You know what, my grandparents grew up in the village with farmyard animals, so I’m sure this is how their parents told it to them.

Me: So the songs and the stories are like based on that?

A: Oh yeah. And it’s definitely based on the old village, which is like way the heck up in the mountains, like I’ve been there.

Me: Is there a name for it?

A: Yes, Ayiosgiannis. So my last name is the name of the village, just shortened. The name of the village is St. John’s in English. Um, Ayios is St. in English and that’s where Ayiotis, my last name is from.

Me: Ohhhh

A: So the last names were very frequently based on the area where you are from or like what you were called in the village. So I’m pretty sure my great-grandfather made up that name.

Me: So that’s generally where Greek last names come from?

A: I believe so. A lot of them, like a couple of them, are professions, but a lot of the ones are places.

Me: So places and professions but mostly places?

A: Actually let me rephrase. If you got out of the village then it’s a place cause you wanted to honor your village, but for people in the village, why would they all have the same last name as the village?

Me: True.

A: So it was in the village it was by profession or by nickname or sometimes you will genuinely find people name “Andreas Andreou” like “Phillip Phillipou,” like people with the same last name as their first name, and it’s very funny. Um they’ll do like men’s first names as well as last names cause that was your dad’s dad. So basically common ways to distingush between people with the same name in a village.

Me: So your last name, does it change?

A: It can. We didn’t have last names until the British came and were like “why the heck do you not have last names?” And that was in the 30s, um the 20s. Yeah, Cyprus was a British colony up until the 60’s.

Me: Wow.

A:  Um that’s when they gained their independence.

Me: You didn’t have last names until the 20’s?

A: Yeah, why would we need it? We’re farmers, we’re farming.

Me: That’s true.

A: I remember my grandfather was born in like 1934 and he told me he saw a car in his village once when he was like nine years old and that was probably the only car on the island of Cyprus, driving through all the villages like “oh my god I bought a car!” So it was very…

Me: Secluded?

A: Yeah. And it’s still very farm-heavy. Its still agricultural.

Me: Is Cyprus an island off of Greece?

A: It’s an island actually closer to Lebanon than it is to Greece. It’s north of Egypt and south of Turkey in the Mediterranean Ocean, but since that area used to all be ethnically Greek in the Greek, Egyptian, and Ottoman Empire and since Cyprus is an island it saw less change over time as more people moved in and out because it’s harder to conquer an island. So the people who are Greek there, like our dialect of Greek is more similar to ancient Greek.

A talks about a song that her grandparents used to sing to her when she was little to get her to take a bath. This is a fond memory that she has and she said that it works, the song was effective in making her believe that if she were not to take a bath, she would turn into a pig. A also explains that the song might have to do with her grandfather’s origins, which are especially important to her as the root of her last name is the name of the village. Her grandfather lived in a very agricultural, farm-heavy village, and this is likely where the song originated. The dirt being the result of farming all day, and turning into a pig being the result of not cleaning yourself, so turning into one of your farm animals. The name, the village, and the song are all connected in one way or another.

Adulthood
Childhood
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mother’s Day and Lilac Festival

M is a 20-year-old black woman. She is currently double majoring in NGO’s and Social Change and Communications at the University of Southern California. M grew up in Boston, MA but currently resides in Los Angeles, CA. M primarily speaks English, but she is also fluent in Spanish.

M: My mom always gets the day off and we always go to the Lilac Festival on Mother’s day, ’cause it happens at the same time.

Me: Aww.

M: It’s like, we have the Arboretum in Boston, and there’s like, all these lilacs get planted and they all bloom like almost, like on command on Mother’s day. So, when we were kids, my dad would always take us to the Arboretum and give my mom the day to herself.

Me: But now your mom goes with you?

M: Hmm? Oh, yeah.

Mother’s day definitely means a good deal to M and her family. They have an annual tradition that they go to the Lilac Festival at the Arboretum in Boston every year to celebrate the day. Though the tradition has changed a small bit from giving their mother the day to herself to having he come long with them, it is still a good way to celebrate her and she still gets a nice day of relaxation. It is common to just send your mother a card and or gift to celebrate the day, but M and her siblings carry on the tradition of spending the day with their mom and showing her their appreciation by reserving the day for her, even after they have moved out.

Childhood
Game
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Easter Egg Hunting with Siblings

M is a 20-year-old black female who is currently double majoring in NGO’s and Social Change and Communications at the University of Southern California. M grew up in Boston, MA but currently resides in Los Angeles, CA. M primarily speaks English, but she is also fluent in Spanish.

Me: Does your family have any fun holiday traditions?

M: Um. We are aggressive when it comes to Easter baskets. My mom is really happy that my brother aren’t home for Easter anymore because, I think she though she could like stop when I like reached 16, and she had the Easter baskets like out on the table, like you know, like we always do the hunt and then go to church, but she left them out on the table and we came downstairs and we were very upset and we told her she had to hide them, so she did, unfortunately very aggressively. And we didn’t even find them before church, so we had to go, we still didn’t have our baskets, and then it took us another hour and a half to find them when we got home. She was really annoyed. she was like, you’re ll adults you don’t need these, and my sister was…my sister to be fair was only 12, so she was like I am not an adult at all, like I want mine hidden. Then when my mom hid hers, my brother was like I’m only 14 and she was like ok. Then I was like, you can’t hide theirs and not mine. And then that’s when she was like, alright, these bitches… Yeah.

M talks about an annual family tradition of her mom hiding their Easter baskets and candy for her and her two siblings. Their mom thought that when they reached a certain age, that she could stop hiding the eggs, but the children all wanted to keep the tradition going. There was a sense of maturing and distancing from old childhood memories and games that the kids did not yet want to let go of, and so they continued the tradition until they moved out of the house. Not only was the Easter basket hunt fun for the kids, and kept their childhood spirit alive, but it was more time spent with siblings bonding and working together to find their baskets. They will likely carry on the tradition when they have children as it meant so much to them growing up.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Creole Recipe

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Photo of gumbo recipe that my dad, Brad Perrin, emailed to himself.

 

When asking my dad if he had any family recipes or ritualistic traditions in his family, he brought my sister and I together and revealed this gumbo recipe to us and wanted to make sure we had copies of it so we could teach our kids about it someday. My dad first learned this recipe from his mother when he was in his late teens. He didn’t have any female siblings, so it was his responsibility to ensure this family gumbo recipe survived. His mother was an amazing cook and loved cooking Southern dishes for their family, with this gumbo dish being made on special occasions such as birthdays and holidays. My dad was excited to learn this recipe from his mom when he was in his late teens because it meant him being fully connected with his roots and being able to pass on the recipe which has been in my family for supposedly at least five generations. He said it was supposedly created by my great great grandma in Algiers, Louisiana.

I loved knowing that I am now responsible for carrying on the tradition, as my family doesn’t have many cultural traditions. It makes me feel closer to my ancestors and also allows me to learn more about Southern culture which formed the basis of my family’s identity for many generations.

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