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

Setting an extra plate during Christmas

Content and Context:
Informant -“I remember my mother did this several times. At the Christmas meal, my mother would set an extra seat and an extra place setting. Now the tradition is in case someone shows up, but I always associated it with the people who weren’t with us. That’s how I like to think of it.”

JK – “The people who aren’t with us. Does that mean people who have died or people who just aren’t there?”

Informant – “Either way. When I say prayers at home now, I always add that I ask god to take care of those who aren’t with us. That means your dead grandparents and those who are away.”

JK – “Did the Christmas tradition lead to this added prayer?”

Informant – “Maybe the thought did. Not consciously. It just seemed to me that our meals couldn’t possible be complete without recognizing the absence of those who couldn’t possibly be there.”

Analysis:
It’s interesting that the informant did not carry the tradition forward, but rather his interpretation of the ritual. While his mother wanted to be prepared for unexpected guests, the informant wanted a reminder of guests that weren’t coming.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Dropping cutlery brings guests

Content:
Informant – “If you are handling cutlery…flatware…if you drop a fork you can expect a visit from a woman. If you drop a knife, expect a man. If you drop a spoon, expect a child. And if you drop a bunch of silverware expect a bunch of people”

Context:
Informant – “I heard it from my mother. It’s just a superstition. I never felt that it was true. Although, you know, it could be that, when you are setting formal tables and all, it’s for feast days. And if you drop something during feast time, you are expecting people anyways. Sort of a self fulfilling thing.”

Analysis:
The association with knives and men is probably intentional (men are traditionally the warriors). And young children are usually spoon fed, so that association also makes sense. I’m not sure why women are linked to forks. It could just be the only item left.

Customs
Earth cycle
Foodways
Holidays

Feast of the Seven Fishes (La Vigilia)

Informant: “In Sicily, well in other places in Italy sometimes too, but really in Sicily, on the Eve of the big holidays, so like Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, you’re supposed to eat fish, but in particular on Christmas eve. It was called the Feast of the Seven Fishes, though I actually think in Sicily they called it La Vigilia, for The Vigil. The real tradition is that you’re supposed to make seven types of seafood. So in Sicily, my mom and dad they always did this, so they would start cooking a few days before Christmas Eve. When we were growing up in Los Angeles, we would go down to Redondo Beach and my mom would buy all these fishes very similar to the fishes they would have in Sicily, so she would make calamari, like deep fried calamari. Oh, and one of the things she would buy is called baccala, which is like a dry, salted cod. I’ve actually seen it in some Italian places in St. Paul, they sell it in what looks like a big bucket, and it looks like just dried fish, and so you have to soak it in water overnight, and then you have to drain the water, and then you have to soak it again, and so basically you’re reconstituting the fish. And I think a lot of times people in Sicily have that one because there are a lot of poor people, and that kind of fish was really cheap. And so [my mother] would do that whole thing day after day after day, and then she would make this sauce that she would put this fish in like this tomato sauce, and then she would bake it. So she did baccala, she did calamari, she always did octopus salad. She would never make the kind of fishes that [my family has] like salmon, I never had salmon growing up. She would make these things called sand dabs, they looked like a kind of flatfish and she’d fry them, and anchovies and sardines, and she’d make this pasta with fennel and tuna sometimes… But she had enough fish to feed an army, when there were only six of us, but that’s very typical though in Sicily…What other fish did she make… oh, eel! She would always make eel. And I would have continued this tradition, except that [my children] don’t eat as much fish, that’s why I sort of incorporated it into [my family's traditions], that’s why we always have fish on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, so some years I would make stuffed salmon with crab and so on, but I found that [my family] just really liked crab, so that’s why we always have crab, and I figured, that was close enough.”

Collector: Was the exact number of fishes significant?

Informant: “Well, so it was feast of the seven fishes, though sometime we’d do nine, eleven, thirteen, but it’s always an odd number. I’m not really sure why, but it was supposed to have something to do with luck, like you’re never supposed to do an even number. As for fish, I guess with Sicily being an island, it was really easy for people to just go out and catch fish, and so that’s why they had fish.”

Informant is a retired math teacher, and a mother of three. Her parents moved to the United States for the Italian island of Sicily, and she was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles. She still keeps in touch with her Sicilian relatives, and will periodically visit them.

Collector Analysis: This particular piece of folklore is interesting in that it shows how certain folk traditions can evolve when they are practiced in different contexts, in this case, how the amount and type of fish eaten changed when the informant was celebrating this tradition in different locations and with different people, and yet the tradition is still in many ways the same despite these changes. Also curious is the fact that in Sicilian culture, the number 13 is considered lucky, while the number 12 is considered unlucky, which is the opposite of many other European cultures.

Childhood
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Mound Parties

This is another story told to Marisol by a nanny who was from the Andean province of Ayacucho. The nanny told her that as a child, her relatives always warned her not to get close to parties or gatherings of people in the middle of the fields or on top of hills because these were there to take away wayward children, drunks and gluttons. She warned her that if she was out playing the hills and heard laughter and voices, she was to run away immediately and not get close to the table, no matter how delicious and abundant the meal or how inviting the people because if you ate any of the food or touched the guests, they would take you to the afterlife and the party would disappear and all that your family would find on the hill would be a rock.

This story serves to keep kids in line and keep them away from strangers and unknown places. It is a lot like the Irish tales of fairies. There is also the presence of a magical mound which can be found, most famously, in Irish fairy folklore.

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Casa Matusita A

This house situated in Downtown Lima, Peru is the most famous haunted structure in the entire country. It is famous throughout, you can ask anyone in Lima, and they will all know of it whether they believe in paranormal phenomena or not. The house was first brought to my attention when I moved to Peru by one of my maids, she told me all about it and then my mother confirmed the stories circulated, but said they were all made up. During her last visit, I had her recount a couple of versions of the story of the Matusita which she knew (there are dozens):
At the turn of the twentieth century, there lived in the house a cruel man with two servants (cook and butler). During dinner with friends, the servants decided to get their revenge and poison their master and his friends with hallucinogenic substances. They served the tampered dinner and locked the door of the dining room. A few minutes later, the servants heard  a horrible scuffle. They waited until the noises ceased and then when they opened the door, they saw that the diners were torn to pieces, there was blood spread everywhere. The servants felt terribly guilty and took their lives right there. This version is said to explain the loud voices, conversation and laughter followed by blood curling cries and sepulchral silence that neighbors and passerbyers have attributed to the house.  It is said that if they get close to the house or look in, they will go mad at the sights of gore and debauchery inside.
This version shows the rift between the master and his servants which can be extended to the sentiments that the indigenous and African workers feel towards their European (and later on Asian) masters. This tension is found to this very day since in Peru there is a very strong, but passive racist undercurrent that is perpetuated from generation to generation and never confronted. The race of the master is left unsaid in some versions of the story like this one (it is implied he was white); however , there are also versions that connect this version to version b which I also discuss. In those versions, the master is Asian and a descendent of the Chinese family who lived in the house in the 19th century.

Festival
general

Native American Centennial Festival

According to this informant, a foreign man now working in downtown L.A., the weekend of April 28 and 29, 2012 will host a centennial celebration at the Grand Canyon for all of the Native Americans to toast the anniversary of officially aquiring their reservation in the area. It is a celebration that has never been had, and according to the informant, their will be dancing, food, fire, and life the whole night/days-through.

The informant, even struggling to communicate fully in English, tried his very best to communicate the importance and excitement he held for his culture (although he is Chilean, he was originally from the U.S.).

Festival
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Feast of the Seven Fishes

This special feast was a tradition that my father’s father observed with his family before he married.  According to my informant, this was the traditional meal of Christmas Eve.  After going to church to attend the midnight Mass before Christmas Day, my grandfather’s family would come home and eat Seven Fishes Dinner, quite a generous meal, during the wee hours of Christmas morning.  As my mother has always aimed to have dinner on the table around six or seven o’clock, I found this quite shocking, but my informant added that they did not arrive home until around one in the morning to enjoy the feast.  This feast obviously included several varieties of seafood, not limited to just fish.  My informant recalled salt cod, shrimp, and calamari/squid, as examples of items my great grandfather ate on Christmas morning.

Annotation/additional comments:
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in an article on Dec. 22, 2005 (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05356/625983.stm), recognizes the Seven Fishes of Christmas Eve as an Italian tradition and describes a restaurant owning family’s variation of the feast.  Their meal includes “scrod florentine, breaded filets in a bed of spinach; anchovies olio, pasta cooked with oil, garlic and the salty fish; linguine with white clam sauce; fried calamari rings,” and “deep-fried smelts, decapitated and marinated in lemon.”  This is the meal they serve at home, not at the restaurant.  The family also serves the feast as a special at their restaurant.
In the article, the main chef adds that there are “many theories” regarding the meaning behind the Seven Fishes of Christmas Eve.  He claims, “It has always meant the Seven Sacraments,” adding that some families celebrate with twelve or even thirteen varieties of seafood, to represent the twelve disciples and Jesus.  He suggests that the arms of the squid may have symbolic significance (“how God reaches out to us”), and that “the eel was supposed to be the speed in which Jesus’ word travels through the world.”
Many changes in the feast have been made over the years in this family, including the removal of eel from the menu and of the heads from the fish, and obviously many changes have occurred in various communities since whenever this tradition began.  According to the newspaper article, this family also celebrates their feast after seven o’clock rather than midnight like my grandfather.  Regardless of the variations in religious symbolism and details of the menu, this traditional feast illustrates the role of food in uniting and defining a culture, in this case Italians or Italian Catholics.

Earth cycle
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

German New Year’s Dinner

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.

 

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