Informant was a 45 year old female who was born in Brazil and currently lives in Brazil. I talked to her over Skype.
Informant: Carnaval is a big festival in brazil, usually happens in the first two or three months of the year, it is basically a whole week. Everybody uses costumes, and when we are a kid ,we just go to little parties and plays and watch samba, which is a kind of music that we have here, there are other typical musics of carnaval. Everybody dances. We have this big party which has a parade, in the main cities of Brazil and in the northeast it’s also big. We usually stay the whole month partying for carnival, a lot of people drink, a lot of people have fun, but I actually don’t like very much. Because I don’t like samba, and I don’t like to samba. But I like the holiday, I like having days off. A lot of people also drink, and I don’t like, there’s a lot of drunk people.
Collector: Do you know where this festival came from?
Informant: It’s a Christian celebration, the date is never the same, its not a specific date, it’s a Christian festive season that occurs before the Christian season of lent, it’s calculated a specific amount of days before. The term carnival is usually used in areas with large catholic presence. I think it’s funny because a lot of things happen that are not very Christian. Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval is considered the world’s largest party with 2 million people per day.
Collector: Are there big parties outside of Rio as well?
Informant: Yes, there are a lot of street carnaval parties. I never participated in this street carnaval. It’s called bloco de carnaval, people go in the streets and also dress up in costumes and mask and play this type of music of carnaval and dance and drink and a lot of people have a lot of fun. So in these blocos there are like trucks or busses or something that come and play music, and people gather around it and party. But in Rio there is a special place called Sambodromo where they have special schools of Samba like Santa Isabel and Portella, and each school goes through the whole street and they need to be dancing all the time and at the end, they receive a grade for the parade that they did. So the judges they look at the richness of the costumes, if everyone was dancing and singing, and they give a grade for each one of these schools, and at the end of the three days parade they have a winner. I saw it in person, but I hated it because I don’t like samba and it was three days the whole night. But lots of people go they love it and love to participate, I just don’t like to drink and I don’t like samba, so for me it’s not the right party.
Collecter: Did you ever like Carnaval?
I used to like the small parties when we were kids because we used to dress up. I dressed up as an indian and the other time I dressed as police and it was fun. We used to throw confetti, and make a lot of noise. I used to like it, it was much lighter. When you’re a kid, you don’t see the naked women and the lots of drinks. It’s just small little parties that my family used to take me, and we used to dance and I used to like to dance in costumes
When I lived in Brazil, I would often see the huge celebrations during Carnaval. However, I never really experienced any of it. Carnaval, for me, was always just a break off of school, when I would go and spend a week at the beach. It’s really cool to hear about Carnaval from my mother who has had a lot more experience with the actual festival and the festivities. I didn’t know that Carnaval was a Christian holiday, and like my mother, I would never have imagined it because there’s nothing about Carnaval that really emulates the Christian spirit.
Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.
Informant: There is a ritual, kinda like a Swedish holiday, but not really. It’s called a Swedish name that means something like midsummer. And it’s generally in June, and it’s basically welcoming summer, so you get a big big cross and you decorate it with flowers and on each arm you put circles, you hang them on the cross, it looks like the things you put on your door for Christmas. Midsummer this year is on the 24th of June. Also what you do is pluck flowers and make flower crowns that you wear for this thing. All that you really do on this day is you just like get together with people. There are different parties or you can do this cross thing with your family or you can go to a big party with everyone in your town depending on your preference and then you usually picnic over there. You have food outside, and you dance around the cross and sing different songs.
Collector: What kind of songs?
Informant: These are typical songs for midsummer, this one song is called the small frogs, literally translated. It goes like this:
Ad lustiga asia
Ad lustiga asia
A aron A aron
Svan sa hava dia
A aron A aron
Svan sa hava dia
Cua ca ca Cua ca ca
That last part is supposed to be a like a frog sound. So when they say the first part you run around the cross until the second part, and then you put your hands on your ears and make them look like cow ears, and when it says svan sa you put your hands on your butt making it look like a tail. And during cua ca ca you jump with your two feet at the same time around the cross like a frog.
Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?
Informant: I think it’s a cute tradition that you do with your family. It’s the small kids that really enjoy it, I liked it a lot when I was a kid. It’s a good time to spend with your family and friends, and have fun with them. It’s one of the biggest rituals in Sweden. And even people who go abroad like me carry it with them, and when I lived in France we used to make our own cross in our garden. It’s just like a really nice time to get together with my family and it’s just like really fun. More than celebrating summer, it’s a family thing
I think it’s interesting that two of the pieces of folklore that my Swedish friend told me involved songs with small creatures and gibberish at the end. It makes me wonder if that is a common pattern in Swedish folk songs. I think this is a cute little tradition, and although I’m not Swedish and have never done anything like Midsummer, I remember how much I used to enjoy doing similar things as a kid. I also think it’s cool that my friend carried it abroad with her, and that she still celebrated and underwent this ritual with the cross even though she was no longer in the country that celebrated it.
Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.
Informant: So in 1605, this dude called Guy Fawkes was arrested trying to blow up the house of parliament in London, and it was likeI’m pretty sure the king and all of the important people were there, and he was trying to kill them, but he got caught and that was on the 5th of November. So every year, on the 5th of November, like schools and families and like clubs and stuff in England make a huge bonfire, and then they make like a doll, like a human sized figure of Guy Fawkes, and then they burn him on the bonfire, and there’s like fireworks and like a barbecue and stuff, every year.
Collector: So you celebrate him or him not blowing up the parliament?
Informant: Well, we burn him every year, so we definitely don’t celebrate him. It’s like a celebration of I guess his failure. It’s a very chill day though, we eat burgers and hot dogs and hang around by the bonfire. Like we don’t have a meal with our family. It’s more like the whole community gets together and there’s like fireworks and stuff. There’s a song too.
Collector: A song? What is it?
Informant: It goes like this
Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder Treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Would ever be forgot
It’s not that big of a deal though, like we don’t sing it around the campfire or anything. It’s just something that people know.
I thought this was particularly interesting because it’s a holiday that revolves around an attempter murder. Albeit the burning of the figure of this murder, but a murder none the less. I think it’s cool how even until today, people remember it, and I think that this might be because the monarchy in England is still in power. I believe that this is not only a fun way for people to celebrate with their family and friends, but also a way to honor their monarchy. It makes me wonder if the holiday began as a way for the monarchy to keep its citizens in line, so that nobody would try to recreate Guy Fawkes’ murder attempts.
“The Melbourne Cup is the first Tuesday of November. It’s a public holiday. That shows how important it is to Australians. It’s a horse race. I don’t know how it became big or why it became big, but like it’s genuinely observed across Australia. It’s like a series of races that take place all week. They’re just horse races of different heats, of different… Just horse races! Horses from all over the world come to Australia to race in Melbourne Cup. The reason why it’s so big is that… So it’s a series of races, and the biggest race is the Melbourne Cup, and it’s quite long, and only the best horses compete in it. The reason why it’s so big is because people… It’s like a festival, I guess. It’s fashion and food, and it’s more about like the people, I guess? It’s like the Oscars or Grammys where, like, you’re like, ‘What’s she wearing?’ It’s kind of like that. When it comes time to the actual Melbourne Cup race itself, people put bets on which horse is gonna win. And that’s part of the tradition. Even if you aren’t normally a betting person most people in Australia will go put a dollar, two dollars, five dollars, ten dollars, probably not extreme amounts, but people will go and put money on a horse. The newspaper has a centerfold with like all the horses and their statistics and the jockey and their experiences and where the horses have won before. I pick #12 because that’s my lucky number, I just trust that number. And then you go to the tab and you put a bet on. You can do it from anywhere in the country, not just in Victoria where the cup is. The Melbourne Cup is the one day a year where the tab is full, it’s like bursting. It’s usually just a couple men, like the serial gamblers. It’s hectic on that day. I get excited. It’s the one day a year where I actually get excited about a horse race. I think you can tell that everyone else cares, too. It’s all people talk about in like the days leading up. Three o’clock on the dot is when the race starts. When I was in high school, school finished at ten minutes to three. And there was no way I was gonna get home in time or anyone was gonna get home in time for the race. So school ends classes like half an hour early on Melbourne Cup day so we can all get home in order to watch the race. My brother and I would get off the bus, and we’d race home, and we’d drop our bags and everybody would be in front of the TV. I don’t even know why it was a family affair, but it was. I can’t explain the excitement when the race started. It was kind of like everything stopped. And the tag line for the Melbourne Cup is like, ‘The race that stops the nation.’ And it genuinely is. Like, traffic stops. People park their cars and like listen to it on the radio. Everybody stops for like two or three minutes just to listen to this race. Unless you win, though, you don’t get anything out of it. You don’t get any like satisfaction or money, just nothing. It can be kind of anticlimactic. When it’s over, people kind of just go back to their lives. Some people will like watch the after ceremony where they like crown the jockey and like give him money and stuff. They interview the owner of the horse, and they put a little sash on the horse to say that he won. It’s just the one day where everyone in Australia kind of stops. It’s kind of become an Australian tradition just to watch.”
I could tell this was a very exciting experience for the source to relate. It’s certainly outside of her usual interest, but like the rest of Australia, it seems not to matter whether horse racing is in your interests or not. Because it’s not a horse racing thing. It’s an Australian thing. It’s part of their identity. It’s very much like our Super Bowl. Everybody watches the Super Bowl, everybody knows who’s in the Super Bowl. The whole nation stops on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s what the Melbourne Cup is for Australians. However, it seems they have a lot more invested in it what with all the betting and whatnot. Americans, however, experience it longer. Whereas no one researches before the Melbourne Cup, it seems, and not too many people continue watching after it’s done, the Super Bowl is savored for every minute of it, including the aftermath. And everybody is prepping from the week before.
Day of the Dead
The informant is a 19-year old student attending USC. She was born in Avellino, and has lived in central Mexico, London, and Italy in her life. She speaks Italian, Spanish, and English and is majoring in architecture. The following is what she shared with me about Day of the Dead from when she lived in Mexico for 6 years.
Informant: “In Mexico there was the Day of the Dead.”
Interviewer: “How do they celebrate it?”
Informant: “They made like alters with food, and they have it out for the dead. There are a certain amount of days it goes on.
Interviewer: “Did you have any friends who celebrated it?”
Informant: “Yes, but we did it at school too. We did the sugar skulls.”
Interviewer: “What’s a sugar skull?”
Informant: “It’s a skull made out of sugar. [Laughs]. You just bought them at the supermarket. You could decorate them yourself.
Interviewer: “What is Day of the Dead about?”
Informant: “To celebrate the Dead! The people that have passed on come back to life at night.”
Interviewer: “is it scary? Like are the dead perceived as bad?”
Informant: “No, it’s good. They are good spirits.”
Day of the Dead is a pretty well known and considerably popularized holiday. It was interesting to hear how indifferently the informant was about Day of the Dead and the customs around it. Perhaps having lived in a culture where the dead aren’t perceived as “bad” or as haunting makes the whole notion of dead coming back to life something casual.
Talking to the informant about how Day of the Dead was celebrated in Mexico reminds me a lot of talking to Israeli soldiers when I was in Israel this summer about bar and bat mitzvahs in Israel. One might think that Jewish rituals would be more extreme or that people would be more devout in a Jewish state, but in fact, it seemed the opposite. All of us American-Jews were surprised to find out that for the Israeli soldiers we talked to, bar and bat mitzvahs (Jewish coming of age ritual) were just parties for the bar or bat mitzvah and his or her friends as opposed to the religiously-heightened ritual they are typically performed in the United States.
The festival: “Teams of cooks enter the huge contest every May in Memphis. They have a big cook-off that’s judged to see who has the best ribs or pulled pork. Memphis is the slow cooked barbecue capital of the world. It’s a very exciting time in our city. You have to know someone in order to enter the tents and eat the food.”
The informant is my mom, who has lived in Memphis since college. Barbecue Fest is huge in Memphis, and anyone who cooks enters the contest. It is usually the second weekend in May; the festival is part of the bigger Memphis in May celebration that focuses on a different country every year to raise international cultural awareness. You have to know someone in the contest to get into the fest, but since so many people from all across the city enter, a lot of guests end up being let in. Memphians are proud of their good barbecue, and will shut down anyone who says that another city or state is known for the best barbecue in the world. They’ll even avoid eating barbecue outside of Memphis. The Barbecue Fest is a way for Memphians to celebrate themselves and their food and enjoy each other’s company. It’s also just a place to relax after a hard week at work and meet other cooks and try their food.
Context: My informant first told me about Singles Day while we were walking home together after an outing with anime club that took place close to Black Friday. He introduced Singles Day, which takes place on November 11th (11/11), as both the Chinese equivalent of Black Friday and an anti-Valentine’s Day celebration for single people. I interviewed the informant about the holiday at an anime club meeting to obtain a transcript for collection purposes.
Informant: Okay. So… What exactly do you want to know from the Singles Day?
Me: Well like… The way that it’s celebrated. How it came to be. What it means. Stuff like that.
Informant: Okay. So first of all, it’s called “Singles Day” only because the eleventh of November is all “ones,” and it’s single. It actually started probably like two or three years ago. Like there was a guy in a Chinese website. It was just on the Internet, and he made fun of this day. And he was the Amazon of China. It was called Taobao. And they found that this… That they can actually make money from this. Make it some kind of festival. And so they just decided to call it “Singles Day.” And for Singles Day they made it the Black Friday of China.
Me: What type of stuff do people buy?
Informant: Just everything!
Me: Like off the Internet? Or in stores?
Informant: No. Just mainly on the Internet. But… But one thing that’s pretty interesting about it is that the Chinese government doesn’t actually like the term “Singles Day.” So they banned websites who use that name. So now when… We still call it “Singles Day,” but all those Chinese websites and stores, when they are celebrating it, they have to use the term “Double 11.” And so they call it “Double 11 Shopping Festival.” But it’s mainly only like selling things. Last year it went really crazy. Like it even has some, like, some stores are even giving like free mailing between nations. Like because, like they are just earning that much from that single day. And, yeah. It’s pretty crazy.
Me: Um, like who usually participates?
Informant: Well, ironically… Most of them are, um, people in relationships. Like they… Well, basically just everybody, mainly young people. And though it’s called “Singles Day,” there are actually a lot of couples just buy things online, because, you know, discounts. Great discounts.
Singles Day is an example of a holiday that came into existence to mock another holiday. It is popular among the citizens of China despite its being censored by the government. Its celebration is also heavily dependent on Internet usage, as most of the shopping done on this day takes place online. The holiday has become so popular that, ironically, even people in relationships participate in it. The use of the term “Double 11″ after websites got banned from using the term “Singles Day” is an example of a people’s continuing to observe a tradition despite interference from authorities.
About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.
I asked Julian about Oktoberfest and our family history of celebrating it.
Julian: “I like Oktoberfest. It’s fun. It’s not a day like most people think – it’s like two and a half weeks. In Germany, people celebrate for a long time.”
I ask Julian if he remembers what Oktoberfest is about.
Julian: “It’s just a festival – I think. It was the marriage festival for German King [King Ludwig I] in the early 1800’s. It was so fun that people never stopped celebrating it. There’s a lot of music and dancing. And beer. (laughs)”
I ask Julian what Oktoberfest means to him.
Julian: “It means booze! (laughs) I’m joking, I’m kidding. It’s when grandma and grandpa [our mom's side] and all of Dad’s friends come over here. We have a party. And I get a glass.”
Since we both turned thirteen, our parents give us a glass each year so that we don’t feel left out during the annual party. It’s not a lot of beer, but it’s meant to keep us cheerful.
I ask Julian why our family celebrates Oktoberfest like we do.
Julian: “Well, it’s more like a get-together. Our grandparents all came from Germany, so it’s a fun way to celebrate our heritage. Yeah it’s just fun, I guess. It’s about celebrating family and friends. I mean, it’s the only time other than Christmas when we’re all here together.”
“We only celebrate it for a day, but it’s a unique sorta celebration.”
My family celebrates the German Festival of Oktoberfest once a year by throwing an annual house party. Though it’s not celebrated in the *authentic* German way, it’s meant to be a fun way of touching our heritage.
Oktoberfest isn’t that complex of a festival; it’s not steeped in religious tradition, but it carries a sort of nationalistic pride. My parents are both second-generation German folk, meaning their parents came from the motherland. My parents were raised observing Germanic traditions and to them, this is a way of giving back. My family celebrates Oktoberfest the same way others celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or Mardi Gras, but we do it with the idea of uniting both family and friends.
About the Interviewed: Jared is a sophomore at the University of Southern California, studying Finance. At the time of this interview, he is also my roommate. His ethnic background is distinctively Chinese, and his parents are first-generation American immigrants. He is 20 years old.
Jared: “My family celebrates unique traditions. We celebrate Chinese New Year, and we celebrate the Moon Festival.”
I ask him to explain the Moon Festival to me in greater detail.
Jared: “It’s pretty festive. My family decorates the place up. It’s a festival that’s centered around the moon, so you get a lot of festive stuff like that. The moon is symbolic of things like harvest and prosperity, so that’s where I guess it comes from. It happens around August – September, whenever the full moon is.”
I asked Jared about his experiences with the Festival. I ask him about any special foods he might eat.
Jared: Yeah, there are snacks. There’s this thing called mooncake, it’s kind of chewy – like mochi [japanese chewy sweet], it’s good, I like it. I have a lot of good memories of the Moon Festival. I’d say it’s nostalgic. As for other things, we sometimes play games. Like most things in Chinese culture, it’s pretty much centered around the family, so we spend a lot of time together.”
I tell Jared that I’m aware that Korea celebrates the Moon Festival as well. I was curious if he knew of any specific differences between the two.
Jared: I’m not entirely sure about all the differences, but I think they’re pretty similar. My Korean friends seem to know what I’m talking about when I talk about when I mention it.
As a Chinese-American, Jared celebrates a holiday known as “The Moon Festival”, which celebrates a general coming of the moon and the harvests that follow. He recounts nostalgic experiences with food, games, and family.
My roommate’s experience with the Moon Festival is not unlike the nostalgia most people associate with Western holidays like Halloween or Christmas. The use of the “festival” in different cultures holds a great significance to the individual. It’s “nostalgia” that in part motivates tradition to spread from one generation to the next.
“Everything starts around 9:30am. Where all the people especially the young ages, from 16 to late 20’s or even early 30’s all meet to have breakfast with their friends, in groups. So they have a good, filling meal. So after that they usually go to their “cuartos” (rooms) which are little locations that established groups of friends, called “quadrillas” (circle of friends, clique) rent together to use as a gathering place during the “fiestas” (festival, party). So they pretty much go there after having that good amount of food and start drinking. That’s if you’re older. The younger teenagers mix club soda and food coloring with some other things and spray each other to get messy. They throw food and other things at each other to get messy. They even throw eggs. People start heading out to the city hall around 11:30 because the awaited “chupinzao” starts at 12pm. So the whole village around the city hall is waiting for the mayor to set the main rocket off , called the “chupinazo.” The setting off of the rocket marks the official start of the towns “fiestas.” After the rocket has been launched people dance in the street and proceed up the main street to the plaza like a parade. As the people walk up the street, townspeople throw buckets of water from their balconies onto the people dancing below. This is how the “fiestas” start in my hometown of Calahorra, La Rioja. I live in Madrid now but always go back to Calahorra for fiestas which is where my family is from. “Fiestas” in Calahorra start on August 25 and end the 30th. The fiestas celebrate the towns saint of San Emeterius and Celedonius. ”
Every town in Spain has its own patron saint(s) and the festivals of the town are based on those saints. One of the most well known examples of this is the festival of Sanfermines from the city of San Fermin. Their patron saint is Saint Fermin. Most of the “fiestas” include similar traditions like Cabezudos y Gigantes, ‘chupinazo’, and a running of the bulls. Sanfermines has made these traditions known internationally but they are performed in almost every towns’ patron saints festival celebrations, locally called ‘fiestas.’ The ‘chupinazo’ is the kick-off to start ‘fiestas.’ The informant provided his experience of the ‘chupinazo’ in Calahorra, Spain.
This website provides further information and a few pictures of the “Chupinzao”: http://www.navarra.com/english/sanfermin/chupinazo.htm