USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘festival’
Festival
Game
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tug-of-War

Text:  KT: We have a giant tug-of-war, like literally a million people pulling at a single rope at a time. It happens every year, just for fun.

AT: To symbolize what, were you celebrating something?

KT: No idea, maybe we were. But every year there is a rope that is about 3 meters in diameter, and there are offsets of ropes that pull out. And it’s literally a million people, and they shut down the biggest freeway on the island and they see which side wins. And you can just pick whatever side you want. There’s people climbing on the ropes and shouting, it just gets really crazy.

AT: Does someone usually win?

KT: Oh yeah, every time. And there’s usually like three deaths every year. They just don’t give a shit. Five-year-old me was terrified, it’s very dangerous.

Context: KT was born in Okinawa, Japan and lived there with his Japanese mother and British father for the first nine years of his life. Though memories of his time in Japan are fading as KT ages, he still remembers specific things about life in Japan that were ingrained on his young mind during his early years. The folklore above was shared over lunch one afternoon during which I asked KT if he thought he had any folklore he could share with me from Japan. Most of the material he remembers is because he either got in trouble for going against the superstition or his involvement in the practice scared him. In this case, the practice scared him. 

Interpretation: KT doesn’t remember the specifics of this festival due to his young age during the time of his participation. He remembers the practices of it, not the festival’s purpose, which is understandable for a child. KT did a good job of providing a primary account of the methodology that goes along with fighting over the largest ropes in the world. Though he thought the people of Okinawa were participating in this large-scale game just for fun, the festival has actually been around for hundreds of years. Tugs-of-war were once held throughout the island to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and to pray for rain. Everyone in the community took part in these rituals symbolizing Okinawa’s spirit of yuimaaru (cooperation). It can be assumed that the festival isn’t as important to the harvest as it used to be, but it still exists as a symbol of Okinawan community.

 

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Navratri

TextRB: Navratri is an Indian Festival, it’s like celebrated in India. It happens every November, and I think you know, it’s like whenever I wear those really fancy dresses and I’m like, “I’m gonna go dance.” I feel like you know that. But anyways it’s basically just a celebration of dancing and fasting, like a celebration of life. And it’s really good cause what you do is you go to this big dance hall or whatever, and there’s this music, it’s called Garba music. And you can search it up, it’s like very traditional music. And you just dance all night to it. And it’s like a celebration of life. Traditionally, it celebrates three goddesses in Hinduism. It’s like Durga, Lakshmi, and one other goddess. But, it just marks the start of a new season basically. The most famous thing about it is the dance style. So, Garba is a very famous dance style, it’s like folk dancing. But anyone can learn how to do it because it’s just repetitive steps in a circle over and over again. But that’s my favorite dance ever.

AT: Who taught it to you?

RB: My parents. My parents and my grandparents taught it to me. And sometimes they conform the dance style into competitions. People have like competitions with this style now, or people just do it for fun at like any event. It’s just a very big community thing in India. Especially if you’re, like, my type of Indian. Like, I’m Gujarati, which is like from the state Gujarat in India. And it’s originally from Gujarat. So if you see someone else from Gujarat you’re like, “Hey, Navratri, Garba…” It’s our thing. Oh, and my grandmother sewed my dress.

Context: RB is an Indian-American who lived in India during her pre-school years. She practices Jainism, one of the lesser-known religions of India. She frequently returns to India to visit relatives and continues to practice her faith and India’s festivals with other Indian-Americans in Texas. This interaction took place in a living room while we were both home for spring break.

Interpretation: Navratri is typically a nine day-long festival typically celebrated in honor of the divine feminine in India. Navratri is celebrated differently depending on where you are/are from in India, practices surrounding the festival existing in multiplicity and variation. RB mentioned that it was a time of fasting, while others who participate in Navratri see it as a time of feasting. While the pattern varies somewhat by region, generally the first third of the festival focuses on aspects of the goddess Durga, the second third on the goddess Lakshmi, and the final third on the goddess Sarasvati. RB mentioned the first two of these goddesses while failing to remember the third.

RB chose to share this festival with me due to the mere fact that it is her favorite. She holds it special because of the fact that it is specific to the region in India from which her family is from, and the fact that Garba dancing is a point of pride and community that her family and the people from Gujarat share.

For another interpretation of this festival, please see p. 2416-2419 of Stany Pinto’s “Communalisation of Tribals in South Gujarat” (Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 30, No. 39)

Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Praying for a Good Harvest: Indian Festival of Lohri

Text:

S: “Lohri is basically celebrated in Punjab and Haryana [states of India] and also in other parts of the country but has different significance you know across the country… So basically it’s the time when you uh sow the fresh crop…But so what we do for Lohri is we burn a bonfire kind of a thing and uh the auspicious thing to eat and to throw into the fire is uh groundnuts, revdri [specific food item], and uh popcorn – so these are supposed to be auspicious and then you pray to this pious fire, the bonfire, and pray that this harvest is good. And so the crops are supposed to be harvested in April and this festival is in January so you basically want the next harvest to be good because you’re now sowing for that round of harvesting essentially. And also it marks the going away of peak winters, and the coming in of spring, and like just like the going away of cold weather.”

S: “It is also like celebrated with the neighbors, like it’s a community thing. And the first Lohri of a child or of a newly married couple is very important – the family hosts that Lohri and calls all their relatives and friends over and then you know serve them dinner after they all sit around the bonfire and offer their prayers and everything. And everyone has dinner around the bonfire and eats together and it kind of brings in a lot of social interaction also.”

S: “And if it’s not like your first Lohri, then people just get together and they do like potluck, and they bring like one-one dish – you still have to organize it – but people just get one dish and do it together.”

S: “You also have these specific songs associated with Lohri, I don’t remember them but um, the kids are supposed to be going to everybody’s house and singing those songs and asking for Lohri – like you do in Halloween – and people give them money. I mean we used to do that when we were kids but I don’t think people do it anymore.”

S: “So this day is very auspicious, 13thJanuary, or 12th, it’s very auspicious, and with the Hindu calendar, it’s the beginning of the month of, I think it’s the month called Makar, I’m not too sure about that. But the thing is like, so the Hindus everywhere celebrate it but in their own way so I think it’s called Pongal in the South [South India] and Bihu in Assam [another Indian state] and it’s called Makar Sakranti in UP [another Indian state]. And then they have their own ways of celebrating it, like the Haryanvis [residents of the state of Haryana] celebrate it by eating kichdi and ghee [specific dish] and UP people celebrate it by having til ke ladoo [another specific dish]and I don’t know about Bihu, how they celebrate it but, so basically that day is auspicious in the Hindu calendar so it is celebrated in various ways in different parts of the country.”

 

Context:

The informant is a middle-aged doctor from India. This conversation took over the phone around the time of the festival mentioned. The informant mentioned to me her plans for the weekend involved celebrations related to this festival, and I was curious and asked her to elaborate more on what the festival was. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses. Certain key terms that were originally in Hindi have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets.

 

Interpretation:

Sowing and harvest festivals are pretty common globally and are especially prominent in an agrarian society like India. The unpredictability of the many factors that are needed for a good harvest leads to folk traditions like this one. However, their influence expands even to those who are not part of the community of farmers and in this context the meaning and function of the festival changes to be about regional cultural heritage. The informant mentions how the same festival is celebrated across India under different names, and with different specific practices even though all its variations are about praying for a good harvest. In this light, the details of how you celebrate the festival tie you into a particular community – for the informant, it is the community of people from Punjab/Haryana. The informant also mentions this emphasis on community, and how the festival is especially important to establish entry into the community by new members – whether by birth or by marriage. Further, the ties of the earth cycle (which is at a period just before spring) to the life cycle are also seen through the focus on children and the Halloween-like tradition of going door to door and asking for money. It is also interesting how the symbolic foods to throw in the fire have evolved to include foods that only exist in the modern world – namely, popcorn – and the informant spoke of them with the same reverence as the more typical foods that are groundnuts and revri.

 

Annotations:

For a more detailed description of Lohri, including an example of the songs the informant mentioned, refer to p. 26 of the book Let’s Know Festivals of India by Kartar Singh Bhalla (2005, Star Publications).

Customs
Festival
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

May Day: Stillman Valley High School Traditions

The following is a conversation with MA that describes her interpretation of the May Day celebration from how her high school celebrated the springtime festival. For a full history of May Day traditions in America, please see Allison Thompson’s 2009 May Day Festivals in America, 1830 to The Present (McFarland & Co.).

 

MA: So, we had the seniors eligible to be on May court and they would be elected by the student-body to be on that. Then first the sophomores walk around with flags and make an arc for the May court to walk through when they are announced and then people sing to the court and we always did a boy/girl cheer routine. Then the juniors would wrap the May pole in ribbons and the May queen would be crowned by the May queen of the previous year […]. It was a celebration of summer coming and purity. I know the actual May Day is on May 1, but ours fell on a different day every year, probably for school coordinating reasons.

 

EK: Did you were anything special for the occasion?

 

MA: Yeah, so freshman didn’t participate unless they were in the cheer routine. Sophomores wore pastel sun dresses, juniors wore big, pastel, poofy dresses, and seniors just had to wear some type of pastel formal wear, their guidelines weren’t as strict because they were seniors. I remember I wore a pastel green poofy dress, kind of like a Quinceañera dress, during my senior year.

 

EK: So, what did this celebration mean to you?

 

MA: Well I participated in it all four years; I was a cheerleader, so I did the cheer routine my freshman year. I know it was a celebration of spring and rebirth and summer coming and purity. For a lot of us in high school though it was just about dressing up and always happened before Prom, so whatever seniors were elected to be on May court were probably going to be on the Prom court too, haha. I just really liked dressing up and celebrating the event with my friends and family that would come to watch.

 

My Interpretation:

MA is the only person I know who has participated in a high school May Day celebration. I’ve known of the festival previously, however now it also has a bit of a negative connotation. I know that it is also considered International Workers’ Day, where people will take to the streets in political protest in several areas. It is interesting to me that while certain traditions of the celebration are upheld in some areas, such as in Stillman Valley High School where they have pastel colors and the May pole and the customary dancing, in other areas there is fighting, arrests, and riots. In MA’s recollection, though, she seemed to look forward to the celebration each year, really enjoying her high school’s unique tradition.

Customs
Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Karneval/Fasching: A German Celebration

The following is GK’s recollection and respective interpretation of her experiences at Karneval/Fasching celebrations in Germany.

 

GK grew up in Germany as a Lutheran and celebrated Karneval throughout her childhood and young adult years. In her description of the holiday, she says that Karneval was like the Mardi Gras equivalent in Germany. It occurred right before Lent, starting fifty-two days before Easter and then ending before Ash Wednesday. Growing up in Ansbach, in Southern Germany, the festival was called “Fasching” there.

 

GK says that on the first day of the celebration, all of the women in town would dress up in costumes and gather in the streets to march around. They would do silly little things, such as cutting off the bottoms of men’s ties and in exchange would give them a small kiss on the cheek. GK notes that the bolder ones (women) would plant a kiss on the boy’s lips.

 

Then, there was “Rosenmontag” (Rose Monday), which occurred [on] the Monday after the celebration began. There would be a parade in her town and she and her brother would watch on the side of the streets and small floats and marching people came through the streets. People were dressed up in costumes that were very colorful or fantastical, too. Good food was everywhere for everyone to indulge in. There were bratwursts, German pretzels, Berliner donuts (called Krapfen in German) filled with a berry jam, all being sold by vendors in the streets. Though she was younger and couldn’t participate in these activities, she remembers the bars would be open all night (her parents often went there to celebrate during this time). When GK was older, she and her friends had Glühwein together, a spin-off of wine. She describes it as a “red wine drink mixed with hot apple cider and spices.” She also says that “people were always drinking, celebrating, and dancing.” When World War Two approached and Hitler’s grip on Germany got stronger, some of the floats and people marching in the streets conveyed his messages, she recalls. “Those were some of the more uncomfortable years and less people wanted to go. But you still had to, otherwise the Nazis would think you weren’t in support and would come after your family,” she says.

 

The Last Day of the celebration was on Tuesday, right before Ash Wednesday. In Germany, it was called “Karnevalsdienstag,” (Shrove Tuesday). It’s the last day of parades and parties, and this is also the day that is the same as Mardi Gras in other places in the world.

 

On Ash Wednesday, GK remembers that there was a custom of burning the “Nubbel,” which is a straw, life-size doll. It would customarily hang outside of bars or in town squares and when it was burned it symbolized the doing-away of all the sins committed during Karneval time. She notes that this part never occurred in Ansbach, but rather in bigger cities in Germany. She only witnessed it once when she travelled to a larger city with her girlfriends.

 

GK remembers Karneval as some of her better memories from Germany before and after World War Two. Several bombs had struck her hometown, so she says that being able to look back on the celebrations and good times she had with her friends and family before these tragedies will always be something that she cherishes.

 

My Interpretation:

Karneval, better known as Fasching to her, seemed to be a celebration that really affected and influenced GK’s life. It’s clear that some of her best memories of her hometown came from this celebration, which mean a lot to her as many of her memories include taking shelter in bomb shelters and seeing the aftermath of her town, destroyed by bombs during World War Two. While reminiscing on her memories, it was evident that GK misses her home and the Fasching celebration that she used to partake in. However, she spoke very romantically about it, as if it were the festival of the century; nothing could ever be better than Fasching. Whether it was because it was part of her childhood, or really that spectacular of a celebration, Fasching seems to be a very influential festival for the German people, with several of their traditions and customs performed/practiced throughout the days it occurs.

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Foodways
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic
Material
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

La Guelaguetza

Context

The informant is an acquaintance of my father, and in a previous vacation invited us to watch “La Guelaguetza,” a performance of the many different tribes in Oaxaca and their folk dances. I made some time during my Spring Break to ask him about the festival once more.

 

Interviewer: Back in 2014, you invited my family and I to the festival of “La Guelaguetza” in Oaxaca. Would you be able to tell me about it, and why it’s such a significant festival.

 

Informant: Yes, gladly! For starters, I myself am originally from Oaxaca, and came to Mexico City to pursue my career as a lawyer. However, much of my family is actually native mexican, like many in Oaxaca. I make an effort to go back every July to watch the festival. “La Guelaguetza” is a festival where many different cultures come together to perform their folk dances, because Oaxaca has many different native cultures, not just Zapoteca. The festival spans almost a week full of plays and performances, but the most important part of it all is at the end of the event… In an open theatre, the different groups all perform folk dances, to music unique to each culture, donning their traditional clothes. Most if not all dances are for couples, a man and a woman. Probably the most famous dance is the “hat dance,” but there are many others.

 

(Note: The hat dance involves the man placing his sombrero between him and the woman, with both of them dancing around it in until they meet.)

 

Interviewer: Yeah, I remember the dances being very unique, but what I remember the most is almost getting knocked out by a mezcal pot during the festival. Could you also talk about the food at “La Guelaguetza?”

 

Informant: (laughs) Of course, of course. “Guelaguetza” is actually a Zapoteca word, which roughly translates to “sharing of gifts.” Other than sharing their music and dances, “La Guelaguetza” is also the place where everyone shares their native foods… but not in a buffet or a restaurant. They actually give samples of the foods in the middle of the dance performances.

 

Interviewer: They pass out the food in a very… uhm… unique manner, do they not?

 

Informant: Indeed, it would be extremely complicated and would most definitely interrupt the dance if they tried giving samples to such a huge crowd, so the performers often opt to throw their items into the crowd! Most of the time they’ll bring a type of sweet bread, but you can also expect mole negro, tamales, and yes, even pots of natively brewed mezcal to be thrown your way. “La Guelaguetza” is so significant for Oaxaca because it celebrates all the cultural diversity in the state by bringing us all together through music, dance, and food.

 

A video of “Jarabe Mixteco” (lit. Mixteco Syrup) one of the more well known dances performed at “La Guelaguetza”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttlol6TZebE

 

Customs
Earth cycle
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Michaelmas Festival

Content:
Informant – “Every fall, on September 29th, Waldorf schools celebrate Michaelmas Festival to honor Saint Michael defeating the dragon. The 4th grade puts on a play. The play is different from year to year, but the overall plot is the same. A town is besieged by a dragon. A maiden gives herself up to the dragon to save the town. Saint Michael saves the maiden by taming the dragon. After the play, the high school sings a powerful three part harmony.
‘Hearken all, the time has come when all the world at last the truth shall hear; then the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Our lances shall be turned to reaping hooks, swords and guns be cast as plowshares, nations shall live in lasting piece, all men unite as brothers.’ ”

Context:
Informant – “Around this time, meteor showers are very prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere. The whole festival is very indicative of iron coming down to earth and strengthening humanity for its fight against the darker forces as summer ends and winter begins. The dragon isn’t really a dragon – it’s the evil within us. Saint Michael is the Lord of Light, his iron comes to strengthen mankind with light. The whole festival is a celebration of our higher, nobler self defeating our lower, base impulses.”
The informant learned about this festival on her own when she was studying Waldorf education.

Analysis:
The festival is an interesting mix of pagan and Christian influences. It’s intrinsically linked to both Saint Michael and the ending of summer. The fact that the dragon is tamed and not killed is also interesting. It reinforces the informant’s claim that the dragon is not an external enemy, but our own internal demons. We cannot kill our base impulses, but we can learn to control them. The timing of the festival is also interesting. It is a celebration of light and peace at a time when the world is getting darker and all the plants are dying.

Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Maslenitsa

Context:

The subject is a USC student, born and raised in Southern California. The subject takes pride in his Russian-Jewish heritage, so I wanted to ask him about any rituals he has attended.

 

Piece:

Subject: There’s a great Russian holiday, um, that’s to celebrate the end of the winter. And I saw it when I was going to school in Russia for a bit in eighth grade, I’m not sure the name in English but in Russian it’s called Maslenitsa. Which is sort of — it’s the process where you burn this, like, hay statue of the, winter witch, or something.

Interviewer: The winter witch?

Subject: Yeah, so it’s like the farmers defeated her, cuz she was gonna ruin their crops, but they survived. So it’s a very joyous time, and, um, you eat all this great Russian food, it was a lot of fun.

Interviewer: So when exactly in the year does it take place?

Subject: The end of winter, whenever it is that year, I, uh, think when I went it was the end of February or something.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that Maslenitsa is an Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday, celebrated during the last week before Great Lent, and it may be the oldest surviving Slavic holiday. Since Lent excludes parties, secular music, dancing, etc. which provide as distractions during times of prayer, Maslenitsa is the last time for individuals to take place in social activities.

An important aspect of the holiday which the subject did not include, is the presence of pancakes, and the lack of meat (however, in modern settings the ban of meat is less enforced).

Compared the the rituals and festivals which we studied in class, we can see that this society greatly values its prosperous agriculture. During such dire times of cold, harsh winter, it’s comforting to know that a party is waiting on the other end.

 

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Festival of Lights

Context & Analysis

The subject is from Ashland, Oregon—a relatively small town in Oregon that is an extremely tight-knit community. She expressed to me that Ashland has a rich tradition of festivals— the subject has a lot of pride for her town and it’s traditions and it’s interesting that this is a tradition that involved the entire town. I asked her to elaborate on a few of the festivals and she mentioned that her favorite is the Festival of Lights. The Festival of Lights takes the weekend following Thanksgiving which signifies the entry into the winter, or the ‘holiday season’. Despite not necessarily being a religious celebration, I find it interesting that the festival chooses to feature figures traditionally associated with Christmas (i.e. Santa, Mrs. Clause, etc.). Additionally, the fact that the subject can name the precise restaurants where the appearances take place underscores the small town’s community and the importance of the event to her.

Main Piece

“The Festival of Lights takes place at, like, night at, like, usually 7 or something like that—maybe not quite that late, yeah. Um, but there’s a parade and you go downtown and it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving every year, um, and, like, Santa comes down to the plaza and he goes up into the balcony of one of the restaurants called…I think it’s the Bookroom? Or maybe it’s Granite Tap House. I think it’s the book room [nods]. It’s gotta be the book room. Um, and he comes out on the balcony so does Mrs. Clause and one of the reindeer—‘cuz you know they’ve been, like, coming down the street—and they turn off all the lights in the town. And then they count down from ten…[she pauses for dramatic effect] and every single Christmas light lights up and my town becomes a winter wonderland [she smiles broadly]. Um, and then you can get hot chocolate afterwards and there’s caroling—people who like stand and sing carols and it is—ugh, it’s so much fun and so quintessential small town.”

Festival
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Shakespeare Festival

Context & Analysis

The subject is a theater major at USC and is very proud of her hometown of Ashland for hosting one of the most highly regarded theater festivals in the country. She described to me a lot of the inside details of the festival and elaborated on the different theaters and plays that have been featured. It’s clear from her narrative that she is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the subject and the town itself, and it was interesting to hear the information from someone who is so involved in both aspects of the festival.

Main Piece

“Ok, so the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a regional theater company—one of the most highly regarded theater companies on the west coast and in the US—like really spectacular—and it runs usually from February to November—it has three theaters. They do usually 12 plays between the three [theaters]. The one that has usually the most plays in it per season is usually the Angus Bomer Theater and they do all sorts of plays in there. They’ve done musicals, they do Shakespeare, they do new works in there, it’s just, um, whatever fits the space best…and then there’s the Elizabethan which is, like, the oldest theater there and that is their outdoor theater and they usually do between, like, three to four plays in there. Usually Shakespeare and a musical. I know this season it’s Oklahoma [the play]. But I’ve seen Richard III in there, Hamlet in there, it’s really nice but also it gets really cold. And then there’s the Thomas Theater which is, like, their new kind of ‘black box’ style theater where they can switch up the seating however they want to do it. They’ve done some Shakespeares in there—like last season they did Henry IV part one and part two. It’s just meant for smaller audiences. It brings tourists from like all around the world, sustains the economy of our town and is a really really good place for diversity. They’re really big on, like, being inclusive and diverse. In fact, their production of Oklahoma this year has same-sex couples and it should be really good! They’re very big on not only producing works by authors of color but also making sure people of color are cast and are on all of their teams.”

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