USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘festivals’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Re-entry into a Home: Indian Folk Belief

Text:

MM: “See when we return home after a long time, then it is supposed to be pretty auspicious that in front of the main door of the house someone pour oil on like both sides of the door – before you like enter the house.”

MS: “Is it usually when the person is already at the door, or before they show up?”

MM: “No like when you show up, you have to wait at the door, and then someone pours the oil and then you’re allowed to enter.”

MS: “Was there ever a time this ritual was done differently?”

MM: “Yeah there was this one time when we showed up somewhere and they had already put the oil on the doorstep and the door wasn’t even open yet and it was supposed to be like a super bad omen. Like you’re supposed to do it the right way, after the people show up, not before.”

MM: “My grandparents believe in this pretty ardently and some people from my parents’ generation do as well, but we kids like definitely don’t see the point and I don’t think I’d like continue to do it if it were just me.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India, currently doing a study abroad program in America. The conversation was in response to my question about any odd things that happened in the informant’s past that she did not agree with but had to partake in anyway. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

The informant does not really understand the reasons behind the ritual herself, and is adamant in not taking part in it, but she still acknowledges the proper way to do it and the consequences of messing up even the order in which the actions must take place. I think this ritual developed because there was a time when people would often go away for long periods of time and the lack of communication abilities would imply that there was no way of knowing if and when they would be coming back. Further, there was implicitly more of a risk in travel earlier than it is now. The ritual seems to be a response of gratitude for a safe return as well as a prayer that even return be as safe and sound as this one.

Game

Hitori Kakurenbo – Hide and Seek Alone

The informant is marked IN.

IN: It’s kind of like a cult game, like in the same genre of the Ouija board, but like different…. And it’s called, like, Hitori Kakurenbo – Hide and Seek Alone. And it’s like, this elaborate ritual where you invite this ghost to come play hide and seek with you. And to do so you need to do like all this crazy shit. Like you need to get this doll, take all the stuffing out, and then you need to stuff it with rice, and they you need to put, like, a .. you need to put like blood, or a fingernail, or like a hair trimming into the doll. Like connect it with your spirit. And then you, what is it you have to like drown it in a bathtub and tie it with a string? Which are all elements of like, there’s some in Japanese folklore culture I believe. I know the rice has something to do with life, which makes sense cause it’s like, a carb. And i have read online that people did it and nothing worked. But then others say they did it and like, the TVs were changing. Apparently a korean version called living  doll, where like you take a doll – and I forgot to mention that in the original, Hitori Kakurenbo, it’s important that you get this stuffed animal that doesn’t look human-like. Because if you get one that looks human it has more power or something like that, which i guess kind of makes sense, like I don’t know? But living doll, you get a real ass doll, and then you invite it to like come, I don’t know, turn your lights off or eat you or something. And apparently people are like scared at shit that happened.

Context: I met the informant for lunch and she brought up an old game she heard about from her friend.

Background: The informant is a second year student at USC who is Korean-American. She heard about this game from a friend in Saint Louis, where she grew up. She believes her friend read about this game online on a website, likely Reddit.

Analysis: This was intriguing to me because it’s like a very ritualistic version of Ouija, calling out a spirit but adding in a physical voodoo-esque doll. It’s also interesting that people out there are willing to try this out in hopes of meeting or playing with a ghost.

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).

 

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holi – Hindu Festival

“So Holi is a Hindu festival, traditionally a religious festival, that kind of symbolizes the beginning of spring and the end of winter. It’s kind of like a fun festival where people kind of get together and meet people and have fun. It usually involves wearing white clothing and throwing vibrant, colored power at each other; there is usually a lot of music and street food involved as well.  However, in recent years, more people who aren’t Hindu have been participating, and it’s become more of a cultural thing that a lot of people celebrate rather than just a strictly religious Hindu celebration. This is kind of due to the fact that we throw colored powder at each other, and people see that as a lot of fun. So a lot more people have gotten involved, especially in the United States and other western countries, where they kind of do a similar thing where they throw colors at each other like Color Runs and such. So Holi has kind of moved to the rest of the world instead of just sticking in one culture.”

Context: The informant is an Indian American student. The informant was describing the spring festival Holi to her roommates following USC’s plan to have a Holi celebration on campus in order to explain exactly what it was. The roommates had heard of the holiday, but wanted to know about why the holiday was celebrated. As shown in the text, SV sees the festival as an easily transmutable tradition that can participated in by anyone, regardless of their culture, religion, or status.

Analysis: The spread of religious festivals and occasions to various regions of the world that may not know that religious backstory is reminiscent of a more secular shift by the ritual. The shift of the Holi festival to other areas of the world demonstrates the universal appeal of the customs associated with the festival. This is demonstrated by the adoption of throwing colored powder in the Color Run, a secular, non-Hindu activity. Having a particular aspect of a festival to be so widely loved allows many people to participate and increase awareness of respective holiday. This is evidenced in the fact that often the parts of each culture that members of other cultures will remember are associated with festivals or holidays. For example, when we think of American holidays, we think of Thanksgiving–which is quite appealing food-wise. This holiday is usually one that is inclusive, and many families will invite others to come and eat with them.

While some would think that this could be seen as cultural appropriation, this goes against the spirit of Holi. In India, where there is a strict socioeconomic hierarchy, Holi is one of the few days of the year where everybody, regardless of religion or caste can go into the streets and celebrate spring. It is an amazing festival that brings everyone together. Therefore, allowing other people–either non-Hindu or not Indians–to participate in Holi, demonstrates the openness of the festival.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Healing Charm

sana sana colita de rana si no sanas hoy sanaras mañana por la mañana”

Translation: “heal heal, little frog’s butt, if you don’t heal today you will heal tomorrow”

Context: Informant and I were talking about childhood memories and she shared this healing charm her mom would do on her.

Background: Informant is a student at the UCI. She lives in a Mexican American household. She recalls this charm that her mom would do whenever she would hurt herself by falling while playing. She would run to her mom crying and her mom would say it and rub her “boo boo” in a circular motion. She doesn’t think it took the pain away but it made me feel better. When asked if she would do this with her kids, she nodded enthusiastically.

Analysis: This charm was performed on little kids as a way to acknowledge their pain but also help make them feel better. When a child goes crying to his/her mom, she can give him/her the attention that is needed and they can go back to playing. When translated it does not have the same rhyme and effect attached. It does not really make any sense, but in Spanish it does not sound so bad.

Gestation, birth, and infancy
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Egg-pregnancy ritual

MG: “Did you partake in any pregnancy rituals?”

LR: “yeah i did the egg thing… my mom did it on me when I was pregnant like she cracks the egg. She rubs it all around and then she cracks it in a vaso [cup] and if there is telaranas [webs] in it than someone is wishing bad upon you”

Context: I was asking the informant about her pregnancy.

Background: LR is a master student at the University of Southern California. She grew up in a Mexican American household and has grown up hearing superstitious things. She has chosen to partake in this ritual because she wanted what is best for her daughter and also as a safety measure. She did not want to regret not listening to cultural superstitions.

Analysis: Eggs are very symbolic and they are often used to ward off the evil spirits, see Newall, Venetia. “Easter Eggs” THe Journal of American Folklore, vol.80, no. 315, 1967, pp. 3-32. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/538415 for more examples of how eggs are used. It makes sense that an egg ritual would be used while pregnant because during pregnancy because the mother and the child are very vulnerable to illnesses and evil spirits. Pregnancy is also regarded as very sacred since you are bringing in a new life into this world so it is important to take care of your baby.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Game
Holidays
Magic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Goodluck Dumplings

My informant shared a piece of Chinese culture she practices with her family during the Chinese New Year:

Informant: Ok so for Chinese New Year, we make…the tradition is to eat Dumplings…and then we will hide one coin in one of the dumplings and whoever eats that dumpling will have good luck.

Context:

I was talking with a group of friends while we were working on a class project and some of the group members wanted to share pieces of their traditions with me. It was a very casual setting and the performance took place in front of three other individuals.

Background:

The informant is from Hong Kong, China, but attends school at USC. This practice is something she normally does with her family during the Chinese New Year.

Analysis:

I found this really interesting because it reminds me of how in New Orleans, the baby is hidden in the Mardis Gras cake. Whoever finds the baby will receive good luck for the year. While these two traditions use very different foods and tokens to spread luck, they are surprisingly similar.

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Taiwanese Ghost Month

Informant:

E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions E’s mother believed.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with E. (I will be represented with a J.)

Main piece:

J: “Are there any other superstitions that you experienced growing up? With your family or friends? School, even?

E: “I’m not sure that this would count as a superstition, it’s more of a tradition centered around various superstitions… In Taiwan, there is this thing called Ghost Month. It’s in August, but basically there are just things you aren’t supposed to do during this month that could cause you to become haunted by a spirit.”

J: “What kind of things?”

E: “Well… For one, you aren’t supposed to have like… major life events during this month. Like if a child is born during this month, then it means that the child is cursed in some way. Or you aren’t supposed to get married or else ghosts will haunt you and try to break the marriage apart… Swimming and bathing are discouraged otherwise a ghost will try to drown you? Ghosts just don’t like people doing things during this month…”

J: “Do you know when this started? Or when your family started to avoid these things?”

E: “My brother was born in August, so clearly my parents didn’t care haha… But no, it’s mostly like my grandparents and other family still in Taiwan that observe this. My cousins, for example, have like… ghost-themed things in school to sort of like honor the dead. The only thing my dad warned us not to do was get married during August because he believes that’s why his sister got divorced… Otherwise, I think there are just too many things that are considered ‘unlucky’, or bad, during this time to take the tradition seriously.”

Thoughts:

There is a lot to break down with this tradition. It is filled with a multitude of superstitions, but they all sort of revolve around ghosts haunting you for doing things like whistling, swimming, etc. This is very reminiscent of Halloween in the United States; ghosts just roam around looking to haunt people. From E’s recount, it seemed to me like most of these “offenses” were just actions that some would consider unruly. Whistling can become annoying, swimming in places other than a pool could be frowned upon, flying commercially could be supporting corporations, etc. However, I was interested in the abstaining from major life events – specifically the example of her father believing his sister got divorced because she was married in August. A common thread in the folklore I have seen or experienced is that people use it to explain something bad happening. “Oh, it wasn’t that the two people were not meant to be together, it was just the ghosts messing with their marriage.” Or when bad things happen on Friday the 13th, people do not see them as logical events, they blame it all on bad luck.

Customs
general
Gestures
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pre-game ritual: Goalies

 

Main Piece

Informant: Before every game starts, when I am in the crease, I’ll tap the right post with the handle of my stick and the left post with the blade end.

Background:  The informant is my brother. He is a senior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There he plays goalie for the club hockey team and has been playing at a club level for well over a decade. He first learned of this superstition through his first goalie coach. He has done this act before every game he remembers playing in. For the informant, the act has become less superstition as he has gotten older. Still, the informant continues this ritual as it has become second nature in his mind. The interview took place over the phone and was recorded for transcription.

Context: The informant will do this act around 30 seconds before the game starts. The informant has been a committed teammate and goalie for the better portion of two decades.

Analysis: Sports are ripe with pre-game superstition and rituals, just like this one. Hockey goalies are especially habitual in the pre-game routines. Whether it be tapping the post with their stick, eating a certain meal or throwing up before the game (Yes, that one is true). However, this is not restricted to only hockey or goalies themselves. Players of all positions in all sports have their own specific pre-game rituals. (For a list a list of similar superstitions of professional athletes, please see Jeff Mclane’s 2008 article, For The Eagles, Superstition Is The Way (TCA Regional News)). Specific to this piece, I found the transition from superstitious behavior to second-nature for the informant interesting. While it might have started out as a superstitious pre-game ritual intended to bring good look for the upcoming game, it has since morphed into an acknowledgement of origin for the informant. The informant does not continue this ritual because he feels it will bring him good luck. He does so because he became the goalie he is today through tapping each post. When the informant continues this tradition, he is reminding himself of everything he has been through to get to where he is.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish Names Superstition

Context: The informant, a 19-year-old female college student, was sharing different folk beliefs that are shared by members of her religious community. She was describing how the traditions carried out by Ashkenazi Jews have impacted her life and continue to do so, today. The following is an excerpt of our conversation, in which the informant describes a tradition involving the naming of children that varies radically between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.

Text:

Informant: The two main types of Jews, I guess, are Sephardic Jews, who are of Spanish descent so they were kicked out during like the Christian Crusades, and then there are Ashkenazi Jews, who are more traditionally what you think of when you think of what a Jewish person looks like.  Sephardic people have blue eyes and they’re tan — they’re Spanish. But like I’m Ashkenazi, and they’re like Polish, Russian, and Eastern European. There’s a ton of different traditions that distinguish the different types of Jewish people. So, Ashkenazi Jews believe that it is bad luck to name somebody after somebody who is living. So, like my sister’s name is Jamie and my grandfather’s name is Jaime. So, they thought they were naming her after him when she was born and they were like, “You can’t do that. It’s bad luck.” I guess it’s because you’re like keeping the memory of someone who is still alive. I don’t totally know why it’s bad luck. So basically, Ashkenazi people don’t name people after the living because they believe it’s bad luck, but in very religious Sephardic cultures, it is tradition and grandparents expect to have their grandchildren named after them. So like, if you have a Grandma Rose, she’ll be pissed if her granddaughter isn’t named after her. So, the names mean a lot and they get carried down through the living.

Informant’s relationship to the item: The informant, who was raised by an Ashkenazi Jewish parent, was taught that naming a baby after a relative who is alive is bad luck. This superstition clearly had an impact on the informant because it almost resulted in her sister, Jamie, being named a different name, so she would not be named after their grandfather, Jaime. The informant is also very fascinated by the cultural differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, despite both groups studying the same source material.

Interpretation: The radically different cultural practices and superstitions that define Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities demonstrate the distinction between institutional religious beliefs and folk religious beliefs. Another example of this distinction is the Catholic superstition that one’s mouth will fill with the blood of Christ when they bite the host during the sacrament of Eucharist — a belief that is not found in the bible. Both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jew study the same source material: the Torah. However, the Torah does not state anything about the practice of naming children, so both superstitions have clearly developed over time within the distinct cultural groups and schools of thought. The superstition also shows that names and family lineages hold a lot of significance across cultures. However, different folk groups will define this significance in radically different ways. While Ashkenazi Jews believe that naming a child after a living relative serves as a bad omen because it appears as if you are predicting or waiting for that relative’s passing, Sephardic Jews expect children to be named after living relatives as a sign of honor and respect.

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