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

Juneteenth Festival

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old female college student who was enrolled in the ANTH 333 during a prior semester, was eager to participate in my folklore collection. She shared some folklore with me that she has collected throughout her childhood and her time at USC. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant described a cultural festival that she has taken part in every summer since she was a child.

Text:

Informant: Okay, so one thing that I think is particularly interesting is that every summer there’s a festival called the Juneteenth Festival. Basically, it’s called Juneteenth because it’s for black Americans and basically June 19th was the day the slaves were freed, but because slaves couldn’t say June 19th, they started saying Juneteenth and nobody ever changed the name of the festival. So, it’s been like going on  since then and so now we celebrate it as “Juneteenth.”  It’s a really cool way for me to personally feel a connection with my African heritage because that’s not something that I normally practice because I have a very American identity. But Juneteenth, what happens at a Juneteenth festival? So there’s a lot of dancing, a lot of praise dancing that happens. A lot of it like revolves around a lot of gospel music and there’s also… gosh there’s like Swahili that’s spoken at a lot of them. A lot of it intersects with Christianity, which is interesting and it’s probably where the gospel music comes from. But yeah, usually they are in parks and there’s usually jazz music. We celebrate a lot of black American culture, so there’s like jazz music and Hip-Hop and… black things. And yeah, it’s a family-friendly event. I think it’s really popular in the south. My dad was the one who made us go to every Juneteenth Festival because it’s really popular in Oklahoma, and that’s where he’s from. And my mom, who’s from Louisiana, knew about Juneteenth and celebrated that there, so I think it’s a really big thing in the south. But there’s a Los Angeles Juneteenth Festival that’s held every summer, which is the one that I went to, and I originally started going to because my dad is a bass player and he always played at the Juneteenth Festivals.

Informant’s relationship to this item: The Juneteenth festival holds a lot of personal significance for the informant because she attends it every year with her family. The informant described how the festival helps her feel connected to her Black American identity, from which she typically feels more removed. The entire festival serves as a reminder of the black experience in America, including the languages that are spoken there, the genres of music that are played, and even the festival’s name, which originated from the speech patterns of American slaves. The festival is also an important event for the informant’s family, as the informant’s father — a professional bass player — plays music as part of the festivities.

Interpretation: The Juneteenth festival is an example of a festival that has spatial and temporal significance. The festival typically takes place in parks in order to emphasize its family-friendly message. Additionally, it takes place on June 19 every year because that is the date in which slaves were freed in America. Thus, the date holds a lot of cultural significance to Black Americans and is a fitting date for a celebration of the African American experience. The festivals appear to have a prescribed syntax, or order of events. The informant described several events that regularly take place at Juneteenth festivals, specifically folk music and dances that always occur. Festivals also usually take place in order to project a certain message to both insiders and outsiders. In this case, the Juneteenth festival appears to communicate pride, resilience, and determination in the context of the history black America and the current experiences of black citizens.

 

Customs
Earth cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Advent Spiral

Content: Advent Spiral
Informant – “The Advent Spiral is a somber ceremony for grades 1-8. It happens in the winter. Fresh pine boughs are laid in a large spiral in the center of a dark room. Paper star mats are spaced out equidistantly along the spiral. In the center of the spiral is a single lit candle. A class enters the room. There might be a harp player in the corner, or it might be silent. One by one, a child enters the spiral. Each child has an apple with a candle stuck in its center. The child walks through the spiral, lights their apple candle from the candle in the center, then places their apple candle on one of the star mats. Then the child sits outside the spiral. Once everyone has gone, the room is full of light.”

Context:
Informant – “Walking into the spiral symbolizes walking into the spiral within yourself. Lighting the apple is like lighting the flame within yourself. The apple itself is a symbol of new life. This ritual has is based on the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Celts. They took an ember from their city, from their central sacred hearth of their city temple and transported it carefully to the new land. They took an ember from their holy hearth to whatever land their were colonizing, and then they would light their first sacred hearth with that ember. All the fires were started from that first original coal. That sacred fire is holy, regardless of the religion. It symbolized them carrying their religion forward. It symbolized a unity with the old land, a unity with their culture and religion. That’s similar to the advent spiral. The students place their apples on the stars. Stars represent our connection to the cosmos, an outer world, a spiritual world. It shows that you are giving your light to the whole world. By the end of the advent spiral, the whole room is filled with light. It’s symbolic of what we want the students to do. It’s not Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, whatever. You are a light filled person, and as you grow older share your light so the world becomes a light filled place.”
The informant learned about this ceremony when she started teaching at Waldorf.

Analysis:
The use of pine boughs reminds me of Christmas trees. They are evergreen, a sign of life in the dead of winter.
I couldn’t find any references to Greeks, Romans, or Celts transporting sacred coals on Google. Still, I agree with the informant’s interpretation of the ritual (i.e. it is symbolic of sharing your inner light with the world to make it a brighter place).

For another version and explanation of this festival, see “Winter Spiral and the Meaning of Advent.” www.clws.org/events/winter-spiral-and-the-meaning-of-advent/.

general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

College Rugby Post-Game Tradition for Rookies

Folk Tradition:

“So I was on the rugby team and so there’s a lot of stupid little rugby traditions that exist, but there’s like 3 fuckin’ million of them. If you’re new, a rookie, and you score your first try (it’s like a touchdown) in a game or a match, after the game there’s always parties, after the game it’s always customary to invite the other team to get shitfaced with you so at the party, so after the game you have to ‘shoot the boot’. You have to fill the cleat you wore with beer and chug it, and while you do it they sing a song and they go like – yell – ‘shoot the boot’ and if you don’t do it fast enough they sing, ‘why are we waiting we should be masturbating’ you have to chug like you would chug anything.” 

Context:

This is a college rugby team’s post-game tradition. My informant watched people do it and has done it herself. 

Informant Background:

My informant is 21, from Omaha Nebraska. She is on a college rugby team at a university in Los Angeles.

My Analysis:

I think a lot of young community groups do hazing rituals as initiation ceremonies. They can be mild or dangerous in extreme cases. This is a gross, but mild initiation ceremony to the college rugby community. It makes sense that only those who score in the game get to participate because those are the people who will most likely become the leaders of the community in the future. Drinking is also a common factor in college age initiation rituals.

I think the college rugby community is relatively small compared to other college communities like Greek Life, so it makes sense that opposing teams would convene after to celebrate together. This speaks to the fact that they are more concerned about building community than competition.

Customs
Festival
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tomb Sweeping Festival

Background:

This piece is a cultural tradition that the subject was introduced to through her family, and that she has done since her childhood.

Piece:

AQ: So… once a month—I mean not once a month, I think it’s once a year… um, I think a lot of Chinese families, what they do is they go to the cemetery.  I think that it’s called Tomb Sweeping Festival, and what happens is you go there and then um you kinda like bring food for your ancestors or whoever has passed away.  You bring incense sticks and you put them in the ground and then you also, um, lay out food for them to eat in their afterlife.  And there’s also like a huge trash can that we have, alright, and what we do is we usually burn a lot of money.  And then, ok it sounds very, like, Satanic but it’s not. But yeah, so you burn money, and it’s supposed to—I think they called it hell money, but I don’t really know—and then it’s supposed to also be for them in the afterlife, and then sometimes you also burn clothing, watches, cellphones, and whatever for them to use.

JM: So all this stuff you’re burning is for them to use?

AQ: Yeah, like, later on—wherever they are now.

JM: And you’ve done this?

AQ: Yeah, I do—like I, well I haven’t done it the past two years because of college, but I’ve done it every year.

Context:

This conversation was recorded during an in-person conversation with the subject, where I asked them if there were any special traditions or customs that their family followed.

Analysis:

The subject seems to have an interesting relationship with the piece of folklore that they are describing—it is evidently something that they are not completely confident about their knowledge of, yet it is still something that they participate in.  As a side note, what is called the ‘Tomb Sweeping Festival’ here seems to be most commonly referred to in English as ‘Tomb Sweeping Day’.  This folk custom does not seem to have any heavy spiritual associations for the subject, though it may have taken on new meanings as a yearly tradition that connects families to their cultural past, both literally through their ancestors and through the traditional practice of ancestor veneration..

For another version of this piece, see:

Song, Li. The Tomb-Sweeping Day. Paths International Ltd., 2015: Pg 138.

Folk speech
Rituals, festivals, holidays

High School Post-Rehearsal Chant

Ritual:

“At the end of every rehearsal, no matter how tense it ended, no matter how bad of a note it ended on, we said this chant. It was something like, “I have one last thing to say, goo cacti. Wu-tang, wu-tang, wu-tang crew ain’t nunckuck, who? With tight groups and apple…proceed.” So how this came to be was that apparently our director started it when he was at that high school and people over the years just added on different phrases to it. Cacti was the name of my director’s friend group in high school I think.

Context:
This was the post-rehearsal ritual of a high school theater group in Los Angeles.

Informant Background:

The informant is 23, from Los Angeles.

My Analysis:

High school in general is a place that likes to memorialize people. While sports teams can hang banners in gyms to immortalize sports achievements, high school theater groups must come up with alternate methods to preserve their “greats”. For example, the kids in my high school theater program would save costumes of respected peers as a way to preserve their memories. This chant seems like another way of doing that as well. The actual chant is completely indecipherable of any sort of meaning to me, and the informant I interviewed couldn’t explain any of the segments besides the first one, “cacti”. Therefore, it seems that each group of kids that adds to it gets to add their own private meaning to the chant through their own nonsense word. This is an example of cultural intimacy that would seem weird to outsiders, which only makes members of the group more proud of their tradition.

Adulthood
Childhood
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Senior Send Off in High School Theater Community: Ritual

Folk Tradition:

This was a senior tradition in theater. After our last performance of our last show, the director would invite all the seniors back into the theater after everyone had left and we would look at the ghost light and he said, ‘Right now is just a time for you to be with all the characters you’ve played here, so this is a time to say goodbye to them. So, we would go on stage and remember through action. We would go through different entrances or funny moments in shows and there was no end time. We would stay until we said goodbye.”

Context:

This would take place after the seniors’ last performance with their high school theater program in their Los Angeles public school.

Background:

The informant is 21, from Calabasas, and an actor.

My Analysis:

This is a folk piece with a lot of levels. First and foremost, the concept of the ‘ghost light’ is a folk belief that a light must always be left on in every theater for the ghosts that haunt the space. Though not every theater has someone who died in it, most theater spaces are regarded as sacred by the community and the residence for supernatural beings/occurrences.  The idea of everyone gathering around to stare into the ghost light is a way of symbolically channeling the spirits. It is interesting that the theater teacher prompted the students to say goodbye to the characters they played because it aligns these fictional characters with the actual spirits regarded by theater communities everywhere (symbolized in the ghost light). It could also be interpreted as summoning previous versions of oneself (the self that did perform these characters). High school is a very transformative time for many people, so summoning and saying goodbye to iterations of yourself over those years could be a very cathartic task for students before they leave for college.

Folk Beliefs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Snow Day Ritual

Description

“You would hear there was a snow coming, a big storm, and in order to secure the snow day, you would do the pre-snow day ritual. What you would do is wear your pajamas backwards, then flush three ice cubes down the toilet. While the ice cubes were being flushed you would chant ‘I love snow days.’ The ice needed to be gone, your pants needed to be backwards, and then you had to do it until the ice cubes were gone. If it worked, you were a genius, and if it didn’t work, you were pretty stupid.”

Context

The informant reported that in Michigan, where they are from, snow days are incredibly important to school culture. This ritual would be used when the informant was in school, usually in the winter, to attempt to secure a snow day, which involved shutting down school for a day due to inclimate weather.

Analysis

A lot of students have been heard of doing this — I had similar snow day rituals that the students believed, often well into high school. I find this sort of thing very cool because where does it come from? At what point, after the invention of the modern school day began, did something like this start, and how did it become customary for students? My own personal idea is that it comes from other rituals to ward off evil, but is a children’s bastardization of that idea, creating their own.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Material
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rocks on Gravestones

Context:

The subject is from Israel, and is a freshman at USC. Throughout my time of knowing him he has shared many jokes and proverbs that are specific to his home country. For this reason, I decided to interview him for the database.

 

Piece:

Subject: Something else, which I’m not sure is tied just to Jews or not, is we put rocks on gravestones. So instead of flowers, or chocolates, I don’t know, we put rocks there, like a pebble or a bigger one.

Interviewer: That’s really interesting, do you know why?

Subject: I think it’s just a symbol of strength and firmness, and that’s what we want our relationship with the person to be remembered as.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that this is quite a common practice, although different cultures have different explanations as to why they carry it out. For thousands of years, people would place rocks on tombs in order to stop scavengers, or keep evil spirits out of the world. In addition, it would also be to stop the deceased from rising up.

In Jewish cultures, placing a stone or a pebble is customary, as a form of respect for the deceased, and to let them know that you have visited.

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.

 

Adulthood
Childhood
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mince and Tatties

Context:

I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.

 

Piece:

Subject: Every birthday in our house we always make mince and potatoes, or mince and tatties like we called them when I was a kid.

Interviewer: What does that consist of?

Subject: Well the way we do it is we ground beef, you know, mince beef, and then mashed potatoes and there you go! [Laughs] Sometimes we add vegetables like carrots or peas to go with it which really adds to the flavor.

Interviewer: And why has it become a birthday celebration?

Subject: I’m not sure, I mean we had it all the time growing up, but when we came to America we had it less and it became more of a birthday thing, so that’s just what we do every year now.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that there is no set recipe or form of cooking this dish, it consists in many variations. There are concerns that British people are no longer eating traditional dishes, but mince and tatties remains the exception as it is extremely popular in Scotland. A survey done in 2009 found that it was the most popular Scottish dish, with a third of respondents saying that they eat it once a week.

In 2006 the European Union introduced new regulations on how meat could be processed, threatening the existence of mince and tatties, resulting in the Scottish National Party leader announcing, “They can take our lives but they will never take our freedom to make mince and tatties!”

It seems that it became a popular dish due to its ability to be canned and fed to a large number of school children.

Source:

Lewis, Susan. “Recipes for Reconnection: Older People’s Perspectives on the Mediating Role of Food in Contemporary Urban Society.” ANTHROPOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS 12, 2006.

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