USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘fireworks’
Festival

Thunder Over Louisville

Main Text:

JE: “Thunder Over Louisville is a 30 minute firework show that takes place over the Ohio river in Louisville, Kentucky. It is the biggest firework show on this side of the planet and the cool thing about is that all the money from the fireworks and that is raised for Thunder Over Lousiville is donated to Kosair Children Hospital. The main reason for the firework show is that it acts as a kick-off to all of the festivities that go on before the Kentucky Derby. It is always exactly a month before the derby at 9:30 to 10:00pm and they also theme the fireworks to music. Like this year it was Disney and then it went to some Dubstep bullshit.”

Collector: “So who goes to this firework show”

JE: ” Well the location in Louisville that this firework show takes place is called Kentuckyanna which is basically the divide between Kentucky and Louisiana marked by the Ohio River division. So the two main states that know the most about this is Kentucky and Louisianna and it is pretty big in both of these places.”

Context: 

JE lives in Mount Washington, Kentucky which is located about 20 minutes from where this firework show takes place in Lousiville. When I asked Jordan why he remembers the show and why it keeps going on every year he said that a lot of people remember this show because it is such a massive firework show and there is nothing else like it in the United States. He also said that

Analysis:

The analysis of this regional lore is going to focus on the area it takes place in and how this piece then functions in response to being preserved over time. The first thing I would like to analyze is why this firework show continues to be put on and I will do this by describing regional and economical demands for it.

Regionally this firework show continues to strive and be put on because people in Kentucky and Luisiana have such a high demand for it. This demand stems from the shared culture amongst those who attend. This shared culture not only acts as a unifying force between two different states but it also allows for people to reminisce at all of the good feelings and times that they have shared together at this place. Thunder Over Louisville also serves as a sort of identity marker for Kentuckians and Louisianians because almost everyone in those states knows about the show, even if they do not attend it. If someone were to go to Kentucky when these festivities for the derby were happening and not know what “Thunder over Lousiville” is, then those people from Kentucky and Louisiana will be able to identify them as an “outsider” or “other” ( which also aids in unification between the people of those states). The music that the fireworks get set off to also can act as a unifying source among individuals at the show who know the music and can share this experience of reminiscing on their childhood and past memories with each other. For example, almost everyone knows at least one Disney song, so putting the fireworks to the melody and beats of Disney songs allows for people in the audience to experience the show in a different way with each other. These unifying forces between this regional group of individuals and their ability to share moments that would not have otherwise been shared leads to such a high demand for the show that it keeps being put on year after year. The people have adopted it and made it their own so that they could enjoy it in only a way that Kentuckians and Louisianans could.

Because the Kentucky Derby is so expensive to go and see, the only people who can really experience the Derby themselves are wealthy, mostly white people, most of whom happen to be in the horse business. By aiming the show to a certain selected subgroup of people, this discriminates against middle and lower class people of all races which causes a huge divide between the amount of Kentuckians and Louisianians who are able to attend because of there large lower class and black population. In response to the expense of the show and that most common people of Louisiana and Kentucky can not attend then the firework show for them serves as a stand in to the Kentucky Derby. This firework show is where people know that they can congregate and celebrate their region with each other and the derby itself, even though they are not at the derby.

To summarize, the unification that Thunder Over Louisville provides for those who attend the show (more specifically to those from Louisiana and from Kentucky) coupled with the “common” people’s only opportunity to experience the excitement of the Derby without attending it in person keeps this regional show surviving and thriving year after year.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Legends
Narrative
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Origin of Chinese New Year Fireworks

Informant:

M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.

Context:

This is a Chinese tradition that M’s family would participate in during the Lunar New Year in Beijing. Because he was close with all his family, he and his younger sister would often have to do these traditions twice a year, once with their mother’s side of the family and again with their father’s side. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“Lunar New Years is a big deal in China, so my grandmother… my grandmother on my mother’s side… has three daughters, and each other my cousins all come back for Lunar New Years, so we are all pretty close. So… traditions, right? Lots of people know that China does fireworks during the Lunar New Year celebration, but like here and Japan people get together to watch the fireworks that are like set up by some organizations. Uh, in Beijing, people set up their own fireworks, and everyone in the city participates, so it sounds like the city is in the middle of a war. Millions of fireworks go off from like midnight until like five in the morning and you won’t be able to sleep. So, the folklore behind firing off fireworks is that in Chinese stories about Paganism, there is a monster that is called Nian, which has the same sound as the word year. Nian, year, New Year, you know? So like this monster goes around eating people and stuff and the people don’t know what to do. They decided that they are going to launch explosive fire-powder into the sky to scare it off. It worked, and now that is why we call a year a year, because it is named after Nian the monster. Now, it has become less about that and more people do fireworks because they are fun, but my mother would always tell us that before we could go out and light them. We had to know that there was a reason to like play with explosives.”

Thoughts:

I like that his parents would make sure that the kids knew why a tradition exists before allowing them to participate in them. I think that it is interesting that they place a lot of importance on the folklore behind this tradition, while in the United States, the average parent does not explain why we celebrate the fourth of July. Kids learn about it in school, but that almost takes away from the tradition because it is taught institutionally, rather than organically. I was most intrigued to learn that the word year in Mandarin is pronounced the same as the creature in the story. It shows just how much society takes from folklore.

Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Diwali

“Diwali, the festival of light as we call it in India, is one of the most renowned festivals in the Indian culture. Diwali is a symbolic victory of light over darkness and to celebrate this my family surrounds our house with lamps to honor the light present in our lives which has guided us to where we are. The fun part of the festival is the fireworks. We celebrate Diwali with a lot of fireworks and decorate our house with new things. Diwali is more than a mere festival for us because it signifies a renewal and letting go of the past and welcoming the future with hope.”


 

This particular interlocutor has celebrated Diwali his entire life, and he mentioned that he remembers celebrating Diwali throughout his childhood. Because of its popularity throughout the entirety of India, it was hard for him not to acknowledge its presence, not that he would want to. He stated that this is one of his favorite holidays because of the grand celebratory acts and the happy disposition of the general public in his community. This is also a time in which one is able to reflect and project their wishes for the future, something he does with the utmost sincerity and unwavering faith.

When light prevails over darkness, in most cases, people generally rejoice in its victory. The Diwali festival utilizes this light and joy to celebrate how good is much more powerful than evil. The various lights, especially through the many lamps, represent this victory while also providing hope for those who feel they are consumed by darkness. One who is immersed in so many lights would not be able to sulk in their troubles for very long. The lights also serve to guide, as the interlocutor mentioned, leading people toward a stronger and better path while also redirecting those who are astray. In this sense, the myriad lights protect, uplift, and guide. The fireworks also contribute to this uplifting as well, symbolizing the pockets of kinetic joy that surprises all humans. Though their duration is limited to mere seconds, they bring about lasting joy that is unforgettable. By way of this, Indian culture is revealed to prize moments of exultation in the midst of darkness; this also illustrates the incredible resilience that is present in Indian culture.

Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

German Tradition: Sylvester/ New Year Celebrations

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So for Sylvester, in every major city, and pretty much all of Germany, you are allowed to shoot fireworks at the turn of midnight.  And this day is a holiday, but some shops are open like, until 6:00pm.  And then people will go to their houses, or friend’s houses, or even parties. But usually first, the evening starts with a dinner. Like, not just with your close family, but it is with your friends too.”

Interviewer: “And why do they call New Years ‘Sylvester’?”

Informant: “I have no idea, I mean I never thought of it as ‘New Years’. It is just the name we gave it.  I think it is some religious guy… Oh! And on Sylvester everyone always watches Dinner for One.  It is one of these things where you have a certain tradition, and you don’t really know where it comes from but you grow up with.  And Dinner for One is a common thing for Sylvester because the butler in the show keeps saying ‘same procedure as every year?’ So he is referring to the routine, and that some things don’t change even though the year changes.  I don’t know, it’s just one of these traditions that you don’t know where they come from, but you grew up with them so you don’t really question them.  So yeah.”

Analysis:

Much like in America, Germany celebrates New Years by partaking in special events such as the shooting of fireworks at midnight and spending time with friends and family.  On New Years it is important to spend time with friends and family because it is a way of expressing to them that you appreciate and love them, and you want them to be in your life at the start of the new year.  This indicates that you are wishing your relationship with them to extend into the new year, and many years afterwards.  The shooting off of fireworks is a sign of celebration, much like it is in America.  However a difference I noticed when I celebrated New Years with my informant was that in Germany people are allowed to fire the big fireworks, but where I am from in America only city workers are allowed to shoot off the big fireworks because it is considered too dangerous for other people to do.  Even though firework regulations change based on where you are in America, the fact that there are not as many regulations on fireworks in Germany indicates that the German government probably trusts it’s people with the explosives more than the American government does with their people.

In Germany, ‘New Years’ is referred to as Sylvester.  My informant was not sure as to why this is, which indicates that the tradition of calling ‘New Years’ ‘Sylvester’ comes from old, long forgotten beliefs. In my research I discovered that the term ‘Sylvester’ is of Isreali origin because that is what the Isreali people call the New Years celebration.  Sylvester was the name of the ‘saint’ and Roman Pope who was in charge of the Catholic church during the 4th century.  Pope Sylvester is best known for convincing Constantine to forbid Jews from living in Jerusalem.   All Catholic ‘Saints’ are awarded the day Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory, and December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day.  Due to the anti-Semitic tone of this legend, perhaps one of the reasons why my informant was not aware of the true origin of Saint Sylvester Day was because Germany has been very careful to distance themselves from their negative history in WWII and the Holocaust.

The final Sylvester tradition my informant mentioned was watching Dinner for One every year.  This english film is played every hour on television during Sylvester and it is very popular in Germany because as my informant pointed out, it reflects on the idea that even though things are changing there are some things in life that will always remain.  Some people feel anxiety towards change, therefore I can understand how in this idea that there is “the same procedure every year” is reassuring to those fearful of change.  The film is especially popular among the wealthier German class because there are jokes in the film that only the wealthy would understand, such as the knowledge of serving the right kind of alcoholic drink with the food.  This comes from upper class dining beliefs that for example, port is an after dinner drink therefore it should be served with the final dish, fruit.  The film is also in English, which is a language that only educated German people would understand.

My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany.  She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree.  She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.

Watch Dinner for One:

 

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