JH is a senior at an all-boys Catholic high school in La Canada Flintridge, CA. He lives with his parents in Pasadena, CA.
JH talked to me about some of the traditions and rituals that surround New Year’s and New Year’s Eve in his hometown:
“New Years is probably the biggest event in Pasadena…first of all there’s the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game…for the Rose Parade you always know it’s coming because in like, late November they start putting up the grandstands down Orange Grove [a major boulevard], and I live right above the Rose Bowl so they start setting up for events around then too in the neighborhood. They put up these giant white tents down there where they start building some of the floats, and you can go down and help decorate them with flowers – I’ve never gone, but I know some people or their families go every year. The floats are really cool.
There’s also the Rose Court and they’re a big part of the Rose Parade. My sister tried out a few years ago. I think in like September, or really early in the school year, all the girls who are seniors can try out, and they go to this really big mansion called the Tournament House and have a bunch of rounds of interviews. Obviously like, not all the girls are really interested in being on the Court, but it’s just a tradition they all do together. Everyone who participates I know also gets two tickets to this ‘Royal Ball,’ which is basically just a huge dance they have. That’s why a lot of girls do it I guess, just to get the tickets. But I don’t know, maybe it’s also just fun for them to participate. And then they eventually pick like six or seven girls, and one of them is the Queen, and they spend the rest of the year doing charity work and being like, the representatives of Pasadena, and then on New Years they have their own float and they kind of “preside” over the Rose Bowl game later that day.
A lot of my friends don’t really go to the actual parade though…it’s the kind of thing you go to a few times when you’re little and your parents want to take you and it’s exciting – they have free donuts under the grandstands, and hot chocolate – but once you’re like, 10 everyone’s pretty over it. And then when you’re older, the best part about New Years is New Years Eve. The night before, everyone usually gets dressed up, not fancy or anything but girls wear dresses and heels sometimes, and even though it’s freezing outside, like less than 50 degrees at night, everyone goes to parties near the Parade Route. They bring some of the floats onto the street the night before and block it off to cars, to everyone’s just walking up and down Orange Grove looking at floats and hanging out with their friends, there’s some people camped out for the parade on the side, and kids are going back and forth between other people’s parties. It’s really funny because everyone is drinking too. Besides the kids, you see a lot of cops and a lot of people’s parents just really really drunk on the street, and everyone’s just having a good time…if you lived off of Orange Grove you would feel kind of obligated to have a party or open your house up. And then everyone would obviously like count down to midnight together and all that, and then you’d usually crash at someone’s house and wake up the next morning and watch the parade on TV, if you wanted to, or just walk up to the parade route and see it from there. But after awhile no one really got tickets to see the parade. But if you were really lucky, you got tickets to the Rose Bowl game, which was always a big deal. My friends and I really like football, and usually someone’s dad knows someone who can get us tickets, so we try to go whenever we can.”
I asked JH if he thought his experience with this festival was unique, as someone who lived in the community and had people coming from all over to vacation in his hometown:
“Yeah, it was definitely different. Growing up with this happening every year, a lot of it just got kind of annoying, especially living right next to the Rose Bowl and having streets blocked off and so much traffic that entire week before New Years. There’d be a lot of football fans from the Midwest of whatever Big-10 school that was playing, or Stanford people coming down from the Bay for the week, and there’d be just a bunch of people and a bunch of cars all over Pasadena during the end of winter break, a lot of people who didn’t know where they were going. I guess Pasadena isn’t usually a tourist destination until New Years, so it’s weird all of a sudden having a bunch of strangers in your hometown…like Pasadena isn’t small, it doesn’t feel like a small town where everyone knows each other, but you can clearly tell if someone is visiting or someone lives here. And yeah, the Rose Parade gets old after awhile, but I think everyone who lives here would still say it’s one of their favorite holidays.”
Its very different to visit a festival annually and to live in a community where an annual festival takes place – after awhile, the nostalgia and excitement is buffered by some of the logistical nightmares and fatigue that JH describes above. Pasadena New Year’s and New Year’s Eve definitely has similar traditions as other places, like counting down to midnight and getting together with friends and family. The Rose Parade also has elements of other festivals, like floats and a “court” of young women. JH gets to see community involvement a tourist doesn’t, like the selection of Rose Princesses or the decoration of floats that requires residents’ participation and support. This ritual is a great example of welcoming the new year by bringing a community together, while continuing customs that now have come to define Pasadena.
For more information about this festival, see:
“About the Rose Parade.” Tournament of Roses. Tournament of Roses, 18 Feb. 2016. Retrieved from https://www.tournamentofroses.com/rose-parade.
Information on the informant: The informant is my mother who is currently 50 years old and lives in Palos Verdes. She attended USC in the 80’s and was actively involved in a sorority. She also is a huge sports fan and regularly attended USC football games. She has been going to games since the time she attended USC up until current time.
From the informant:
“Ever since I first attended my first USC football game, I remember it being a tradition to kick one of the bases of the flagpole leaving campus going towards the Coliseum. I believe the pole is right near Exposition and close to the business buildings. I wasn’t exactly sure why everyone did it but I think people just did it initially as a superstitious thing and then it caught on and became more of a tradition. Even though it’s weird I still take part in it and kick the base of the pole every time I walk from campus to the Coliseum on Game days. USC football has fluctuated since I’ve been there but I’m guessing a lot of people kicked the flag pole while Pete Carroll was the coach.”
Analysis: As a fellow student who attends USC games regularly and who has since I was born, I have seen this tradition take place first hand. It is a fairly strong rooted USC tradition and could be a symbol of the fans who are truly USC fans who partake in this. I also remember being told about this tradition while taking a tour of USC in the Spring of 2015 so clearly it is an undocumented tradition of the school that many people know.
Informant: I’m from Oklahoma, and back home at football games, we always chant, “Kill, kill, blood makes the grass grow” whenever we’re winning or, like, about to make a big play.
Me: Like at professional games?
Informant: No, mostly at high school ones. And some college games.
The informant is a student at the University of Southern California and loves to attend and participate in sporting events.
This chant, in the context of football games, seems to mean that a brutal victory over an opponent will serve to make the field look better during the next game. However, variations of the chant also seem to be associated with the US military; it receives a nod in the title of author Johnny Rico’s memoir—and account of the year he spent fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan—Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America. Another version of this chant appears in the 1987 war film Full Metal Jacket. The Sergeant asks, “What do we do for a living?” To which the platoon replies, “Kill, kill, kill!” The Sergeant continues with, “What makes the grass grow?” And his men reply, “Blood, blood, blood!”
Citation 1: Rico, Johnny. Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America. New York: Presidio, 2007. Print.
Citation 2: Full Metal Jacket. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Prod. Stanley Kubrick. By Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford. Perf. Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Lee Ermey. Warner Bros., 1987.
“When USC students go to football games, as they head off of campus they kick the flagpoles on the edge of campus. It’s suppose to be for good luck. It’s supposed to help the team win. I heard about it when I was at orientation and the guide pointed at the poles and told us that ‘All the students kick theese poles on the way to the Collesium.’ It’s like a superstition thing. I have done it once during freshman year when I went to a game and sure enough when I did it I saw tons of other people doing it too. It’s definitely caught on.”
As a fellow student at USC I know this tradition to be true. It is interesting to note that this was taught during the orientation process to the university. During orientation at USC students are not only taught official protocols of the university but they are also taught about the unofficial culture of the campus, through an official medium. The kicking of the flag pole could even be considered a ‘right of passage’ for students attending football games. As if only the true fans and devoted students partake in this good luck ritual. This tradition is not only to ensure success for the football team during the game, but also an initiation into true fandom.
The informant is a 19 year old computer engineering student at UC Davis. He is currently a freshman there after graduating high school the previous year. He grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, CA and has no strong religious ties. His family has been living in Southern California for many generations.
I asked him about the customs and activities associated with the football games at UC Davis. UC Davis is located in Davis, CA. This is northern California, which is slightly different culturally than the informant’s hometown. Though UC Davis has had an almost continuous football program since 1918, the team was only established as a NCAA Division I team less than a decade ago. This contrasts greatly with other universities who have structured themselves around their football team, like USC.
The football games are free for students to attend, but the informant says that the main draw for students to attend the game is the free giveaways of UC Davis apparel from various sponsors before and during the game. He said that he knew of giveaways of clothing such as scarves, beanies and t-shirts. There does not seem to be much hype for the games themselves. In other words, the students do not seem to be going because they are interested in football or supporting their university’s team, but just as something to do on the weekends. There does not seem to be as much pressure on students to actively support sports teams as there is at other universities that are more famous for their teams. When asked how he decided to go the game and who he went with, he replied that the decision was pretty spontaneous. A couple of his friends asked if he wanted to go and he said sure. He did not look forward to the game in advance.
Tailgating is found at UC Davis, but the informant said it was relatively minimal compared to other universities and takes place mainly in an empty field outside of Aggie Stadium. Aggie Stadium seats roughly 10,000 people and opened in 2007. The informant does not personally take part in the tailgating.
During the game, the student section is called the Aggie Pack. There is no assigned seating and people come and go as they please. There is a student leader in charge of leading cheers, but the mascot (a horse named Gunrock) plays a relatively small role in the games and is merely a person dressed up in a typical horse mascot costume. The informant said that the most exciting part of the games is the UC Davis tube sock giveaways, in which pairs of tube socks are thrown into the student section randomly.
When asked about half-time, the first thing he mentioned was that people like to leave then. This reinforces the idea that the students attend the games merely as something to do and not to actively watch the games.
All in all, there does not seem to be much hooplah surrounding the football games at UC Davis. Football is not the defining feature of UC Davis and this is evident in the blasé attitude towards the games. This is also evident in the attendance of other sports, including basketball. Even when ESPN was going to be filming one of the games, the students had to be lured in with free items to fill in the usually pretty empty stands.
“Oh my family would kill me if I didn’t kick it. I know when I was younger and obviously just distracted, I’d forget, and they’d make me go back and kick it.”
At USC, it’s a tradition to kick the base of a specific set of flagpoles as you move from the tailgating portion of a football game day to the Coliseum. As told by the informant, a member of the Trojan Knights, there’s a history to the tradition. When the flagpoles were installed and large crowds moved past them, the sound of feet accidentally hitting them was very distinct. Because they are placed right in front of the most logical exit toward the Coliseum, this repetitive sound became so commonplace that the crowd began intentionally doing it. Now, it serves as a necessity for true Trojan fans to kick the flagpoles. Not doing so brings bad luck for the team that day.
The informant began following this tradition when he was 6 years old. He learned it from his grandfather, who attended USC about 60 years ago. He says that it’s very important to it’s family — if he neglected to kick it, they would give him flak for it. If the team lost after that, he would be considered partially at fault by his family. As a Trojan Knight, this is especially important to him.
It’s interesting to see where people think traditions start, especially in cases where the reason it started is relatively arbitrary but the tradition itself has gathered so much meaning over several decades. The idea of flagpole placement leading to people bumping into it and making a distinct sound against the metal turning into a long-standing tradition that determines the success of a team is, arguably a bit ridiculous. But perhaps it develops from confirmation bias — if the team wins and you kicked the flagpole, then people like to make the association. But if the team loses, there are a lot of other factors than the hypothetical flagpole correlation to blame. So, people lean toward associating success with the action they took to wish for it. Whether or not the origin story is true or not, it’s fascinating to think about what will happen as the geography changes. What if the school moves the flagpoles in a construction project? Or if the road is closed and an alternate route has to be taken? The degree of the tradition’s importance is hard to gauge when it is so physically convenient to participate — you almost HAVE to walk past it. That’s why it developed. So what happens when the convenience isn’t present?
Here my informant recounts her first experience with a USC tradition, which, although it began decades ago, still continues today:
So, every time there’s a football game here at USC, all the students have to kick one of our flagpoles on the way to the stadium for good luck, and basically, you can hear that clinging noise coming from the pole for, like, miles away I wanna say, even though that’s probably inaccurate… whatever! It’s just you can feel the pride of the Trojan family every time someone kicks that flagpole.
I experienced this tradition my first game day ever here at USC, which actually wasn’t even when I was a student, it was when I was in eight grade visiting the campus, and that’s how I knew I wanted to go to this school.
The fact that the informant recounted this tradition with such pride, remembering details from when she was in the eigth grade, shows its significance to her. Indeed, even if she did not really know when that young that she wanted to attend USC, this experience has come to represent that for her, and she obviously takes great pride in this long-held tradition.
“It’s for good luck. Right? You’re supposed to kick the flag post for good luck. The old ones had dents in them and people thought they put them—but they were manufactured that way. They had the dents in them. So, you know, it was an interesting thing… I kick it once in a while, but I don’t venture to believe it, but a lot of people do, they’ll kick the flag post on the way to a game.”
The informant first learned of this tradition when going to football games as an undergraduate. The informant lamented that nowadays, USC’s traditions are not carried out with the vigor he remembers from his time as an undergrad. He said he has also experienced also a drop in formality in carrying out those traditions at sporting events and at other times. Now that he has returned as an alumnus, he has noticed a change in the students.
I find it fascinating that people who are not traditionally superstitious will participate in a ritual such as this one even without knowing or having any reason for why they do it. Luck seems almost threatening in that large groups of people here have altered their behavior to protect themselves from the off chance that their not participating works against their favor. The ritual becomes the luck itself.
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“One folklore I’ve heard about USC is actually kicking the flagpole as good luck before football games.”
I’ve heard this too and I have asked about where this has come from, but I’ve never been able to find out. It’s always interesting to see hundreds of people kicking a flagpole on the way to the Coliseum before a game. I’ve heard that football players kick the flagpole as well. This practice seems to only happen during home games, as I have yet to see anyone kicking the flag pole while the football team is playing an away game. A lot of my friends have questioned this practice and the purpose behind it, but they all continue to do it because the action has become a symbolic tradition and an amusing way to demonstrate school spirit.
This practice is similar to other actions people perform for “good luck.” Other common things include crossing one’s fingers or making a wish after witnessing a shooting star. Although these superstitions are more likely than not ineffectual in increasing one’s “luck,” these practices are common because people enjoy these traditions that are passed down generation to generation.