USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘gift’
Folk medicine
Foodways

Papa Soup: Colombian Comfort Soup

Recipe:

  1. Long onions scallions
  2. Potatoes sliced in cubes
  3. Eggs
  4. Hot water

Boil potatoes add scallions mix eggs in add salt to taste.

Background:

“I learned this recipe from my grandmother. I was born in Colombia and raised by my grandmother there for the first several years of my life. She would make this for me when I was sick. It is also supposed to be a good hangover cure, but I was never hungover. I make it for my kids now whenever they are sick.”

The informant is 55, from Medellin, Colombia. She now resides in Southern California.

My Analysis:

This is a very simple recipe with nearly no instructions. It is easy to make, so easy that a sick person could probably cook it for themselves. The fact that my informant’s grandmother would make it for her and she now makes it for her family members when they get sick shows that the people who make this recipe value service. Even if it is not a grand gesture, this simple soup makes a meaningful gift to friends and family when they are ill.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Gift of Shoes Taboo

Barbara is a Chinese-American who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. Her parents are from Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States, before giving birth to her in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles. She recently received her Master’s in Clinical Psychology and is currently working at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles. Her hobbies are baking, exploring hipster cafes or restaurants, and reading thriller novels.

Original Script

Ok so you don’t want to give your significant other a pair of shoes for their birthdays or Christmas or as a present because it means that they’re going to run away with the shoes you got for them.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant first heard of this superstition when she was shopping for shoes with her mom. She remembers this superstition because she especially enjoys buying or receiving shoes as presents.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

This ancient Chinese superstition has endured time because of its meaning and its sound. The character for “shoes” is 鞋 (xié), which sounds like “syeah.” The pronunciation is similar to that of the character for “bad luck,” which is 邪 (xié). Besides the sound, shoes are also tools used to step on or run away from something. Thus, the Chinese have always generally considered shoes as taboo gifts.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I have never considered shoes as gifts of bad luck or ulterior motives. When I heard about this Chinese superstition I was surprised, because I have both given and received shoes as presents. I find this superstition somewhat funny, because the source of this belief is based on sounds and metaphors.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Gift of Time Taboo

Barbara is a Chinese-American who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. Her parents are from Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States, before giving birth to her in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles. She recently received her Master’s in Clinical Psychology and is currently working at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles. Her hobbies are baking, exploring hipster cafes or restaurants, and reading thriller novels.

Original Script

Ok, and you don’t want to give your significant other a watch or a clock or anything that tells time ‘cause it kind of means that you’re telling them it’s time for them to go, like they’re gonna to either leave you or they’re gonna die or something.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant first heard of this superstition from a friend she was eating with in high school. They were discussing what to give to a friend for her birthday, and the topic of a watch as a potential present came up in the conversation.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

This ancient Chinese superstition has endured time because of its meaning and its sound. The phrase for “giving a clock” is 送钟 (sòng zhōng), which sounds like “song jong.” The pronunciation is similar to that of the phrase for “attending a funeral ritual,” which is 送终 (song zhōng). Besides the sound, clocks and watches also represent running out of time. Thus, the Chinese have always generally considered shoes as taboo gifts.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I have never considered watches or any other objects that tell time as gifts that imply death or abandonment. When I heard about this Chinese superstition I was surprised, because I have both given and received watches as presents. I find this superstition somewhat funny, because the source of this belief is based on sounds and metaphors. I have also never had any near-death experiences or had the person leave me after giving me the present.

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Legends
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Great Han

Every year at hanukah my mother tells the story of hanukah and afterward, when the historical story is done, she tells this story which was told to her by my grandfather:

Item:  So everyone knows about Santa Claus coming down and bringing presents to the Christian children but Santa has a best friend too.  His best friend is named the Great Han.  Every year at hanukah the Great Han sets out in his giant flying menorah with each candlestick filled with presents for the little children.  The Great Han flies around delivering all the presents to the good jewish children.  And you know, when Christian children are bad they get coal, well, the when the Jewish children are bad they get a cow dropped on them.  So every year at Hanukah tim all the little Jewish children go outside and hold hands and dance in a circle around the fire hydrants singing this song.  The lyrics go:

Han Han Han We’re waiting for you now

Han Han Han Please don’t drop a cow

At this point my mom would have me and the friends my brother and I had invited preform the dance.  We’d all hold hands and dance around in a circle singing the song.

This tradition was passed down from my mom from her father.  I believe he made it up.  I have no memory of her preforming it before he died, however.  It only began to show up as a tradition when I was around 11 but we do it every year.  For my mother it symbolizes her connection to her father and for us it was a symbol of community between our family and friends.  The tradition is so silly and lighthearted that it serves as a celebration of happiness more than a tradition of religious significance.  There is an acceptance that the Great Han does not exist and will not drop a cow on you, so there is no reason to be scared.

This tradition was so important to my family that when I went to college my mom insisted that I be skyped in for the telling of the Great Han story.

There is religious significance in it, however, in what it takes from christian folklore of Santa Claus.  Both are male figures who ride on flying objects and bestow gifts to the good children and punishment to the bad children.  It shows an insecurity among the jewish community to equalize their holiday with the much more popular christian holiday by creating folklore around Hanukah.

 

Adulthood
Childhood
Customs
Material

Chinese Changzhou Combs

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “There’s this special brush, or comb I guess is more accurate, that girls get when they graduate high school, or any sort of graduation beyond that, although I think is mostly for high school. But the comb is supposed to be meaningful and it’s made out of this special wood, and you’re not supposed to like, get any water on it.

Me: “Do you ever use it?”

Informant: “I do. And yeah, the wood’s supposed to be good for hair and you can stroke your hair with it however many times and it makes it healthier, I think.

Me: “Who gave it to you?”

Informant: “My mom’s cousin. She said she got one from her mom, and it’s all about womanhood and all that blah blah blah.”

Me: “Who typically gives the comb?”

Informant: “Family, relatives, mothers usually I guess.”

Me: “Do you think you’ll get one when you graduate college too?”

Informant: “Oh, no.”

 Analysis:

It’s interesting that the comb is given to girls at graduation, and my informant stressed the fact that this is an upper education graduation gift. Yet at the same time, she mentioned how it was relevant to womanhood, and indeed it can seem like an appropriate gift to a girl who is transitioning into becoming a woman. Traditionally, I would have assumed that this process would be celebrated earlier, but since it is education-based, this custom would evidently be a more modern one, even if the item itself is older.

My informant also remarked that it’s typically a high school graduation gift, indicating again that it is part of the shift from living with one’s parents and being a girl to living elsewhere in the world and becoming an adult.

My informant didn’t know the name of the special wood used, but her gift is presumably aChangzhoucomb, which can be made out of mahogany, jujube wood, heather, and boxwood.Changzhoucombs have been in production for over 2000 years and have been traditionally used only by royalty, making them a popular and valuable award or present to anyone who may deserve it. Additionally, though the combs can be good for the hair, they seem to be mostly decorative in purpose. They are hand-painted and can often be very intricate, emphasizing the importance of beauty in a young woman.

I’m not sure how popular throughout Chinese culture it may be to give these combs as graduation presents, but no doubt they will be in use for a long, long time, bestowed as various gifts for any occasions.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs

Bottglia piccola, vino buono.

The informant related an Italian proverb learned while spending time in Italy.

Bottglia piccola, vino buono.

It means “small bottle, good wine.” The less literal translation is that good things come in small packages.
The informant said that it is used either when someone is insecure about their height or when someone has given a small gift.

The fact that this is a regional oicotype of a very common phrase in english is interesting. Did the phrase originate in Italy and travel to the states, or did they develop independently? Perhaps it is just a common sentiment and every culture has a way of saying it.

Folk Beliefs
general

Folk Belief – Hawaii

Do not buy shoes for your boyfriend/girlfriend as a present.

My grandma, Kum Soon Youn, first heard this superstition when she was dating a boy in high school.  She was trying to find a present to buy for him when she came upon a pair of shoes.  As she was standing in line to purchase the shoes, her mother stopped her and warned her against buying them.  According to Korean superstition, if a person buys his/her girlfriend/boyfriend a pair of shoes, she/ he will run away from them.  They will wear the shoes that they received and escape from their partners.  Therefore, giving shoes to the person would not only be encouraging the receivers but also providing them with the means to run away.

When my grandma heard this superstition, it reminded her of the Chinese custom to bind women’s feet in the older days.  The elders would bend the feet of girls at a young age to keep them small and petite.  It is often thought that this method was used to confine women and to prevent them from running away from home.  The superstition reminded my grandmother of this tradition because of the idea that men tried to prevent women from running away by binding their feet.  She believes that this superstition is based upon the same idea.  It seems to be targeted at women, indicating that they should not be given shoes or that they will run away.  She therefore thinks that the phrase does not pertain to both men and women but rather serves as a warning to the men not to provide their wives or girlfriends with any means by which they can run away.

When I heard the superstition, I had a different response than my grandma did.  I did not think that it was oppressive to women but rather thought it served as a reminder to both genders that people aren’t always faithful.  It seemed to claim that, when provided with the means to run away, or escape from a relationship, people will run away.  It remarks at people’s fear of commitment and their desire to seek quick and easy pleasure rather than to make an effort to create a long lasting relationship.  Therefore the proverb appears to serve the purpose of reminding those in relationships that their significant other may not always be faithful.

Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition

Superstition

If you get an elephant as a gift and its trunk is down you can’t accept it.

Jasmine learned this superstition from her mother when she was a little girl, when she was probably 10 years old. She remembers her mother telling her to never accept an elephant with his trunk down when her mother received a porcelain elephant as a gift. Jasmine was unsure of the meaning behind this superstition she sated, “All I know is that you are not supposed to accept elephants with their trunk down cuz its bad luck.” (See also Field Guide to Luck: How to Use and Interpret Charms, Signs, and Superstitions.)

I was able to find the historic meaning behind this superstition in which Jasmine was unsure about. According to the article Lucky Elephant by Catherine Yronwode, this belief originates from the “lucky elephant” which is a charm used for wishing good luck. The belief of an elephant being a symbol of good luck derived from the Hindu religion of India. The origination of this good luck symbol came from the god Ganesha (the god of luck, protection, and religious devotion) who was the elephant-headed son of Siva (the creator and destroyer of the universe) and the goddess Parvati (the mountain goddess). An elephant as a good luck symbol didn’t reach America until the 19th century when many elephant charms were imported to the United States from India. Yronwode’s believes the “trunk up” belief has no apparent origin in Africa, India, or South East Asia where elephants are native, but is widespread in the USA, and many Asian and African amulet and statuary makers now produce trunk-up elephant statues for American buyers. It may have originated in the west-British and Irish belief that a lucky horseshoe must face upward or “the luck will run out.”

The diffusion of Hindu belief has been embraced by other cultures. This reflects the importance of how diffusion of ideas overtime can determine how folklore is perceived in later years and the incredible capability for one piece of folklore to branch off into various forms over time. It’s amazing to see how the belief in Ganesha went from being a religious practice to becoming manifested in a good luck charm that is now sold in stores across America.  This also shows how globalization has had an impact on the diffusion of folklore amongst different ethnic groups.

Annotated:

Yablon, Alys R. Field Guide to Luck: How to Use and Interpret Charms, Signs, and Superstitions. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2008. pp 73-74.

Yronwode, Catherine. “The Lucky Elephant.” The Luck “W” Amulet Archive. 25 Apr. 2008 <http://www.luckymojo.com/elephant.html>.

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