Good Luck Before A Big Day
I know for exams, if you accidentally break a utensil or a plate on the day before a really big day, then you’re going to succeed. I guess it’s following the idea that you lose something then you gain something. But it has to be broken on accident, not on purpose.
The idea truly follows the logic that when one loses something one also gains something else. The broken object signifies the loss. It is also similar to the idea that the storm must come before the calm, or one must get through the night before it becomes day. Nothing comes free in this world and to gain is ultimately to lose.
The informant (L) is a 22 year old film student at the California State University Los Angeles. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her grandparents started an oil business in Oklahoma and had to live in Saudia Arabia once the business took off, from 1974 until 1991. They traveled while they were living overseas and would often bring back gifts for their family still in Oklahoma. One of these gifts was an ankh from Egypt for each person of the family. Though L’s family is Mexican, the gifts were given because they are connected to Isis and Isis is connected to the concept of life according to the Egyptians. L was not alive at the time so she did not receive one of the ankhs, which she was slightly bitter about. She still believes in the power of the ankh in protecting her family, and said that everyone in her family who has one wears it or displays it in their house. She also gave me an example that proved the ankhs protected her family. Her older brother was working in a factory in Oklahoma when he was a young adult and due to an accident, one of the machines malfunctioned and spit out shrapnel. Though her brother was not the one using the machine, he was so close to the machine that shrapnel hit him before he could get out of the way. When he looked down, he realized that the shrapnel had hit the ankh he was wearing and bounced back instead of cutting into his body. The ankh is worn over his heart, so the shrapnel could have done major damage if it had managed to pierce his skin. L believes this is physical proof that the ankhs protect her family from harm.
L seems to be very convinced that the ankh protects her family, and the example regarding her brother makes it seem that the ankh both protects the family from physical problems (like the shrapnel) and provides a sense of comfort for those who have an ankh to wear. While L wishes she had her own, she implied that the protection extends even to members of the family who do not have their own personal ankh. I also think the connection to the ankhs have to do with their origin: the grandparents brought them to the family and therefore connected themselves to the ankh as well as the ankh being a spiritual object in ancient Egypt. By having an ankh, the family is connected to itself and something more than what is on this earth.
Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. She says that a common thing to say when you see someone in new clothes, or looking particularly beautiful; or when someone has very good fortune in (for instance) an exam or a job; or, especially, with children and new babies; is
“Nazr-bad-door” or “Chashme-bad-door”
which, word-for-word, means “look-bad-far-away” or “eye-bad-far-away”, but translates to, “May the Bad Gaze/Evil Eye stay far away from you.”
Analysis: The purpose of this little saying is basically to keep away the Evil Eye, which the informant says can be put on someone if they are envied or have something that others covet (eg, good grades or good health). When the Evil Eye is put on you, you may fall sick, fail in your job or school, lose your money, etc. Children are especially susceptible because they are often the center of attention, especially in the informant’s Pakistani family, and so if someone merely looks at a child with selfish or ungracious thought in their mind, the child could fall ill or have an accident, etc. It is thus important to remember to praise God when you see something beautiful and not be jealous or ungrateful, and this phrase is a way to remind oneself of that, and also to express the desire to protect someone from others’ ill gazes as well. The informant said all this as what people “used to believe”, implying that the traditional phrase is kept even though the specific belief may have been altered or abandoned altogether.
“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?
The informant explains that he has a bracelet that he stole in Italy at a street market by the Trevi Fountain. The bracelet is leather and braided and he has had it since he was fifteen. The informant explains that he wears it at all of the music shows that he performs at because he feels as though if he doesn’t perform well then he will be punished. He feels as though he has the bracelet for a reason and needs to prove why he has it. He also thinks that the bracelet gives him good luck. He also believes that the bracelet represents his Italian heritage – taking a piece of Italy away. He uses it as a way to remember his trip as well.
The informant’s militant wearing of his leather bracelet in all of his musical shows demonstrates individual’s belief in the power of good luck charms. In contemporary view there are many instances in sports, music performances, and much more where people have different superstitious beliefs to enhance their luck or performance.
Informant: “There’s a belief that if your left eye is twitching, then that’s good, like good luck, and if your right eye is twitching, then that’s bad. I think in other cultures, like in India, it depends if you’re a boy or a girl, like for guys, if your left eye twitches, then its good, and if you’re a girl and your right eye twitches, then that’s good, but in China, it’s just the left eye that brings good luck if it twitches, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or boy. I think it’s because the word for ‘money’ is similar to the word for ‘left’ in Chinese, and the word for ‘disaster’ is similar to the word for ‘right.’”
Me: “Do you believe in it?”
Informant: “Me? No, I don’t. It’s just a saying. I mean, when my eye twitches, I think about it, but I don’t worry if the wrong eye twitches.
Me: When did you hear about it?
Informant: “In middle school I think. I just hear it from around I guess, and when I was older I got what it means, but when I was younger I just sort of heard it, you know? I still don’t really believe it though.
There are indeed many different superstitions regarding eye twitching around the world, and they come with different explanations or remedies, depending on what each culture believes. Eye twitching is a natural and common enough phenomenon, and yet it can be unusual enough to merit its own series of legends and superstitions, just as other bodily functions can be used ways to predict fortune or events. The eye itself is, of course, universally an important symbol, so there would presumably be much folklore surrounding every aspect of it, from twitching to shape to color. My informant was correct about Indian culture centering the auspiciousness of eye twitching around gender. In Africa, some people have different predictions of good and bad luck depending on which part of your eye twitches, while in Hawaii, eye twitching can foretell the coming of a stranger.
I found it interesting that in Chinese culture, the good and bad luck are designated based on their proximity to fortunate or unfortunate words, thus emphasizing the importance of language and word significance. This is similar to the number four being a very unlucky number in Chinese culture, again because the word for “four” is homogonous with the word for “death.”
Perhaps because my informant speaks other languages besides Chinese, the value and significance of each word in her native tongue are somewhat decreased. Therefore, although she consciously thinks about the superstition every time her eye twitches, she doesn’t necessarily feel either elated or frightened, depending on her luck. Additionally, my informant doesn’t live inChinaanymore either, so she wouldn’t be surrounded by people who believe the superstition, and this could also lessen her own belief.
Note: My informants are originally from Mississippi.
Good luck for the New Year
Recipe for Black-eyed peas
Boil the peas with hammock for 2 hours. Pour over rice with cornbread.
According to my informant it is a common Southern tradition to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Its supposed to be good luck, my informant didn’t know why. All the cooking is done on the day of the New Year’s Day. My informant loves this tradition. She does this every year. She says she learned it from her mother.
I would like to know why black-eyed are specifically good luck. My family has made this dish before but there nothing particularly special about it. It was just dinner. Maybe the eye shapes are what make them so lucky. Eyes have been put on good luck charms in various places because they ward off the evil eye. Although the evil eye folk belief is not that common in the states so maybe there’s not much of a connection there.
Informant Background: The informant was born in Los Angeles. His family is originally from Taiwan. He grew up with his parents and grandparents who still speak Chinese, he does too. Many of his relatives are in Los Angeles so they all still practice a lot of Taiwanese/Chinese traditions and celebrate all the Chinese holiday such as: Chinese New Year, Ancestry day, Chinese Ghost day, etc. He said his family still hold many Chinese folk-beliefs and superstitions. He also travels back once in a while to visit his other relatives who are still back in Taiwan.
When you eat a whole finish, you can’t eat all the fish… like if you get the whole fsih in Chinese restaurants …if you finish all the fish meat then it means that you eat all your luck…You can’t eat it clean to the bones…You’re supposed to leave some part of the fish so you still have some luck left.
According to the informant, this folk-belief express how fish represents luck in Chinese culture. This folk-belief is passed on to him through his parents. Fish and fish meat represents luck. To finish the fish is then to finish your good luck and bad things can happen to you.
I think this idea might seem strange to other culture if the fish they consume is larger in size or fish is not cooked as a whole. Chinese cuisine uses fish that are large enough to fit onto one plate and is cooked as one piece. I think thag fish is also considered a delicacy that not many people get to eat because it is difficult to get it fresh. I think it is also very difficult to cook a whole fish and make it taste good. It is also a dish usually put in the middle of the table to be shared by all. In this case to finish the fish is then to eat everybody’s luck.
This reflect the importance of beliefs and superstitious and how it is entangles with everyday life. This is a scenario where there would be no method of proving the truth value scientifically but the folk-belief is practiced to prevent bad luck, and bring in good luck. This also shows the importance of belief itself whether or not it is true. It is similar to how people let other blow their dice for good luck or how some carry their own lucky charm. It shows how beliefs itself is psychologically important. The belief that good luck will remain will allow the individual to feel better than to have the belief that he/she finished his/her luck.
This is concept of fish as a symbol of luck is widespread. It ppears in Chinese Cooking for Dummies. In this book there is a special section titled “An ocean full of luck” where this idea is explained. “Fish has long held an auspicious position not only in the Chinese kitchen but also in Chinese culture. The Chinese word for fish, yu, is a homonym for another yu, meaning abundance or prosperity. Always in tune with symbolism, the Chinese have thus associated fish with the same luck and success as its homonym.” (Yan, 126-127). The book also stated how fish is perceived as luck in different context. It said that not only that fish is consumed for special occasion for good luck but is also used as a symbol for different events such as weddings. Chinese culture does have a lot of folk-belief around homonyms such as the negative connotation around the number four because it sounds like death.
This folk belief reinforces the psychological effect of the idea of “luck” how it is represented through object and actions around that object. In this case it is also similar to the idea of homeopathic magic where “like” creates “like.” To not finish the fish, in this case, is to have fish/luck remains.
Yan, Martin. Chinese Cooking for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Worldwide, 2000. Print. 126-127
Ok, so during New Years Eve we do this thing, before coming into the New Year, that everyone has to wear red underwear. And the reason why we do that is because it’s supposed to bring you good luck coming into the New Year for some reason, I don’t know. I learn about this tradition when I was about four or five? Well, mainly because my whole family does it, and, to this day, every time I, like, celebrate new years in Spain every single one in my family is still wearing red underwear during new years eve.
There are many different new year rituals that people around the world perform: some people drink champagne because it symbolizes wealth and the possibility of attaining it that year; some people carry a suitcase around with the hope that they will travel extensively the next year; some people run a mile just before the clock strikes twelve to ensure good health in the new year.
Sergio’s family tradition in Spain is rather interesting. After hearing him recount this tradition, I wondered about two things in particular: why underwear, and why the color red?
The color red normally symbolizes passion, love, lust. The fact that he and his family ascribe the color red to general luck is very interesting. I asked him if he meant “luck in love”, but he said no, “just overall luck”. I have always known luck to be associated with the color green.
When I asked Sergio why the underwear was important, he didn’t know. “I just learned it from my family, and we’ve been doing it forever.” We discussed it and came to the following conclusion: because underwear is the innermost layer of clothing and, thus, is closest to your body, it would have the greatest effect. This, of course, is pure speculation but does offer a decent hypothesis.
I find this tradition interesting but a bit strange. The color red throws me off. If I were to desire luck in love in the New Year then perhaps I would wear red underwear (especially since underwear covers the genitals—key players in sex). My family has the tradition of throwing money out of the house to bring wealth in the New Year. Unlike Sergio, I do not continue this practice. When I lived with my parents I occasionally partook in the tradition. Now that I am at college I no longer choose to continue the practice as I don’t find that it really works.