Content and Context:
Informant -“I remember my mother did this several times. At the Christmas meal, my mother would set an extra seat and an extra place setting. Now the tradition is in case someone shows up, but I always associated it with the people who weren’t with us. That’s how I like to think of it.”
JK – “The people who aren’t with us. Does that mean people who have died or people who just aren’t there?”
Informant – “Either way. When I say prayers at home now, I always add that I ask god to take care of those who aren’t with us. That means your dead grandparents and those who are away.”
JK – “Did the Christmas tradition lead to this added prayer?”
Informant – “Maybe the thought did. Not consciously. It just seemed to me that our meals couldn’t possible be complete without recognizing the absence of those who couldn’t possibly be there.”
It’s interesting that the informant did not carry the tradition forward, but rather his interpretation of the ritual. While his mother wanted to be prepared for unexpected guests, the informant wanted a reminder of guests that weren’t coming.
My roommate’s parents were both born in Indian (she was born in the United States) so she sat down with me in my apartment and explained some folklore that she learned from her parents. Her relationship to the folklore isn’t necessarily that she truly believes in it, but that it’s an important part of her culture and something she thinks about from time to time.
She told me about a belief she learned specifically from her grandparents in India:
“A crow cawing outside your window means expect a guest. This was something that my parents never said to me. It was my grandparents.When I was in India looking out the window and you hear the ‘caw, caw’ my grandparents would be like, ‘Oh, there should be a guest coming'”
Q: Did you hear other people say the same thing as your grandparents?
“I would say I knew other people who believed it, but no one ever was like, ‘ah, I hear a crow, a guest is coming’ But it’s one of those, like, ancient things that I guess, turned into a saying.”
This folklore is not necessarily a proverb, because it’s not a fixed phrase statement. It could be considered proverbial speech. It could also be categorized as a folk belief, since a crow is considered to be a sign that someone is coming.