Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in Mexico and currently lives in Brazil. She came to visit me.
Informant: So there is the day of the dead in Mexico. In Spanish, it’s called the dia de los muertos. Basically, it’s a day where you worship… well not exactly worship… it’s a day dedicated to remembering all of the people who passed away and celebrate their life.
Collector: I’ve heard it’s like Halloween. Is this true?
Informant: No, its not like Halloween. On this day, normally you go to the person’s tomb with their favorite food and you place it there like you’re offering them your favorite food. And you also eat it, not theirs but you have a plate of their own.
Collector: Do you eat the food with them?
Informant: Yes you eat it with them on their tomb, and then you decorate their tomb with a bunch of flowers, and everyone dresses up like skull candy, like skeletons but in a fancy way, and then you also save them their favorite alcohol, and you have to drink like your drinking with them, and you play their favorite music, and its like you’re having a party with the tomb.
Collector: Do you pour the alcohol on their grave or do you just leave it there?
Informant: You just leave the cup there with their favorite food. There not actually supposed to be eating it, it’s a more symbolic thing, just to honor them.
Collector: Have you done this before?
Informant: I’ve done it before both in Mexico and in Brazil. But since all of my family is buried in Mexico, I don’t go to the graveyard in Brazil. Instead, I do kind of an alter, like you build an alter for them in the house if you don’t go visit their tombstone, and you can put their favorite food there, and there’s a special bread that you do for that celebration that’s basically a sweet bread. It’s called Pan de Muerto. Bread of the dead.
Everyone kinda gets together during this holiday and it doesn’t really matter who are are, cuz youre celebrating the dead. Who you are and where you come from doesn’t really matter.
Collector: Who have you celebrated?
Informant: I celebrated my grandfathers and Frida Kahlo. It’s not just for family members, you can celebrate whoever you want if their dead.
Collector: Why do you like it?
Informant: I like it because it’s a big party and you don’t mourn them you kind of celebrate them. You look at death with more of a positive attitude. My mother would do it at home when I was young, she would decorate the house and she would celebrate my grandparents. I think its good to remember the people who pass away because sometimes we forget them.
I found it fascinating how in Mexican culture, they have an entire day to celebrate the dead. Generally, when people think of dead people, the thought tends to be accompanied with feelings of mourning. The Mexican culture turns the tables on this feeling, and takes one day out of the year to celebrate the dead and interact with them as if they were living. I also found it interesting that you don’t necessarily celebrate only family members. I would think that when mourning or celebrating the dead, it would be people that you knew rather than strangers, but I think it’s interesting how they really embrace the whole celebration of the dead thing.
Informant was a 45 year old female who was born in Brazil and currently lives in Brazil. I talked to her over Skype.
Informant: This holiday is New Year’s or Reveillon, in Portuguese. Ever since I can remember we always used to celebrate it. It is a very fun holiday. We always wear like white clothes, and everybody is happy to say goodbye to the old year, and to welcome the new year, and we see a lot of fireworks at night, and theres party, and everybody throws flowers into the sea, and we have a big supper with lots of food. It’s a lot of fun.
Collector: Do you know why you wear white?
Informant: I think we wear white because it’s to bring you peace, and it’s a custom that we do and everybody does, but nobody really explains why, we just assume that it’s to bring peace.
Collector: Do you know why people through flowers into the sea?
Informant: It’s like an offer to the goddess of the sea called Iemanja to bring good things for the new year. It’s an African thing, it’s a custom that we usually do. We have a lot of African influence in our culture.
Collector: What if people aren’t be the sea on New Year’s?
Informant: Most of the people go to the beach for New Year’s, but even if they’re not, most people wear white or eat grapes usually foods with seeds inside. I don’t know why, but they have to eat certain things to bring good luck. We usually have to eat grapes and lentils sometimes we eat also. They usually serve turkey and everybody like has a turkey or something made of pork and panetonne, which is something from Italy. But everybody have panetonne in their house, which is a mix of bread and cake. People think that eating these things will bring you good luck. Everything you do on new years is to bring you good luck.
We also jump the seven waves. It is a tradition also, we jump it to bring good luck. I don’t know the reason, I just know that we usually do that. There is a superstition of making the wishes as soon as it turns the year. We go to the beach, and jump the seven waves and for each wave we need to make a wish, it’s a link to Umbanda which is an African thing, its purpose is to honor Iemanja, it’s a gift, because 7 is like a number that is considered spiritual. And when you jump the 7 waves you call the power of Iemanja to open new paths for the next year. It’s like the Brazilian version of a New Year’s resolution but spiritual.
Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?
Informant: Because it’s something that is a lot of fun, we are always with family and friends. We are surrounded by love we are partying and happy and theres lots of food, and it’s nice. It’s summer in Brazil at this time of year so it’s a holiday and it’s a lot of fun. I was born in rio, and it’s really big in Rio. It’s famous for the very big party in Copacabana, a lot of people go there because it’s right next to the beach.
I am actually Brazilian, and have celebrated Reveillon multiple times. However, I never really thought about why we do the things that we do, such as wear white and throw flowers into the ocean and eat certain foods. I found it really interesting to learn about the reasons behind what we do, and that it has a deep-rooted history in our culture and the formation of Brazil and it’s people. I also think it’s funny that most of the things we do are meant to bring luck for the New Year. Nothing really is dedicated to love, or friendship, or health, it’s all for luck, which I find really interesting.
Informant was a 45 year old female who was born in Brazil and currently lives in Brazil. I talked to her over Skype.
Informant: Carnaval is a big festival in brazil, usually happens in the first two or three months of the year, it is basically a whole week. Everybody uses costumes, and when we are a kid ,we just go to little parties and plays and watch samba, which is a kind of music that we have here, there are other typical musics of carnaval. Everybody dances. We have this big party which has a parade, in the main cities of Brazil and in the northeast it’s also big. We usually stay the whole month partying for carnival, a lot of people drink, a lot of people have fun, but I actually don’t like very much. Because I don’t like samba, and I don’t like to samba. But I like the holiday, I like having days off. A lot of people also drink, and I don’t like, there’s a lot of drunk people.
Collector: Do you know where this festival came from?
Informant: It’s a Christian celebration, the date is never the same, its not a specific date, it’s a Christian festive season that occurs before the Christian season of lent, it’s calculated a specific amount of days before. The term carnival is usually used in areas with large catholic presence. I think it’s funny because a lot of things happen that are not very Christian. Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval is considered the world’s largest party with 2 million people per day.
Collector: Are there big parties outside of Rio as well?
Informant: Yes, there are a lot of street carnaval parties. I never participated in this street carnaval. It’s called bloco de carnaval, people go in the streets and also dress up in costumes and mask and play this type of music of carnaval and dance and drink and a lot of people have a lot of fun. So in these blocos there are like trucks or busses or something that come and play music, and people gather around it and party. But in Rio there is a special place called Sambodromo where they have special schools of Samba like Santa Isabel and Portella, and each school goes through the whole street and they need to be dancing all the time and at the end, they receive a grade for the parade that they did. So the judges they look at the richness of the costumes, if everyone was dancing and singing, and they give a grade for each one of these schools, and at the end of the three days parade they have a winner. I saw it in person, but I hated it because I don’t like samba and it was three days the whole night. But lots of people go they love it and love to participate, I just don’t like to drink and I don’t like samba, so for me it’s not the right party.
Collecter: Did you ever like Carnaval?
I used to like the small parties when we were kids because we used to dress up. I dressed up as an indian and the other time I dressed as police and it was fun. We used to throw confetti, and make a lot of noise. I used to like it, it was much lighter. When you’re a kid, you don’t see the naked women and the lots of drinks. It’s just small little parties that my family used to take me, and we used to dance and I used to like to dance in costumes
When I lived in Brazil, I would often see the huge celebrations during Carnaval. However, I never really experienced any of it. Carnaval, for me, was always just a break off of school, when I would go and spend a week at the beach. It’s really cool to hear about Carnaval from my mother who has had a lot more experience with the actual festival and the festivities. I didn’t know that Carnaval was a Christian holiday, and like my mother, I would never have imagined it because there’s nothing about Carnaval that really emulates the Christian spirit.
Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.
Informant: So in 1605, this dude called Guy Fawkes was arrested trying to blow up the house of parliament in London, and it was likeI’m pretty sure the king and all of the important people were there, and he was trying to kill them, but he got caught and that was on the 5th of November. So every year, on the 5th of November, like schools and families and like clubs and stuff in England make a huge bonfire, and then they make like a doll, like a human sized figure of Guy Fawkes, and then they burn him on the bonfire, and there’s like fireworks and like a barbecue and stuff, every year.
Collector: So you celebrate him or him not blowing up the parliament?
Informant: Well, we burn him every year, so we definitely don’t celebrate him. It’s like a celebration of I guess his failure. It’s a very chill day though, we eat burgers and hot dogs and hang around by the bonfire. Like we don’t have a meal with our family. It’s more like the whole community gets together and there’s like fireworks and stuff. There’s a song too.
Collector: A song? What is it?
Informant: It goes like this
Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder Treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Would ever be forgot
It’s not that big of a deal though, like we don’t sing it around the campfire or anything. It’s just something that people know.
I thought this was particularly interesting because it’s a holiday that revolves around an attempter murder. Albeit the burning of the figure of this murder, but a murder none the less. I think it’s cool how even until today, people remember it, and I think that this might be because the monarchy in England is still in power. I believe that this is not only a fun way for people to celebrate with their family and friends, but also a way to honor their monarchy. It makes me wonder if the holiday began as a way for the monarchy to keep its citizens in line, so that nobody would try to recreate Guy Fawkes’ murder attempts.
Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.
Informant: There’s this festival that we have in England called May Day, and it’s the first of May. I don’t really know where it came from. We always have a holiday on the day so I always get a day off school. We do it to welcome spring, in a way. I’ve also heard that it’s to celebrate workers. But it’s not a workers’ day, per say. And I have seen people doing the Maypole dancing.
Collector: Pole dancing?
Informant: It’s not pole dancing as in pole dancing, like kids do it. I learned it at school, it’s taught at schools. At least it was when I was in primary school. Basically, it’s like a big wooden stick and it has like ribbons attached to it and people like dance around it.
Collector: Have you ever experienced that?
Informant: Yeah at like fairs I guess, on May day. There’s always a pole. I don’t really know the purpose of circling a pole to celebrate spring, but people do it. It’s very common. And there’s good food at the fairs too. Oh, and we crown a May Queen. That’s like a girl who does a bunch of things for May Day. Like she’s part of the parades and stuff. I’m not really involved in it, but I’ve heard about it. I also heard this story that in the past they used to kill the May Queen at the end, but like, I don’t know if that’s true or not.
The first thing I thought about this particular piece of folklore was how funny it was that a big tradition in England was called May Pole Dancing, but then my friend explained that it wasn’t really pole dancing, and that it is meant to celebrate spring. I think that’s really interesting, because it reminds me of my Swedish friend’s Midsummer ritual. I think it’s really cool how in both of the festivals there are wooden sticks (a cross in the Swedish culture and a pole in English culture) that little kids dance around to celebrate the arrival of a new season. It make some wonder what the origin of these traditions are, and if they all come from the same place.
“So we have this little tradition in Norway where we eat lye fish. Do you know lye? Do you know what lye is? So lye is a liquid obtained by leeching ashes or strong alkali. So you literally put a fish in ash and you let it rot. Then you leave it in the ash or lye until it becomes so fermented that all that’s left is the part of the fish that doesn’t serve any function, the jello that’s only there to make sure that the rest of the body stays where it should be. And that’s what you eat. Once a year. For Christmas, primarily. And you eat it with so many things on the side that you disguise the taste of the fish. So like, the whole point is you use as many small dishes as you can. You can’t just eat the fish because the fish tastes horrible. And we all agree that it tastes terrible, but we all keep eating it because it’s tradition. It comes from Lofoten. It comes from way up north. It comes from a way of preservation. So it was back in the day when we didn’t have refrigerators or anything like that. They could put the fish on lye. And then that would… You know, it rots, but you can still eat it. It’s like, yeah, it works. It’s called lutefisk.”
Lutefisk sounds like an absolutely awful dish. It seems the source felt that way about it anyway. He recalls eating it every Christmas ever since he was little. No one enjoys it, his family merely does it out of tradition. The tradition, like he said, stems from old times when fish couldn’t be preserved in refrigerators and whatnot. So instead, people would preserve fish by keeping it in ash.
It sounds like this dish wasn’t invented intentionally. Ash was probably used to preserve other things, and they had no idea the effect it would have on fish. They probably preserved the fish in ash or lye for a couple of days, came back, and seen a whole different product than they were expecting. I’m surprised it’s still around though, considering the method of making it and what it actually is. Must be a very strong tradition for people to still be eating it today.
People probably hated it back then, too, but like the source said, with enough side dishes, the fish could be forgotten. It probably allowed ancient Norwegian peoples to still take in some kind of protein during the heavy winter months, along with whatever nutrients they got from the harvest.
For more on this recipe:
Legwold, Gary. The Last Word on Lutefisk: True Tales of Cod and Tradition. Minneapolis: Conrad Henry, 1996. Print.
“The Melbourne Cup is the first Tuesday of November. It’s a public holiday. That shows how important it is to Australians. It’s a horse race. I don’t know how it became big or why it became big, but like it’s genuinely observed across Australia. It’s like a series of races that take place all week. They’re just horse races of different heats, of different… Just horse races! Horses from all over the world come to Australia to race in Melbourne Cup. The reason why it’s so big is that… So it’s a series of races, and the biggest race is the Melbourne Cup, and it’s quite long, and only the best horses compete in it. The reason why it’s so big is because people… It’s like a festival, I guess. It’s fashion and food, and it’s more about like the people, I guess? It’s like the Oscars or Grammys where, like, you’re like, ‘What’s she wearing?’ It’s kind of like that. When it comes time to the actual Melbourne Cup race itself, people put bets on which horse is gonna win. And that’s part of the tradition. Even if you aren’t normally a betting person most people in Australia will go put a dollar, two dollars, five dollars, ten dollars, probably not extreme amounts, but people will go and put money on a horse. The newspaper has a centerfold with like all the horses and their statistics and the jockey and their experiences and where the horses have won before. I pick #12 because that’s my lucky number, I just trust that number. And then you go to the tab and you put a bet on. You can do it from anywhere in the country, not just in Victoria where the cup is. The Melbourne Cup is the one day a year where the tab is full, it’s like bursting. It’s usually just a couple men, like the serial gamblers. It’s hectic on that day. I get excited. It’s the one day a year where I actually get excited about a horse race. I think you can tell that everyone else cares, too. It’s all people talk about in like the days leading up. Three o’clock on the dot is when the race starts. When I was in high school, school finished at ten minutes to three. And there was no way I was gonna get home in time or anyone was gonna get home in time for the race. So school ends classes like half an hour early on Melbourne Cup day so we can all get home in order to watch the race. My brother and I would get off the bus, and we’d race home, and we’d drop our bags and everybody would be in front of the TV. I don’t even know why it was a family affair, but it was. I can’t explain the excitement when the race started. It was kind of like everything stopped. And the tag line for the Melbourne Cup is like, ‘The race that stops the nation.’ And it genuinely is. Like, traffic stops. People park their cars and like listen to it on the radio. Everybody stops for like two or three minutes just to listen to this race. Unless you win, though, you don’t get anything out of it. You don’t get any like satisfaction or money, just nothing. It can be kind of anticlimactic. When it’s over, people kind of just go back to their lives. Some people will like watch the after ceremony where they like crown the jockey and like give him money and stuff. They interview the owner of the horse, and they put a little sash on the horse to say that he won. It’s just the one day where everyone in Australia kind of stops. It’s kind of become an Australian tradition just to watch.”
I could tell this was a very exciting experience for the source to relate. It’s certainly outside of her usual interest, but like the rest of Australia, it seems not to matter whether horse racing is in your interests or not. Because it’s not a horse racing thing. It’s an Australian thing. It’s part of their identity. It’s very much like our Super Bowl. Everybody watches the Super Bowl, everybody knows who’s in the Super Bowl. The whole nation stops on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s what the Melbourne Cup is for Australians. However, it seems they have a lot more invested in it what with all the betting and whatnot. Americans, however, experience it longer. Whereas no one researches before the Melbourne Cup, it seems, and not too many people continue watching after it’s done, the Super Bowl is savored for every minute of it, including the aftermath. And everybody is prepping from the week before.
I caught my friend watching her family videos on YouTube so I asked her what was going on, and she explained to me some of her family traditions.
Informant: “Every Christmas eve, everybody gets a stuffed animal in my family and we put on Dolly Parton and Kenny Loggins Christmas CD. And play it around the house. And you select a leader so the leader is doing a dance move, and everybody copies.”
Collector: “Can you tell me more about these artists? Is there a reason why…”
Informant: “Cause ‘I believe in Santa Claus’ is the best Christmas song ever.”
Collector: “Does she sing the best version, or the most popular version? Or why that one specifically, because I’m sure there’s many versions of that song.”
Informant: “Its catchy. Everybody loves Dolly Parton. I don’ know, my mom likes country music, so…”
Collector: “Is this just your family, or do other families in Ukiah…”
Informant: “I think it’s just my family. We have so many stuffed animals. Like, everyone. I think I probably, when I was growing up I probably had like 20 stuffed animals. Maybe people just gave me stuffed animals for like, every holiday”
Collector: “Do you know why?”
Informant: “I don’t know why. It’s probably like an easy gift. When I was a baby. That’s probably why.”
Collector: “So this family tradition… when did it start? Did it start with your parents?”
Informant: “That’s a good question… it started with my parents’ generation for sure… but also, my parents’ parents, my grandma like, had this space where there was a fireplace in the center of the room, and they lived without electricity, so they’d always play the record and dance around… and then like, having no access to like, electronics or whatever… like, their popular culture was record players… or records, not record players.”
What the informant mentions at the end about records is particularly interesting because it points to a cultural shift in the way that family members interact with each other. This Holiday tradition started with my friends’ family at a time with a lot less technology than we have now, and they have maintained their family tradition of doing the Teddy Bear Dance, even though technologically they could engage in other more “modern” forms of entertainment. Although instead of using a record player they probably use a CD player or some sort of speaker system that hooks up to a digital music player, the spirit of the dance is probably kept largely the same. Family traditions like this are fairly common, and can vary widely depending on the family.
The informant is a 66-year old mother, step-mother, former poverty-lawyer, property manager/owner, and is involved in many organizations and non profits. She was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was four years old. She grew up in California, where she also attended college and law school. She lived in the suburbs of Chicago for a short while with her husband and family, and now they live in Pacific Palisades, California.
Informant: “Back when I was a kid, with your Opa [the word for “Grandpa” in Dutch] every Passover, we would leave a glass of wine—in our most ornate wine glass—for Elijah, like we do now, but we would also all go around the table after the meal and have to tell a little anecdote about Elijah.
Interviewer: “Can you explain who Elijah is?”
Informant: “Elijah is a Jewish prophet. It’s tradition to leave a spot for him at the table at Passover so that if he passes through he will stop at your house and give you good luck and health. So we would go around and all have to tell a short made-up story about him. And it was silly that we did this—I don’t know anyone else who did this, but I know that my dad always said that he had done it with his family at their seders growing up.”
I’ve participated in the Elijah ritual myself, so I can speak from a first-person perspective as well as commenting on my informant’s information. In my opinion, leaving a glass for Elijah symbolizes hope, for the future and for the Jewish people—a people historically oppressed and systematically pushed down. Leaving a glass and/or opening a door for the prophet, Elijah, to come is a way of leaving the door open to positive things to come. As it is a prophet that the glass of wine is left for, this custom can also be seen as a seeking of knowledge or insight.
The informant is an 18-year old college freshman at USC majoring in environmental studies and geology. She is of Irish and English descent, and when she is not at USC lives in Las Vegas with her parents and two siblings. I asked her about what her family does to celebrate Christmas. She said although her family is “not very religious,” they do have a Christmas ritual they do each year.
Informant: “I can tell you what I do for Christmas, I guess. So, we always, in the morning…Well, the night before we have to make a casserole. I know it sounds disgusting.
Interviewer: “What’s in the casserole?”
Informant: “I can ask my mom for the recipe.” [Recipe provided beneath interview.]
Interviewer: “Did she learn it from anyone, or was it a recipe from a book?”
Informant: “Both my parents learned it from their parents. We have to make the casserole the night before. And so then in the morning, we’ll wake up…so all the kids have to stay upstairs and we have this landing you can look over, but we aren’t allowed to look over it or go downstairs until my dad has his video camera and then he records us all coming down the stairs together. We go in a circle after our presents are sorted and one person opens and then the next, etc. We go through the whole thing until everyone is done, and one of my parents will put the egg casserole in. Once it’s ready, we eat that, and we just go and play with our presents. It’s so good, it’s like breakfast food, called egg casserole. It’s so good.”
2 pieces of bread (need to rip apart in small bite sized pieces)
1 pound of hot sausage
1 cup of mile
2 pinches of salt
2 pinches of pepper
Dry mustard (No exact amount, but around the same amount as the salt and pepper)
Brown the sausage. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
Place in baking dish over night.
Next morning—preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook for 45 minutes. It might need an extra 15 mins. Closer to one hour.”
My informant told me that it was a casserole passed down to her mom, as opposed to some other treat, because in Ireland—where her family is from (my informant described herself as “very Irish”)—they were very poor and as there was a lack of food, casseroles were something that could be thrown together using whatever they had. I thought it was super interesting that my informant perked up when she talked about he casserole and said multiple times how good it was. Food is fuel, but it is much more to people. There are emotional connections to food—memories of specific times or holidays or family members associated with certain foods—and that is passed down through families from one generation to the next is one example of this importance.