USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘holiday’
Customs
Festival
Game
Holidays
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Megilah Reading

Every Purim Jews congregate to listen to a reading from a book called the Megilah which features the backstory of Purim. It’s the most outwardly religious part of Purim. The congregation is encouraged to be active and loud, reacting verbally to every single mention of the characters’ names in the story. Mordecai and Ester (the Jewish heroes) get jubilant cheers every time their name is read while the bad guy Haman is booed. The congregation is even traditionally encouraged to drink so much that they can’t tell whose names to boo or cheer.

Again, this is the religious part of Purim but the encouragement to chime in makes it stand out from other Jewish holidays in a way that fits the extra cheerful celebration of Purim. While this folklorist’s congregation doesn’t drink during the reading, it does fit the rest of the relatively lax nature of the event.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

French New Year Traditions

The following is a piece from a friend whose parents are French immigrants.  I am represented by K and the informant is represented by I.

Piece:

K: Go ahead and tell me about your tradition.

I: So, in January, the start of the new year, there’s a tradition called Gallete du Roi, which translates to… uh, King’s Cake… and… one person will start by hosting a party in which… uhm, we make dinner, and you invite your group of friends over, and then you make the King’s Cake, which is usually almond paste and phyllo dough on top, with a little ceramic baby Jesus or baby Mary or baby lamb or something inside, and then… uhm… you cut the- you cut the pie, and the youngest person at the party like goes under the table or hides or something, and they dictate who each piece goes to.  So it’s … non…biased.  And then… uhm.. and then you eat the cake and whoever gets the baby is the King or the Queen and they choose their King or their Queen to host the next party with them and the guy brings the wine, the woman makes the food- bakes the cake- which is just really.. not… gender… equality… if you ask me, but uhm, and then the party keeps going all throughout January, and there’s another tradition we do!- Well, it’s not really a tradition, it’s like uhm, on the first day of January, so it’s like the first day of the new year, uhm, you hold a piece of like- like a gold coin in your hand. Uhm, or anything that has gold in it, like real gold… uhm, and you make crepes and you flip the crepe with the gold in your hand, and if it lands well and doesn’t break, you’ll have prosperity in the new year, and if it breaks or it doesn’t happen… you’re… gonna be poor.

K: And where’d you learn this from?

I: My momma.

Context:

We were sitting outdoors in a shaded area by a couch, working on a group project, but only the informant, one other member of our project, and I were there.  I asked the informant if she had any traditions or interesting pieces of folklore she would want to share and she readily agreed.  It was a really nice day out and the conversation felt very natural.

My Thoughts:

 

Her family is from France and she very strongly identifies with her French roots.  I thought this tradition was pretty interesting because it’s very religious, and my friend isn’t that religious, really, but she considers it more of a cultural tradition.  I know that this tradition is also very cultural, as well.  My family calls it Three Kings Day, but we don’t really celebrate it.  I went to Catholic school growing up, though, and I know we always had the cake in our of our classes, but the cake we ate was different than the one the informant described.  In Latin culture, this holiday also involved leaving shoes out, which my dad has told me about.  I think it’s cool to see the evolution of this holiday based on ethnicity.  It’s interesting to watch how it changes from place to place and how there are little cultural differences.

Customs
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kwanzaa Traditions

Context: The informant, a 19 year old college student, was engaged in a conversation about Kwanzaa and how her family celebrates this holiday.

Piece:

Informant: Um, ok. So, Kwanzaa. Um, I have celebrated it before. Um, it’s a family thing, my family celebrates Kwanzaa. Uh, I’m black, um ‘cause you can’t see me on the audio so just to make that… clear to all the listeners. Um, so basically it takes place the day after Christmas and it ends on January 1st. And it’s my favorite way to close out the year and basically it’s kinda a reflection on the whole year and each day it’s a different principle where you remind yourself of like um basically like whether or not you really perform those principles or not. One of them is Kujichagulia which is self-determination, they are all in Swahili um so yeah that’s a word we explore for a day— like how well do you fulfill your own personal goals. There’s also Umoja which is unity, um there’s seven of them yeah. So the traditions that happen are that every single night the whole family gets together and you eat a meal and you set the meal on an mkeka which is like a straw mat. And you eat specific foods— some foods we eat are corn, red beans and rice, soul food— things like that. And then we talk about the principle and then we light a candle on the thing— there is also a Swahili name for it.

Collector: So why is this tradition important to you?

Informant: Kwanzaa is important to me because um well for one it’s a way for me to connect to my African ancestry, which is something I don’t do in my daily life because slavery took that away from me. And on another hand, because um it’s one of the very few traditions my family has, we don’t do a lot of things every year, but like Kwanzaa and celebrating with the people at my church is something we have done consistently and so I value that we have kept that up

And uh yeah Kwanzaa was created in the 60s by a guy who is now shamed in the black community because he was put on trial for very brutally abusing women and he was a professor at some school in California, some university, I kinda wanna say it was CalState Longbeach or something like that. Um, but he no longer is a professor there and now is under harsh scrutiny from the black community and he is bad but Kwanzaa is good. A lot of people celebrate Kwanzaa but a lot of people shit on that man. And it was really big in the 60s because of the civil rights movement, and afterwards people stopped celebrating as much but I still do because of my family and my church.

Background: This informant is a black female college student at USC who celebrates Kwanzaa with her family regularly. She loves celebrating Kwanzaa because it connects her back to her African roots. She has often said that she feels the pressure from society and people around her to be “less black” and this holiday helps her celebrate just that.

Analysis:Kwanzaa is celebrated throughout the United States but because I am not part of the celebrating community, I was never taught about the traditions. This holiday in particular lends itself to folklore as the entire holiday revolves around the preservation of African culture and tradition. The fact that Kwanzaa champions principles is interesting as it passes along ideals through the traditions, emphasizing what people should focus on and influencing Kwanzaa celebrators’ everyday lives.

For other traditions practiced during Kwanzaa, see: Pleck, Elizabeth. “Kwanzaa: The Making of a Black Nationalist Tradition, 1966-1990.” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 20, no. 4, 2001, pp. 3–28. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27502744.

Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish-American Thanksgiving

D.F. – “Every year, my family and I go to my Grandfather’s house in Oceanside CA for thanksgiving.  And during the beginning of that week, my Aunt and her family fly in from MN to start cooking.  That’s usually a Monday or a Tuesday.  They start preparing that early.  Sometimes we come Wednesday night before thanksgiving, but usually most of us come on the Thursday morning.  My family usually says that we’re gonna leave by 8:30, but we always leave like a half hour later.    And then we get to oceanside, an hour and a half away, and my Mom is always in charge of the appetizers, and she usually has too many appetizers, all from Costco, and they all have to be KOSHER.  And then, the other families get there.  And then, we all bet what time my uncle and his family are gonna get there because they’re always late.  So then everyone puts down bets for what time he’ll get there, minute by minute, I’ve won a few times.  Once they get there, that’s the pause in the day when we have to figure out what we’re going to do because that’s when everyone’s cooking and they don’t like it when everyone is in the kitchen.  So my cousins and I go play pool at my Grandpa’s senior living house thing.  I didn’t get to start doing that until I was 14 because that was the minimum age; I was really excited.  We play pool for a little while, are forced to come home, everyone sits down at the dinner table (about 25 of us).”

“There are a few people who are assigned to bring in food from the table, and it’s very important that if you did not get asked to do this, that you sit down.  We start with appetizers; now, don’t forget that we already had appetizers, but now we have these sweet&sour meat-balls that my grandma used to make for dinner appetizers.  Sometimes we have matzah ball soup sometimes, if my aunt is up for it.  My other aunt always makes small challahs for everyone.”

“Everyone goes in a circle throughout the meal, saying what they’re thankful for, that year, in front of everyone.  Eating ends.  My brother and I get s**t every year for not helping clean up enough.”

“. . . My other aunt is always in charge of the deserts.  They’re never very good.  After desert, we all take our family photo every year on my grandfather’s couch.”

 

Such structure.  This is in many ways similar to my own Thanksgiving memories, but this seems to have a lot more structure.  My family is pretty tightly wound, but every year, thanksgiving is a very laid-back holiday.  It seems that this is not the case in this household.  Thanksgiving festivities are among the most prominent folkloric experiences in the United States, as most people who live in the country choose to celebrate with loved ones and friends.  It’s interesting not only to see how similar everyone’s Thanksgivings are, but also to examine how the days often differ. Also, it’s fascinating that this person’s religion intertwines here with their nationality.  Even on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, when one’s religion is largely unimportant, her food must remain kosher.

Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Maslenitsa

Context:

The subject is a USC student, born and raised in Southern California. The subject takes pride in his Russian-Jewish heritage, so I wanted to ask him about any rituals he has attended.

 

Piece:

Subject: There’s a great Russian holiday, um, that’s to celebrate the end of the winter. And I saw it when I was going to school in Russia for a bit in eighth grade, I’m not sure the name in English but in Russian it’s called Maslenitsa. Which is sort of — it’s the process where you burn this, like, hay statue of the, winter witch, or something.

Interviewer: The winter witch?

Subject: Yeah, so it’s like the farmers defeated her, cuz she was gonna ruin their crops, but they survived. So it’s a very joyous time, and, um, you eat all this great Russian food, it was a lot of fun.

Interviewer: So when exactly in the year does it take place?

Subject: The end of winter, whenever it is that year, I, uh, think when I went it was the end of February or something.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that Maslenitsa is an Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday, celebrated during the last week before Great Lent, and it may be the oldest surviving Slavic holiday. Since Lent excludes parties, secular music, dancing, etc. which provide as distractions during times of prayer, Maslenitsa is the last time for individuals to take place in social activities.

An important aspect of the holiday which the subject did not include, is the presence of pancakes, and the lack of meat (however, in modern settings the ban of meat is less enforced).

Compared the the rituals and festivals which we studied in class, we can see that this society greatly values its prosperous agriculture. During such dire times of cold, harsh winter, it’s comforting to know that a party is waiting on the other end.

 

Adulthood
Childhood
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mince and Tatties

Context:

I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.

 

Piece:

Subject: Every birthday in our house we always make mince and potatoes, or mince and tatties like we called them when I was a kid.

Interviewer: What does that consist of?

Subject: Well the way we do it is we ground beef, you know, mince beef, and then mashed potatoes and there you go! [Laughs] Sometimes we add vegetables like carrots or peas to go with it which really adds to the flavor.

Interviewer: And why has it become a birthday celebration?

Subject: I’m not sure, I mean we had it all the time growing up, but when we came to America we had it less and it became more of a birthday thing, so that’s just what we do every year now.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that there is no set recipe or form of cooking this dish, it consists in many variations. There are concerns that British people are no longer eating traditional dishes, but mince and tatties remains the exception as it is extremely popular in Scotland. A survey done in 2009 found that it was the most popular Scottish dish, with a third of respondents saying that they eat it once a week.

In 2006 the European Union introduced new regulations on how meat could be processed, threatening the existence of mince and tatties, resulting in the Scottish National Party leader announcing, “They can take our lives but they will never take our freedom to make mince and tatties!”

It seems that it became a popular dish due to its ability to be canned and fed to a large number of school children.

Source:

Lewis, Susan. “Recipes for Reconnection: Older People’s Perspectives on the Mediating Role of Food in Contemporary Urban Society.” ANTHROPOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS 12, 2006.

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Festival of Lights

Context & Analysis

The subject is from Ashland, Oregon—a relatively small town in Oregon that is an extremely tight-knit community. She expressed to me that Ashland has a rich tradition of festivals— the subject has a lot of pride for her town and it’s traditions and it’s interesting that this is a tradition that involved the entire town. I asked her to elaborate on a few of the festivals and she mentioned that her favorite is the Festival of Lights. The Festival of Lights takes the weekend following Thanksgiving which signifies the entry into the winter, or the ‘holiday season’. Despite not necessarily being a religious celebration, I find it interesting that the festival chooses to feature figures traditionally associated with Christmas (i.e. Santa, Mrs. Clause, etc.). Additionally, the fact that the subject can name the precise restaurants where the appearances take place underscores the small town’s community and the importance of the event to her.

Main Piece

“The Festival of Lights takes place at, like, night at, like, usually 7 or something like that—maybe not quite that late, yeah. Um, but there’s a parade and you go downtown and it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving every year, um, and, like, Santa comes down to the plaza and he goes up into the balcony of one of the restaurants called…I think it’s the Bookroom? Or maybe it’s Granite Tap House. I think it’s the book room [nods]. It’s gotta be the book room. Um, and he comes out on the balcony so does Mrs. Clause and one of the reindeer—‘cuz you know they’ve been, like, coming down the street—and they turn off all the lights in the town. And then they count down from ten…[she pauses for dramatic effect] and every single Christmas light lights up and my town becomes a winter wonderland [she smiles broadly]. Um, and then you can get hot chocolate afterwards and there’s caroling—people who like stand and sing carols and it is—ugh, it’s so much fun and so quintessential small town.”

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Armenian Christmas – El Día de Los Reyes Magos

I interviewed my informant, Vanessa, in the band office lounge. She is of Armenian descent on her mother’s side and Spanish descent on her father’s side. Because of this, she was able to provide me with a shared Armenian-Spanish Christmas tradition.

 

She called it ‘Armenian Christmas,’ but also acknowledged that it is also celebrated in Spanish cultures in which they call it ‘El Día de Los Reyes Magos’ (Day of the Three Kings).

 

This tradition is celebrated on January 6th (twelve days after Christmas). It symbolises the day the three kings arrived to deliver the frankincense, myrrh, and gold to baby Jesus.

 

My informant celebrates this day by putting out her shoes near an entryway — usually an inside door. The shoes are then filled with candy and small gifts Her family then usually gets together and has a dinner celebration.

 

She also noted that schools in her area also tend to get the day off so the families can celebrate this holiday.

 

Analysis

I’m aware of a similar German tradition of putting out the shoes for gifts, but I didn’t know about the Armenian or Spanish Version. It’s interesting because Spain and Germany are somewhat close together, but Armenia is part of the Middle East. I’m unsure how this tradition could have traveled across cultures. Nevertheless, this is another fun way for children to receive gifts and candy. I’m sure many children, my informant included, have fond memories of this folk tradition.  

Childhood
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Cremer Family’s Passover Afikomen Tradition

Background: I had approached Hannah about telling me about her family Passover tradition that she had fleetingly mentioned at Shabbat Dinner at Hillel at the University of Southern California. She had talked about a hazelnut game for children during Passover that is unique to her family. Hannah goes to her grandparent’s house for the first night of Passover and celebrates the second night at her great-aunt’s house. She is from Illinois.

Context: I interviewed Hannah in the dining room of our sorority house, Delta Delta Delta. It was right after dinner so the dining room was full of people with coffee or tea chatting in the background of our conversation. After Hannah shared her family tradition of the hazelnut game (published under the title “The Cremer Family’s Passover Hazelnut Game”) I asked her if her family has any other family traditions for Passover. She then shared the tradition of individual afikomen.

“We all have our own afikomen. I don’t know when it… as long as I can remember there is always an afikomen for everyone to find. So like all the grandchildren have their own. Currently there are 9 different afikomen hidden with our names on them. They’re wrapped and we always get a $2 bill. That’s our gift for finding the afikomen. It’s wrapped in a napkin that has your name on it. My grandpa gives us $2 bills as the prize. I’m not sure who started this tradition. I doubt that it comes from my great grandfather. My grandparents hide the afikomen for us to find before we all come to dinner. If you find someone else’s you’re expected to put it back where you found it or pretend like you didn’t see it.”

Customs
Folk speech
Game
Holidays
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thanksgiving game

I asked, do you do anything specific with your family for holidays?:

Response:

“I have a really big family so Thanksgiving dinner is always 20 people or so. Every year at Thanksgiving dinner we each write down one “-ing” verb and one noun and put them all in two separate hats. Everyone picks one of each out of the hats and the combination of the two is your ‘Thanksgiving name’ with my grandfather acting as the chief.

When you pick your name you say it our loud and everyone else responds: ‘And the crowd says “ahhhhh”’

For example:

Person 1: I am… whispering three toed sloth

Family response: and the crowd says Ahhhh“

 

Background: Mae is a 19 year old girl raised in Westwood, CA and currently living in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents are originally from Chicago and Little Rock, and she lived in Princeton, NJ briefly as a young girl.

Context: Mae shared this story with me when she came to my house to celebrate Easter.

Analysis: Holiday traditions are incredibly personal to each family, and even people who celebrate the same holidays can have an entirely different way of doing so. My family, for example, doesn’t play any particular games like this at Thanksgiving, and our Thanksgiving dinner is usually one of our more formal holiday celebrations though it is always light-hearted and fun. Our Christmas dinner, as a matter of fact, is always extremely casual and we typically order Chinese food or have left overs, which you would think would be a more formal holiday. This further exemplifies how much variation there is in celebrations depending on specific family traditions. Similarly, however, my family always has Thanksgiving-themed hats that everyone receives on their place settings. It is really cool to hear what the unique ways that my friends celebrate different holidays with their families.

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