USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Egg-pregnancy ritual

MG: “Did you partake in any pregnancy rituals?”

LR: “yeah i did the egg thing… my mom did it on me when I was pregnant like she cracks the egg. She rubs it all around and then she cracks it in a vaso [cup] and if there is telaranas [webs] in it than someone is wishing bad upon you”

Context: I was asking the informant about her pregnancy.

Background: LR is a master student at the University of Southern California. She grew up in a Mexican American household and has grown up hearing superstitious things. She has chosen to partake in this ritual because she wanted what is best for her daughter and also as a safety measure. She did not want to regret not listening to cultural superstitions.

Analysis: Eggs are very symbolic and they are often used to ward off the evil spirits, see Newall, Venetia. “Easter Eggs” THe Journal of American Folklore, vol.80, no. 315, 1967, pp. 3-32. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/538415 for more examples of how eggs are used. It makes sense that an egg ritual would be used while pregnant because during pregnancy because the mother and the child are very vulnerable to illnesses and evil spirits. Pregnancy is also regarded as very sacred since you are bringing in a new life into this world so it is important to take care of your baby.

Customs
Festival
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Easter Bread

The informant was sharing an important Greek Easter tradition within her family:

*Names are reduced to initials

Me: Can you tell me about the Easter bread you make?

Informant: Tsoureki is a traditional Greek Easter bread that’s prepared during Greek Easter week. It’s usually braided and the red eggs go into it. It’s all we served on Easter Sunday. And um…it’s a sweet bread and again, the egg symbolizes resurrection.

Me: Yum!

Informant: Sometime’s It’s braided and sometimes it’s braided in a round loaf with a cross on the top,

Support: which is our family tradition

Informant: Lots of Greeks do it though. The cross is a byzantine cross so it’s this shape

*She shows me her necklace*

Support: The curled edge is how I make it. Our family recipe came from my great-aunt that’s Aunt G. That’s where we get the recipe from.

Context: 

The Informant is a Greek woman who was born in the United States. She currently lives in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Though she was not born in Greece, her parents immigrated to the US and she was born into a very Greek community in Phoenix, AZ. The performance was held during an Easter party, in front of her younger sister.While the informant does not usually make the bread, her younger sister always does and she provided supporting information.

Analysis:
It’s very interesting how humans can adapt easily but also stick to tradition as we see with the bread. The recipe has been passed down through generations and while there are so many different recipes this one stuck and has meaning. The way the bread is formed has also stuck as the sister describe, as she always makes it in a curled manner. Finally, the younger sister is always the one who makes the bread for the family, which shows her role in maintaining the family tradition. It is very interesting that people are so adaptable, but also find ways to maintain systems that work.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Game
Holidays
Magic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Goodluck Dumplings

My informant shared a piece of Chinese culture she practices with her family during the Chinese New Year:

Informant: Ok so for Chinese New Year, we make…the tradition is to eat Dumplings…and then we will hide one coin in one of the dumplings and whoever eats that dumpling will have good luck.

Context:

I was talking with a group of friends while we were working on a class project and some of the group members wanted to share pieces of their traditions with me. It was a very casual setting and the performance took place in front of three other individuals.

Background:

The informant is from Hong Kong, China, but attends school at USC. This practice is something she normally does with her family during the Chinese New Year.

Analysis:

I found this really interesting because it reminds me of how in New Orleans, the baby is hidden in the Mardis Gras cake. Whoever finds the baby will receive good luck for the year. While these two traditions use very different foods and tokens to spread luck, they are surprisingly similar.

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Tales /märchen

Guy Fawkes Day

Context:

The informant is a 29-year-old Caucasian female who will be called JH. She is of Irish and English descent and knows of this folklore from her family, more specifically her father. This folklore piece is told in her words:

 

Main Piece:

“My dad (who is half British and half American) used to tell us about Guy Fawkes Day. The 5th of November was a day where a poor man tried to erase the class system via blowing up the house of Parliament. He was caught, hanged, and burned for his crimes. Every year, British people not only burn effigies of straw men in celebration of saving parliament, but you’re supposed to also burn bad habits. Basically, we were told this was getting rid of the bad, or the “treasons” in your life.”

Background:

JH was told about the folklore on Guy Fawkes Day by her father as she didn’t know the story behind the celebration. She celebrates it with her family since her father’s side is British, although she isn’t religious. She appreciates celebrating the day because it is something she can do with her family.

Notes:

Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated in commemoration of the failure of the “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605. This involved a group of Roman Catholic conspirators led by a man named Robert Catesby. They were upset by King James I refusing to grant religious tolerance to Catholics. The goal was to reestablish Catholic rule in England by killing the king and members of parliament. It is sometimes referred to as Bonfire Night and many people celebrate by making bonfires or setting of fireworks. I had not heard about this holiday prior to being told it by JH. It’s a very interesting thing to celebrate and how it is celebrated is interesting as well. I feel like these now; the day has become more of a cause to get together with family and friends to drink and eat together. Much like Saint Patrick’s Day, where it is celebrated by many people who have no real connection to the day.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Píng’ān yè (Chinese Christmas Eve, roughly ‘Night of Peace’)

Informant:

M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.

Context:

This is a Chinese tradition that M’s family would participate in during the Lunar New Year in Beijing. Because he was close with all his family, he and his younger sister would often have to do these traditions twice a year, once with their mother’s side of the family and again with their father’s side. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“A more recent tradition that became popular in China is… you know how America has Christmas? Well, in China, Christmas Eve is called Píng’ān yè (in Chinese: 平安夜), which means like… ‘Night of Peace’. And because the Chinese word for apple sounds like the word for peace, people will go around and hand out apples. Almost like Halloween here in America, except instead of people going door to door, people will go and hand out apples to people walking around. It’s weird, too, because the stores will sell apples with the word ‘peace’ on them, but for higher price than normal on this day. You don’t really see middle-aged or older people doing this, though, it’s typically only the young adults or teenagers. There aren’t really gifts on Christmas, but on Christmas Eve, there is apples! I think that it is kind of interesting that young people in China took this Western holiday and like made it their own. It’s almost… uhh… artificial, in a sense, but you know, I think it is a good way to mix the two cultures without the older generations thinking we are trying to make China like the West. It’s also funny because my sister is in high school now and one of her volunteer projects this year was to go and hand out apples.”

Thoughts:

Although this is a relatively new tradition in China, I was fascinated by this. Sometimes it’s hard to disassociate yourself from your own traditions and see that other cultures do things differently. When M discussed the tradition being only celebrated by the youth, and almost dismissed by the older generations, I was left to wonder why. When I asked him what he thought of such a new tradition, he laughed and asked me what a tradition was, or how long needed to pass before something became a tradition. He also asked if a tradition needs to be celebrated by everyone in the community, whether that be a family, a group of friends, a neighborhood, a city, state, country, etc. I liked the idea of the youth creating their own traditions, blending two cultures together as the world becomes closer and more connected to each other. Often, when people examine traditions outside of their own, they shut them out, or even shut others out of their traditions. It was cool to see the blending of two traditions, rather than an exclusivity. On a side-note, I also found it interesting to learn that markets would sell apples for a higher price around Christmas Eve. Money dominates everything, even tradition!

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year Doll (Tu’er Ye)

Informant:

M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.

Context:

This is a Chinese tradition that M’s family would participate in during the Lunar New Year in Beijing. Because he was close with all his family, he and his younger sister would often have to do these traditions twice a year, once with their mother’s side of the family and again with their father’s side. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“This is also about Lunar New Year. Lunar New Year like spans for two weeks. By the end of that… this is specific to Beijing… you’ve got something called Tu’er Ye (in Chinese: 兔儿爷). Basically, this means uhh… ‘lord rabbit’… Um, so essentially, it’s like a little doll made from porcelain… a porcelain doll… and the tradition is that you are supposed to get one at the beginning of the year and get rid of it at the end of the year. Essentially, it is still like a paganism folklore thing that is supposed to serve as protection for your family. I remember that in the traditional folklore, you needed to like break or shatter the doll at the end of the year, but we don’t really do that anymore, we just get rid of it and get a new one. We would never really do this as a family, you would sort of just know it was there. It’s always the same chubby rabbit who is like riding on a tiger. It’s kind of weird, but people still do it. I think people would break the doll to represent kind of breaking all the bad fortune from the previous year, and you get a new one to have a fresh start.”

Thoughts:

I found it interesting that the tradition involved breaking the glass/porcelain doll to dispel bad fortune. In a lot of other folklore that I have seen, the breaking of something as fragile as glass is considered bad luck. One example of this is the folk belief that breaking a mirror will result in seven years of bad luck, a popular belief that I heard numerous times as a child. Doing a little more research on this topic, I found that Tu’er Ye is actually related to moon worship, and he is considered to be the moon rabbit of the goddess Chang’e. The keeping of a porcelain doll visible in the house all year reminded me of various scary stories involving dolls that came to life. Because the Tu’er Ye doll is supposed to represent, or shield from, the family’s bad fortune, I can see a slight connection behind the horror story dolls being an embodiment of evil.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Legends
Narrative
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Origin of Chinese New Year Fireworks

Informant:

M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.

Context:

This is a Chinese tradition that M’s family would participate in during the Lunar New Year in Beijing. Because he was close with all his family, he and his younger sister would often have to do these traditions twice a year, once with their mother’s side of the family and again with their father’s side. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“Lunar New Years is a big deal in China, so my grandmother… my grandmother on my mother’s side… has three daughters, and each other my cousins all come back for Lunar New Years, so we are all pretty close. So… traditions, right? Lots of people know that China does fireworks during the Lunar New Year celebration, but like here and Japan people get together to watch the fireworks that are like set up by some organizations. Uh, in Beijing, people set up their own fireworks, and everyone in the city participates, so it sounds like the city is in the middle of a war. Millions of fireworks go off from like midnight until like five in the morning and you won’t be able to sleep. So, the folklore behind firing off fireworks is that in Chinese stories about Paganism, there is a monster that is called Nian, which has the same sound as the word year. Nian, year, New Year, you know? So like this monster goes around eating people and stuff and the people don’t know what to do. They decided that they are going to launch explosive fire-powder into the sky to scare it off. It worked, and now that is why we call a year a year, because it is named after Nian the monster. Now, it has become less about that and more people do fireworks because they are fun, but my mother would always tell us that before we could go out and light them. We had to know that there was a reason to like play with explosives.”

Thoughts:

I like that his parents would make sure that the kids knew why a tradition exists before allowing them to participate in them. I think that it is interesting that they place a lot of importance on the folklore behind this tradition, while in the United States, the average parent does not explain why we celebrate the fourth of July. Kids learn about it in school, but that almost takes away from the tradition because it is taught institutionally, rather than organically. I was most intrigued to learn that the word year in Mandarin is pronounced the same as the creature in the story. It shows just how much society takes from folklore.

Customs
general
Gestures
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pre-game ritual: Goalies

 

Main Piece

Informant: Before every game starts, when I am in the crease, I’ll tap the right post with the handle of my stick and the left post with the blade end.

Background:  The informant is my brother. He is a senior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There he plays goalie for the club hockey team and has been playing at a club level for well over a decade. He first learned of this superstition through his first goalie coach. He has done this act before every game he remembers playing in. For the informant, the act has become less superstition as he has gotten older. Still, the informant continues this ritual as it has become second nature in his mind. The interview took place over the phone and was recorded for transcription.

Context: The informant will do this act around 30 seconds before the game starts. The informant has been a committed teammate and goalie for the better portion of two decades.

Analysis: Sports are ripe with pre-game superstition and rituals, just like this one. Hockey goalies are especially habitual in the pre-game routines. Whether it be tapping the post with their stick, eating a certain meal or throwing up before the game (Yes, that one is true). However, this is not restricted to only hockey or goalies themselves. Players of all positions in all sports have their own specific pre-game rituals. (For a list a list of similar superstitions of professional athletes, please see Jeff Mclane’s 2008 article, For The Eagles, Superstition Is The Way (TCA Regional News)). Specific to this piece, I found the transition from superstitious behavior to second-nature for the informant interesting. While it might have started out as a superstitious pre-game ritual intended to bring good look for the upcoming game, it has since morphed into an acknowledgement of origin for the informant. The informant does not continue this ritual because he feels it will bring him good luck. He does so because he became the goalie he is today through tapping each post. When the informant continues this tradition, he is reminding himself of everything he has been through to get to where he is.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish Names Superstition

Context: The informant, a 19-year-old female college student, was sharing different folk beliefs that are shared by members of her religious community. She was describing how the traditions carried out by Ashkenazi Jews have impacted her life and continue to do so, today. The following is an excerpt of our conversation, in which the informant describes a tradition involving the naming of children that varies radically between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.

Text:

Informant: The two main types of Jews, I guess, are Sephardic Jews, who are of Spanish descent so they were kicked out during like the Christian Crusades, and then there are Ashkenazi Jews, who are more traditionally what you think of when you think of what a Jewish person looks like.  Sephardic people have blue eyes and they’re tan — they’re Spanish. But like I’m Ashkenazi, and they’re like Polish, Russian, and Eastern European. There’s a ton of different traditions that distinguish the different types of Jewish people. So, Ashkenazi Jews believe that it is bad luck to name somebody after somebody who is living. So, like my sister’s name is Jamie and my grandfather’s name is Jaime. So, they thought they were naming her after him when she was born and they were like, “You can’t do that. It’s bad luck.” I guess it’s because you’re like keeping the memory of someone who is still alive. I don’t totally know why it’s bad luck. So basically, Ashkenazi people don’t name people after the living because they believe it’s bad luck, but in very religious Sephardic cultures, it is tradition and grandparents expect to have their grandchildren named after them. So like, if you have a Grandma Rose, she’ll be pissed if her granddaughter isn’t named after her. So, the names mean a lot and they get carried down through the living.

Informant’s relationship to the item: The informant, who was raised by an Ashkenazi Jewish parent, was taught that naming a baby after a relative who is alive is bad luck. This superstition clearly had an impact on the informant because it almost resulted in her sister, Jamie, being named a different name, so she would not be named after their grandfather, Jaime. The informant is also very fascinated by the cultural differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, despite both groups studying the same source material.

Interpretation: The radically different cultural practices and superstitions that define Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities demonstrate the distinction between institutional religious beliefs and folk religious beliefs. Another example of this distinction is the Catholic superstition that one’s mouth will fill with the blood of Christ when they bite the host during the sacrament of Eucharist — a belief that is not found in the bible. Both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jew study the same source material: the Torah. However, the Torah does not state anything about the practice of naming children, so both superstitions have clearly developed over time within the distinct cultural groups and schools of thought. The superstition also shows that names and family lineages hold a lot of significance across cultures. However, different folk groups will define this significance in radically different ways. While Ashkenazi Jews believe that naming a child after a living relative serves as a bad omen because it appears as if you are predicting or waiting for that relative’s passing, Sephardic Jews expect children to be named after living relatives as a sign of honor and respect.

Holidays
Legends
Myths
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Diwali Holiday and Legend

Context: The informant, a 19-year-old female college student of Indian and Pakistani descent, described the Indian holiday of Diwali to me when we were discussing how her mixed cultural background has shaped her worldview today.

Text:

Informant: Probably the most popular holiday in the Indian culture is Diwali. Basically, the way my family celebrates it, is that my dad always turns on every single light in the house. So, like he lights a bunch of candles, and it’s supposed to serve as a symbol of light in darkness. So, when the sun goes down, you turn on all the lights in your house. Basically the way my dad told me the story of like why the lights in the house are on is that there was once a prince and he had a wife. There was this demon character who kidnapped his wife and somehow the prince defeated the demon. Then, in order for the princess to find a way back, everyone in the town lit candles so she could find her way back to him. So, the holiday is a symbol of love conquering all and light overcoming darkness. I think it usually happens in October… or November… usually around my birthday. There are other activities that go along with it, but I don’t really know…. I think it’s like a family-oriented holiday. I actually think people give money… people give… we go to my grandparents’ house and they give us money! I think it’s supposed to be like how in some cultures people give money on New Year’s for good luck and wealth and good fortune in the new year. We celebrate with family and food and that kind of stuff. You mostly just stay in and light candles and eat good food and celebrate with family.

Informant’s relationship to the item: The informant typically celebrated Diwali growing up in her household, but it has been several years since she last took part in the festivities. Her excitement about the holiday increased as she continued to describe the rituals associated with it; the details of the holiday came back to her as she spoke, despite not celebrating Diwali since her childhood. She explained how the holiday not only helped connect her to her immediate family, as her dad taught her about the legend surrounding Diwali, but also to her extended family, as the holiday included visits to her grandparents’ home. The informant also clearly understands the symbolic importance of Diwali (light overcoming darkness), as well as the holiday’s similarities to celebrations in other cultures that include giving money as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune.

Interpretation: In addition to the informant’s insights on the symbolic importance of Diwali, the holiday, like many others around the world, clearly has spatial and temporal significance. The informant mentioned that the events of Diwali typically take place within the homes of family members — both immediate and extended. This prescribed space relates to the holiday’s legendary origin, as well as its association with family bonding and connection. The holiday also takes place around the time of the harvest season (specifically, between mid-October and mid-November). This time period is significant on the circular calendar because it takes place after the conclusion of the summer harvest, and typically coincides with the new moon — the darkest night on the Hindu lunisolar calendar. The main event of Diwali — the lighting of lights and candles — is meant to overcome this darkness at the onset of winter, reminding people that light overcomes darkness and wisdom triumphs over ignorance. After conducting my own research on the legend surrounding the holiday, I discovered that there are several different versions of the story my informant recalled. The most popular variation on the legend is the story of the homecoming of the Lord Rama, returning after his exile and journeyings of 14 years to take his rightful throne. He brings with him Sita, his wife, rescued from Ravana, the demon king. The palace and the city were illuminated for him to help him find his way back. Despite having slightly different plot points in her version of the story, with the most notable difference being that Sita makes the journey home alone in her retelling, my informant understood the symbolic importance of the legend: that love conquers all.

Works Cited:

For another version of the legend surrounding the Indian holiday of Diwali, please see p. 53-54 of E.F Coote Lake’s 1960 “Folk Life and Traditions.”

E. F. Coote Lake. “Folk Life and Traditions.” Folklore, vol. 71, no. 1, 1960, pp. 52–58. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1258790.

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