USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Life cycle ritual’
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A twist on the traditional American birthday

Ok… so we have a tradition in the family that—probably in the summer… at least the extended family on my mom’s side—we get together in the summer and we celebrate our birthday. It’s never really anyone’s actual birthday we just celebrate everyone’s birthday on one day because of convenience and it gives us an excuse to get together. Also it’s kind of hard for all of us to get together during the year because we’re all gettin’ older now and we all have stuff to do and we could never get together on birthdays so we just created one big family birthday. We all give gifts to each other—usually small with, like, cards or something. One year my cousin got me a uh… a pair of uh…  really cool earrings… like black and gold ones—really cool! I still wear them today actually. Um… but yeah it was just something we’ve always done, something we’ll keep on doing until the older cousins get married and move away. It had nothing to do in particular with sports or anything. It just was because none of us really had time given that one of our cousins moved to San Diego and lives two hours away, and getting together on actual birthdays is way more inconvenient so… we just get together on family birthday.

 

The traditional American birthday is celebrated on the day of the person’s birth (typically for the entire day). Gifts are presented to the person who gains a year of age on that day. Birthdays are some of the few times when it is perfectly and socially acceptable to shamelessly desire to be the center of attention.

 

Haley’s family alters the traditional American birthday celebration in multiple ways: unlike the traditional birthday, her family does not celebrate on the official day of birth. An acknowledgement of the arrival of said day takes place, but no one plans to do anything special. Gifts are not presented at this time, and, thus, this family tradition strays even further from the traditional American birthday. Finally, the “family birthday” for Haley’s family is not about one particular person but rather about all. The traditional focus on one individual finds no place in this family event. In contrast, the day Is more about community and the gathering of a busy family spread out over the state of California.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

First Tooth Party—Armenian

Agra Hadig

Tooth Wheat

First Tooth Party

Agra Hadig is a party that celebrates a baby’s first tooth. Mary had one when she got her first tooth as well. She told me that the “wheat” of “hadig” denotes a special food that is made with boiled wheat, cinnamon, dried cranberries, and roasted walnuts. Another popular feature of this event is when the baby is set on a table and “they just put random things around it, to see what it picks up.” This is their way of predicting the baby’s future, and according to Mary, it works. “I picked up a pen, and I like to write,” said the communication major, “and my sister chose the money, and it came true, because—it’s not that she likes money—but she really likes to save money.” Sometimes, the adults will ritualistically tear the baby’s shirt. This is done so that all the rest of the baby’s teeth will come out easily and without pain.

I believe this tradition may have occurred because the historical Armenians might have been wary of enthusiastically celebrating and embracing a new baby until it was somewhat certain that it was healthy and will survive reasonably long. I believe this, because Agra Hadig seems to so closely resemble other traditions of other cultures in which they also delay the celebration of a baby’s life until after a certain point. Koreans hold a huge celebration for a baby’s 100th day—it was thought that if a baby could make it past 100 days, it has a good chance of living on. I’ve also heard of Eastern European peoples who set that date on a baby’s 40th day. The Armenians, then, seem to have thought that the growth of the first tooth is a sign of health.

The ritual of discerning the baby’s disposition by watching it choose from a number of symbolic objects is also done in the Korean 100th day celebration. I would say that this is a show of hope and enthusiasm for the baby’s long life lying ahead. ‘Now that we know this baby is healthy,’ they seem to be thinking, ‘let us speculate a bit about its future!’

About its reliability as a divination method—it seems to work upon the assumption that people’s lifelong personality and dispositions are inherent and static from birth. It also seems to suggest that humans have an almost instinctual, perhaps unconscious understanding of the meaning of the symbolic objects. That a born writer can somehow sense the significance of a pen the day he is born—or the day his tooth is born. There is also a hint of determinism, that idea that the destiny of a person is already somewhat determined before they realize it. I do not know much about Armenian thought, but I must say I would not be surprised if they had some belief in these things—destiny and static personality.

Another thought I must add. I wonder if conditioning does not play some part in this. According to my mother, I, too picked a pen, and my brother picked money. Though she is not blatantly superstitious, she does not seem to altogether dismiss belief either. I often would hear her say, “and you see? You’ll be an intellectual, but you can’t save a dollar—not like your brother. He is too impatient to study, but he hoards every penny.” Well, quite frankly, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her say something like this to us much before we were old enough to actually reveal a scholarly disposition versus a financial flair. I also have to wonder if I had picked the money, and my brother, the pen, would not my mother be saying instead, “and you see? You love to spend your money—but your brother is always impatient to learn more!”

I would wager to guess that constant reinforcement and conditioning by the parent with specific expectations plays no small role in the occasional (and dubious) accuracy of this particular version of the personality test.


Annotation: Dresser, N. (1999). Multicultural Celerations: Today’s Rules of Ettiquette for Life’s Special Occasions. University of Virginia: Three Rivers Press, pg. 55

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