Informant AV is my grandmother, who was born and raised in Florence, Italy. She was taught by her mother to always put a penny inside a purse or wallet if it was being gifted.
How did you learn to put a penny inside a purse or a wallet as part of your gift giving traditions?
AV: “Well, I was taught by my mother that you never gift a purse or wallet without placing a penny inside. It is supposed to assure the pursing who is receiving the gift to have good luck and it is to ensure that the person who receives the gift will not be without any money.”
How did your mother learn about this belief?
AV: “This was a tradition that was upheld within my Italian family for generations. My mother learned it from her mother. Once I became old enough to understand the value of a dollar, my mother shared this tradition with me. I think it’s a nice little addition of positivity that accompanies a gift. My friends over the years have asked me why I put a penny inside certain items like a purse or wallet and I just explain to them that it was just something I grew up with as a young girl that I have carried along with me and to help ensure that the gift that I am giving provides positivity and good luck. It’s funny, now some of my girlfriends do the same thing as I do ever since they asked me about it.”
Does this have any significance to you today?
AV: “I would say so because it was a tradition that my mother and my grandmother passed down to me and my sister and it is something that is still very much a part of my traditions. I have also taught my daughter when she was little the same gesture who has now taught her two daughters. I think it is very special that my traditions that I have learned growing up are continuing to be passed down to the next generation.”
My grandmother identifies with this tradition because it helped her to understand the importance of money at a young age through the teachings of her mother and grandmother. It was a tradition that was sustained in her family for generations that still holds value and serves as a tool to pass on good luck to others. As her granddaughter, I have learned to follow in the same tradition.
Background: A.J. is a 65-year-old woman who was born and raised in Poprad, Slovakia. She relocated to the United States from Slovakia 20 years ago, while her son was attending University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A.J. holds a degree in child development and since coming to the United States has worked as a nanny. She is married to her lifelong sweetheart and has one son and three grandchildren. She often talks about her home and family in Slovakia – about the beautiful mountains and the culture. Although she is now a US citizen, she incorporates many Slovak traditions into everyday life, and enjoys telling stories about her family and her family traditions.
A.J.: On December 13, we met all girls in one house and we melted PB, how call that – lead – on the stove and was like liquid, we took on the spoon and pour to the bowl cold water. What kind of shape was made in this water we would decided what was that. If you have heart you will be happy. You will have good luck. If it was some different shape we always was thinking what it can be. Was like snake, you have bad luck or was some witch or something you were always thinking about your next year how will be look.
Q: So how old were you when you did this?
A.J.: We were 13, 14, 15 like that.
Q: Who did you learn it from?
A.J.: From parents or some other girls or older girls what we have in the village. Always this oldest girls invite youngest girls and go like tradition you know from one girl to another and then.
Q: Did all the girls in the one village go to one house or were there multiple?
A.J.: Multi – were like 10 girls or 12 girls in one house and other go to other. We always meet in different houses every year
Performance Context: This ritual would be done in Slovakia on December 13th, St. Lucy’s Day, by a large group of teenage girls.
My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how many of the traditions done by teenage girls in Slovakia surround their future luck and happiness. Additionally, many of these traditions happen on December 13, or St. Lucy’s Day. This is also known as the “witch day.” It is possible that this day was seen as a day of magic, which is why girls believe that they would be able to predict some of their future on this day.
“On New Year’s Eve, you’re supposed to mop your house. Then, once you’re done, you take the dirty water in the mop bucket and you throw the water out your front door. It gets rid of the bad luck so that you can start fresh in the new year.”
This Cuban New Year’s tradition has a superstitious element to it much like their beliefs of the evil eye. For Cubans, it seems bad luck can actually be a physical thing that you can acquire and then get rid of. The source said her mother used to do this jokingly. They didn’t actually believe in it, but every New Year’s Eve, they’d participate in the tradition if only for laughs and to actually get the house clean.
I asked the source where she thought this tradition started, and she said it sounded “like something santeros would do.” Santeros are what Cubans call people who practice Santeria, a Latin American religion that involves witchcraft. Much like Wiccans, santeros cast spells in order to protect their families, ward off bad luck, attract romantic partners, etc. However, what I also find to be great (and comical) about this tradition is that involves one of the ultimate Cuban pasttimes: cleaning.
Sure, the metaphorical idea of cleaning your house to wash away the bad luck sounds pretty legitimate, but to me, I see this tradition as being a way for Cuban parents to get their kids to help them clean the house. Cubans are VERY clean people. Just about every Cuban family I know employs a cleaning lady on a weekly or monthly basis. At the end of the year, though, those cleaning ladies are hard to come by. Many take two weeks or so off to be with their family during Christmas/New Year’s/winter break. After Christmas, whoever hosted the celebration is going to have a fun time cleaning up after everyone. And if they’re supposed to have their house ready for a New Year’s celebration, too? Forget it. Time to bring out the Cuban New Year’s tradition and get everyone in on it because mama can’t be the only one with bad luck in the house.
“The Rangerette Prayer was a very special prayer to our team, and we said it before every performance on the football field or dance competition or wherever we were or whatever we were about to do. We would get in a circle, and um cross our arms, right over left, and hold each other’s hands with one foot pointing toward the middle, facing the middle. Um and basically the um seniors and juniors would sing like uh the first part of the song and have the freshmen and sophomores imitate the second part, and essentially we had to learn it that way, we learned the song from the seniors and juniors. And the prayer was the Lord’s prayer and we sang it in a more dragged out kind of tone, and we were never really taught the tune, we just sort of had to pick it up from the juniors and seniors. We also had like a special ending that was, “In the name of the Father who created us, the spirit who sanctified us, and the son who redeemed us,” or something like that and then we all said Amen. It was kind of funny because the ending we all did not know very well because the seniors and juniors said it so quickly that we didn’t even really know what we were saying until much later.”
Informant: The informant is a nineteen-year-old college freshman from Dallas, Texas. While in high school, she was a member of the Jesuit Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team. She attended the all-girls Catholic high-school, Ursuline Academy of Dallas, the sister school of Jesuit Dallas (an all-boys Catholic school). She began dancing when she was three, performing ballet, jazz, and lyrical styles of dance, which eventually led her to the high-school drill team. She currently attends Oklahoma State University.
The Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team is an extracurricular activity unique to Texas and a few other southern states. The team performs at the half-time of football games on Friday nights, as well as at basketball, soccer, and rugby games. They wear leotards with fringe skirts, fringe and sequin overlays, gauntlets, a belt, white cowgirl boots, and sequined cow-boy hats. The season does not end with football season; rather, the team continues to perform at Jesuit events and participates in two dance competitions in the spring. Because this team is a year-long commitment, there are many extenuating traditions that serve to unify and “bond” the members of the team, in order to foster a spirit of sisterhood.
I think that this practice exemplifies the bonds that the members of the Rangerettes are supposed to have. Because members of the team attend an all-girls Catholic school, there is an emphasis upon prayer. By holding hands in a circle and singing a prayer, the bonds of the team are exhibited through this practice. The holding hands in a circle solidifies the bonds that hold a team together, and also represent the sisterhood that is supposed to be in place. A team cannot succeed if they are not unified, and by demonstrating their unity before a performance, they are striving to succeed in their performance. Also, if this ritual is not practiced before a performance, there is a possibility of failure or bad luck when the team performs. This once again reinforces the need for the team to be unified as they are dancing as one team and must be on count.
In addition, the manner in which the team members learn the prayer is representative of the way in which the team works. The older, veteran members, always juniors and seniors begin the prayer. This demonstrates their “seniority” and their authority on the team. They have been there before, and understand the importance of this ritual, and are in turn passing it on to the next generation of team members. As the younger, new members, always freshmen and sophomores, echo the seniors and juniors, they are reflecting their need to learn from the older members in order to become fully part of the team so that they might continue to pass down this tradition over the years. It is also interesting how the juniors and seniors never formally taught the prayer, but rather expected the new members to simply pick it up.
This may not be unique to simply the prayer ritual on this team, but could also extend to the rest of the ways in which the new members are expected to become acclimated to the team. The veteran members expect the new members to simply “pick up” what they already know, without overtly telling them. This could be concordant with rituals that decide who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to members of the team, as well as the attitudes that older members generally had toward the new members. The idea that the older members were wiser due to their experience might have been carried out not just through this prayer ritual, but through other practices on the team as well.
“So when I was a little girl my grandma, I used to live with my grandma in Hawaii and whenever she told me to get ready for bed, I would get ready for bed and you know how, like, little kids will sometimes, um, like put their clothes on inside out or backwards. Well, my grandma, I would do that occasionally and my grandma ended up convincing me that that . . . like that brought good luck and like if you do that, then it brings good luck. So then I started purposely, purposefully, um, wearing my pajamas backwards and inside out and my mom never understood it, but I always would tell her, obviously, that it brings good luck.”
The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies communication and minors in dance and is a part of a prominent sorority on campus. She grew up in a relatively small town in southern California (with short stretches in other areas of the country) and was the captain of a prominent sports organization. She has danced for her entire life and, when she was growing up, would often drive for long stretches of time with her family to dance competitions. This interview took place while the informant, whom I live with, was making lunch and telling me about her grandmother’s superstitions. Of her grandmother, she said, “My grandma’s a very spiritual person. She still believes it, she’ll still tell me.” She went on to say, “It’s like a family joke now. So like if I come down now wearing my pajamas inside out and backwards, my grandma will always be like, ‘Oh! It’s really good luck, right?’ . . . My mom thinks it’s a joke, but my grandma’s like super serious about it, she’s like, ‘It is. It is for good luck.’”
When I asked the informant what she thinks it means, she said, “My grandma’s very spiritual and thinks everything happens for a reason and so, like, the average person puts on their clothes the normal way that it’s supposed to be worn, so if you think you’re putting on your clothes a certain way and it turns out it’s actually backwards or inside out, well then it must mean something else. Then it must mean that there’s good luck coming to you.” When I said I had never heard of this folk belief before, the informant noted, “It’s interesting because I brought [the folk belief] up in my practice, and one of the girls said that she was taught that growing up, if she were to wear her pajamas inside out or backwards that it was gonna bring snow. And so during the winter seasons, she did that as a young girl hoping it would bring snow.”
At the end of the interview, the informant said, “And the thing is, I still do, a little part of me still believes that it’s gonna bring me good luck.”
This folk belief was interesting to me because it’s such a simple action, yet it is thought by some to make something happen, such as bring good luck or make it snow. I think it is partially performed because it is a relatively silly thing to get children to do, and it gives them a sense of control over the world. It could also serve as a way to teach them to embrace the unusual side of their personalities. When they perform this folk belief, they are doing something that goes against social norms. However, they are told this action causes good things to happen, and so the thought process behind it is reinforced.
About the Interviewed: Jakob is a senior at Calabasas High School. His family is half Isreali-Jewish, and half French-Canadian. He’s about 18 years old.
My subject, Jakob, told me about a superstition that was passed down in his family.
Jakob: “My family believes that the different sides of the pillow you sleep on determine your luck. It’s like, a really old superstition that my grandma passed down onto my mom.”
I ask him if he personally believes in it.
Jakob: “Not really, but my brothers do. My mom believes that our family can’t sleep on the left side of a pillow because it brings bad luck. It only works if you intentionally try to sleep that way. If it’s by accident the universe doesn’t care. (laughs) If you sleep on the right side of a pillow, it’s good luck. If you keep doing it, good things happen. I used to think my mom wasn’t that into, but I remember this one time that she woke up on the wrong side of the pillow, and she was furious.”
I ask him which side of his family does he think that the belief came from?
Jakob: “Well my mom is from Israel, so she might get it from there. Other than that, I don’t know. I think personally that it’s like a placebo thing, like if you think about something happening really hard, and then it happens. That’s what I think it’s like.”
My friend Jakob reported that the members of his innermost family share a folk belief pertaining the sides of the pillow you sleep on at night. Sleeping on the left brings bad luck, sleeping on the right brings good.
One thing that’s unique about this story is that it’s reflective of the old wives tales that were so prominent a long time ago. Beliefs about luck, ideas that seeing a black cat or walking under a ladder would be detrimental to your future well-being, show that superstition and belief are still prominent in some cultures.
About the Interviewed: Max is a twenty year old college student at Pasadena City College studying Architecture and Fashion Design. His ethnic background is remotely Swedish, though his family has been in America for a couple generations.
I talked to my friend Max about pop beliefs and superstitions around popular video games he’s played.
Max: “I know this one about Pokemon. It’s actually pretty well known.”
I asked him to elaborate.
Max: “Pokemon is a video game where players have to catch these magical creatures. You wanna catch as many as possible. The actual science behind catching each one is actually kind-of crazy. It depends on the power level of the thing you’re trying to catch, how strong you are, what pokeball you use, etcetera.”
“When I was a little kid, me and all my friends believed that there were secret ways to hack the game, like you could change the results so that you always got your catch. Things like that.”
“The rumor was something like, when you’re in battle with a Pokemon you want to catch, you have to hold down both the “down” button, and the “B” buttons at the same time on the controllers. The funny thing is, it didn’t make a difference at all. It was all in our minds. But everyone I knew did it anyway.”
I asked Max where he felt the beliefs originated from.
Max: “I don’t know. It was just that Pokemon was so popular. My friends were doing the down B thing, so I sort of did it too.”
“It doesn’t help that Pokemon games were really hard.”
A popular belief persists among American juvenile players of the video game “Pokemon”, that monsters are easier to catch if you hold down both the “Down” and “B” buttons. There is no evidence of the trick actually working, but the belief is widespread.
The “down-B” trick that Max informed of me seems to be a tradition observed in American children who played the Pokemon games growing up. I’d actually be interested to know if other cultures had similar luck granting gifts when playing games with large luck-based elements such as Pokemon. It seems similar to the tradition of “blowing on your dice” for good luck.
In Greek tradition if you have a bad dream and you tell someone before you eat anything your nightmare will come true. However the same thing is not true if you have a good dream. If you tell a good dream before eating in an attempt to make it come true, the gods will see through your trickery and it will not happen.
My roommate is half Greek and she learned this tradition from her mother.
This tradition is interesting because it reaffirms the power of spiritual beings as being above us. This is humbling in a way and reinforces the idea that mere mortals should never try and outsmart the gods cause they will always be one step ahead. The tradition is also interesting because it speaks to a very negative aspect of the culture, in this situation no matter what you do, it ends up with nothing good happening.
The tradition seems to also be related to the idea that if you have a wish and you tell it to someone it will not come true, like birthday wishes or wishes on a shooting star.
Information about the Informant
My informant grew up in Hacienda Heights where he went to high school, and received his bachelor’s degree from USC. He is a game designer and is currently working for a social mobile gaming company based in Westwood.
“This might be from TV, but, um, if you cut off the tag on your bed, that brings you like seven years bad luck. Have you heard that?”
Collector: “I’ve heard breaking a mirror.”
“Oh yeah, breaking a mirror. [laughs]”
Collector: “I haven’t heard take…”
“Cutting the tag. The mattress–”
Collector: “The price tag?”
“Yeah. Or, or like the…I guess it’s the carer tag. Like how to take care of it.”
I did a bit of research and found no real research conducted on this piece of folklore. There were some poorly worded comments on Yahoo! Answers and various similar sites where individual people indicated that they also thought it was bad luck to cut the tag off a mattress. But mostly what I found were sites that addressed the false belief that cutting the tag off a mattress would result in legal prosecution should the owner be found out. These sites addressed the fact that care tags used to be required on mattresses so that the customer could read the tag and know exactly what materials were used to make and stuff the mattresses. For the store owner to cut the tag off then in order to deceive his customers then was an illegal move. The warning that the government placed on the tag warning store owners not to remove the tag was worded poorly however, and left consumers consumed as to whether or not they could remove the tags after purchase. How this translated from possible legal prosecution though to bad luck, I’m not exactly sure, although it’s undeniable that being arrested could certainly be interpreted as bad luck, and the origins of this “bad luck” lost somewhere along the line for some people.
The informant (my father) grew up in various areas of California, but spent his high school years in Chino, CA and has lived in the Rancho Cucamonga area for most of his adult life. He has been an avid baseball fan for as long as I can remember and sometimes refers going to Angels games as a child and knows a lot of the history behind how the Angels teams has moved around and changed names(from Los Angeles Angels to the California Angels to the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, etc.) Though we did not go to a lot of games when I was a kid, he listens to most games on the radio or watches them on TV, much to the good-natured annoyance of anyone who wanted to watch or listen to something else.
I asked my father if he had any good luck charms or rituals and he explained briefly about what he does to make the Angels win, though he noted “it didn’t seem to be helping lately,” as the Angels are not doing very well this season. He said he feels like if he accidentally neglects to listen or watch the games that the Angels will not do as well. It did not seem that watching/listening more was “good luck” but that watching/listening less was “bad luck.” He also drinks out of a special Angels cup gotten from some promotion years ago to help the Angels win. The cup is old, but has a near-permanent place on the kitchen counter in my parents’ house.
Interestingly enough, my dad did not mention any of the things that the Angels fans are known for, like the rally monkey that comes out if they are tied or losing in the 7th inning, or any of the phrases typically associated with the Angels like “bring out the red.” Additionally, there was no special mention of any Angels clothing even though he has multiple Angels t-shirts and baseball caps that he wears regularly throughout the year. He seems to focus on his attention and specific actions as what is important to helping the Angels succeed. Even though the outcome of the game is not changed by actions and I think he understands this for the most part. The most important part of this idea of good luck is remembering to drink out of his cup and watch/listen to the game. It is more about his attention to them than it is about the action of drinking out of a special cup.