Tag Archives: luck

Greek Wedding Ritual

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: N.D. explained that she was going home to Miami in the coming week to celebrate her eldest sister’s wedding. She and her other four sisters planned to perform a traditional Greek bachelorette ritual, that had been done in her family for years. It’s a generations-old ritual that my informant’s family, relatives, and friends, all perform, and it is deeply rooted in Greek culture.

 

Main Piece: “The night before the couple’s wedding, all of the single friends of the bride usually do this thing where we come together and decorate the couple’s future marriage bed. A few of my sister’s friends will be there, but it’s me and my sisters that are going to be doing most of the work. Basically you put a bunch of flowers all over, and put rice all around the room and on the bed, and also leave out coins and money. The idea is that it promotes prosperity, fertility, and love for that couple. My family is very into these little traditions and it’s a fun way for all of us to get together before the wedding and celebrate the bride. Rice is used in a lot of ceremonies like this in Greek culture, and Peruvian culture too actually. Even though it’s such an old tradition, it still has a lot to do with the typical American bachelorette party activities. We’re planning on doing that too, but this is a different way of celebrating that also takes us back to our roots a little bit.”

 

Analysis: I found it interesting how the idea of rice is intertwined in such a large number of cultural customs, especially in regards to weddings. In other cultures, the throwing of the rice at the end of the wedding ceremony symbolizes rain, which is thought to be a sign of good fortune and prosperity. In the case of Greek culture, the rice is placed in the most intimate part of the couple’s life.

 

Warding off the Evil Eye

Context: One night at home I decided to ask my dad for an explanation behind a cultural ritual he had performed almost every single week for as long as I can remember, and was preparing to perform that night. It’s a process using a spice called Esfand.

 

Background: In Iran, Esfand is used to ward off the evil eye. This is a generations-old ritual that has been passed down for hundreds of years. The idea is to burn the spice, and the smoke and popping sounds from the burning are said to burn away the evil eye.

 

Main Piece: “Persians are very superstitious people. Iranians have always been very successful for the most part and it’s a little natural for us to think someone would want to curse us if we are doing well or better than them. Most of your friends from growing up are Persian too so I’m sure they know all about it too. Persian people are a lot of the time looked at as being very flaunty or extravagant, and they are sometimes, but as a culture most people are very conservative about sharing achievements or very exciting news. It’s looked down upon to brag about good fortunes that you are having. I don’t think you even notice but sometimes when our family is out or at parties and someone was giving you or [your siblings] a certain look or a compliment me or mom would say a little prayer until we could get home and do Esfand. I think it could be a myth that there are people that really have an evil eye. But I think there are definitely people who act a certain way but inside don’t mean well for you, or give off a very negative energy that you shouldn’t have around you. So you burn it away. I put the esfand in my hand and I start with a prayer. I circle it around my head, mom’s head, and all of your heads a few times, chanting the same prayers asking for protection. I wave it all around the house. Then I take the foil and put it over the stove, and I put the esfand from my hand on it, and I let it burn until it’s done. It burns the negative eyes and thoughts from others.”

 

Analysis: The concept of the evil eye is definitely not tied specifically to the Persian culture. It’s interesting to look at how each culture or religion carries out their ritual against this superstition. Some knock on wood, some throw salt, some wear evil eye jewelry, but Persians choose to physically burn it away.

 

Annotation: For more on the notion of the evil eye in Persian and Middle Eastern culture, reference to:

Spooner, B. (2004). 15. The Evil Eye in the Middle East. In Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (pp. 311-320). New York, NY: Routledge.

Coin in the Cake

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. She wasn’t able to go home for Easter this year, as she usually does, but she described a tradition that her family practices every year on Easter.

 

Background: She explained that this tradition normally takes place in Greek tradition on New Year’s Eve, but that her family celebrates it on Easter instead, as she and her siblings usually spend New Year’s with friends.

 

Main Piece: “So this is usually done on New Years, but we always do it on Easter since that’s one holiday Greek Orthodox people take very seriously, so we’re almost always all together as a family. We’re always separated on New Years so this is just the best time to do this tradition I guess. Basically, my mom or grandma will bake a cake, and they bake a gold coin into the cake itself. They put it in the oven, take it out, and then they cut it all up and serve it. The person who gets the piece with the coin in it is supposed to have the luckiest year out of everyone else. Essentially it’s going to be like their golden year. It kind of defeats the purpose that we do it in April of every year, but Easter also represents rebirth and whatnot so I guess it kind of works when you think about it.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see how much a culture’s folklore can be taken into interpretation. The meaning remains the same, but the tradition is made flexible. I found it compelling how many different traditions there are throughout cultures to ensure a lucky or prosperous year ahead.

Whistling and Snakes

Context:

The informant is a student currently attending Pierce Community College. He recounts a Korean story told to him by his parents when he was younger and giving his parents a tough time.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

continuing from another conversation about superstitions

S: Also, there’s another one that goes: If you whistle at night, snakes will appear.

 

C: That’s interesting. Can you give some reasons why people might believe that?

 

S: The whistling is more about not to disturbing others and to keep to yourself during the night.

 

Analysis:

Superstitions have a long-standing place in folklore around the world. Each culture imparts their own belief about what they deem important. This superstition about whistling at night draws on the idea that doing so will summon snakes – a symbol often associated with evil or bad. It is interesting to see how many areas share a commonality in symbols.

Black Cats Superstition

Main Piece:

“Black cats are bad luck.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 19-year-old female. I asked my informant if she knew of any superstitions people live by.  To this, she responded,  “black cats are bad luck.” My informant does not remember when she first heard this superstition, but she thinks it was around the time of Halloween. She claims she also saw it in a tv show she watched as a child called, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. In the show, the black cat was friends with the witch. The informant states that a black cat is a sign that something bad is going to happen. For example, if you are going somewhere and you see a black cat it means something bad will happen in the near future. The informant recalls,

“One time I was driving in the car with a friend and her dad, can’t remember who it was, but we saw a black cat crossing the road and my friend’s dad turned around and drove the other way. My friend says that every time her dad is driving, and he sees a black cat he has to turn around and take an alternate route.”

The informant says she does not believe this is true and feels bad for black cats because everyone thinks they are evil.

I too have heard this superstition that black cats are bad luck. It is interesting to note the association with color. The color black is often used when referencing fear, mystery, evil and death. All of these themes are common around the time of Halloween, so it makes sense the informant believes to have heard this superstition around that time. One also wears black to a funeral to represent the mourning of a loved one. Therefore, seeing a black cat by the color alone can imply death. Death is a mysterious subject terrifying for many people. The black cats’ color can be enough to make people fear the superstition. Cats are also animals that hold a lot of mystery. Often it is said cats have nine lives. This makes the superstition that black cats are bad luck even more fascinating because if the color black is associated with death, and cats have nine lives, could this have some sort of implication that cats can take lives? An intriguing relationship to note.  When looking into this superstition I also found a reference to it in the book Fearful, Spirits, reasoned follies the boundaries of superstition in the late medieval Europe by Michael David Bailey. He also speaks of the association cats have with demonic beings and magical connections.

Bailey, Michael David. Fearful Spirits, Reasoned Follies the Boundaries of Superstition in Late Medieval Europe. Cornell University Press, 2013.

Track Team Superstition

Context: The informant had been speaking of memories with her track team in high school.

Piece:

Informant: Yeah so, there was this like consp.. I don’t even fucking know… okay so basically my coach said that if you ever like dropped the baton, like the relay baton during track practice that like that for sure you were like you were like… I don’t know something about the relay… and the actual race was gonna get super messed up. And so if you dropped the baton you always got severely punished on the team and one time this girl Maya dropped the baton and then the coach made the whole team run two miles because she like takes it super seriously and apparently that’s the only way to cancel it and uh. The weird thing was that it wasn’t even that if you dropped the baton during practice you were gonna drop the baton during the actual race it was just that something is gonna go wrong like nobody knows what. Usually it was about somebody being injured or like someone going down and have an injury if the baton was dropped in practice.

Collector: Um so did you like…

Informant: So I never dropped the baton before but it was always really scary and I knew the punishment was gonna be something really ridiculous if someone did it um and plus um because of the fact that our coach believe that if your dropped the baton it resulted in someone being injured, everybody would be on edge for the track meet after a practice where someone dropped the baton. So it was kinda like an extra pressure added. So it made it that I was on the relay team freshman year and we never dropped the baton.

Background: The informant, a 19 year old USC student, ran for the track team in high school. This piece reflects the beliefs she shared with her team. This belief also helped push her as an athlete and created a sense of camaraderie within her team.

Analysis: This superstition is a homeopathic superstition, as it follows the “like produces like” ideology. If the baton is dropped (which is considered bad) then a team member will get injured (also considered bad). But once they run laps (which is good for athletic ability) then the predicted injury is reversed (also good). This belief amongst her track team is a piece of shared knowledge that connected the team. This idea provided standards for the team and brought the team together through the common goal of safety. This also is a sort of preventative measure against injury, which is incredibly important for sports. What is particularly interesting is that the coach enforced this shared superstition through punishment. Superstitions typically are an individual choice, but in this case the team felt obligated to do so and almost forced into believing the superstition. This piece shows the power of sharing beliefs with others and how it affects an environment/group of people. It also enforces a core value of American society which is success, and by believing and following through with this superstition, the team is led to success.

Oyster stew on Christmas

Text

 

INFORMANT: We had a nasty tradition growing up that I absolutely hated.

 

ME: What was it?

 

INFORMANT: Well papa was really German and, I guess, proud of his German heritage, and it’s an old German tradition to eat oyster stew at big meals, so he made us all eat the stew at Christmas dinner even though none of us liked it. I don’t even think he liked it at the end of the day.

 

Background

The informant’s father’s grandparents were the ones who raised him and were from Germany. This close line to Germany made the informant’s father extremely proud of his heritage, especially because of the immense respect he had for his grandparents.

 

Context

The informant currently lives in Dallas but grew up in the small town of Garner, Iowa (population: 2,000 people).

 

Thoughts

Tradition plays a crucial part in how one identifies one’s self. The informant’s father clearly identifies heavily with his german heritage, and wants to hold onto all German traditions, even if he does not necessarily like the tradition itself. These traditions give him some sense of being apart of a group and, therefore, being apart of something bigger than himself.

 

Lifting Feet Over Train Tracks

Piece:

“So, basically, the gist of the ‘game’ is that when you’re driving in your car, and you go over train tracks, you have to lift your feet up off of the floor of the car. Otherwise, you would ‘get your feet chopped off’ by the railroad tracks. And then after you do it, you, ask other people in the car if they did the same thing.”

“Where did you learn this?

“I guess I learned it from [my] mom? Uh, I’m not… I couldn’t say exactly. I just remember it being something the family did.”

“Why do you remember this specific thing?”

“I’d say I remember it just ‘cause its one of those things that you do when we’re driving on, like, family road trips or really anywhere with railroad tracks. And it’s like one of those funny, bad jokes that you just tell over and over because they’re so not funny.”

Analysis:

The person being interviewed is actually in my family, so I definitely understand where he is coming from regarding this practice. It kind of calls to mind a memory or feeling of fun family times from childhood that don’t come around as much when you grow up. I have actually met other people who do the same thing, but not that many. Looking the tradition up, it comes from a superstition where you’ll bring yourself good luck if you do it combined with a cultural apprehension regarding railroads or crossroads. Many cultures create and spread practices for what to do to increase luck. This one may be more tied to the Southern United States, because that is where the interviewed source is from, but that is not a guarantee. I couldn’t speculate as to the removal of the luck aspect and the addition of the foot removal.

Context:

The interviewed party is a 22-year-old male who currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island attending Brown University. Although he currently lives in the North East, he spent a majority of his life living in the Southern United States. This includes his birthplace in South Carolina and continues on to North-East Georgia.
This interview was conducted via a skype call and audio was recorded in order to aid in the transcription of the spoken word.

Symbolizing that Christ Has Risen Through Greek Easter Eggs

The informant shared a Greek Easter tradition of cracking red eggs with me, while her younger sister provided supporting information. The game starts with every member of a family receiving an egg, and then cracking it against someone else’s egg. Whoever’s egg remains un-cracked at the end of the game receives good luck for the year.

Informant: The Greek eggs are dyed red because it signifies the blood of christ… the red… and um they can only be dyed red on Thursday… Maundy-Thursday. And also when you crack the eggs … when you crack the eggs it’s like Christ being released from the tomb

Support: the shell symbolizes the tomb 

Me: Do you practice this every year for easter?

Informant: Yes, yes. The interesting thing is that depending on the calendar. Sometimes Greek Easter and regular Easter are the same day. And other times it can be as many as  4 weeks apart?

Support: Yes, Greek easter has to be after the Passover and it has to be the first full moon of the month

Informant: After the first full moon

Support: Yes after, there has to be Passover and then after the first full moon. It has to be after that. Because the last supper was a Passover dinner, so we’re on a different calendar. We’re not on the Gregorian calendar, we’re on the Julian Calendar.

Informant: But in the American tradition, Easter is the same time as Passover because that’s when Jesus went into Jerusalem was before the Passover. But the Greeks have a different date for the Passover I guess.

Support: It’s because we’re on a different calendar. But it can’t be celebrated before, so those two things.. Passover and the full moon dictate when we celebrate.  

 

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, who provided supporting information, as well as me.

Analysis:
Being part Greek, I have always been aware of the ‘Red Egg’ tradition my family practices during Easter. However, I never knew how in depth it went as a cultural practice. For me, it was just a game where the winner would receive good luck for the year, but as I talked with the informant I discovered that it was so much more. The tradition represents the many different components of Easter in one unified ritual.

 

For more information on Greek Easter eggs and why they are dyed red, you can reference page 25 of Greece by Gina DeAngelis.

4 Will Bring Death

The informant shares how the number four is a connotation for bad luck in Chinese culture. She shared this in a group environment, where another member of the group, ‘Support,’ provided additional information to what the Informant was sharing:

 

Informant: We also don’t like the number 4

Me: What’s the number 4?

Informant: Like the number, four. We don’t like it. It means death. It’s associated with death

Support: Because when you say four in mandarin it sounds like the same word as death in mandarin.

Informant: So literally in my building there is no fourth floor, it’s the fifth floor.

Support: It’s kinda like how sometimes in America in buildings there’s no 13thfloor. It’s the same way… they just skip the number 4 when doing floors.

Informant: Yeah theres no 14th, 24th, they just skp the number.

Support: Oh really?!  I remember seeing the 4thskipped,but I don’t remember seeing 14th.

Informant: Like in my building there’s nothing floor.

 

Support: yeah because you don’t wanna live on the death floor… its kind of a pun.

 

Informant: But then lucky numbers are six or eight for a similar reason. Eight is associated with wealth, like you’re getting more money.

 

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. She has experienced the stigma of the number four first hand, because there is no floor containing ‘4’ in her apartment building in Hong Kong.

Analysis:

I love learning about how different cultures have similar superstitions to the United States, but while similar there is a different reasoning. While the US may view 13 as unlucky, it is not that way in China.