USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘luck’
Customs

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.

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

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.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

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.

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.

Customs
Folk speech
Initiations
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Band Chain Link Necklace

Informant:

S, a 22-year-old Caucasian female who was born and raised in Colorado. She went to a catholic school and played saxophone in the band. Her family practiced Catholicism regularly. She is now a senior in Computer Science at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

S spent her summers at band camp, where her and the others in band would spend the entire time getting closer to each other as friends. Her director would always make them do group bonding exercises so that the kids would interact with others they wouldn’t normally. S was in band for all four years of high-school.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because S is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing traditions that stuck with us from our childhood or teenage years. The following is a one of the group bonding exercises her band director had the team do.

Main piece:

“One of the biggest lessons we had to learn in band was that we are only a single link in a chain. If one link breaks, the whole chain breaks… The director would always compare this to a violin concert. If one violinist is off key, the whole piece is off key… We had to learn to think as a single unit, walk as a single unit, and play as a single unit. Our director would give out a single chain link on a piece of string to each member of the band at the beginning of camp We had to wear it all day every day to remind us that we are only as strong as our weakest link. If any of the band members lost their chain link, our director would tell us that we would have bad luck that season… Of the four years, only one time someone lost it, and we did terribly that year.”

Thoughts:

I like this tradition because it does embody the English phrase “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. Having to wear a physical link around them is a cool way to remind people to better themselves for the good of the team. Other traditions also involve wearing a physical reminder of something important. In Christianity, for example, people often wear a cross or crucifix, or even have a statue of Jesus on the cross in their home. Losing an item of importance is also a common way to get bad luck in a lot of superstitions. It was interesting to hear that the one time someone did lose their chain link, the team did poorly. The thought of something going wrong can lead to it actually going wrong if one gets into that mindset. My football coach would always tell us that if we believed the other team was better than us, then we would already be defeated because we allowed ourselves to get into that mindset.

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.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
general
Homeopathic
Magic
Material
Protection

Chinese Fish Eating Superstition

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 superstition that M and his girlfriend’s families believe in, despite having different recounts of what the superstition is. Because they are both close with their families, he and his girlfriend would often have to change how they behaved depending on who they were around at the time. 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:

“Something that is pretty interesting that is a distinction between Northern and Southern China is that… when you’re eating like a fish… You know how when you eat a fish, they’ve like roasted or cooked the whole fish, right? And they’ve got some sauces or marinate on them. So when you eat a fish, it’s like laying this way *shows a horizontal motion* and you eat one side until there’s the fish bones. And then below that there is another side of meat, right? In Northern China, like in Beijing where I am from, people will flip the fish over to eat the other side and it means like. ‘Oh, if I’m flipping the fish over, it means that I am flipping away all the bad luck and starting fresh.’ But in Southern China, that is a big no-no. You can’t do that because if you do, it means that your fishing boat is going to turn over. It’s going to get blown over. I think the reason for this superstition is because in Southern China they were very reliant on the fishing industry for food in like the olden days. So doing something like flipping a fish over would mean that the next fishing trip would be dangerous. It’s weird because doing the same thing has two very different meanings in such close proximity, so like… my girlfriend is from Southern China, right? So when our families cook fish for events or uhh… holidays… there’s this almost contention between us over how to eat it. Though it is mostly just the older people who still believe this superstition.”

Thoughts:

I have been out to eat with M before and never seen him do this, so it is interesting to learn that he and his girlfriend follow different traditions based on who they are around. In Northern China, they believe that flipping the fish over is getting rid of all the bad luck and starting fresh. This is very similar to the English phrase of “turning over a new leaf”, as many view that to mean one is starting fresh and discarding whatever bad things were in the past. I do not know of any physical embodiment of that phrase in American culture, but it’s interesting that, in Beijing, people must do a physical action rather than just a saying. The distinction between Southern and Northern China over the same action also showcases how local industries can influence traditions or superstitions. Southern China’s belief that the flipping of a fish will mean that a fishing boat will flip over, there is almost a voodoo vibe about this superstition. The lack of participation or belief in superstitions or traditions by the younger generation also shows that the beliefs are waning, and new ones are being formed.

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Taiwanese Ghost Month

Informant:

E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions E’s mother believed.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with E. (I will be represented with a J.)

Main piece:

J: “Are there any other superstitions that you experienced growing up? With your family or friends? School, even?

E: “I’m not sure that this would count as a superstition, it’s more of a tradition centered around various superstitions… In Taiwan, there is this thing called Ghost Month. It’s in August, but basically there are just things you aren’t supposed to do during this month that could cause you to become haunted by a spirit.”

J: “What kind of things?”

E: “Well… For one, you aren’t supposed to have like… major life events during this month. Like if a child is born during this month, then it means that the child is cursed in some way. Or you aren’t supposed to get married or else ghosts will haunt you and try to break the marriage apart… Swimming and bathing are discouraged otherwise a ghost will try to drown you? Ghosts just don’t like people doing things during this month…”

J: “Do you know when this started? Or when your family started to avoid these things?”

E: “My brother was born in August, so clearly my parents didn’t care haha… But no, it’s mostly like my grandparents and other family still in Taiwan that observe this. My cousins, for example, have like… ghost-themed things in school to sort of like honor the dead. The only thing my dad warned us not to do was get married during August because he believes that’s why his sister got divorced… Otherwise, I think there are just too many things that are considered ‘unlucky’, or bad, during this time to take the tradition seriously.”

Thoughts:

There is a lot to break down with this tradition. It is filled with a multitude of superstitions, but they all sort of revolve around ghosts haunting you for doing things like whistling, swimming, etc. This is very reminiscent of Halloween in the United States; ghosts just roam around looking to haunt people. From E’s recount, it seemed to me like most of these “offenses” were just actions that some would consider unruly. Whistling can become annoying, swimming in places other than a pool could be frowned upon, flying commercially could be supporting corporations, etc. However, I was interested in the abstaining from major life events – specifically the example of her father believing his sister got divorced because she was married in August. A common thread in the folklore I have seen or experienced is that people use it to explain something bad happening. “Oh, it wasn’t that the two people were not meant to be together, it was just the ghosts messing with their marriage.” Or when bad things happen on Friday the 13th, people do not see them as logical events, they blame it all on bad luck.

Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

Chinese Eyelid-Twitching

Informant:

E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions E’s mother believed.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by E.

Main piece:

“One superstition that my mother would tell us was like… you know how sometimes you will get almost a pulse in your eyelids? Or it feels like your eyelid almost twitches? Well, there is this belief that if your left eye does this, it means good fortune will come to you, but if it happens in your right eye, then bad fortune will come to you… It’s sort of strange, but my mother fully believed this. Like, she would always exclaim out loud if one of her eyelids was doing the thing… She would always tell us to make sure to tell her so that she could do a prayer to prevent the bad fortune, but we never would.”

Thoughts:

I’ve heard a similar superstition in American folklore about your ears. If your right ear burns or hurts, then someone is talking good about you, but if your left ear burns or hurts, someone is speaking ill of you. It is interesting that this superstition implies that the left side is good, and the right side is bad, when most superstitions usually imply the opposite. I believe this is because most people are right-hand dominant, and thus the stories would favor the right unconsciously. It is cool to see a story favoring the left, and I’d bet it was started in a community where people were more left-dominant.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Turkish Superstition: the Evil Eye

evil eye

What is the Evil Eye?

P.N. – “So, the evil eye protects you, your family, your household, from evil.  And this is a myth, and also a glass object.  Every [Turkish] family has an evil eye in their house . . . My family thinks that if you tell somebody something good that’s happened to you, there’s gonna be envy there.  And they’re gonna somehow will nature to get rid of that opportunity for you.  The evil eye is meant to protect you from that.  So we have evil eye’s in different parts; like, for instance, we have one in our car to prevent a car crash.”

“We have an evil eye in front of our house.  You’re supposed to have an evil eye on top of the doorway to prevent bad things from entering.  One day, during the time when I was applying for colleges, it BROKE.  I remember, because my mom thought that that was a good thing.  “It’s done it’s job,” she said.  And so she put a new one up, and I got accepted into USC!”

“Another example was this: I was wearing my first ‘sexy dress’ in high school to this New Years ball.  I had a hair piece, everything. I looked good.  I was showing some cleavage.  My aunt put an evil eye in my jacket, and said it would protect me from the boys.  I still have it there in my pocket.”

What does the Evil Eye mean to you?

“The Evil Eye reminds me of my parents, because I have always considered them to be the most superstitious people.  And I guess when I think about other types of ‘evil eyes’ in other cultures, it feels like it brings me closer to those people as well.  There’s definitely a sense of identity with everything I’ve said here.”

Immediately, this made me think of the Jewish Mezuzah, which is a similar concept to the Turkish Evil Eye.  The Mezuzah, a small piece of parchment scribbled with specific verses from the Torah, is put on a family’s doorway to prevent any bad luck from entering the home.  When I brought up the Mezuzah to this person, she smiled, and informed me that she knew of the Mezuzah already.  The evil eye is definitely something that reflects one’s culture, one’s traditions, and one’s superstitions.  It’s for this reason that I am such a fan of the Mezuzah, as well as the evil eye now; it’s because I, as well as countless other people from a number of different cultures, can relate very strongly to it.  How different can two peoples really be, when they’re unified by so many aspects of life? 

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