USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘marriage’
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Kitab – ekteb (Wedding Ritual)

Kitab- ekteb translates into “to write the book.” It is the agreement in the marriage. It happens in someones house, making it very home-oriented. It is when the Islamic priest, Sheik, comes. The family of the man needs to go to the family of  the woman and ask for permission from her father. They ceremony happens either  before the wedding ceremony or the day off. The groom and bride read from the Quran. This is to state that “this is the marriage.” After the ritual they are married under Islam.  Before the kitab-ekteb the groom is not allowed to touch the bride.

My informant is from a Lebanese family. She is a college student at the California State University Northridge. She is very close with her father, often helping him run the family store. We sat down at a coffee shop to talk about folklore from her family.

I found this interesting because it was different yet similar to the American wedding. The idea that a couple can be wed before the huge wedding ceremony is very interesting. It also hints that sometimes the wedding party is just to show off wealth. I also found it interesting that the ceremony took place in an intimate setting. It really showed how humble and sacred the marriage agreement is.

Customs

Fasting for Blessings

“So, In India, there’s this common ritual for married couples.  So, one day of the year, they fast in honor of their significant other so the gods bless them.  My parents did it until they were in their 40’s but then they just gave up on it.  For the most orthodox families they do it even if their ill and need to eat, but since my family isn’t like that it’s not that serious.  And it’s on a specific day of the year, but I don’t remember which one.”

ANALYSIS:

I find it interesting that different families take this custom to different degrees of seriousness.  It’s a very clear and straightforward ritual, that if you fast you will be blessed by the gods, but still some families take it more seriously than others.  It makes me wonder what percent of families take it seriously compared to the percent that don’t, and if there are any other factors that might help indicate which families will take it seriously and which won’t.

Adulthood
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Putting a Child of Prague statue in the garden for good weather at weddings

Background:

Informant is 56-year old IT technician living in Dublin, Ireland. This piece of folklore has to do with the Child of Prague statues that are so popular in Ireland. The statue is usually less than a foot high and features Jesus Christ dressed as a king, similar to the one indicated above, but with occasional variations in the color of the cloak according to the time of the year. The statue is a replica of the original wax-wooden statue housed in the Disacled Carmelite Church of Our Lady in Malá Strana, Prague. It was said to have belonged to Saint Teresa of Avila, and is now located to the right of the altar, halfway up the Church. This is a tradition the informant is familiar with from his childhood, and is a fond memory. He is signified in this conversation by the initials D.O.

 

Main Piece:

D.O.: Mam would always do this whenever one of my sisters was getting married. You place the Child of Prague statue in the front garden of the bride’s house in a bush or under a hedge – basically somewhere it’s not going to get knocked over. You could even bury it in the ground – that’d happen a lot in the winter. It’s supposed to bring good weather the day of a wedding. Burying it in the winter was a kind of evasive manoeuvre, as if hiding it better would make the weather even better, or rather combat the winter.

 

A: And do you think it worked?

 

D.O.: Maybe half of the time, but sure half of the time it probably wasn’t going to rain anyways. People are more likely to have weddings in the summer, so the weather was going to be fine enough in the first place. There was another superstition actually, about if the statue was missing a head. Some people would say that the statue was luckier, because if it was missing a head that meant that it had been around for a long time and it worked better – tried and tested, like – but some people said it was an omen that the statue was cursed or had been knocked over or broken. Ours had a head but the neighbors swore by the headless statue.

 

A: And would you still do that today?

 

D.O.: I probably would for tradition’s sake if it was someone important to me getting married. I don’t think it’s as prevalent today as it was when I was younger. I suppose Ireland is a less Catholic country now than the one I grew up in.

 

Performance context: I interviewed this informant over the phone considering that I am in California and he in Dublin. He mentioned that there was a family wedding coming up and that, seeing as it’s winter, he joked about putting out a Child of Prague. My resulting questioning forms the rest of this analysis.

 

My thoughts: This is probably one of the more bizarre folk beliefs I have heard from Ireland. I don’t quite understand the connection between this statue and the weather, nor where the belief came from. The idea of hiding or burying the statue seems to be implicit to the success of its weather-controlling powers, which again seems to have no obvious links. The combination of two-fold superstition with not only the weather-controlling aspect of the statue, but the idea that it is ‘luckier’ with its’ head broken off, combines Christian beliefs with superstitions that would perhaps have more to do with Ancient Greco-Roman cult statues than Christianity in a confusing mix. Perhaps this is why Ireland is such an odd and interesting country to examine folklore from – although it seems a canonical and thoroughly Catholicized state, in isolation very unique folk beliefs to do with traditional religion, preexisting culture and superstition have been created in an eccentric and confusing mix.

Adulthood
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Throwing of Bouquet by the Bride

Background Information:

My informant is a 22-year-old student, originally from the Southern New Jersey area. We recently got talking about weddings and we were discussing the American custom of the bride throwing her bouquet behind her after she has been married. This is not a common custom where I am from, and so I was intrigued to hear what she made of it, considering it is so prevalent in American film and television. She has seen this tradition in real life many times, and thinks it is a fun part of the wedding ceremony. She is signified in this conversation by the initials B.I.

Main Piece:

A: Have you personally seen someone throw a bouquet at a wedding?

B.I.: Yes, I’ve seen it many times. It’s always the bride that throws the bouquet of flowers that she carried up the aisle with her, so usually white roses or the like.

A: And when exactly does this take place in the ceremony?

B.I.: It normally takes place after the actual marriage itself, but sometimes I’ve seen brides throw their bouquets the second they get outside the church, and other times they wait until later on in the evening when everyone is gathered, perhaps at the reception or after the dinner, and then she throws it. It’s always thrown back over her head, so she can’t see who she’s throwing it to. Oh, and also it’s really important who tries to catch it. It’s always unmarried women who try and catch it, sometimes the bridesmaids in particular. Sometimes one of the men will try and catch it for a joke. If you catch it, it means you’re the next person to get married out of the group. I don’t know how seriously people take it as a prediction of who will actually get married next, but I’ve certainly seen some exceptionally uncomfortable men around after their girlfriend catches the bouquet!

A: And why does she throw it in the first place?

B.I.: I don’t really know to be honest, is it something to do with throwing away your virginity or something? Because flowers usually represent that, right? Yeah, and that would work well with the fact that the flowers are white, because white is the traditional color you wear at a wedding to represent your virginity.

Performance Context:

This piece was related to me in person in a conversation about American superstitions and customs including those from the natural world, such as Bigfoot, and from film and television.

My Thoughts:

This piece highlights a lot of preconceptions of the newly married woman. Firstly, that she throws a bouquet of white flowers is certainly symbolic of virginity, and the casting aside of virginal white and maidenhood to become a married and sexually active woman. This would concur with Vaz da Silva’s constructions of the ‘tricolor’ of womanhood, that white, red, and black represent the stages in a woman’s life, passing from white virginity, to red sexual activity, to black barrenness. Secondly, the act of throwing the bouquet itself is a kind of symbolic ‘deflowering,’ that the era of her girlhood has passed and she is now almost a full member of adult female society. By passing it onto another woman, she passes on the torch of her virginity, only for that woman in turn to throw her own bouquet at her wedding. This is underscored in the idea that the only women who try and catch the flowers are unmarried, as otherwise that would suggest a refusal of the classic contract of marriage in outdated terms: the person you are sanctioned to have sex with. If a married woman caught the bouquet, it would therefore suggest a critical insufficiency in their marriage. It is interesting that this tradition carries on today despite the fact that many women must have no idea behind the symbolism of what they are doing – certainly it was news to me. It reminds me of the American tradition of throwing one’s graduation cap into the air at the end of the graduation ceremony – an eschewing of one’s previous identity and entering into a new stage of one’s life.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Red Envelopes and Marriage to a Ghost

Background: M.S. is a 18-year-old student at the University of Southern California studying Business Administration. While she was born in the United States near San Jose, California, both of her parents are from Taiwan, and Taiwanese culture is thoroughly engrained into her character. M.S.’s family believes in many of the superstitions and legends typical of Taiwan, and they have been passed down in her family from generation to generation.

 

Main piece:

M.S.: If there’s a girl who dies before she gets married or before she has a chance to get married, the parents or the family will often times still hope that she will still get married so they will leave a red envelope full of money on the ground somewhere or in the streets on the girl’s birthday and then they like wills stay there to see who picks it up and if it’s a guy who picks it up then they will like go up to the guy and say “you picked up our daughter’s red envelope, you have to marry her” – yeah – so the concept is like – ok because in traditional or ancient like – so basically in traditional Chinese culture – even now – the women, um, are basically in the family records or family tree like history almost, the women are put under their husband’s family they wouldn’t – because they don’t carry their birth family’s name – right –  it’s like their maiden name – they take on their husband’s name  – they are part of their husband’s family so the parents like because there is also a tradition to I wouldn’t say like worship…there’s a better word… but basically like worship your ancestors – honor – like when they pass – you would still go to the temple or you would have a little shrine to honor your ancestors and like remember them.

 

So basically what parents and/or families would be worried about is that if their daughters don’t get a chance to marry and they pass away, they’re not going to have anyone who would honor them in the future because they wouldn’t be included in their family’s history – in their records.  They are supposed to be in like – technically – her husband’s.  So which is why they want to find a husband for their daughter and so the guy who picks up that red envelope would have to go through this whole process to like marry her even thought she is obviously like dead and have her included in his family records so that in the future like that his family line – someone will still honor her.  Basically it’s the idea that if she weren’t included in one of those family histories and weren’t honored, she would just be this wild, they call it a “wild ghost” and she’s like just floating there on her own without a family or without anyone to remember her basically.  So this is why they want to have this guy like marry her in a sense.  But technically this guy – even though he is forced to marry this ghost girl in the future he is still allowed to marry someone in the future – for real.  But basically the whole purpose is to get the girl in the family tree so that she can be honored in the future and not just forgotten and if the guy who picks up the red envelope disagrees – like doesn’t agree to marry – like go through this whole process, it is said that he will have bad luck for the rest of his life.

 

Q: What happens on the man’s family tree? Is the dead wife and the living wife both written under his family tree?

 

M.S.: Yes – put together.

 

Q: And this has no effect on the living wife?

 

M.S.: Yes – it wouldn’t because it’s not like they would officially go to the government and register that he’s married to this ghost wife – it’s just like going through the actions and then like having her included in the family tree.

 

Q: What would the “actions” be?

 

M.S.: It’s not as like set but it’s like some of the marriage customs like going to the girl’s house and bringing her to his home – but something that would represent her.  This guy would go to the girl’s house and take her spirit to his home. Just whatever they choose to do but the point is that they would just include her in the family book but you wouldn’t formally register that I am married to this ghost girl.

 

But this is superstitious, it is not as common anymore.  It is only certain parents – most parents nowadays would just forget about it.  If this girl has like siblings – like brothers – have the brother’s kids honor her instead.  So nowadays people wouldn’t necessarily be like…So she’s saying the majority of people wouldn’t do this anymore but there would still be a minority of people who were superstitious that would do this if the situation.  Moral of the story is if you were walking along the streets and saw a red envelope or pouch full of money – don’t pick it up.

 

Q: What happens if a woman picks it up?

 

M.S.: If a woman picked it up, the family would say – this is not yours – we are looking for a man and they would take it and put it back on the ground.

 

Performance Context: The placement of a red envelope would be done by the family of a girl who had died before she had the chance to get married. This practice would occur in Taiwan, typically in small villages, and by superstitious families.

 

My Thoughts: This practice of finding a husband for a daughter, even after she has died, shows the importance in Taiwan of honoring your ancestors and also having future generations to honor you. For families who are superstitious, it is vital for them to find a “husband” for their deceased daughter to make sure that she will be honored in the future. Taiwanese society is also clearly patriarchal, given the fact that women’s names are written under the man’s name and on the man’s family tree.

Customs
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Lazo and Arras in Mexican Wedding Tradition

The informant is a 67-year-old Mexican-American woman who is a reverend. She is known for tailoring wedding receptions to couples from different cultural backgrounds, and in her words “taking old traditions and giving them new meaning.” Many consider her to be the “guru of new wedding traditions.”

When out to breakfast with the informant while she was visiting me in Los Angeles, I asked her if there were any Mexican rituals or traditions that she often incorporated in her weddings. She responded,

“Oh yes. The lazo and arras ceremony. Before the couple takes their vows, the maid of honor and the best man take a lazo (a rope) and wrap it around the bride and groom. This symbolizes to the community that the bride and groom are now one. The arras is 13 coins representing Jesus and the 12 apostles. I bless the coins and pour them into the groom’s hands. He then pours these into the bride’s hands. This symbolizes to the community that he will take care of her. Nowadays, because women want to be viewed as equals, often times the groom will pour las arras into the bride’s hands, and the bride will then pour them back into the groom’s hands, showing that she will take care of him, just as he will her, spiritually, emotionally, and financially.”

This ritual, which the informant often performs when marrying an individual with a Mexican cultural background to someone without this background, is symbolic of the spiritual, emotional, and physical commitments that come with marriage. It is typically performed at weddings where one or both partners practice the Christian faith, because of the parallel between the thirteen coins and Jesus and the 12 apostles. However, the informant stated that the ceremony is still sometimes conducted during secular weddings due to family tradition. It is interesting to examine how this form of folklore has evolved over time to reflect the cultural norms in which it is performed, as it was once held that the man is entirely responsible for taking care of his bride, but with the recent push for gender equality across all spectra of life it is now also important for the woman to show she will take care of her groom. The lazo is a public display of a couple’s commitment to one another, and highlights the permanent merging of two individual’s lives as a result of their marriage.

Customs
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Apache Blessing and Tying of the Hands in American Indian Wedding Tradition

The informant is a 67-year-old Mexican-American woman who is a reverend. She is known for tailoring wedding receptions to couples from different cultural backgrounds, and in her words “taking old traditions and giving them new meaning.” Many consider her to be the “guru of new wedding traditions.”

While out to breakfast while the informant was visiting me in Los Angeles, I asked her to describe a ritual or tradition that was commonly incorporated in weddings where either the bride or groom has an American Indian cultural background. She described a ritual called “the tying of the hands.”

“The tying of the hands is a lovely tradition. The families provide a traditional rope, which sometimes has a strip of material representing their tribe. I bind the couples’ hands together with the rope, and so they vow to be seen by the community as one. Usually the couple likes me to follow this by saying the Apache blessing. Christians, and secular weddings seem to like it as well. The start of it goes, ‘Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.’”

While the Apache blessing is rooted in American Indian tradition and the tying of the knot may incorporate a bride or groom’s tribal heritage, the combination of the two can be used for a wedding ceremony between two individuals of any background. The Apache blessing in particular is extremely transferrable because it makes no reference to God or any higher power, instead focusing solely on the positive, heartwarming implications of marriage for the bride and the groom. The tying of the hands serves as a physical representation of the couple’s union, followed by the description of the details of this union in the blessing.

Adulthood
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Gold Is A Girl’s Best Friend

“On my mom’s side of the family, because my mom’s side of the family is really rich, um, in India, like, her father’s, like, an advisor to someone super important, and he’s a professor at this like super prestigious university. And they have, like, slaves, and it’s just weird to think of my mom’s family being rich in India when we’re middle-class here. Ummm, but, so, I guess, I think it’s a South Indian tradition, but I know it’s definitely a big thing on her side of the family is when your eighteen-year old daughter or when your daughter turns eighteen years old, you like give her gold, like, just like, whatever every singly side person in my mom’s side of the family sent me something gold for my birthday when I turned eighteen. A lot of gold! It was all like earrings and like necklaces and stuff like that, and I don’t wear any of that, and my mom wouldn’t give it to me because she was like, ‘You’re gonna lose it.’ Umm so I just have all of this gold at home that’s like mine, and yeah, that’s a thing. In Indian culture, like jewelry and like umm that sort of stuff is really important like to the point of being sacred. Ummm, like you have, I don’t know what it’s called, but like the giant ummm nose ring that connects to the earring umm like that is a sacred thing that they wear in like wedding rituals and stuff like that, ummm. So just like, jewelry’s really important and the eighteenth birthday is obviously really important, and I feel like that’s where the tradition comes from.”

 

On top of the jewelry being sacred, this tradition sounds like something that’s done for dowry purposes. Once a woman turns eighteen, she’s of proper marrying age, right? So if she’s of proper marrying age, she’s going to need a dowry and property for when she gets married. The gifting of jewelry and gold marks this transition into womanhood, honors whatever sacredness comes along with this tradition, and also prepares the woman with a dowry in the case of marriage. It just goes to show how much the culture depends on money to reflect who you are as a person. It’s very different from our society. While we do look up to people who have money, it doesn’t seem to reflect on our character as much as it does in India.

Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tea Ceremonies in Chinese Wedding Tradition

The informant is a 67-year-old Mexican-American woman who is a reverend. She is known for tailoring wedding receptions to couples from different cultural backgrounds, and in her words “taking old traditions and giving them new meaning.” Many consider her to be the “guru of new wedding traditions.”

While out to breakfast while the informant was visiting me in Los Angeles, I asked her if there were any particular rituals or traditions drawn from Asian cultures that she has incorporated into weddings in the past. She responded by describing tea ceremonies, which she has commonly incorporated in the weddings of individual’s having a Chinese cultural background.

“In a tea ceremony, the parents of the bride and groom are called up to the altar. Together, the bride and groom prepare a cup of tea for each parent. The mothers and fathers then each take three sips of the tea, after which they sit back down. I’m not entirely sure why it is important that they take only three sips, but traditionally that is how it’s done.”

My first question after hearing of this tradition was, “How do they boil water at the altar?” To which the informant responded, “Typically a kettle has been heated somewhere behind the scenes, and it is brought out for the bride and groom. Really all they have to do is pour the tea into a cup and serve it to their parents.” This ceremony seems to represent the newlyweds demonstrating their gratitude to their parents for all that they have done, as a wedding marks the transition at which an individual’s spouse now has more responsibility for taking care of that person than do his or her parents. It is also a way for the bride and groom to let the parents know that they will take care of them in the future as old age approaches. While the informant was unsure of the reason that the parents take only three sips of the tea, examining this tradition with a comparative lens that takes into account a broad range of folklore shows that many folk traditions come in repetitions of threes. This often dates back to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity defined by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It also removes the awkwardness that would arise if one of the parents took a great deal of time to finish drinking the entire cup of tea while the entire audience had to sit and wait for them to be done, as three sips can be taken much more quickly and at the same speed by all parents.

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general
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Bujería

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

Brujería (Quemada)  

The informant’s cousin Pache was in love with a gipsy and traveled around Spain with him. He taught her how to be a brujería, translated in english as a person who practices voodoo. Her favorite bruja, translated as what the person practicing voodoo creates or potion, to create was a Quemada, in english Quemada is translated as burned, but it is in this tradition a potion used to fend off evil. A Quemada “spell” is made by first an alcoholic beverage mixed together in a huge clay pot, an incantation is spoken over the mixture, the mixture is lit on fire (where quemada comes from), and the people involved drink the quemada. This ritual was meant to get rid of evil spirits so Pache and her boyfriend would do the quemada usually to people who were just married to rid them of evil spirits in their relationship.

Analysis…

Rituals similar to this are definitely not practiced in the culture that I am constantly in. I am not familiar with them, but when I hear about them I am seriously intrigued. It is extremely interesting that voodoo and potions are viewed as a way to rid a person, house, or relationship of evil spirits. When the informant was telling me about her cousin and what she experienced and the rituals that she performs really struck me as interesting. I guess for me, I didn’t realize it was a real cultural tradition in modern culture to practice these types of practices. It is interesting also that Pache usually only performs these rituals when a couple is married and maybe if someone buys a new house. I connect this to religion because people are married and that is an important step religiously, and people moving into a house usually will pray over the house because they want to purify it. With Pache’s Brujería, it is really similar, she performs her ritual at weddings and to rid evil spirits. Maybe in some way the two are connected and that would be another interesting subject to explore.

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