This informant is an old classmate of mine, who has know moved on to working in Los Angeles. I started off asking this informant if he had any folk stories or family traditions that were interesting and he told me about the annual Kentucky Derby Party that his Grandpa throws. At first I was hesitant that it really qualified as a custom or holiday/festival but it turned out to be deeply rooted in his family’s history.
Informant: I have to first start by telling you about Papa [this is what he called his grandpa.] His family grew up in Kentucky but moved to Arcadia when he was born. His father was a horse trainer, and Papa spent a large portion of his childhood at Santa Anita Park. So fast-forward to when Papa was applying to college. He was training alongside his dad at this point and won a huge race that ultimately gave him the means to attend USC and the ROTC program. So the horse races have been super important in his life and many generations before him. Now every single year he takes all his grandkids to opening day at Santa Anita and every single Kentucky Derby he has a big bash at his house that has been an annual thing since before I was born.
Me: Sounds cool, tell me more about the actual party.
Informant: The party is super traditional to Kentucky, like its set up like Churchill Downs. Mint Juleps are always served at the door, which is like this minty whiskey drink that Papa takes a lot of pride in even though the ingredients are really simple. Everyone dresses really nice and there is always someone taking bets.
Me: What about when the actual race goes on?
Informant: Its weird that the big race is only like two minutes, but the party goes on all day. Everyone just stands around the TV and cheers, most people don’t know anything about the horses but Papa always has some very strong opinions, based on tips from his trainer friends.
Me: Haha ya, never got the hype behind horse racing because of how short the races are. Would you say this family tradition has rubbed off on you in any way?
Informant: Oh 100%. I used to take our yearly trips to the races for granted but now I love them. It gives me some quality time with Papa and I have grown to love the sport, especially picking winning horses when the walk around the paddock before the race.
The horse races, and more specifically the Kentucky Derby, have clearly become very meaningful for my informant and his family. What probably started as a way to earn a living or a hobby generations ago has now materialized into an annual gathering of friends and family. The family custom, not only displays their love for horses and competition, but also their dedication to family. The informant said most attendants had no idea which horse to root for or bet on but still came because it gave them a chance to honor something important to their elder and reconnect with family members.