USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘new year’
Customs
Holidays
Homeopathic
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cutting Hair for Chinese New Year

[The subject is MW. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

ME: Can you tell me about a Chinese New Year tradition?

MW: Chinese New Year, or Chinese New Year eve, we will put the whole table. Mother cook, or have the servant cook, all kinds of goodies, but we cannot eat first. But they still put the wine and the chopstick, and the whole table, but that’s let the ancestor come, ancestor, I mean we don’t see them- the people already pass away like my grandma, or grandma, you know? My mother always, we cannot- the kids eat later, just have to let them, still, put the best food, all warm, but we cannot touch the chair. It’s grand-grandpa, and grand-grandma, let them eat first. And after the time, bring the food back to the kitchen, and then bring it back and then we can eat.

And then also, in Chinese New Year, we have to go to have a haircut, the kids all have to go have a haircut.

ME: Why is that?

MW: It’s like for a new year, then you have to clean up the whole thing. And the next day, we have to go to, for our auntie, and grandma, those kowtow. And then they give us a red envelope.

Context: MW is my grandmother, who was born in Shanghai and then lived in Hong Kong later on in her youth. She moved to San Francisco as a young adult and has lived in the Bay Area for the last six decades. She is a native Mandarin speaker, but is also fluent in English. I sat down with her and asked her to talk about some traditions and stories she remembers from living in China.

Thoughts: I am half-Chinese and have lived in the United States for my entire life, so while the tradition of eating a big dinner on Chinese New Year is familiar to me, but the less common tradition of getting a haircut for the new year was not. I believe that this tradition could be associated with Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic, because the chopping of the hair seems to represent chopping off what you no longer want to hold onto from the last year, and creates good luck going forward.

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

12 Grapes for the New Year

Main Text:

DC: “On New Years at 12:00 am you are supposed to consecutively eat one grape each second for a total of 12 grapes in 12 seconds for good luck in the new year.”

Context: 

Although I collected this from a Mexican woman who is my boyfriend’s sister-in-law, I also witnessed and performed this tradition on New Years of this year while at a New Years celebration at my boyfriend’s family’s house. To give context, we all counted down along with the timer on the T.V. and my boyfriend’s mom was rushing around trying to give us all 12 grapes off the vine. It ended up being a mess with everyone dropping grapes and stuffing our faces while trying not to joke, but it ended with us all laughing and enjoying the company of each other. I asked DC why she thinks this tradition and folk belief has been passed aline within her family and others and she speculated that grapes is some cultures must be seen as lucky.

Analysis:

Recent articles say that the practice of eating grapes on New Years goes back to as old as the 1880s. In the 1880s, the bourgeoisie of Madrid were said to have celebrated the ending of the year by copying the French tradition of eating grapes and drinking champagne. This tradition then grew over time and led people tp believe that they needed to eat 12 grapes to have luck for all of the 12 months to follow in the New Year. Over time, this practice was used in order to mock the wealthy bourgeoisie and the ‘common’ people of Madrid began eating grapes to make fun of the practice that was performed by the wealthy middle class. Subsequently, this custom caught on and more and more people began to do it because they thought it would bring them good financial like if the Bourgeoisie of Madrid were doing it.

With the known history of grape eating as way to celebrate the end of a year being revealed, the belief in financial gain was probably a big pushing factor to many and encouraged them to share this belief and continue the custom. I feel too that media coverage also has encouraged the adaptation of said belief by larger parts of Europe, people in the United States and Even people in Mexico City. On New Years, the camera for the main national tv centers on the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. Announcers then tell the instructions to all of the people in the audience and they then begin eating the 12 grapes. Centuries ago, TV was not around and these traditions had to be purely face to face, but that feudal folkloric model. With the introduction of tv and the Internet, people are now able to share cultures and practices all over the world in a way like never before even with people they have never met and will never meet in person. This new folklore model creates a world in which folklore can be spread all throughout the world to those with access to TV and internet in such ease that more and more people begin adopting and creating variations of other people’s traditions, like what I believe has happened here with the eating of 12 gapes on the New Year.

 

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year Tradition – Superstitions

Piece: 

“My community, the Persian community, so Persian new year is on the spring equinox which is the first day of spring, it’s supposed to symbolize the start of the new year, but just like a new beginning, everything is starting to bloom again, so one of the things they do for Persian new year is they obviously, everyone all of your friends and family, they set up this table called a Haft-sin, and it’s basically 7 things that starts with the letter s, so they have grass, and then the tuesday before new years, theres this thing called Chaharshanbe Suri, so this is based on the Zoroastrian religion, Zoroastrian it’s one of the oldest religions of the world, dates before like 10,000 years old, uhm and what they do is basically, everyone, your friends and family, set up logs in sequence usually 7 logs, and you like jump over the logs, and that’s supposed to symbolize the fire getting rid of all the bad stuff, the fire cleanses you.”

Background information: The informant is a USC student. He is of Persian descent. This tradition is embedded in his community so it carries substantial weight.

Context: This tradition is celebrated annually, unlike the American New Year, the Persian New Year is celebrated on the first day of spring.

Personal Analysis: The Persian New Year is something that Professor Thompson mentioned during one of the lectures. It was reviewed during the discussion of the spring Equinox. The Persian New Year is also called the “Iranian New Year”, and the celebration is called “Nowruz” The lecture proved to be accurate as the informant confirmed that 7 items are placed around the table called the “Haft Sin” I was shocked to hear that they partake in jumping over the fire in order to be cleansed. Most cultures associate fire with “hell” or “satan”, but in the informant’s culture the fire represents something positive.

 

Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Dance
Gestures
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jump Over Fire Into The New Year

Context:  

The informant and I are eating lunch outside of Fertitta Hall around 12:00 pm. She describes to me about how she would bring in the New Year due to her Persian heritage.

Body:

Informant: “So there’s a Persian holiday that you actually celebrate the day before Persian New Year. And Persian New Year, unlike regular New Year that’s around the world on January 1st, we celebrate the day of spring. So every year our new year changes because the first day of spring changes.”

A: “Interesting, so it’s not just like Christmas where every year it’s on December 25?”

Informant: “Right. Exactly. So this year it was March 23rd. So on March 22nd, that Tuesday, we celebrate this holiday – it’s called Chaharshanbe Suri. Pretty much it’s like a fire that burns. But to start the new year, you’re actually supposed to jump over fire.

And you kind of recite this chat, which pretty much means ‘from this last year take away all my yellow’ which is like sickness or negativity or bad health and ‘give me red’ which is like prosperity and love and good health. And the fire is supposed to take away all the badness and then, you know, give all that’s good from what burns and then you start the new year off positively and then you eat a lot of good food. So it’s a weird holiday because normally you shouldn’t make people jump over big fire pits.”

A: “Is it a big one where you could get burned or is it smaller?…”

Informant: “I have seen it where people will jump over full blown fire pits, I’ve seen people do it at the beach. I’m lazy, so I just do my tea light candles and nothing gets burnt. But, yeah I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and it’s just a nice reminder the New Year’s coming. We speak a little bit of Farsi. “

TakeAways:

The holiday of Chaharshanbe Suri seems to be counterintuitive to life since people are jumping over fire – which could lead to death – but it also signifies the burning of bad and bringing in of the good. I thought it was interesting that it didn’t matter how large or small the flame was, but it’s rather the concept of one just jumping over a flame that will bring them prosperity in the New Year.

See more on Chaharshanbe Suri here: https://irandoostan.com/iranian-fire-jumping-festival-chaharshanbe-soori/

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
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Apples & Honey on Rosh Hashanah

Main Piece:

Informant: You have supposed to dip a slice of apple in some honey and eat it. It’s supposed to guarantee that you have a sweet year.

Interviewer: Do you remember when you learned about this?

Informant: It’s always been in my life. It’s not specific to our family, It’s a Jewish thing. Remember we’re Jewish? You know, it’s your grandmother’s thing though. She always made me and D— (The informant’s sister) eat the apple.

Interviewer: When is this performed?

Informant: Every Rosh Hashanah, before the meal starts.

Context:

The informant is my father, and he is describing a traditional Jewish ritual associated with Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday symbolizing the start of the Jewish New Year. The informant learned this tradition through their mother. At our family Rosh Hashanah dinners, dipping the apple in the honey is a formality. However, it wasn’t until I went to my first traditional Rosh Hashanah dinner that I realized this was a common Jewish practice. This conversation was transcribed from a recording of a phone call. He learned this tradition as a kid growing up in Los Angeles.

Analysis:

I think it’s interesting that this religious custom was passed down through familial relationships. Even more so, I didn’t associate this tradition with being distinctly Jewish until I was told so. For me, this was a tradition exclusive to my own family. For my Dad, this tradition tied him to Judaism. My father is not overly religious, so claiming a piece of religious folklore from someone like him. Even though he doesn’t place much value in religious symbols, he has never failed to perform this tradition on Rosh Hashanah. Possibly, it is the value he places in his mother that had shifted this Jewish tradition into a familial superstition.

Earth cycle
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions he shared with his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, which I think underscores the great importance of Chinese New Year for him; the fact that he travels to convene with his family while not being intimately close with them shows how much the tradition matters to him. The subject gave me a general overview of the traditions associated with Chines New Year but did not elaborate on specific details.

Main Piece

“For Chinese New Year’s it’s a huge deal for our family so we’ll have a meal together, but, like, it’s supposed to be a time where everyone goes home, so I try and do that as well. And, um, there’s a lot of Chinese cultural traditions associated with that: like the types of meals you’ll cook, how you eat them and like getting money from elders.”

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Filipino New Year

Main Piece:

 

The following was recorded from the Participant. They are marked as BDV. I am marked as DG.

 

BDV: Oh yeah, so my mom has a lot about New Years that were passed down to her by her mom. It’s really weird, um, one of them is that when the clock strikes midnight at the New Year, all your pockets have to be full, um, of coins, and they can’t be like dollar bills it has to be coins because its good luck. And another one that when the clocks strikes midnight, all the lights in your house have to be off. That one doesn’t make as much sense as the coins but…

 

 

Context:

 

The conversation was recorded while sitting outside of a coffee shop at the University of Southern California. The tradition itself was upheld at midnight every year on December 31st. The lights tradition would be held at your home, while the coin tradition could be held anywhere.

 

Background:

 

The student was born and raised in Northern California. She is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is the fourth generation to grow up in America, but is Filipino. She speaks several languages, with English being her native language.

 

Analysis:

 

I liked this tradition although I would have liked to have known more about what each tradition is supposed to bring. I would think that having coins means you’ll have a prosperous year ahead of you, but much like the interviewee, I’m unsure of what turning the lights out. I would assume it’s a superstition about luck. Although I have no such traditions in my own life, I’ve heard about other New Year’s traditions being enacted that symbolize luck or good fortune for the upcoming year. Although the New Year is a man-made construct, different cultures still create ideas about what brings luck for the upcoming period, and what heralds in the new year positively.

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holi Festival

“It begins in March, so the first week of our New Year has Holi. It’s the festival of colors because in North India, like few states in the North, they say that colors make you look beautiful and initially, in medieval times and, you know, the early civilizations, they used to apply turmeric to look fairer. So, that’s how the concept of putting colors came in. Later, it got a little fancy, from yellow to green to pink and then everything. So, that’s how it is. Now, it is more of a water sport. I mean, people splashing water on each other and colors and everything. And, in India in fact, everything is closed. It is a national holiday and even if you don’t know each other, you can go on splashing water without anyone being offended.”

For the Hindu calendar, New Year begins in March. This is one of their many festivals, but this one more specifically honors color, which is very important in Indian culture. It is a very communal festival as well. There was even a celebration on the USC campus that the informant participated in with her friends.

Historically, the idea of applying colors came with the concept that being more fair was more beautiful. Since then, as she said, it has expanded to more bright colors representing individual things in Indian culture.

The informant relayed this to me while we were re-shelving books in the stacks of Doheny Library at USC. She is one of my co-workers.

Personally, I feel as if the Holi Festival has spread into American culture through the forms of “color runs,” where people run a 10k while being pelted with color. I also have seen it in one of Coldplay’s music videos, so knowledge about it is spreading quickly.

I find it interesting how much it has changed from the “original” tradition, yet that the color aspect has carried through while evolving in its own way. It is also interesting how Indians outside of India are taking the festival with them where they go, preserving their culture and allowing people to see and often participate in it with them at the same time.

Folk speech
Game
Riddle

Pair of Chinese Number Riddles

“A riddle… This one, this one’s uhh, a good riddle, because it also translates to English. So it’s umm, there’s a fisherman, oh, umm…

So you know how there’s Chinese New Year, right? And fifteen days after Chinese New Year, because Chinese New Year is a two-week celebration, fifteen day celebration, and the last day is the lantern festival. And at a traditional lantern festival, you uhh, you have a parade with a bunch of lanterns, you eat, like, a specific food, which is called like… Literal translation is, like, ‘soup balls,’ but it’s like, uhh, kinda like mochi kinda thing, it’s rice, rice balls, and like, sugar water… and then, umm, you also do riddles, that’s like also part of the festival.

So I learned this riddle when I was participating in that holiday, we had like… something… umm… and the riddle is:

‘A fisherman went out one day, and, umm… so first he caught… 6 fish without the head, then 9 fish without the tail, then 8 fish except these fish were only half a fish each. How many fish did he catch in total?’ ”

Like… whole fish?

“It’s a riddle! [laughs]

Okay, the answer is zero. And you’re like, ‘What the, what the heck?’ Because umm, if you take the number 6, and write it in Arabic numerals, and you take off the top half, it becomes 0. Same with the 9, if you take the bottom half it becomes 0. If you take 8 and you cut it in half, then it’s 0. So you have 0+0+0! [laughs]

It’s some trickery! Yeah!”

Why Arabic numerals?

“Umm, well, this isn’t, this isn’t like a really old one, but like, I just learned this one in the context of this Chinese event. And like, Chinese people like numbers, too, you know? [laughs]

It’s part of it, So like, I dunno if this part is a trick. There’s a version where… Is there a version? No, I don’t remember any other specific riddles, but I know there were a lot that had to deal with, like, what the actual Chinese numbers were written as in Chinese. I don’t remember any of those riddles. But I remember there was like a series of them…

Oh! There’s one… umm… it’s uhh… what is… you take half of six and round down, what is it. And you need to know how six is written in Chinese. It’s written like… dot on top, straight line, and then two dashes that are like kinda sloped into each other on the bottom. And you take half of six and round down, the actual meaning of the riddle is: You look at the bottom half of six, and that’s what eight is written as.

So then the question would be like half of six, round down. And all the little kids would be like ‘three!’ And you’d be like ‘no!!! It’s eight!’ And then they circle it on the board, and you go ‘wooooooow!’ [laughs]

Yeah, so that was like, basic level riddles.

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