USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘new year’
Earth cycle
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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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general
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gujarati Proverb Common Around Diwali

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.

Piece and Full Translation Scheme of Folk Speech:

Original Script: मिच्छामि दुक्कडम्

Transliteration: micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ

Translation: “May all the evil that has been done be fruitless” or “If I have offended you in way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word, or deed, then I seek your forgiveness”.

Piece Background Information:

One specific thing that’s very interesting- whenever we meet someone on our new year’s day, we say micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ”. It basically means, “forgive me for anything I’ve done wrong over the past year and I want to start over on a clean slate with you”. Our new year, I think, comes right after Diwali- this big festival of lights. So it (the new year) is the day after that because the whole thing about Diwali is that it’s the conquering of good over evil, based on an ancient story.

So the ancient story is about this lord, he was called Lord Rama. He was a king who was in exile and his wife Sita was taken away by this evil king named Ravanna. So he crossed what is now called the region, the sea crossing between India, the south tip of India, and the current Sri Lanka to go and get his wife back. And they had like a fourteen day war where they basically, the two sides were fighting, and it ended with Rama putting an arrow through Ravana’s chest to kill him. The festival of lights celebrates his return after exile, back to the capital city.

Basically, we are asking for forgiveness from the other person and we want to start the new year off with a clean slate.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in Ronald Tutor Campus Center on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Through setting off fireworks, lanterns, and the like during Diwali, partakers in this tradition are recalling the celebrations that were believed to have taken place upon Rama and Sita’s return to their kingdom in northern India, after having been exiled and defeating King Ravanna. In this sense, Diwali can be seen as homeopathic magic as it is performed in order to bring about new beginnings/ wipe the slate clean through recalling the similar instance in which the slate was wiped clean for the once exiled Lord Rama. It also follows the Earth cycle as the celebration’s dates are dependent upon the Hindu lunar calendar.

For more information on Diwali, see Sims, Alexandra. “What is Diwali? When is the festival of lights?” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 09 Nov. 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2017. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/diwali-what-is-the-festival-of-lights-and-when-is-it-celebrated-a6720796.html>.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ane Viejo Celebration in Ecuador

Tradition: For New Year’s Eve in Ecuador, people celebrate Ane Viejo by crafting life size dolls of people with straw. They fill the people with fireworks and light them on New Year’s Eve in remembrance of the old year.

The informant is a 39 year old male from Ecuador.

Informant: There’s this tradition that we do in Ecuador, and it’s called Ane Viejo. And it’s usually done during the New Year. You know how everyone has this thing where everyone toasts to the New Year? But in Ecuador we do this toast to the old year. And you can choose any person that you want, and you make the person out of clothes, and straw, and stuff–so you make a straw person. It could be of anyone that you want, and it usually has some significance to something that’s in the past–whether it’s something bad or something good–it doesn’t really matter. They call it your Ane Viejo, like “your last year.” Once you make this straw person, they put fireworks inside of them. And they light it on fire on New Years’ Eve.

Collector: How big is this person?

Informant: Like normal size, like a real person! They put like clothes and jeans on them. Most people don’t burn the clothes, but they’ll leave them out for a week before New Year. So if you walk around town, you’ll see them on people’s front porches, they’ll be sitting down.

Collector: Who makes these dolls?

Informant: The whole town makes them. They’re usually people made–like your family makes them. What makes them even cooler is that there’s a competition, like who can make the coolest one. They’ll put like sunglasses and a hat on them.

Collector: Why do you think people keep performing this tradition?

Informant: I think they do this as something fun at the end of the year as a end of the year remembrance of your past. It’s like a whole ceremony prior to lighting your fireworks. I don’t know where it started, but I just know that that’s what they do.

Collector: Where did you learn it from?

Informant: When I was a kid, I just saw it on the streets.

Collector: What does it mean to you when you see it?

Informant: For me, when I see it, it reminds me of my childhood, my family, because that’s how I learned it and how I was introduced to it. Because I left my country, and the first time I came back I was like 8, 10 years old, and I experienced it. But everyone lived with it. So when I see it, it reminds me of that time.

I think that cultures such as the United States celebrates the New Year by making toasts to the New Year because we are a future oriented culture. We focus more on welcoming the new opportunities in the coming future. From this tradition, it seems that the culture of Ecuador also reflects on the past in addition to the welcoming the New Year.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays

Cuban New Year’s Tradition

“On New Year’s Eve, you’re supposed to mop your house. Then, once you’re done, you take the dirty water in the mop bucket and you throw the water out your front door. It gets rid of the bad luck so that you can start fresh in the new year.”

 

This Cuban New Year’s tradition has a superstitious element to it much like their beliefs of the evil eye. For Cubans, it seems bad luck can actually be a physical thing that you can acquire and then get rid of. The source said her mother used to do this jokingly. They didn’t actually believe in it, but every New Year’s Eve, they’d participate in the tradition if only for laughs and to actually get the house clean.

I asked the source where she thought this tradition started, and she said it sounded “like something santeros would do.” Santeros are what Cubans call people who practice Santeria, a Latin American religion that involves witchcraft. Much like Wiccans, santeros cast spells in order to protect their families, ward off bad luck, attract romantic partners, etc. However, what I also find to be great (and comical) about this tradition is that involves one of the ultimate Cuban pasttimes: cleaning.

Sure, the metaphorical idea of cleaning your house to wash away the bad luck sounds pretty legitimate, but to me, I see this tradition as being a way for Cuban parents to get their kids to help  them clean the house. Cubans are VERY clean people. Just about every Cuban family I know employs a cleaning lady on a weekly or monthly basis. At the end of the year, though, those cleaning ladies are hard to come by. Many take two weeks or so off to be with their family during Christmas/New Year’s/winter break. After Christmas, whoever hosted the celebration is going to have a fun time cleaning up after everyone. And if they’re supposed to have their house ready for a New Year’s celebration, too? Forget it. Time to bring out the Cuban New Year’s tradition and get everyone in on it because mama can’t be the only one with bad luck in the house.

Folk speech

Arabic Saying

Original Text:
كل عام و انتم بخير

Phonetic: Kull A’am wa inty/inta bekhair.

Transliteration: Kull A’am wa Inty/inta bekhair. (inty=you female, inta=you male)

Full Translation: May you be blessed every year.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: “Usually said to by one person to another during birthdays, Holidays (especially Eid of Ramadan) or any occasion that marks the passing of a year.

Every Arab speaking person knows this saying. It’s a system of greetings and responses that are seemingly endless in the Arabic language. For instance if some says ‘Kull A’am Wa Inty Bekhair’, you MUST respond ‘Wa inty bekhair’, meaning ‘and you as well’.

The Arabic language is really big on greetings and goodbyes, you could have a full 20-minute conversation just saying goodbye to someone.”

Context of the Performance: Greeting someone in Arabic Society

Thoughts about the piece: This Arabic saying that Reem had presented to me was very interesting, because of how it contradicted with the English language. Firstly, I compared this saying to the traditionally said, “Happy New Year,” when, of course, the New Year comes around. However, in the Arabic language, the literal translation meaning: “may you be blessed every year,” is a huge difference from the English language. To start, the English saying is singular, meaning just this new year is wished well, while the Arabic one is plural, may you be blessed for the years to come. Furthermore, the term “Happy New Year” correlates to the other English term “Happy Holidays” it is a general saying that applies to all cultures, religions and/ or belief system. While, the Arabic saying “may you be blessed every year,” the word “blessed” has specific religious undertones in it. It is also interesting that the Arabic language is big on saying goodbye to someone, while in the United States, it is usually just, “bye” or “have a good day.”

However, I did find a particular similarity, which was that both the greetings are future orientation. While I have heard of some cultures saying, “I hope you had a good past year” (of course, not in English), it is interesting that both the Arabic society and the American one have a future orientated greeting, even though the American one supposedly is only good until the next new year comes around, while the Arabic one transcends to many years to come.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year

Okay, so Persian New Year, it lasts seven days…So, basically the Tuesday before or during, everyone goes to a special place or they do it at each other’s houses and they make fires, like small fire pits.

 

Inside or outside?

 

Outside, it’s always outdoors. Like in an alleyway, or if you have a big backyard, or they do it at the beach. And then people jump over it and they say a saying that’s kind of like, I don’t know how it’s translated but it symbolizes throwing your bad energy or anything bad from the past year into the fire, or like from other people, into the fire. That’s basically it.

 

Do you know the phrase in Farsi?

 

Yeah, but you’re not gonna get it. It’s like, “sorheitaz…?” I don’t even know how to say it, you’re kind of just saying whatever is bad is going into the fire. And you kind of say it with a friend, like whatever’s bad from each other, your relationship goes in too.

 

When is Persian New Year?

 

Our calendar is different, the Persian calendar is a little different. It’s first day of Spring, so it starts on March 21st, and then it lasts seven days. And we always set a table, it’s called the Hafseen, and Haf means seven, so like everything starts with an “S” you can look this up, I don’t know what each thing symbolizes.

 

So there’s a lot of symbolism involved?

 

Yeah, there’s seven things, there’s like a fish, and then there’s a specific thing you grow, it’s like a grass, and then there’s flowers… It’s really specific but it’s all with Spring and has to do with new beginnings and stuff like that. So it lasts a week, and then after that you get rid of the table and everything, and they throw out the grass thing, they’ll go to the river and get rid of it, there’s like special ways. And they celebrate after too.

 

ANALYSIS:

The informant is clearly engaged in her family’s and culture’s traditions and customs surrounding New Year, although it is clear there is a generational gap – she speaks Farsi, but doesn’t know exactly what she’s saying or what it means when they jump over the fire. She also participates in the traditions and knows the general gist of how things are set up, but doesn’t know specifics about the symbolic elements of the festival. However, she is aware of how the ritual is done, participates in it, and has a general idea of why these things are done and what they mean. The new year festival is about being away with or burning away all the old, stale, bad things from the past year, and bringing in the new year. There are very specific things that must be present and actions that must be done to ensure good luck, success, happiness, good relationships, etc. in the new year. This also corresponds with the earth cycle, and not with the biblical calendar.

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Initiations
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

New Year’s, New Things

In China, there is a superstition where you cannot start a [Chinese] new year without new clothes and a clean house. Whatever you do on the first day of the year will be an indication of how your fortunes would be for the rest of the year. So people would try to look their best on the first day. They would make sure they get haircuts before the year ends because they don’t want to cut anything at the start of the year.

The practices the informant mentioned are traditional customs that are practiced every year during the Chinese New Year festival (which some may argue is a misnomer, because several places celebrate the same holiday). Having grown up in China, the informant practices this every year.

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