USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘new years’
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Peruvian New Years Tradition: Run the Suitcase Around the Block

AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons. AS grew up in Texas after her family moved there from Peru.
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AS: My family had a lot of traditions for New Years, I’ve heard a lot of people do this one though

AS: We fill like a like a suitcase of some sort and we run it around the block and that’s supposed to represent like good luck in traveling and like safe travels and all that stuff.

AS: So my mom makes me do it every year cuz you yeah gotta have that good luck

MW: Do you have any particular attachment to this?

AS: I mean I would still do it if I didn’t live in South Central LA and that’s dangerous

AS: I guess it’s it’s it’s kind of just like a superstitious thing to me

AS: Or it’s just like it’s a cute tradition that makes New Year’s feel different than what like normal people celebrate even it doesn’t have like a very deep impact I guess it also fills me with nostalgia for things you did as a kid so you feel like you should do it anyways.
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Analysis:
The symbolism of running around the block mimics the cyclical nature of the calendar year and separates it from the idea of linear time. The suitcase is also filled, meaning that the carrier takes home with them when they travel and provides a direct connection to home and family life. Likewise, the fact that you run around the block and return to the starting point sort of carries the message that no matter where you go you can always return home, this centers the importance of home even in a tradition that’s all about travel. The desire for safety also reveals anxieties about leaving the home. Travel to new places is scary, a journey into the unknown thus the hope for good luck works in combination with the carrying of the known with you and the promise of a safe return to that known space.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Placing Cutlery for the Dead- A Korean New Years Tradition

Main Text

Collector: I know the your family does special acts for the Korean New Year. Would you mind telling me a few of these and what you think is the most important part for the celebration?

HK: “The most important part is that every male family member has to have a different spoon and chopstick. The spoon and chopstick represent the dead person’s utensils so that they can eat the offering of food. What my dad would do is place the spoon and chopstick to each of the dishes that he made each time so that the dead person has time to eat it.”

Context: 

I was in a conversation with Hk in order to solicit information about how her family celebrates the Korean New Year. Before I collected this piece from her she had listed out at least five other customary acts that they perform at the Korean New Year celebration at her house and to narrow it down I asked her what she believes the most important act out of the day is and she provided me with this piece. She said that she remembers this piece because it is a very emotional part in her family and since her dad is a chef, he likes to prepare traditional food and it is of great importance to him that members of his past family can relish in this meal as well to have some happiness and enjoyment after life. HK said that she likes seeing how happy this makes her father so it is a very joyful moment to share with her family which is why it sticks with her. When I asked her if she would share it with her future family she responded that it was a guarantee because she wants to teach her kids the importance of family and sharing these kinds of emotional experiences with each other, especially over a good traditional Korean meal.

Analysis: 

One of the main reasons for celebration of the Korean New Year is not just to celebrate the passage into the new year but as a way to spend time catching up with your family members as well as paying respect to your dead ancestors. Understanding that a large part of the Korean New Year celebration revolves around family and paying respect to one’s ancestors, it makes sense that the custom of setting out utensils for one’s deceased ancestors would be passed down, taught to new generations and vary between family.

Another large part of this piece that needs to be analyzed is why this part of the honoring of the ancestor is centered around food. In Korean culture, food is a way of getting one’s family together and sharing a Korean style meal keeps the family close. Traditionally, eating in Korea is done family style, where main dishes are shared and eating is considered a major social activity for friends and families. The social setting of eating such as exchanging food, taking pictures of food and even talking about food all brings people and family together, especially when eating at a restaurant. I have known many people from China and Korea who all say that a two hour wait at a restaurant is worth it because they get to spend two hours or more there catching up and socializing as a large familial group. In this explanation I have argued the fact that the tradition of placing eating utensils out for ancestors as a way to honor them on Korean New Years is culturally centered around the belief that food really brings family together in a very close and personal setting.

Another reason that this tradition will continue to be passed down is that there is a lot of history behind each dish that Korea has. Food has a distinct impact on the culture itself because of all the history and meaning behind the food that is eaten and the food that gets eaten and cooked even when away from the motherland. Korean food plays a huge part for me because not only they are rich in value and nutrients also because of their taste which is unique and the traditional foods that traced back to Korea arguably all are extremely nutritious. In a way, serving this traditional food to the dead a a way to honor them provides the dead with a sense of connection tho their family and their culture as well as a way to nourish them in the afterlife. The nutrition value of the food and the uniqueness of the textures and flavor that are employed in Korean cooking act as a way to unify one’s family and help them to continue to identify and even preserve their culture when they are away from their homeland. This cultural significance that is put on Korean dishes  in the end plays a large part in why these individuals who celebrate Korean New Years and perform this ritual continue to do so.

The final way that I am going to analyze this ritual performed on the Korean New year is through a religious lens. The main religion in Korea is Buddhism. In Buddhism, ghosts are fairly common and fully accepted, unlike what is allowed for Christians. Because many Koreans have this religious belief that entertains the existence and acceptance of ghosts, it is not so strange or out of the question that folklore involving the placement of utensils for one’s dead ancestors would be passed along and practiced today by Korean families.

In summary, the cultural stance that many Koreans share in family and in food as well as the religion practiced by many Korean individuals serve as an explanation to why the act of placing a spoon and chopsticks out for one’s ancestors is an important ritual that takes place on Korean New Years.

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Japanese New Years Traditions

Informant: The only other thing I can think about is some Japanese traditions. It’s very different over there than it has been in Oregon.

 

Interviewer: Yeah sure, which traditions are you talking about.

 

Informant: I mean, there’s New Years, Birthdays, School.

 

Interviewer: I think New Years would be good, I see it represented a lot in Japanese media so it’d be nice to have a personal account.

 

Informant: Ok. It’s similar to America in that there are a lot of fireworks to celebrate at New Years, but before New Years there are a couple of things we do different. Pretty much the entire city cleans up right before New Years, you know, to make sure it is a blank slate, a clean start very literally. Kids usually get money from their parents and sometimes grandparents, my parents would only give me money after I was done cleaning my room and part of the living room.

 

Interviewer: Interesting. Back home we also get money sometimes, but it’s usually during Christmas.

 

Informant: The other noteworthy thing off the top of my head is that basically everyone goes to the shrine on New Years Day.. Like, on January 1st. Usually we all go together, the shrine is always really ******* packed. But we stop by and ask for a good start to the New Year. Other than that… We also do New Years Resolutions, but you write them down and display them somewhere in the house. In my house we did little slips of paper that we stuck in a tree branch in the garden.

 

Analysis

I’d seen several of these traditions in anime, but I always wondered what happened in real life Japan. I’m pleased that most of the portrayals were accurate, and it’s also interesting to draw some comparisons with my experiences during New Years. Catholic families in Mexico also go pray on Jan 1st to receive a good beginning of the Year, however, the tradition is to go to a mass that happens at 12 am!

 

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Jumping Fire: Persian New Year

The Folklore:

K: Would you like me to tell you about a Persian New Year tradition?

E: Yes, please do.

K: Every Persian New Year everyone  jumps over a burning fire. A contained fire of course.

E: Does everyone participate?

K: Older people and young children don’t. But those who aren’t sick and are able bodied all do it.

E: That is so interesting. Do you know where this tradition originated?

K: Early Persians practiced Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest belief systems, and they viewed fire as extremely holy. They began to hop the fire as a cleanse. The fire would wash away all bad luck, evil eyes, and sicknesses by leaving them in the year that was ending.

E: When did you first hear about this tradition?

K: My fathers first told me about this tradition during Persian new year when I was very young. Ever since then I’ve participated every year.

E: What does it mean to you? What sort of value does it hold with you?

A: It means a lot because it’s the main event during Persian New Year’s. This is one of the largest family celebrations of year where extended family and nuclear family are all together. Everyone experiences this together by leaving our non-positive energy in the past.

Context:

My informant is a long time friend of mine who is from Dominican and Iranian descent. Every year I’ve known him I’ve seen the annual videos of him and his family members jumping over the fire without having inquired. I reached out to him over the phone and this was what he told me.

Analysis:

Although strange I see this practice as deeply as symbolic. Zoroastrianism was one of the first belief systems and the fact that God has for us conceived so long ago are still prevalent today reflects how truly special it is as both for the Apple ones on sale to leave behind’s transgressions from the past year as well as enter the new year with family.

 

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Origin of Chinese New Year Fireworks

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:

“Lunar New Years is a big deal in China, so my grandmother… my grandmother on my mother’s side… has three daughters, and each other my cousins all come back for Lunar New Years, so we are all pretty close. So… traditions, right? Lots of people know that China does fireworks during the Lunar New Year celebration, but like here and Japan people get together to watch the fireworks that are like set up by some organizations. Uh, in Beijing, people set up their own fireworks, and everyone in the city participates, so it sounds like the city is in the middle of a war. Millions of fireworks go off from like midnight until like five in the morning and you won’t be able to sleep. So, the folklore behind firing off fireworks is that in Chinese stories about Paganism, there is a monster that is called Nian, which has the same sound as the word year. Nian, year, New Year, you know? So like this monster goes around eating people and stuff and the people don’t know what to do. They decided that they are going to launch explosive fire-powder into the sky to scare it off. It worked, and now that is why we call a year a year, because it is named after Nian the monster. Now, it has become less about that and more people do fireworks because they are fun, but my mother would always tell us that before we could go out and light them. We had to know that there was a reason to like play with explosives.”

Thoughts:

I like that his parents would make sure that the kids knew why a tradition exists before allowing them to participate in them. I think that it is interesting that they place a lot of importance on the folklore behind this tradition, while in the United States, the average parent does not explain why we celebrate the fourth of July. Kids learn about it in school, but that almost takes away from the tradition because it is taught institutionally, rather than organically. I was most intrigued to learn that the word year in Mandarin is pronounced the same as the creature in the story. It shows just how much society takes from folklore.

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Fruits of the New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Okay so, when I was at your house, you have grapes? over the…

CS: Mhm

ZM: What are those about?

CS: So um, it’s like a, I think it’s an Asian thing, it might just be a Filipino thing, but it’s like um…At the beginning of every year, fruits are like symbols of like Mother Mary and her bearing the fruit of Jesus. So, it’s sort of to bring good luck. So, you always have like before the new year comes in, in every, like, living space, you have to have a bowl of twelve fruits. So, in the kitchen, in the living room, you have to have a big bowl of twelve fruits. Twelve different fruits.

ZM: Why twelve?

CS: Each month of the year.

ZM: Okay.

CS: And then above each entry into a room you have to do twelve grapes to symbolize like the same thing. So like, it’s supposed to bring you like good wealth and good luck into the new year and it’s like a symbol of Mother Mary and like how she was blessed because she was gifted with like the fruit of the womb of Jesus or whatever.

ZM: That’s cool.

CS: Yeah. So my mom always has to go out and buy like twelve different fruits. It’s a struggle.

ZM: Yeah, how do you get twelve different fruits.

CS: We have grapefruits in the backyard, lemons in the backyard. Sometimes if she can’t find more, she cheats and she gets avocados. (laughs) It’s always like melons, like she’ll get a watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a honeydew. And then like, apples, peaches, and then the ones in our backyard, and then like, if she’s really tryin’ it she’ll like get a lime and a lemon.

ZM: Do you leave the fruit up all year?

CS: Yes! And it gets DIsgusting. Absolutely gross. Like one time, the grapes started falling on the one over, like going outside to the patio thing, like, the atrium, back there. We have one over there, and I was like “The grapes are falling. Like, you need to fix it.” My mom grabbed saran wrap, and then she like (laughs) she like made a saran wrap bag and then pinned it there and then when I was taking them down towards like… You usually change everything towards like, Thanksgiving/Christmas. So you don’t do it like right before the new year. You like start preparing for the new year around like, after Thanksgiving, like before Christmas. As we were changing them, I took down the bag and it’s like MOLDY, cause like usually they’re just out in the air. So it’s like, they just turn into raisins, but like this one had a bag because she was keeping all of the ones that fell and it was literally wet and moldy and it was like green and white mold, and I almost vomited, and I was like “This needs to never happen again.” Yeah you keep it the WHOLE year. If it falls down you HAVE to keep it up there somehow.

 

Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed fruit hanging from the doorways. A few days later I asked her about them and this conversation was recorded then.

 

Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.

 

Analysis:I thought this was a very interesting tradition. I have heard of fruit being a sign of fertility, but mostly in spring, but this tradition takes place around the new year.

 

 

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Coins and the New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: You guys had like, coins, like gold coins, over by the like pictures? I don’t know

CS: Mhm. I know what you’re talking about. So, it’s another New Year’s thing. Um, when you’re, so, coins are just symbols of like wealth, like the sound that they make like the clink like the, you know what I’m talking about? Like the shhh

ZM: Yeah

CS: So, when it’s New Year’s, like normal people New Year’s, and Chinese New Year actually, ‘cause we celebrate that too, you have to have, well first you have to be wearing like dots, like polka dots because of the circles. It symbolizes coins. And then, when, you know how people like jump and they like blow stuff in like the countdown? A lot, like every Filipino literally has just like, either like cups of coins, or like bags of coins and they shake it while they, while the New Year’s coming in. So, they shake it while the new year’s coming in so it makes the noise and that’s like another symbol of like bringing wealth into the new year.

ZM: And you just keep them around? Like, the whole year?

CS: Well those are just normal coins. And then the gold coins that my mom has laying around are just like… fancy ones. The gold coins are for the Chinese New Year because like you know how, well I don’t know if you’re around like Asian people but like, we get like red envelopes with money in it?

ZM: I vaguely, like that sounds vaguely familiar.

CS: So, I have one, wait I have one… (Brings out small red Hello Kitty envelope) We get like red envelopes that have money in it and you’re not supposed to spend the money technically for like the whole year because it’s like good luck.

ZM: Wait so when ARE you allowed to spend it?

CS: After the new year. So, this one, you can open it though, I think this one’s shaped in a heart. (the cash was folded into a heart shape)

ZM: Oh WOoOoW

CS: They don’t always do this they just, it’s just some people decide to get fancy with it. So, it (the coins) kind of goes along with the red envelope. So, you give red envelopes with money for luck and then the gold coins are sort of the same symbolism of like keeping wealth throughout the year. I just realized Asian people really like their money. Cause everything we do is about keeping their wealth.

 

Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed gold coins laying around on various coffee tables and such. A few days later I asked her about them and this conversation was recorded then.

 

Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.

 

Analysis: The red envelope tradition wasn’t completely unknown to me, but I had never heard of people shaking containers of coins at the turn of the new year. I also thought it was very interesting that CS celebrates both the Western New Year as well as Chinese New Year even though she is not Chinese. Like she said towards the end, most of the traditions were about money which can be seen in the rich lifestyle practiced in a Western New Year’s celebration. Party goers get dressed up and drink champagne like the upper class.

 

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Chinese New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

ZM: What do you do for Chinese New Year?

HH: Umm… In terms of when I’m here in college or when I’m back home?

ZM: When you’re at home.

HH: When I’m home um my parents would clean the house, like um frantically because we need to be clean for the new year and we also can’t wash our hair on the first day of New Year’s too because if you wash your hair, you’re washing your luck. Yeah. Very interesting. Um, it’s nothing really special, it’s just being with your family, um… The whole day you um… Do you know what Yum ta is?

ZM: No.

HH: Like going out for morning tea, like with dim sum…

ZM: I’ve never heard of that. I don’t, I don’t know.

HH: Okay um so uh we do yum ta, which is like going to um a local, um a nearby restaurant around our house and inviting all of our relatives and…

ZM: Is that New Year’s day?

HH: New Year’s day yeah. Um, and all of our relatives will come and we exchange um red envelopes with money inside and um its umm… If you’re married you give, you give a red envelope to the kids so…As long as I’m not married I can still receive them.

ZM: But you don’t give any?

HH: I don’t give any until I’m married. Yeah it’s a perk. (laughs) Uhhh yeah and then um on the day, or like… Chinese New Year goes for like a few days like up to fifteen days. It depends on how long you want to celebrate it. Umm, like the first few days um either relatives and friends come to your house or you can go to their house and you bring gifts like oranges or like crackers or whatever to uh to bring to their house and you get to exchange gifts, and you guys talk and drink tea and all of that.

ZM: Do the oranges have any significance? Like why oranges or…?

HH: Umm… I feel like they do, but I don’t know (laughs) Uh that’s pretty much what we do. And um we eat chicken. It’s for a reason, but I don’t know why also. But, chicken is like a good kind of meat like… Um you always want um, like for dinner you always, for like the first few days, my brother’s in-laws and us we all eat together as a big family. Like a sign of um, a union. Um, so we have like up to ten dishes for like not even ten people. Like, um it’s very lavish dinner with like chicken, umm duck, fish, all kind of veggies, noodles, noodles really important as a sign of longetivity in life. So, yeah.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.

Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.

 

Analysis: I thought it was interesting that you only begin giving red envelopes when you are married. Even if you are an adult and you are not married, you do not have to give the envelopes, you only receive them. But, if they’re married and they don’t have kids to give envelopes to they exchange red envelopes between husband and wife. While marriage and adulthood would’ve previously been equivalent, in today’s society they can be very separate, and this changes the tradition a little bit.

 

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Rituals, festivals, holidays

12 Grapes on New Years

I interviewed my informant, Brianna, in the study lounge of the band office. When I prompted her for her knowledge of folklore/folk tradition/folk beliefs, she was reminded of her family’s New Years tradition.

 

Brianna: “We eat twelve grapes each — one for every month of the year. And when you eat each grape you make a wish. Oh, and you eat your grapes at midnight. It brings good luck for the year.”

 

Me: “And how do you know this tradition?”

 

Brianna: “I learned it from my grandmother. She passed the tradition down.”

 

Me: “And what does it mean to you?”

 

Brianna: “It’s just a nice superstition. Start of the year with something fresh.”

 

Analysis

Like my informant shared, this is a good example of a superstition or folk belief. It is also similar to a few other New Years traditions of eating special dishes with family members. My informant did not share why grapes were particularly magical, so it’s plausible that her family does this ritual out of tradition to feel a family connection.  

 

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Anoushabour

I interviewed my informant, Vanessa, in the band office lounge. As I prompted her to think of the folklore/folk traditions/folk beliefs she knew, she was reminded of a New Year’s celebration in her family:

 

Vanessa: “We have this rice pudding we eat on New Year. It’s called ‘anoushabour.’”

 

Me: “What is anoushabour? What’s in it?”

 

Vanessa: “It’s, like, a rice pudding with shredded almonds… and grapes and walnuts. And you put cinnamon on top so it spells out the year.”

 

Me: “You said it’s eaten on New Year?”

 

Vanessa: “Yes. It’s eaten at midnight. Everyone gets a bowl and eats together. And it’s bad luck to eat it after the week of New Year.”

 

Me: “Is this tradition accompanied by any other rituals?”

 

Vanessa: “Well, we give kisses — like on the cheek — right at midnight before eating the pudding.”

 

Me: “What does it mean to you? What’s the significance of this tradition?”

 

Vanessa: “It’s, like — you are gathering with family, and celebrating another year that you are blessed with. It gives good luck for the year.”

 

My informant also told me that her great grandmother taught her the tradition, and that her grandmother carries on the tradition today. The eating of the anoushabour happens in someone’s home where the family has been invited to celebrate.

Analysis

The eating of the anoushabour is similar to many other New Year’s traditions that are meant to bring good luck and unite the family in good health. I am also aware of other families (of varying heritage) that eat special dishes on New Year because it brings good luck. It’s a fun tradition that carries on Armenian folk belief.

 

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