USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘new years’
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Vietnamese New Year

Every Vietnamese New Year, or Tet, my family practices some traditions that make the celebration unique and special to me. The night before the new year my dad sets up food, candles, and flowers around a shrine like set up to honor our ancestors. A picture of his grandparents and his father are the center of the shrine. I find this extra special because my grandfather passed away before I was born, so this is my only connection and memory of him. My dad spends the day cleaning the house and getting the shrine ready in various rooms of the house. I never truly understood the importance of placement of the shrines and candles, but he says that they all are in a certain room or space for a reason. My dad takes me and my sister around each of the set ups and we have a silent prayer in our heads. The food left out for our ancestors and Buddha is all vegetarian because he was vegetarian. The following day on the new year my parents say that we cannot clean at all, and we must celebrate. We cannot clean on the new year because it can clean away the good luck. But my dad has also semi-joked that if I clean on the New Year, I will clean every day of the year.
I like celebrating Vietnamese New Year because it is one of the only times that I celebrate my family’s history, heritage, and tradition. I enjoy seeing my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. While my family is not very religious or traditional, I am glad that my parents still try to teach and share their Vietnamese culture and tradition with me and my sister. The only things that I know about my family’s traditions are the things that my parents shared with me growing up. There is a language barrier between me and my grandparents, so my parents have been the main people to share with me their traditions. Practicing parts of the Vietnamese culture and celebrating the new year holds a special place in my heart, and the older that I get the more that I appreciate it.

 

 

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New Years in Brazil

Title: New Years in Brazil

Interviewee: Rafael Blay

Ethnicity: Brazilian

Age: 19

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): In his room in Webb, with 3 other friends playing video games in the background. It was a Thursday in April, all the work done for the week, so spirits were high. The interviewee sat on his bed to recount some tales and such.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- “Everyone wears white to signify that Brazil is a peaceful country. If you don’t wear white you’re the one kid that doesn’t wear white, so they don’t want to stand out. Some people buy new underwear, and they only wear it for the day, for the event.

Also some people try to go to the beach, and jump over 7 waves.

After the fireworks, after the year begins, there are a lot of parties and there are concerts and things of that nature. A lot of alcohol.

There are customary foods by my family just eats whatever. Some people eat lentils on the day.

Big dinner that is usually held later so that they can see the fireworks.

People do a bunch of resolutions, which a lot of people in other countries do too.”

Analyzation: This appears to be a collection of superstitious things that people do on new years, not just one simple tradition. People have different reasons to be doing these traditions, and not everyone does every action. For example, the Interviewee himself says that some people do some things, and he himself only does some of them with his family.

Tags: New Years, Brazil, Traditions

Customs

Burning the Past Year

“So, in Ecuador, around New Year’s Eve, around the holidays really, we have this tradition of burning el año viejo. And what that is is that artists from around the country will each work on, uhhh, these piñata-type things, uhh, and they’ll be different characters, and the characters will range from Kung Fu Panda, Bugs Bunny to Donald Trump, Obama, uhh, like political figures to cartoon characters like they cover the whole spectrum,and their life-size and little and and they cost, they cost money to get these. And inside they have explosives. Umm… *laughs* And on New Year’s Eve, ummm, what everyone will do was, is that you’ll gather around el año viejo, umm, and at midnight you burn it, uhh, so you light a match and the thing will go off. Umm, and it’s supposed to be like quemando like burning all of your grievances from the past year and like starting anew from like the ashes. So that’s what we do. It’s fun.”

Burning el año viejo or burning the old year is a tradition that I’ve heard of in another societies, as well. In Cuba, for example, people will make effigies out of straw that represent the past year, and they will burn them on New Year’s Eve. Ecuador seems to take it a step further, though, by bringing in artists to make special effigies. It seems the burning has become less rigid in their culture, since they’re burning even cartoon characters or whatnot. The symbolism has been lost. It sounds more like a celebration, something to do out of habit, than something that’s supposed to be symbolic. In fact, it almost seems like a joke, especially if they’re burning effigies in the shape of political figures such as Trump or Obama.

Yet nonetheless, the source acknowledges the sense of burning away “grievances” and whatnot. So while the tradition may not look the same as it maybe did in the past, it still holds the same meaning. It reminds me of the phoenix when it bursts into flames and is born again from the ashes. Perhaps it has some kind of connection to there.

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Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Japanese New Year Eve

Information about the Informant: The informant is a 23 year old USC student named Eddie Roche. Eddie is a business major and is half Japanese half American. His father is from Chicago while his mother is from Japan. Growing up, Eddie lived in both Japan and China so he was immersed to numerous holiday traditions that both countries practiced. He has lots of family in Japan so he spent all of his holidays with family and learned about his culture.

Informant: “So basically every new years eve, all of the Japanese people clean everything in their house. It’s something that the Japanese people call Oosoji. It may take hours upon hours but it is a tradition that always occurs among Japanese people. Whether its making beds perfectly, re-cleaning every dish, or dustin all the furniture, the tradition is to cleanse everything in the house. People also clean out their cars and other forms of property that can require cleaning. They do this in order to begin the new year off on a blank page. If anything is dirty on new years, it means that some of the previous years’ bad habits are leaking into the new year.  After the cleaning is done, its tradition to put up numerous New Years decorations like Kadomatsu which are made up of pine and bamboo. Japanese people really like Bamboo. They all believe it is a symbol of longevity and good luck.”

Analysis: I found this Japanese New year eve tradition to be a tradition that makes a lot of sense practically and symbolically. From the perspective of an outsider who had never practiced such a tradition, I can easily understand how cleaning houses and property to perfection before the new years starts makes sense. It is as if the Japanese people are beginning the new year on a completely blank slate. What happened in the past is the past and there is nothing they can do about it once the next year comes along.

Customs
general
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Japanese New Years Day

Information about the Informant: The informant is a 23 year old USC student named Eddie Roche. Eddie is a business major and is half Japanese half American. His father is from Chicago while his mother is from Japan. Growing up, Eddie lived in both Japan and China so he was immersed to numerous holiday traditions that both countries practiced. He has lots of family in Japan so he spent all of his holidays with family and learned about his culture.

Informant: “After the oosoji on New Year’s Eve where everyone in Japan cleans everything, the day of New Years is equally as important. This day is all about giving and sharing good fortune. Pretty much everyone just gives everyone money throughout the whole day. Lots of the young kids receive money from the parents, relatives, and friends as a sign of good fortune for the rest of the year. In order to receive money you have to be under 22 years old. The tradition is called Otoshidama and the closer you are to 22 years old the more money you receive. Typically really going kids don’t get much money but its more about the idea of giving money to the kids as opposed to the exact amount they get. Another tradition on New Year’s Day is that most people, religious or not, travel to the temples in order to give money to the temples and receive good fortune. At the temple we walk around through these pillars and then throw money into a basket. Also, there is a tradition where you shake a brown box with a small hole on it and a bunch of sticks in it. You shake the box until a stick comes out and once the stick comes out you make the number on the stick to a corresponding piece of paper. Whatever the paper says determines your fortune for the new year. It can range from saying you will have really good luck to having very bad luck for the whole year.”

Analysis: Although he is Japanese, my informant wasn’t necessarily the most fond of these traditions. He enjoys them but he doesn’t really believe what they say. This is mostly because he is not full Japanese and did these traditions with his family more just because he had to than anything else. Japanese culture is very fond of fortune telling and it makes sense that these traditions are so heavily practiced on New Years Day, a day that is seen as a blank slate from what happened in the previous year.

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Narrative
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New Years Tradition

A is an 18-year-old woman. She is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. She considers her nationality to be American, but more specifically she is one quarter Greek Cypriote, one quarter German and half Argentinian. that being said, she strongly identifies with her Greek roots. She is fluent in both English and Greek, and is currently learning Mandarin.

A: For the New Year, and this is a pretty common thing in a lot of Eastern European countries, but for the New Year we bake like a special like New Years bread/cake thing, um, which is called, um “vasilopita.”

Me: Sorry, could you spell that?

A: Yeah. um, in English, it’s spelled, v-a-s-i-l-o-p-i-t-a.

Me: Perfect.

A: It’s a, direct translation is like King’s bread. Um, there are two different stories I’ve heard. This one, one of them, is that, um, there was like a ransom, like a town was under siege, the robbers demanded a ransom, and like they had to collect like all these family jewels and gold and stuff, and a priest was trying to return it to the family like Ayios (saint) Vassilis, that’s why it’s named after him, um and what he did to smuggle it under the noses of the robbers is he baked all of their goods into a, like, cake. And he was like, this is a cake, like don’t mind me taking this out of the palace. And like the story goes that he like cut all the cake and magically every family like got the right stuff returned to them. So whoever gets the coin in the cake, like their part of the vasilopita, gets good luck for the year.

Me: What’s the other story then?

A: The other one is a very similar story, except it wasn’t he snuck it out from the robbers, the robbers were so like amazed by how like the town came together to give them all the bounty that they like let them have it and then it got baked into a cake. So one of them’s much nicer and the other one’s like funny and sneaky. But that’s like a common myth, ’cause like a lot of greek families do it, um and something, like I don’t know if evryone does this, but like when you cut the cake, first you cut a piece for God, then you cut a piece for Jesus, then you cut a piece for the house, then you start cutting pieces in order of who’s oldest who’s at that New Years celebration.

Me: What happens to the other pieces?

A: You search through them to see if there’s a coin in there. ‘Cause Jesus needs the good luck apparently. Yeah, so you just leave them uneaten, or like you eat them afterwords.

Me: So if God or Jesus or the house gets the coin, then?

A: Then they have the luck. Actually I have yet to ever, well, I had the house get the coin once. Which is fine, ’cause you’re like yay, everyone in the house is going to be lucky.

Me: Oh, okay. I thought it was like the actual foundation of the house.

A: Oh, that would be really funny.

Me: Like the house is lucky. It will not fall victim to any floods…

A: Actually that could be a thing too, like no floods, no earthquakes, like…

Me: Your house will not burn down this year.

A: Yay. Gosh, that’s been just been happening to me so frequently, I could really use the coin. Um, and like sometimes it’s in the uneaten part of the cake, and so you just work though it for the next few days, but it’s yummy. It’s a good cake.

Me: It’s kind of like Mardi Gras and the little baby.

A: Yeah.

Informant A talks about a New Years tradition that she and her family along with many other greek families do on the holiday. She talks about the history of the cake which is called vasilopita and how there is a coin baked into the cake. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake gets good luck for the following year. Respect for religion and age are shown in this tradition with the order in which the pieces of cake are cut and distributed. God, Jesus, and the house are included in the tradition and are given priority over the people at the party, pieces are cut for them in the order listed above. The older people at the party are also given priority as the piece are then distributed by age from oldest to youngest. This is much like the tradition of baking a baby into the cake at Mardi Gras and was likely the basis of the Mardi Gras tradition. The priest, Ayios Vassilis, in the story is also the same person that the Greeks use to represent Santa Claus.

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A Tree for the New Year

The informant is a 21-year old student attending the University of California Berkeley. She is majoring in Media Studies and Journalism with a minor in Hebrew. She grew up in West Los Angeles with her two parents, immigrants from the Soviet Union. The following is what she shared with me about the Soviet way of celebrating New Year’s Eve.

 

Informant: “The Soviets made New Years the new holiday. They weren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas anymore, so they went around the rules and celebrated the secular holiday instead. They had a pine tree and Father snow (he was instead of Santa Claus). My family celebrates Soviet New Years still. A lot of us immigrated here—my mom and dad and both of their siblings and all of their kids. And my grandparents. So every New Year’s when I was growing up we would have a big family gathering with a tree—even though we are Jewish, I know it’s weird, but it’s not religious at all. It’s really just like a holdover from the Soviet Union. I got presents and my dad and grandpa always sang these long, hard-to-understand Russian songs.”

 

Thoughts:

This reminds me of Santeria, a syncretic religion in the Americas, centered around Yoruba-mythology and belief. When those who believed in Yoruba mythology were forced to convert to Catholocism, they began worshipping the Catholic Saints instead of the Yoruba Gods, at least in appearance. Rather, it seemed as though they were following along with the new rules imposed on them, but instead they were practicing their religion in disguise. The syncrasy of the religion came about, but the religion seems far more blended to outsiders than it is in practice.

People in the Soviet Union being prohibited from celebrating Christmas of other Christian holidays was a part of the Soviet anti religious campaign for state atheism. Given how much weight belief holds for many people and how so many customs, practices, and rituals are grounded in belief, it is unrealistic to extricate it from people.

 

Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Foodways

Czech New Years Herring

Informant: “When I was growing up, I remember every year my parents, my mother and father and I, we would always eat herring on New Years Eve. I remember it was supposed to bring good luck for the whole year. Specifically, you were supposed to get a can or jar of pickled herring, though it’s actually hard to find in the Northwest, though I still go out and buy some Herring, in fact this year, I happened to call my Aunt [M] who is also Czech, and we joked about how we had both gone out and made sure that we had our can of pickled herring for the New Year, and we laughed about the importance of, you know, getting our Herring.”

Collector: Was there any specific reason for the herring as opposed to any other sort of fish?

Informant: Well you know the Czech Republic, where this tradition originated from… actually I think it started in Bohemia, and then it became a Czech tradition… but both [of those countries] are landlocked and so fish tended to be hard to get because they had to transport it all the way from the sea coast. And herring was always a big deal, always a special thing because it was more expensive, and it showed how prosperous you were to be able to afford herring! And in order to keep the fish to stay fresh and task good after they transported it from the sea to inland, they would pickle it and preserve it. Actually, the other fish people ate a lot was carp, which is in the same family as goldfish, and wealthy people in the Czech republic would raise carp in ponds on their estate, so that was also a very special fish to eat because it was also a sign of wealth. Also, most [Czech people] were catholic, which meant that they had meatless Fridays, but you know they could still eat fish.

The informant is a 77 year old retired anthropologist living in Portland Oregon. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Kingdom of Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic) in the 1890’s to escape the economic turmoil within the country in that time period. She was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and studied anthropology at Stanford University, during which time she became interested in learning more about the traditions of her heritage. She has on several occasions traveled to the Czech republic to visit relatives there.

Collector Analysis: This particular tradition is but one of many New Years traditions around the world. In this case, the consumption of Herring, an expensive fish at the time, was supposed to bring one good luck for the following year. One idea which the informant brought up was that by eating expensive herring on new years eve, it would alter your luck to make you more prosperous so that you could eat herring more often!

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Holidays

Feast of the Seven Fishes (La Vigilia)

Informant: “In Sicily, well in other places in Italy sometimes too, but really in Sicily, on the Eve of the big holidays, so like Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, you’re supposed to eat fish, but in particular on Christmas eve. It was called the Feast of the Seven Fishes, though I actually think in Sicily they called it La Vigilia, for The Vigil. The real tradition is that you’re supposed to make seven types of seafood. So in Sicily, my mom and dad they always did this, so they would start cooking a few days before Christmas Eve. When we were growing up in Los Angeles, we would go down to Redondo Beach and my mom would buy all these fishes very similar to the fishes they would have in Sicily, so she would make calamari, like deep fried calamari. Oh, and one of the things she would buy is called baccala, which is like a dry, salted cod. I’ve actually seen it in some Italian places in St. Paul, they sell it in what looks like a big bucket, and it looks like just dried fish, and so you have to soak it in water overnight, and then you have to drain the water, and then you have to soak it again, and so basically you’re reconstituting the fish. And I think a lot of times people in Sicily have that one because there are a lot of poor people, and that kind of fish was really cheap. And so [my mother] would do that whole thing day after day after day, and then she would make this sauce that she would put this fish in like this tomato sauce, and then she would bake it. So she did baccala, she did calamari, she always did octopus salad. She would never make the kind of fishes that [my family has] like salmon, I never had salmon growing up. She would make these things called sand dabs, they looked like a kind of flatfish and she’d fry them, and anchovies and sardines, and she’d make this pasta with fennel and tuna sometimes… But she had enough fish to feed an army, when there were only six of us, but that’s very typical though in Sicily…What other fish did she make… oh, eel! She would always make eel. And I would have continued this tradition, except that [my children] don’t eat as much fish, that’s why I sort of incorporated it into [my family's traditions], that’s why we always have fish on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, so some years I would make stuffed salmon with crab and so on, but I found that [my family] just really liked crab, so that’s why we always have crab, and I figured, that was close enough.”

Collector: Was the exact number of fishes significant?

Informant: “Well, so it was feast of the seven fishes, though sometime we’d do nine, eleven, thirteen, but it’s always an odd number. I’m not really sure why, but it was supposed to have something to do with luck, like you’re never supposed to do an even number. As for fish, I guess with Sicily being an island, it was really easy for people to just go out and catch fish, and so that’s why they had fish.”

Informant is a retired math teacher, and a mother of three. Her parents moved to the United States for the Italian island of Sicily, and she was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles. She still keeps in touch with her Sicilian relatives, and will periodically visit them.

Collector Analysis: This particular piece of folklore is interesting in that it shows how certain folk traditions can evolve when they are practiced in different contexts, in this case, how the amount and type of fish eaten changed when the informant was celebrating this tradition in different locations and with different people, and yet the tradition is still in many ways the same despite these changes. Also curious is the fact that in Sicilian culture, the number 13 is considered lucky, while the number 12 is considered unlucky, which is the opposite of many other European cultures.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mochi Soup

Informant’s self-description: “I am a large melting pot of everyone that I have ever met. Even if I did not really know who they were. And that makes me me! And different from everyone, ‘cause we all have different experiences. I am a video game person that loves a video game, and I love things that aren’t actually real life. But I also like real life! But sometimes fiction more so because the boundaries of what can be done are expanded. And that’s really cool to me. I like food – a lot. And I am a person that just wants to do a lot of things all the time. Forever.”

 

 

Are there any traditional food dishes that you consume or make on particular occasions?

Um, yes. Every New Year’s – well, Christmas and New Year’s, but because they’re so close together they just kinda happen in that sort of time slot. Christmas, my mom always makes this certain rice cake soup, it has – or mochi soup – and she prepares it all day, and then she makes the soup, and we have to eat it for dinner. And she adds eggs, and green onions, and seaweed, and we all sit down and we get special silverware and bowls out, and eat that for dinner, and then on New Year’s day, you have to eat the same thing, or you have to eat the mochi soup. It doesn’t have to be the exact same one from before because that would be nasty. But it would be like a new batch – the same recipe, obviously. And then you have to eat it for good luck in the New Year. And if you don’t you’ll have bad luck. But I haven’t experienced that yet because I’ve never turned down a bowl of my mother’s soup. Because why would you. Yeah- that’s the only sort of traditional thing that we have in my family.

You’ve always had mochi soup -

Since I can remember, yeah.

Do you like it?

I like it a lot. I kind of want it now.

Have you ever helped make it?

Uh, yes. Actually, I forgot a part of it- Once we were old enough, my mom made me and my two younger sisters – we made little dumplings, or I guess gyoza in Japanese. Little dumplings with pork and spices and meats and vegetables. We make the dumplings, and that’s a thing we always have to do on Chistmas and New Year’s Eve. Then my mom puts them in the soup and you can see all the little dumplings that you’ve made and usually we make really weird shapes. So sometimes you’ll get a nice little round moon shape and then you’ll get, like, a rectangle, and then they fall apart and you just have to have dumplings in your soup everywhere.

Do you try to make them into particular shapes?

Sometimes yeah, sometimes yeah. I tried to make a snowman dumpling once, and he kinda looked like a malformed sugar snap pea after. I was sad.

Was there a reason for the snowman?

I mean, it was Christmasy, sort of, and I was like “Oh, if we can shape dumplings, that’s sort of like shaping cookies when we make them for Santa. So I can just like form this with my fingers,” and then it fell apart, because she had to deep fry it and he was just kind of sad. And ripped apart. But it was ok, because it tasted delicious.

You helped make the dumplings – your mom makes the rest of it?

Mostly. It’s a pretty basic process, just making the broth, and then she throws in the little dumplings and the rice cakes. But she’s a very excellent cook so I wouldn’t want to disrupt anything in her kitchen – she’s a gale force wind when we step in and she’s not expecting us. It’s a danger zone.

Is it just your family? OR a tradition that many other people take part of?

I think it’s a Korean – well, Korean / Japanese tradition. My mother’s side of the family is Korean and it’s what she does, it’s what her side of the family does, but my baa-chan, or my grandma on my dad’s side who is Japanese – she always comes over and it seems like it’s something that she does too. She lives alone, and right next door to us, so she always comes over for all family celebrations. So I assume that it’s maybe just like a Far Eastern – Asian sort of deal. Maybe. I mean, it seems that way. I met a couple other families who do the same thing, Japanese or Korean.

Is there any symbolism to the food? Like the rice cake part of it?

I don’t really know. I feel like rice cakes in general are just kind of important to – maybe not the Korean culture so much as the Japanese culture because my grandma, my baa-chan, she sometimes throughout the year – she’ll just be making large things of rice cakes. Just in the kitchen. And there’s no reason for it, she’s just doing it. And I’m like “Ok…!” And there’s just like a lot of rice, and a little machine going around that like smashes it and whirls it around and stuff. But I think specifically would be for Japanese holidays and New Year’s and Christmas. But I mean she kind of just does them whenever.

Do you speak fluent Japanese?

I don’t, I unfortunately speak neither of my family languages. I know how to say very basic things.

 

 

Informant gives lots of background to the mochi soup. Informant sounds fond in description, and it makes them think of the family they love.

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