The informant, my friend, is a 20-year-old college student. All of the informant’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from South Korea, but both of her parents have lived in the United States their whole lives.
While we were in line to order at a local Chipotle restaurant, I asked the informant if any specific traditions or customs related to her South Korean heritage have stood out to her the most throughout her life. She hesitated for a moment, and at first failed to answer my question. A few minutes later, she began to describe a coming-of-age ceremony that was held for her as a baby.
“Traditionally in South Korea, when a baby makes it to 100 days it means that they’re going to live a long life. So at 100 days the baby’s family holds a ‘100 Day Party.’ The babies wear a traditional South Korean outfit and there is a whole feast for the family. During the ceremony there are a lot of different bowls, and each one contains something different like a dollar bill, different types of food, some thread, or a pencil. The baby is set in front of the bowls and whichever ones it puts its hands in are supposed to represent what type of life it will have. So if you choose the pencil you’re supposed to be intelligent, the dollar means you’ll be rich, and the thread means you’ll have a long life.”
This ceremony marks the point at which a South Korean family truly celebrates the life of their new child without hesitation or worries of health complications leading to a premature death. It seems to be a remnant of the lack of healthcare and prevalence of childhood mortality that existed across the globe several centuries ago, since in recent years child mortality rates in developed nations like South Korea and the United States have fallen drastically as a result of increasing knowledge in the health sciences as well as greater availability of medicine and healthcare services. I asked the informant if she remembered what was in the bowl that she picked on her 100 Day Party, but she did not. For the informant’s family, then, the party served more as a celebratory event than a true predictor of their child’s life trajectory, since her lack of knowledge with regards to the object that she picked had no bearing on the personal and career choices she has been allowed to make throughout her life. I also asked the informant if she plans to hold a 100 Day Party for her children, if she has any, and she responded that she does. It is realistic to say that this folk tradition will continue to exist for future generations, as it is a fun and exciting event that many would have no moral hesitation holding for their child.
Informant: I learned Rage Cage from [older sorority sister], actually! Yeah, she taught it to me at [fraternity]. We were over there one night, and she was like, “[informant], why aren’t you drunk yet? You gotta get on my level!” So she got some of the guys in a circle around the table—the beer pong table—and put a bunch of red cups in the middle of the table, and we filled them all with a little bit of beer. And then she took two empty cups and uh, gave them to two of the guys. And they each had one ping pong ball, and they had to bounce the ping pong balls into their cup. And when the guy on the left of the other guy got his in, he’d pass the cup and the ball clockwise. If the guy on the right got his ball into the cup before the other guy, he got to stack his cup in the other guy’s cup, and then he’d pass the stacked cups to the next person in the circle. The guy who lost—who didn’t get his ball in and got another cup stacked in his—has to drink one of the cups of beer in the middle of the table. Then he can use that empty cup and try to bounce the ping pong ball into that. He passes the cup clockwise when he gets it in.
Me: So you just keep passing the cups clockwise in the circle?
Informant: Yeah. Well, unless someone gets the ball into the “chasing” cup—the cup that isn’t stacked—on their first try. Then they can pass it to whoever they want.
Me: Is there, like, someone you want to pass to in particular?
Informant: You want to pass it to the person to the right of whoever has the stacked cups. It’s easier to get them, then.
Me: How does the game end?
Informant: When all the cups are stacked. But [older sorority sister] plays it so, like, the last person to lose—to get a cup stacked in theirs—has to chug a whole drink.
The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is a member of a sorority, and was born and raised in Chicago, IL.
The informant told me she has played Rage Cage at numerous fraternity parties since learning it during her sophomore year at USC. The game is usually played in mixed-gender groups of five or more players (up to as many as can fit around the table, although a group larger than twelve may have trouble keeping the attention of players stuck on the opposite side of the circle from the action) and takes place at fraternity houses or otherwise private location where those who are not yet of the legal drinking age can participate.
This drinking game is typically played early in the evening as a way for men and women to loosen up around one another. Since fraternity party culture at USC revolves around partygoers being intoxicated, Rage Cage is often used as a comfortable and fun way for participants to ease into drinking for the night. The competitive “stacking” element of the game also allows for participants to gang up on certain members of the group who they believe should drink more.
ABOUT THE INFORMANT:
My informant is a senior graduating this semester from USC. He is a biomedical engineer, and is the oldest son of two immigrants from China.
Interviewee: Whenever we have parties or go to parties it is basically a requirement that we sing the Neil, what’s his name?, song – “Sweet Caroline.”
Interviewer: Neil Diamond?
Interviewee: Yeah, I think. So we have to sing that song. But it’s not just a song, it’s like everyone sings it in a circle. And then like after the “Sweet Caroline” part in the chorus, we all have to say “Ba, ba, ba” and throw are fists in the air. It matches like the horns.
And then for the “good times never felt so good,” we all yell “So good, so good, so good,” with the same fist bumping.
Interviewer: Is that it?
Interviewee: Well that’s like the basics. But then for those in the know when he says “reaching out,” you gotta reach out to the rest of the group. “Touching me,” you put your hand on you. “Touching you,” touch someone else next to you.
And then if you really know it, the “warm touching warm” part you rub your hands together like they are cold.
“This started because, at least I think it started because of him, but one of our friends is from Boston. And he is like really into Boston. And he’s a Red Sox fan. And I guess the Red Sox fans do this during baseball games at Fenway Park. It’s like their anthem. So he gets really into it during the singing. But really it’s become just like a big group thing. Singing it with everyone. It pretty much will just stop the party.”
This song/dance has is an example of folklore traveling from location to location, event to event. What started as Neil Diamond writing a song for Caroline Kennedy has somehow gotten turned into a theme song for the Red Sox, which has then been used as a party song at USC. Probably for the person that came from Boston, who is “really into Boston,” used it as a way to show the people at USC his culture, but now the song has a whole USC culture to it. Especially at the point where it is practically guaranteed for any parties that this group of people throw or go to. It has now turned into a form of identity for this friend group at USC. Which is funny because it is derived from a form of identity for Red Sox fans and Bostonians.
“Sweet Caroline” can be heard in the film Fever Pitch about an obsessed Red Sox fan, and this is an article in The Boston Globe all about how this writer hates the tradition to sing it at the games.
This informant is a member of a USC fraternity and I asked him to share some of their traditions or stories he might have. Among others, here is a year-end senior tradition he shared with me. It’s called Senior Schlaugen and here is our dialogue.
Me: Tell about this Senior Schlaugen, and what does the name mean?
Informant: Haha, I have no idea where the name came from but since the game is all about drinking and –schlaugen sounds German, maybe that’s why? Anyways it’s a tradition the seniors do every year, where we try to drink as much as possible for the last month of school. So for this year it goes from April 15th to Graduation on May 15th. Basically we form teams of three and you get points every night someone on your team goes out, also there are weekly team challenges, like finish a 30 rack in a library. Its really fucking with me right now, I have been out six nights in a row, I gotta fuckin win.
Me: Is there a prize?
Informant: Uh, ya winning team gets little gimmick trophies, but its more about the pride.
Me: So this competition means a lot to you?
Informant: Well ya, nothing I do in school now is gonna change what I do post grad as long as I don’t fail any classes. Couldn’t really give less of a shit about my classes right now.
Me: Well, you’re about a week in do you think you’ll burn out before graduation? Any surprises after just a week?
Informant: Haha, no way ill burn out I fuckin live for this. But ya even though this game is all about getting fucked up and partying, it really does serve a purpose that I am just now realizing.
Me: What’s that?
Informant: Well its just brought me closer to all the guys that I may or may not ever see again, and really forced us to make the best out of the last month. You get extra points if your whole team drinks together in one night so we are all always in the same place.
For starters, this tradition at the informant’s fraternity is a blaring example of the drinking culture at USC, and the Greek community more specifically. However, although it seemed completely centered around partying on the surface, what my informant said at the end really shed light on why the tradition has stayed around for years. The game brought all the seniors closer, students who may never see each other again and definitely will never all in the same room again. Some people say fraternities are all about partying, but by looking further into their traditions, you can see the important role brotherhood plays as well.
This informant is an old classmate of mine, who has know moved on to working in Los Angeles. I started off asking this informant if he had any folk stories or family traditions that were interesting and he told me about the annual Kentucky Derby Party that his Grandpa throws. At first I was hesitant that it really qualified as a custom or holiday/festival but it turned out to be deeply rooted in his family’s history.
Informant: I have to first start by telling you about Papa [this is what he called his grandpa.] His family grew up in Kentucky but moved to Arcadia when he was born. His father was a horse trainer, and Papa spent a large portion of his childhood at Santa Anita Park. So fast-forward to when Papa was applying to college. He was training alongside his dad at this point and won a huge race that ultimately gave him the means to attend USC and the ROTC program. So the horse races have been super important in his life and many generations before him. Now every single year he takes all his grandkids to opening day at Santa Anita and every single Kentucky Derby he has a big bash at his house that has been an annual thing since before I was born.
Me: Sounds cool, tell me more about the actual party.
Informant: The party is super traditional to Kentucky, like its set up like Churchill Downs. Mint Juleps are always served at the door, which is like this minty whiskey drink that Papa takes a lot of pride in even though the ingredients are really simple. Everyone dresses really nice and there is always someone taking bets.
Me: What about when the actual race goes on?
Informant: Its weird that the big race is only like two minutes, but the party goes on all day. Everyone just stands around the TV and cheers, most people don’t know anything about the horses but Papa always has some very strong opinions, based on tips from his trainer friends.
Me: Haha ya, never got the hype behind horse racing because of how short the races are. Would you say this family tradition has rubbed off on you in any way?
Informant: Oh 100%. I used to take our yearly trips to the races for granted but now I love them. It gives me some quality time with Papa and I have grown to love the sport, especially picking winning horses when the walk around the paddock before the race.
The horse races, and more specifically the Kentucky Derby, have clearly become very meaningful for my informant and his family. What probably started as a way to earn a living or a hobby generations ago has now materialized into an annual gathering of friends and family. The family custom, not only displays their love for horses and competition, but also their dedication to family. The informant said most attendants had no idea which horse to root for or bet on but still came because it gave them a chance to honor something important to their elder and reconnect with family members.
This is another story told to Marisol by a nanny who was from the Andean province of Ayacucho. The nanny told her that as a child, her relatives always warned her not to get close to parties or gatherings of people in the middle of the fields or on top of hills because these were there to take away wayward children, drunks and gluttons. She warned her that if she was out playing the hills and heard laughter and voices, she was to run away immediately and not get close to the table, no matter how delicious and abundant the meal or how inviting the people because if you ate any of the food or touched the guests, they would take you to the afterlife and the party would disappear and all that your family would find on the hill would be a rock.
This story serves to keep kids in line and keep them away from strangers and unknown places. It is a lot like the Irish tales of fairies. There is also the presence of a magical mound which can be found, most famously, in Irish fairy folklore.
Informant is a Peruvian friend who was visiting me this week. She first heard of the Amancaes festival from her grandmother. The Fiesta de San Juan was a festival that took place in the hills of the Amancaes located in the seaside Rimac district of Lima. The Amancaes are bright yellow flowers that grew on these hills during the months of June and July.
The Festival of Amancaes evolved from the pilgrimage site because of the beautiful Amancay flowers that blossomed during the months of June and July and covered the hills in their entirety. In these celebrations, limeñans of all classes and races came down to the hills for unlimited food, music and dance. This celebration went on until 1952 when it was discontinued because the hills of Amancaes were invaded by squatters coming from the outskirts in search of better opportunities in the capital.
This festival was meaningful because Limeñan society has always been very stratified and segregated by class and race. Limeñans of European descent always looked down upon the indigenous and African populations, but on this one day (like Mardi Gras and the Ancient Roman’s Saturnalia) all of these social mores are forgotten and people of all races and classes would party together and share food and drink. Now, there is a festival that was started two years ago called Mistura, this is a gastronomic festival organized every year in Lima and it has become so popular that tickets are sold out almost immediately after they go on sale. This festival is doing the same purpose that the Festival de Amancaes used to do which was to bring society together by providing them with something that people of all ages, races and social classes enjoy: good food.
Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major. He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. His family is from Mexico but he has lived in Southern California for nearly all of his life.
Context: I was talking to Fabian about Mexican stories and folklore. He started mentioning how there are several important festivals/traditions one goes through in traditional Mexican culture, one of them being the quinceañera festival. He then detailed his experiences going to close family and friends’ festivals throughout his life.
Item: “It’s a coming of age kind of thing for girls. The way they work is there’s a royal core that is usually made of, uh, direct blood relatives (female and male) and also really close female and male friends. There’s a chambelan which is the quinceañera’s escort which is either the boyfriend or girlfriend if they have one, or a close male relative or a really close male friend. This is the quinceañera’s main escort for the night. So, uh, it all starts off with a dance. The dance varies, but the entire core people perform this choreographed dance that they do. Once they are done, then the main guy and the quinceañera girl have a solo dance in the middle. This is a little more elaborate and involves just those two. It’s usually a waltz. And then, um, the guy gives the girl to her dad and there’s a father-daughter dance. And then, after that, like, there’s just kind of eating and kind of a regular party. The main difference between celebrations comes from the type of dance that is performed at the beginning.”
Analysis: The quinceañera party helps celebrate a woman’s coming-of-age and sexual maturity. The order of events in Fabian’s recounting parallels the path of the girl thus-far in her life. In the beginning, all the close friends and family are involved in a special dance, showing how the girl has thus far been raised and been intimately connected with her close friends and family. Then, the girl is given to the special chambelan who gets to dance with the girl, representing how the girl will move on from her childhood familial upbringing and find a suitable mate in society. The subsequent father-daughter dance is an homage to the fact that the original man in her life for the past fifteen years has been her father. This dance represents the fact that the father will continue to respect his daughter (but shifting from treating her as a little girl to treating her as a woman). This celebration is a very important event in Mexican and Hispanic culture, and traditionally is maintained even for families that have moved to the United States.
In the Mexican tradition, the most important element of the quinceañera is a Thanksgiving mass that commences the celebration. After this mass, the girl enters the banquet hall or wherever the celebration is being held. Typically, the girl was not able to dance in public before the age of 15, so the dance with the chambelan is the girl’s first public dance. Therefore, this event would be very important in the girl’s life and something that girls look forward to for months or even years prior.
This tradition has many parallels to the American tradition of a Sweet 16 party. They both celebrate the coming of age of girls (marking the transition from child to woman). Quinceañera’s, as written above, are elaborate celebrations held in banquet halls, and can be extremely formal and has a relatively set progression. The sweet 16, a celebration of a young girl’s virginity, varies much more. Although some folks make it a formal celebration, many times it is a more informal house party or get-together of close family friends and relatives. At its core, the variations in sweet 16’s shows the diversity in American culture, while the relative rigidity of the quinceañera shows the more homogeneous Mexican culture (highly tied to Catholicism).
Informant Bio: Informant is my friend from high school who also goes to the University of Southern California. We currently live together and he is a third year electrical engineering major. His dad is from Concord, Massachusetts and represents a large blend of different cultures. His mom is from upstate New York and is mostly of Hungarian, Italian and American ancestry.
Context: I was interviewing the informant about childhood traditions and rituals that he remembered well.
Item: “So, essentially, uh we had some middle school graduation parties but they were definitely less extreme, mostly because we cared less about graduating middle school; it was harder to motivate us. Um, but, our high school graduations (I grew up with three siblings, I’m the youngest), they were all pretty comparable. We have a pretty big back yard at home, um, so we would do a lot of outdoor cooking and grilling. One of them we did a roast with our backyard fire. We invited a bunch of extended family (I have a lot of that live in Massachusetts). So we invited grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles and it was usually always pretty low key events. What typically would happen would be our immediate family and a couple other people would be there for like six or seven hours. And then there would be more of a steady stream, kind of an open place for people to come give congratulations and thanks. It was kind of low key because it was never at any point too packed. Um, so essentially in terms of traditions and things that were always the same, there was always lots of food. Everything seemed to revolve around food, with a large table that was sort of the centerpiece, the center attraction. Typically, there was lots of grilling, and, my dad, who’s a pretty good chef would always ‘go big’. It sort of fell in the holiday category in that regard where like whoever is graduated would get nagged about what they want to eat all the time. Some of the things we’d always do…strangely enough bocce was always a regular habit. Um, so big family bocce games, and then, uh, definitely a lot of drinking (laughs) at least amongst the adults. Like when I was younger not so much since I had older siblings but the adults would always were like drinking to celebrate and make it festive. Um, also it was more formal in that people would actually dress up and treat it as a big deal. It was sort of ceremonious in that regard and wasn’t just a thrown together party”.
Informant Analysis: “My family’s significance…academics were always stressed in my family. It was sort of not only stressed, but kind of like ‘you need to do this’. I feel like, a lot of times, parents, uh it’s more on the negative side so if you’re slacking off in school you get in trouble. But, my parents are more the opposite in that we were rewarded for doing well. Back in elementary school, I remember my dad did this thing where if we got a’s on our report cards, he would give us 100 bucks. Which, when you’re in elementary school is a ridiculous amount of money, so it [the graduation celebration] kind of was like a continuation of sorts where ‘you finished high school so we’re going to celebrate’”.
Analysis: My friend Max has had a rich childhood with strong family values and traditions. The graduation party described above shows just how important academics are to many Americans, especially people in New England. It is seen as the avenue to success and is treated as such. Most celebrations heavily involve food, which is no surprise here.
The playing of bocce might seem a little curious, but, as the informant notes his family represents a blend of European ancestry. No doubt some traditions have been carried over, adapted and otherwise blended together.
What does seem a little different here is the emphasis on extended family. Many people in the U.S. have their family spread across the country, but, the informant notes that pretty much all of his extended family lives in Massachusetts. The regular get-togethers show that they stay in contact and are relatively close and have developed roots in the Northeast area.
“Birthday parties, you give your guests gifts, as a means of like, ‘Thank you for coming.’ And that translates as, like, if you’re having a birthday party, you pay for everyone to come. They don’t pay. They might give you gifts, but they don’t pay for anything. Also as like a, ‘Thank you for coming.’”
This is just another incarnation of the Russians’ famous hospitality. It would be unheard of to go into a Russian home without being offered at the very least a pot of tea and a snack. This culture is reflected into the way that birthdays are celebrated. Although we typically see birthday parties as a celebration of the person whose birthday it is, Russians see it more as a celebration of their loved ones, with the birthday as an excuse for getting together rather than a reason to celebrate one person specifically. A Russian would never dream of inviting someone to a party in his honor and then expecting guests to pay.