Tag Archives: Religion

Jewish Baby Shower Custom

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The following piece is a Jewish custom collected from a twenty-two year old girl in a library with a group of other girls, all studying. The girls were discussing an upcoming family pregnancy. The “Informant” shared the following information with the table. I will be referred to as the “Collector”.

Informant: “Apparently, in Jewish culture, Jewish women aren’t allowed, or like supposed to have baby showers. Apparently it’s bad luck.”

Collector: “What does that mean?”

Informant: “Well, Jewish women are not supposed to prepare for the baby before it is born. It’s bad luck to receive presents for the baby before it’s born. So, like the mother or friends can accept the presents but she can’t give them to the mother. Also, you’re allowed to paint the baby’s room but you can’t bring in the crib. So when the mother finally goes into labor, whoever had the presents or other baby stuff goes to the house and sets up the crib and baby’s room with all the presents. So that it’s ready by the time the mom and baby come home.”

Context

            The Informant learned of this custom from her friend who is Jewish. When questioned, the Informant said that her friend’s mother was the one who told her and was very strict about the tradition. Her mother did it and all the women of the family still uphold the tradition. The Informant remembers learning of the tradition very clearly because she remembers her friends’ anger at the tradition overall.

Interpretation

I had previously never heard of this Jewish custom. I was surprised to hear that it was still very much a part of Jewish women’s practices and belief system. I understand how some of the preparation for a baby coming might lead to superstitious beliefs, or the thought of jinxing the pregnancy, but the idea that the baby shower in particular is bad luck was surprising to me. I’ve always thought that the purpose of a baby shower was to welcome bother the woman to motherhood and the baby to life. It has always seemed to me to be a celebration of life. It’s interesting to me to know to understand the other perspective that it might be an unlucky aspect of the pregnancy.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph — Prayer for Good Luck

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The following piece was collected from a seventy-three year-old woman from Vail, Colorado. She is Irish Catholic. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Oh, whenever my family needs a bit of luck, or we think someone else could use it, all you have to say is ‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.’”

Collector: “Then what’s supposed to happen?”

Informant: “Nothing is supposed to happen. It’s just a way of trying to get some extra help from above.”

Collector: “When do you say it?”

Informant: “Well, we’ve always said it whenever we see an ambulance. If one drives by with the sirens, you say a quick JMJ and that helps. Or…haha… if you need some help on a test you think you did poorly on, I would always write JMJ very small in the corner of the paper right before I turned it in. Couldn’t hurt.”

Context

The Informant learned this practice from her father, who would always stop the car and make the kids said JMJ if they saw an accident or an ambulance. It later leaked into other aspects of their lives, more lighthearted in nature. The Informant always felt more confident, or at least hopeful, about a test that she had written JMJ on. She believed that with God on her side, there was such a better chance of things turning out well in the end.

Interpretation

            I believe this piece to be interesting in the ways it can be applied and at the same time very familiar to me. Growing up, my family’s mantra for a quick bit of help or luck came as a result of very quickly saying “Come, Holy Spirit”. Hearing another family that has a similar practice, but different words is heartwarming to me, because I enjoy hearing that people have faith in small phrases, that saying them can bring good luck and fortune.

Greek Easter Bread

The informant was sharing an important Greek Easter tradition within her family:

*Names are reduced to initials

Me: Can you tell me about the Easter bread you make?

Informant: Tsoureki is a traditional Greek Easter bread that’s prepared during Greek Easter week. It’s usually braided and the red eggs go into it. It’s all we served on Easter Sunday. And um…it’s a sweet bread and again, the egg symbolizes resurrection.

Me: Yum!

Informant: Sometime’s It’s braided and sometimes it’s braided in a round loaf with a cross on the top,

Support: which is our family tradition

Informant: Lots of Greeks do it though. The cross is a byzantine cross so it’s this shape

*She shows me her necklace*

Support: The curled edge is how I make it. Our family recipe came from my great-aunt that’s Aunt G. That’s where we get the recipe from.

Context: 

The Informant is a Greek woman who was born in the United States. She currently lives in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Though she was not born in Greece, her parents immigrated to the US and she was born into a very Greek community in Phoenix, AZ. The performance was held during an Easter party, in front of her younger sister.While the informant does not usually make the bread, her younger sister always does and she provided supporting information.

Analysis:
It’s very interesting how humans can adapt easily but also stick to tradition as we see with the bread. The recipe has been passed down through generations and while there are so many different recipes this one stuck and has meaning. The way the bread is formed has also stuck as the sister describe, as she always makes it in a curled manner. Finally, the younger sister is always the one who makes the bread for the family, which shows her role in maintaining the family tradition. It is very interesting that people are so adaptable, but also find ways to maintain systems that work.

Marine Proverbial Saying

“There are no atheists in a foxhole.”

Context: This proverb was first collected in a philosophy of religion class when the class was going over religious belief. The student stated this proverb during class to which I questioned about after class was finished. The student is a 25 year-old male who has been in the United States Marines and has grown up in Los Angeles.

Informant Analysis: “So, when you are in the Marines this is something that you hear pretty commonly. I take it to mean that when you are in a really tough situation and think you might die, you are gonna start to believe in God. There’s like a fear about death, you know, like what happens after you die. It’s a little bit easier to put yourself in situations like that if you think there is a heaven, you know?”

Collector Analysis: Although this proverb may be said among marines and varied in different situations, the most iconic use of this idea came from Dwight D. Eisenhower, although this is not the first time this idea has appeared. The idea is a quick and more figurative way to state that in times of extreme stress or danger, even people who once considered themselves atheists convert to believe in God. This quick conversion to religion is often called a foxhole conversion. It is possible that the use of foxhole within this proverb came from World War I in which there was use of foxholes that have been recorded as being some of the worst conditions for soldiers in war to date. We can also look at how religion plays a role in the United States and in particular, how it is indoctrinated into the soldiers who serve. Around the time when Dwight D. Eisenhower brought the idea of this proverb to the American populace not involved in the military, there was a fear, philosophically speaking, about atheists. It was difficult for people to actively state they were atheists because there was much stigma around people who did not believe in God. The use of this statement of there being “no atheists in foxholes” can almost function as an argument against atheists, the argument being that no person is ever truly an atheist.

Catholic Proverb

Main Piece:

“Leave it all in God’s hands.”

 

Context: The informant learned this proverb from her mother. They are of Catholic background. The informant described the proverb as meaning, “No matter what decisions or situations we are in, leave it all in God’s hands because he wants what is best for us, so he will lead us in the direction we need to go in.”

 

Analysis:

It seems that when people feel that they have no control on some aspect of their life, they find comfort in saying this proverb because it reassures them that someone is watching over them and will help them anyway possible. Saying this proverb is a form of comfort for many individuals.

Setting an extra plate during Christmas

Content and Context:
Informant -“I remember my mother did this several times. At the Christmas meal, my mother would set an extra seat and an extra place setting. Now the tradition is in case someone shows up, but I always associated it with the people who weren’t with us. That’s how I like to think of it.”

JK – “The people who aren’t with us. Does that mean people who have died or people who just aren’t there?”

Informant – “Either way. When I say prayers at home now, I always add that I ask god to take care of those who aren’t with us. That means your dead grandparents and those who are away.”

JK – “Did the Christmas tradition lead to this added prayer?”

Informant – “Maybe the thought did. Not consciously. It just seemed to me that our meals couldn’t possible be complete without recognizing the absence of those who couldn’t possibly be there.”

Analysis:
It’s interesting that the informant did not carry the tradition forward, but rather his interpretation of the ritual. While his mother wanted to be prepared for unexpected guests, the informant wanted a reminder of guests that weren’t coming.

Jewish-American Thanksgiving

D.F. – “Every year, my family and I go to my Grandfather’s house in Oceanside CA for thanksgiving.  And during the beginning of that week, my Aunt and her family fly in from MN to start cooking.  That’s usually a Monday or a Tuesday.  They start preparing that early.  Sometimes we come Wednesday night before thanksgiving, but usually most of us come on the Thursday morning.  My family usually says that we’re gonna leave by 8:30, but we always leave like a half hour later.    And then we get to oceanside, an hour and a half away, and my Mom is always in charge of the appetizers, and she usually has too many appetizers, all from Costco, and they all have to be KOSHER.  And then, the other families get there.  And then, we all bet what time my uncle and his family are gonna get there because they’re always late.  So then everyone puts down bets for what time he’ll get there, minute by minute, I’ve won a few times.  Once they get there, that’s the pause in the day when we have to figure out what we’re going to do because that’s when everyone’s cooking and they don’t like it when everyone is in the kitchen.  So my cousins and I go play pool at my Grandpa’s senior living house thing.  I didn’t get to start doing that until I was 14 because that was the minimum age; I was really excited.  We play pool for a little while, are forced to come home, everyone sits down at the dinner table (about 25 of us).”

“There are a few people who are assigned to bring in food from the table, and it’s very important that if you did not get asked to do this, that you sit down.  We start with appetizers; now, don’t forget that we already had appetizers, but now we have these sweet&sour meat-balls that my grandma used to make for dinner appetizers.  Sometimes we have matzah ball soup sometimes, if my aunt is up for it.  My other aunt always makes small challahs for everyone.”

“Everyone goes in a circle throughout the meal, saying what they’re thankful for, that year, in front of everyone.  Eating ends.  My brother and I get s**t every year for not helping clean up enough.”

“. . . My other aunt is always in charge of the deserts.  They’re never very good.  After desert, we all take our family photo every year on my grandfather’s couch.”

 

Such structure.  This is in many ways similar to my own Thanksgiving memories, but this seems to have a lot more structure.  My family is pretty tightly wound, but every year, thanksgiving is a very laid-back holiday.  It seems that this is not the case in this household.  Thanksgiving festivities are among the most prominent folkloric experiences in the United States, as most people who live in the country choose to celebrate with loved ones and friends.  It’s interesting not only to see how similar everyone’s Thanksgivings are, but also to examine how the days often differ. Also, it’s fascinating that this person’s religion intertwines here with their nationality.  Even on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, when one’s religion is largely unimportant, her food must remain kosher.

Familial Legends: Dreaming of the Devil

Every family member on J.R.’s father’s side has experienced the same DREAM.

J.R. – “Every single person in my family on my dad’s side, as far back as, like, 4 generations, has had this terrible sleep paralysis at least once in their lives, and during this nightmare they see a manifestation which they believe to be the devil.”

Can you describe the dream?

“So essentially, uh, they – well, really, it’s not a dream, it’s that; when they come to, they’re completely frozen, and usually there’s a window or a door for some reason, and by the foot of the bed.  So what my father saw was a foot-tall figure, usually completely shadowed, has appeared on their bed and walked towards them with blood red eyes.”

“As soon as it gets really close to them, it goes black, and they wake up.”

“My grandmother’s was slightly different than my father’s: she was passed out on her bed, a similar situation to my father, and it appeared.  And the staple of this figure is definitely it’s blood red eyes.”

When you think about the possibility of that happening to you as well, what crosses your mind?

“I’m intrigued, especially because of my father’s family’s interesting relationship with religion.  My dad was a mormon at one point, but now he’s not even religious . . . my grandmother had some issues which kinda drove her away from religion . . . in my eyes, I wouldn’t put it past anything – just for me, I’m not super religious.  I don’t necessarily believe in that stuff, but I don’t think my dad ever has ever, and so I’m intrigued to say the least.”

 

This is fascinating to me.  The person who told me this story is a close friend of mine, and I would have known by now if he was in any way overtly religious.  I’ve known, in fact, that he isn’t particularly religious at all, and neither is his family.  So, it shocked me to hear this from him of all people, because I would never have imagined something so spiritual, so saint-like, could have happened to that family in particular.  Subjectively, I think think that this is a prime example of spiritual fluidity, going through all members of one family.  It’s also interesting to hear what this person, who had not yet had this nightmare, has to say about the possibility of it’s occurrence.  I’d be terrified, as I often am, although he seemed so cool about it.

 

“Ich bin klein”

Main piece:

Ich bin klein

mein Herz ist rein

darf niemand drin wohnen

als Jesus allein.

 

Informant’s English translation:

 

I am small,

My heart is pure,

So no one will live in my heart but Jesus alone.

 

Context: The informant (DB) is a first generation immigrant from Germany; her mother is from Silesia, Germany, and her father is from what was previously known as East Prussia, so she is fluent in both German and English. She was raised Christian but does not consider herself very religious. DB grew up in Orlando, Florida, has two kids, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Our conversation took place while eating quesadillas for lunch our home in Atlanta. The informant heard this nursery rhyme from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from her mother. She values it because it’s “such a simple yet sweet prayer that any child can understand.” DB remembers “Ich bin klein” as the one solitary moment she shared with her mother before bed; despite their busy life and large family, they were always able to regroup and return to each and God at the end of the day.   

Personal thoughts: Popular Christian prayers tend to involve long sentences or invoke complex biblical concepts, which can be especially confusing for children. Take the Lord’s Prayer, for instance – one line reads: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” An 8-year-old has no grasp on temptation or evilness. Although these kinds of prayers are touted to be family friendly, many times children will simply recite them word-for-word without actually being able to fully understand what they are saying. The beauty of the “Ich bin klein” prayer is that it begins by reinforcing the innocence and simplicity of child (“I am small / my heart is pure”), which are words a child can easily grasp, and ends with an affirmation that the child reciting the prayer loves Jesus (“So no one will live in my heart by Jesus alone”). Bam. Easy. No mumbo jumbo about debts and trespassing – just an affirmation of a child’s purity and love for Jesus.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

Main piece: When in times of great stress or excitement, one will exclaim, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

Context: The informant is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. The informant first heard this exclamation-prayer from her Catholic family in Ireland, specifically her great-aunt, as they constantly use it all day everyday. Because the informant is not religious, she sometimes grows uncomfortable with overuse of it in casual conversation as it is a constant reminder of how she’s quite different from the rest of her family in terms of spiritual and moral beliefs. The prayer has stuck with her because of how different it is from American exclamations; when one of her visiting extended family members comes to the U.S., “JMJ” highlights their “otherness.”

Personal thoughts: Upon first read, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” may not seem like a prayer at all, but rather an explanation. However, whenever someone is exclaiming these words, they are either a) asking for help in a time of stress, or b) giving thanks for something unexpected/exciting happening, which are really the two key functions of prayers. What’s nice about the JMJ prayer is that it’s more modern in the sense that its text is shorter in length, and therefore more palatable and digestible to the average, on-the-go American. Out with traditional words and rituals, and in with quick, trendy expressions that double as prayers! JMJ is also interesting because it offers a sly alternative to taking the Lord’s name directly in vain, which devout Christians tend to avoid on the basis of their faith. By exclaiming, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”, you’re invoking powerful names in the bible, but you’re not directly saying “Oh, my God.” It’s a barely-there distinction, since Jesus is considered synonymous with the Lord in many ways, but the inclusion of Joseph and Mary somewhat soften the bite of taking Jesus’s name in vain. And by the time you reach the end of the phrase and have named all three, your local Catholic mother might’ve forgotten you even mentioned Jesus in the first place.