USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Rituals, festivals, holidays’
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Picigin”-Croatian Water Sport

Informant FV is my grandfather who was born and raised in Split, Croatia. Picigin is a Croatian water sport that my grandfather played as a young boy and continues to play. It is a traditional ball game that is played in very shallow waters on the beaches of Croatia:

“Picigin”

“Cold splash”

What kind of sport is Picigin?

FV: “Picigin is a typical water sport on the very shallow water up to 6 inches maximum. Usually 5 men get together in a circle formation. The goal is to keep the small ball up in the air and out of the water for as long as possible. Back in the day, people used to peel off the skin of tennis balls and use them in the game. In this game, the players never catch the ball. They only let the ball bounce off of the palm of their hand. You have to run and dive to save the ball from hitting the water. The longer you keep the ball up in the air, the more points you get.”

Is Picigin a competitive sport?

FV: “It can definitely get competitive depending who you are playing with, but typically it’s meant to be a fun and relaxing activity played on the beach.”

Where did Picigin originate?

FV: “Picigin originated on the beach of Bačvice in Split, Croatia back in the 1920’s. It was originally a sport played by only males, but over recent years, women have become part of the game.”

Do other regions of Croatia play Picigin?

FV: “Since Picigin was born on Bačvice Beach in Split, it is tradition to play it on the beach where it was discovered, but people do play this sport on other beaches as well but it must be only on flat, sandy beaches like Bačvice. It cannot be played on rocky or pebbled beaches because you cannot dive or fall into the water to save the ball. You can seriously injure yourself by not playing on a sandy beach.”

What is the typical garment worn during Picigin?

FV: “Well, men wear either swim shorts or ‘mudantine,’ which is what we call a speedo. For women, they wear their ‘kostim,’ which is their regular swimsuits.

What context or time of year is this sport played?

FV: “Picigin is played year round on Bačvice. It is very popular to play it during the hot summer months, but also during the winter season. You will see more people playing it during summer time because the water is warm and it’s vacation time.”

What does Picigin mean to you?

FV: “Picigin is one of my favorite sports to play. I grew up playing it with my friends every summer in Split on Bačvice. It is a sport that was discovered in my hometown so it holds a special place in my heart and it’s an extremely fun sport that anyone can learn to play.”

Analysis:

Picigin is a fun sporting activity that brings true uniqueness to the city of Split. As a large part of Split’s heritage, it has been recognized as a monument and is protected under UNESCO. The game has grown to be very popular over the years that there is an annual World Championship competition that is held on Bačvice beach every June. People from all over the world come to participate in the competition. The game has grown popular in other countries in recent years. The World Championship is a great way to bring other cultures together to share in this experience through a fun sport. Whether it is winter or summer, rain or shine, you can be sure that there are dedicated players playing an exciting game of picigin on Bačvice Beach.

 

 

 

Customs
Foodways
Proverbs

Lazy Grace

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM was raised in a Christian household, where her family said “grace” before dinner every night:

“I have four siblings and we always ate dinner together with our parents. We’d sit around this big round table and every night, we would take turns saying grace before eating…we were supposed to come up with something original, like something that had to do with the day or different events going on in our lives, but usually my siblings just defaulted to ‘God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” I always tried to have an interesting one, but I think everyone else just wanted to eat.”

I asked KH if she still says grace in her family, or if she and her siblings carried their religious traditions on in their new nuclear families:

“Ultimately I was unsuccessful in getting my kids to go to church. My husband grew up in a Catholic family and now wants nothing to do with the church, and I couldn’t get my kids to show much interest either. I don’t think anyone else in my family still goes to church…except my parents. They’ve been going to the same church since they met.”

My analysis:

Religion is one of those things that can either define a family, or be irreconcilable when two families come together. In KH’s case, religion’s importance started to waver amongst her and her siblings, despite the traditions of their parents. The “grace” prayer in her family shows one generation trying to pass on their beliefs through a ritual, and the next generation participating half-heartedly, or just to please authority. Eventually as they started their own families, her siblings decided the tradition wasn’t particularly important to them, and refrained from instilling it in their own family. More broadly it seems to symbolize the diminishing importance of their religion, and maybe a certain progressive movement amongst families to not force it on their children.

Customs
Initiations

Cheerleading Sleepover

Background: A.S. is a 22-year-old student at USC studying Occupational Therapy. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, and both of her parents are professors at USC. She was a founding member of the cheerleading team of her high school, and the experience of being on this team helped to define her high school experience in general.

 

Main piece: I went to a really small high school, so we never had a football team, just a basketball team. My sophomore year of high school, a few girls (including myself) founded a cheerleading squad. At first, we weren’t very good. Our coach was a competitive cheerleader her whole life, though, so she began to increase the amount and intensity of practices and we eventually got pretty good after two years. Our second year, we went to state competitions and at this point I was our captain. Making it to competition was a huge deal because we were finally earning some credit in the cheer world. In preparation, my coach encouraged me to do something to get our squad excited and ready. So I decided to host a cheer sleepover the weekend before our competition, a sort of sisterhood-like night to bond. It became a tradition for my high school that every weekend prior to a competition (the squad goes to multiple competitions now), the cheer squad has a sleepover at the captain’s house. I only got to do it twice while in high school, but it’s nice to hear that it’s still tradition! The new captains send me & my old coach a photo each time it happens.

 

Performance Context: This sleepover ritual would be performed over the weekend before a competition.

 

My Thoughts: This sleepover ritual is a way for people to feel that they belong to a group, and that others are looking out for them. It is a way for the cheerleading team to have a shared experience and even have team bonding.

general

Through the Eyes of a Dog

The informant is a 45 year old Panamanian woman, LF. She has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies and she is particularly interested in the way that animals play into folklore and literature throughout history. LF recounts a folk belief she learned as a child regarding the magical properties of dogs:

“It is believed that during the night, when dogs perceive something that humans cannot hear or see- you can see the dog’s reaction. They perk up, and they move their ears, and sometimes they bark or they howl. It is believed that when this happens at nighttime, it is because they can see supernatural stuff that humans cannot. It could really be, like, a mouse or a cat moving somewhere and they are reacting to that, and we don’t see it because we can’t see as well in the dark as they can. But some people believe that this means that they can see spirits, or devils, or that kind of entity that lurks in the night unseen.

It is said that if it’s nighttime and the dogs are howling, and you go up to the dog and you take the secretions of the dog’s eye- the ones that form in the corner of the eyes, just like humans- if you take these secretions and rub them in your own eyes, and you look in the direction the dog is howling at, you can see the spirits too. And you can see whether it is a devil or a spirit- you can see it because the secretions briefly give you the powers of the dog.”

You have to be in the right place at the right time. Then you have to go through this nasty ritual (laughs). And then you get to see.”

Why do you know, or like this piece?

“I really like this one because it’s like a superpower- you get to do something that only animals can do with their senses that are better than human senses. So you get to see something that humans can’t normally see.”

Who did you learn it from? And have you ever known anyone who has done this?

“I think I learned it from my cousins. We were teenagers. They were trying to gross me out, because it’s kind of a gross process!

I have never known anyone who has done it or seen anything. My cousins hadn’t tried it. I personally wouldn’t do it because I don’t want to get an eye infection! But it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s someone out there who had the courage to do it and deal with the consequences of seeing a demon- and getting pink eye, probably.”

So I know that one academic area of interest for you is the role of animals and the way they fit into medieval society, culture, and literature. Have you ever heard of anything like this at all in any other society?

“Animals in medieval folklore are usually used in fable-like discourse. Like if you were talking about a king who was too ambitious, in the tale you would reppresent him with a lion who was too ambitious who was deceived by other animals. They usually appear in fables- less so in rituals or magical beliefs.

In late medieval folklore though, there are stories of dogs who have magical properties. There was a trick witches might use to deceive people. They would have a dog who was crying or fussing, and the witches would say she was a maiden who did something wrong, so they turned her into a dog- when really it would just be a dog who was fed a pepper or something like that in order to trick people. And the witch would then try and sell the person who asked about the dog a potion so that they would be protected from being turned into dogs themselves. Essentially, people tell themselves all kinds of stories to explain animal behavior that we humans can’t understand.”

 

My thoughts: I agree with informant when she says that folk beliefs like these arise from the desire to explain animal behavior that may seem unusual ot incomprehensible to us. Because dogs have such fine-tuned senses, they may seem to react to things that “aren’t there”. I enjoyed the connection with medieval folklore that the informant brought up because it shows that humans from many different times and cultures have wondered about this themselves and come up with explanations for it through folk belief.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Freshman-Senior Brawl

Piece:

Freshman-Senior brawl: at the end of each year, the senior boys and freshman boys gather in the schools old gym (this tradition is unknown by the school’s faculty) to have an unofficial freshman-senior brawl to celebrate the moving up of freshman to sophomores and the graduation of seniors moving on from the school. “I do this to you so you can do this to freshman some day.” The idea is that freshmen are hated for being new, young, and naïve and this is the last chance for them to be bullied before they are no longer freshmen. The seniors sort of intentionally go easy on the freshman because they’re 18, whereas the freshmen are 14.

Information & Context:

My informant for this piece is a student at the University of Southern California who graduated from the boarding school (Cate) from which this tradition originates. His knowledge of the tradition dates back between 3 and 11 years ago, though it is reasonable that it has existed for longer.

Thoughts:

It is curious to me that a ceremony of physical violence can be viewed as a positive thing. My informant explained to me that it was seen as a right of passage—after which, both parties move up in the world. I would point out that both parties would move up, regardless of the ceremony, but it is important to note that this is how the community reacts to such a passage. It becomes a “you get bullied now so you get the right to bully later” type of scenario.

Folk Beliefs
Gestures

Splitting the Pole

JN is a 19 year old neuroscience major. She’s from Chicago originally, but she moved to California for college. In the following conversation, we talked about a small ritual that is very special to her and the importance of maintaining friendships:
“So this is a superstition that I have been practicing pretty religiously, I guess.
So I have this weird superstition that if you’re walking with a friend and you come across a pole in the way- and doesn’t matter if you’re holding hands- you are not allowed to go on either side of the pole. So for example, one person can’t go to the right side of the pole and one person can’t go to the left of the pole. Basically, you can’t let yourself get separated from the other person, or else that means that your friendship will grow apart. If that does happen, then the only way you can keep from damaging your friendship is to shake hands after. A lot of my friends don’t realize that, and I kind of freak out and make them shake hands with me! They don’t understand why I do it, but it’s just because I don’t want our relationship to grow apart and I want to stay friends with them.”

Who did you learn this from?
“I can’t remember. I think I learned it from a friend and thought it was really good, that it was something that I should definitely be doing. So I started immediately. I can’t even remember who taught me but it’s something I’ve done for sure since the start of college. I don’t think I learned it before that.”

Why is this ritual so important to you? What does it mean to you?

It is important to me because, even though it seems stupid sometimes, I don’t want to grow apart from my friends so I’d rather be safe than sorry!

 

My thoughts: In this folk belief, there is a connection drawn between physical distancing and emotional distancing. The splitting around the pole and the handshake after  is reminiscent of the concept of “homeopathic magic” proposed by James George Frazer- that a physical action that resembles another will end up causing it. It’s also noted by the informant that sometimes other people don’t accept/are confused by her belief – perhaps this shows that “superstition” now has a negative connotation and less people are willing to admit that they believe in them.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestures
Homeopathic
Initiations
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Breaking Eggs (Persian Rituals)

Okay so like, if people get like a knee injury, a really big thing is to, they’ll take raw eggs and they’ll crack the eggs and rub it on someone’s knee, for pain, and then they’ll wrap it for like two days. And apparently it really works.

 

Do you break the egg on their knee?

 

I think they just break it in a bowl, and then they put it on their knee and then they’ll wrap it. That’s a big one that I’ve seen a lot.

 

So is this for any injury?

 

No it’s not just like for any injury, I know it’s like your knee, maybe your elbow, and they’ll wrap it, I guess it’s for like a joint, just for joints.

 

Isn’t there also a ritual with eggs when someone gets a new car?

 

Oh yeah, okay so if you get a new car, I don’t know if it’s Persian or if it’s just a Jewish thing, I don’t know, it might be Persian… Okay so there’s two things, one of them is they’ll put like, eggs under each wheel, and you have to drive over the eggs, that’s like maybe to keep bad eyes away or something like that. And then another one is like, so when I got my car my mom would like, when I was gonna drive away for the first time they would pour water. Okay wait that’s what they do when they’re going on vacation, like a really big trip. Like when I was leaving for Italy, before I left, my mom or somebody would have to like, once you drive away, pour a glass of water behind you. I don’t know what it means, I think it’s just for safety and to have good luck or something like that, to have a good trip.

 

What do you think driving over the eggs is about? Like breaking new ground or something?

 

I don’t know, that would make sense, yeah like a new beginning or something like that, and it could also just be like having a positive entrance, like keeping bad eyes away. They’re really big on the evil eye.

 

ANALYSIS:

These are rituals enforced by superstitions, mainly surrounding keeping bad luck and evil forces away from you. There is symbolism with breaking the egg, although the informant is not quite clear on what that is. It could be speculated that the inside of an egg resembles the evil eye; or it could be as simple as the fact that eggs break easily; or could have something to do with eggs being a fetus or a new thing in development, like a new car bursting into the world like a chick would burst out of an egg. These are protection rituals and good luck rituals.

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

Persian New Year

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

 

Inside or outside?

 

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

 

Do you know the phrase in Farsi?

 

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

 

When is Persian New Year?

 

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

 

So there’s a lot of symbolism involved?

 

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

 

ANALYSIS:

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

Customs
Gestures
Holidays

Leaving Wine for Elijah at Passover

The informant is a 66-year old mother, step-mother, former poverty-lawyer, property manager/owner, and is involved in many organizations and non profits. She was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was four years old. She grew up in California, where she also attended college and law school. She lived in the suburbs of Chicago for a short while with her husband and family, and now they live in Pacific Palisades, California.

 

Informant: “Back when I was a kid, with your Opa [the word for “Grandpa” in Dutch] every Passover, we would leave a glass of wine—in our most ornate wine glass—for Elijah, like we do now, but we would also all go around the table after the meal and have to tell a little anecdote about Elijah.

 

Interviewer: “Can you explain who Elijah is?”

Informant: “Elijah is a Jewish prophet. It’s tradition to leave a spot for him at the table at Passover so that if he passes through he will stop at your house and give you good luck and health. So we would go around and all have to tell a short made-up story about him. And it was silly that we did this—I don’t know anyone else who did this, but I know that my dad always said that he had done it with his family at their seders growing up.”

 

Thoughts:

I’ve participated in the Elijah ritual myself, so I can speak from a first-person perspective as well as commenting on my informant’s information. In my opinion, leaving a glass for Elijah symbolizes hope, for the future and for the Jewish people—a people historically oppressed and systematically pushed down. Leaving a glass and/or opening a door for the prophet, Elijah, to come is a way of leaving the door open to positive things to come. As it is a prophet that the glass of wine is left for, this custom can also be seen as a seeking of knowledge or insight.

Foodways
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Margaritas at La Barca

My informant is a USC student of Armenian and Caucasian origin, born and raised in California and regularly exercises through distance running. She is also a human biology major with an emphasis in human performance.

“So during a long day of a run—Melissa and I would hate it—and really count down our ten miles until we could go eat at La Barca. And finally when we were done we were rewarded with two-three margaritas, chips and salsa, and a grande colossal burrito and surprisingly we would wake up and run ten times faster. A couple times we averaged a 6:33 mile for 8 miles consecutively so, every time before we had a hard workout the next day we would prep at La Barca before…and it worked pretty well this past summer! And so I guess its just tradition now kind of, with me and her and the other girls who run with us sometimes.”

 

Analysis: This example of acquired folklore demonstrates how superstition and repetition can create a ritual. My informant believed that there was an undeniable tie between her performance while running and the consumption of several margaritas and Mexican food at La Barca restaurant prior to her hard workouts the next day. The initial improvement of her mile time gave her “proof” that her ritual/ceremony before her rough workouts was successful which prompted her repeating the ritual and spreading what she had learned with her other running buddies until it became a tradition within their group to partake in drinks and Mexican food before workouts. This piece of folklore also serves a social purpose and a means of bringing people together and strengthening bonds between friends, as well as marking a distinct trait or practice within this specific running group.

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