My informant is a USC student and member of a sorority at the University. She is bi-racial of black and Caucasian ancestry.
“In my sorority we have Monday night dinners every Monday night and all the girls are required to go, and then afterwards we have these sorority meetings to talk about things we need to do that week or what’s up for the next week, stuff like that. A persona chef comes and cooks and everyone is required to be there. You just don’t miss. You don’t.”
Analysis: The prevalence of Monday night dinner within sorority culture signifies a collective bond between the girls in the sorority to one another and to their house. I think that its interesting that there is an unspoken law that everyone has to be at Monday night dinner. When I asked if someone could miss she just replied that you “just don’t”. Although there isn’t a spoken reason for it, all of the girls know and accept that it is unacceptable to simply “miss” Monday night dinner. The rituals within sorority houses on occasion are reminiscent of cult behavior, where many people follow a doctrine or a ritual not because there is a justified reasoning behind it, but because everyone else is doing it, or the leader has said that it needs to be done, which can seem slightly off putting for people who are not immersed in of familiar with sorority culture or values.
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.
“Senior Pilgrimage is a tradition at my high school. We would walk from our high school for 14 miles down to Mission San Juan Capistrano and even though the walk was long, it was fun to miss a day of class and have all my friends there with me. It was a highly encouraged event to go to, but students had to meet certain prerequisite requirements like turning in all books to the library, paying library fines, finishing detentions, and stuff to go. And if you didn’t want to go, you would have to have a form signed. They would give us out shirts that said “Senior Pilgrimage” and the year then have us start the walk to the mission at 8:00am on the last day of classes for the school.
The informant is a friend of mine from elementary school, though in high school we went to different schools. I ended up going to Tesoro High School while she went to Santa Margarita. She told me that the school liked having everyone participate in traditions such as the one above because it helped bring the students together and gave them a stronger sense of community. She told me more about this tradition when she was at my house last week and we were recalling things we had to do in high school. She enjoyed participating in the event besides having her feet hurt, and felt that she grew with many of the people she talked to along the journey to the mission. She feels it served as a capstone marking the end of her high school journey.
My friend recalls the school engaging in this tradition since its opening in 1987. Since then, every faculty member has ensured that the walk has happened in the same fashion each year, with everyone receiving the shirts marking the year of the pilgrimage. I wish that I too had something like this at my high school. Though strenuous, it would have helped round out my high school experience and mark my transition from high school to college.
“Every semester, the pledges always have the job of making sure a sticker with our fraternity’s letters are stuck onto the side of the Finger Fountain. It’s almost a game, and if actives see the stickers they’re supposed to take them off the fountain, and then a pledge is supposed to immediately replace it. If no stickers are found on the fountain then the pledges get in trouble.”
When talking with my friend about whether his fraternity hazes or not, the informant told me about this tradition first, which I found rather humorous. Helearned about it in his pledge semester and older brothers in the house say that it’s been done since the finger fountain was first built. The informant didn’t really understand the purpose of constantly applying stickers but I came to the conclusion that it’s a way of the house making its mark on the school and identifying with it. Furthermore, it could be seen as a way of having the pledge make his mark on the fraternity. It’s a task meant to test those who are dedicated and really want to join, as those who don’t replace the stickers display a less serious and caring attitude about pledging the fraternity chapter.
“When I was younger I would dress up in a white dress and a crown with candles in celebration of Saint Lucia at my school. I would give out candy and sing to my friends and classmates because that was the tradition back in Sweden. This ritual is usually done at around Christmas time and usually done as a family. My grandma first taught me about Santa Lucia and bought me my white dress at 7 and I partook in the ritual of handing out candy until I was 12.”
Both of the informants parents, though American born, are very Swedish with native born Swedish parents. My friend grew up just outside of Oklahoma City and she recalls her grandma always wanting to teach her about Swedish culture when she visited from Stockholm. Her grandma really emphasized the event, which I understand due to the fact that it often coincides with the winter solstice. I’ve learned from class that Scandinavians and other northern peoples in Ireland and Scotland all celebrate such events due to the fact that these yearly events greatly influence their lives due to the short appearance of the sun.
The informant later explained to me that though girls usually partook in the traditional ritual of dressing up and handing out goodies that men would sometimes hand out treats as well. Her grandma carefully explained to her that following the ritual each year would help one survive the long winter days without enough light. For my friend, she was always self-conscious about partaking in the ritual because she was always the only one to dress up in school. She recalls her parents forcing her the first couple years to celebrate it because they said it was part of their heritage. She is now happy that they did so because now feels closer to her Swedish relatives and it gives them something to talk about.
I learned about this ritual from the informant after asking her if she ever partook in events when she visited her Swedish relatives over spring break. It was enjoyable to hear more about her Swedish family and their traditions because my family, due to how many generations they’ve lived in America, doesn’t have such European rituals.
The ritual: “My high school’s cross-country team…our sectionals which was like the last meet of the year, cause we always lose sectionals…it’s always at the same place, it’s at this elementary school in Noblesville. And we would go there and there’s like this random path into the woods, and all the guys on the team would go there together, and we would take one lollipop and everyone had to kiss the lollipop and it was super weird.”
The informant carried out this ritual for his high school cross-country team. He said that one guy on the team never did it because he thought it was too weird, probably because he thought it was too close to kissing other guys. This ritual was probably more ironic than for good luck, since the informant himself said that the team lost sectionals every year. Going in knowing that they’ll lose, the ritual for “good luck” was probably just a parody, since the ritual itself is kind of weird to begin with.
The tradition: “At wedding receptions, the guests form 2 lines facing each other, men on one side and women on the other. The 2 at the front of the line dance down the aisle together and go to their sides when they reach the end. Then the next 2 dance all the way down and so on. It’s comes from the 70s and 80s dance show, Soul Train. It’s called the Soul Train Line.”
The informant (my mom) is a black American woman who grew up in Tennessee. Soul Train aired in 1971, and was the first all-black show on national television when it moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. So my mom (and dad) basically grew up watching Soul Train almost everyday after school, learning the dances and watching the various R&B performers through the 70s and 80s, when they were children and teens. The Soul Train line became famous from the TV show, and now it’s a popular practice at African-American weddings; it’s almost a staple. My mom says it happens at basically every black wedding she goes to, in addition to “lots of line dancing: wobble, Cupid Shuffle, 2 stomps…” in her words. Improvisation and line dancing are huge parts of black folk dance in America. The Soul Train line combines both, and emulates the practices done on the show itself. People go down the line in pairs, improvising and feeding off of one another. Every move is choreographed in the moment, feeding off the energy of the crowd. I think the emergence of Soul Train in the 70s was very important for young black children in America, to see their community represented onscreen. It made them excited, and want to imitate the dance practices they saw on TV. That generation (my mom’s generation) is the generation that mostly practices, or starts, these Soul Train lines. I was at my cousin’s wedding last summer, who is in her thirties, and it was the older adults who began chanting to start a Soul Train line. They’re fun and energetic, and a good way to interact with people you may not even know well through dance.
Informant (“A”) is a 19 year old, female from Rancho Santa Fe, California, and attends The University of Southern California. She is a Human Biology major. She is of European descent and her family includes her mother, father, and older brother who attends college in Texas. Informant has studied ballet for 17 years, including work in a professional company.
A: “…Now this one is going to sound really weird but recently there was a production of ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ and there was this kinda offensive song sung in it.
This sort of got turned into a backstage chant, and like I’ve also heard other people do this too. We all huddle in and whisper this ‘We’re gonna rape, kill, pillage and burn, we’re gonna rape kill pillage and burn, eat the babies’. We say this multiple times getting louder each time until all of us are full on screaming it backstage. You know how people can like to scream vaguely offensive stuff, but its not that bad to us because we all know where it’s from. Then right before I go on stage I’ll do like a cross, you know the like Catholic one. I’m not really religious but I’ve been doing it for years. I think it started when I did a really hard solo and it had that cross in it. It basically tells me that I’ve done all I can and now I just have to perform. It’s another aspect of getting mentally ready, because so much of performing is about being physically but also mentally on your game.”
Analysis: The crossing seems to be a sort of parody of superstition. It may be an attempt to ‘use’ a previously accepted superstition in a socially accepted way or to comically parody their own use of superstition before the performance.
This backstage chant seems to be a sort of ‘trust building exercise’ that uses both humor and chanting to reinforce a sense of community. In high stress situations like ballet performances, such reinforcement likely serves to cater trust in other dancers, as the difference between an effective performance and a mishap could rely on other dancers.
In Indian weddings in general, Henna is very very important. And it is said that the darker it is, the more your husband loves you.
This belief, while known to be a mere superstition, is still venerated and guarded as paramount to the success of a marriage. So much so, that there are articles and tips in Indian wedding magazines and blogs as to how to obtain a darker stained Mehndi. Some brides, Mayuri mentioned, go so far as to bleach the skin around their upper and nether limbs in order to have the henna stand out more from their skin and appear darker.
As a morning ritual before school days, Cat’s mom would always come into her room to wake her up. Since Cat was such a terrible morning person, her mom would try and perk her up by singing the song: “You Are My Sunshine.” He mom would come into the room singing You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray, you’ll never know dear how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away. Every time that her mom got to the line “love you,” her mom would pull off Cat’s covers to lovingly force her out of bed. Because her mom would pull her covers off every day on the same line, Cat would clutch onto her covers as strong as she could to try and thwart her mom. However, every day Cat’s mom would always succeed in waking her up to go to school. They performed this ritual every school day morning from Fifth grade through senior year of High School.