USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘seasons’
Myths

The Myth of Persephone

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked EAL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a religious myth she grew up learning in school.

 

CS: “So how did you learn this myth?”

EAL: “I was really into Greek mythology as a kid and my mom bought me like a big book of Greek mythologies and we’d read them together as bedtime stories when I was really young.”

CS: “Can you tell me the story?”

EAL: “So basically Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the god of harvest. She was very carefree, beautiful, and like vibrant. And so Hades, who is the God of the underworld, who is like dark and depressing, saw her and said he wanted her to be his wife. So she was playing in the field and his chariot comes up out of the ground and he abducts her and takes her to the underworld. And then because she was in the underworld and Demeter was so upset, winter came because she was heartbroken about the abduction of her daughter. And while Persephone was in the underworld she ate six seeds so like she has to stay in the underworld since she ate the food of the dead for six months, so that kind of explains the seasons. So the summer she can be with Demeter and its like the harvest season, and then the winter she has to be with Hades and that’s why it’s winter.”

CS: “Did you ever hear varied versions of this myth?”

EAL: “Yeah I’ve heard it before, maybe without the season aspect, so I think there’s definitely variations that leave that out. In others they’re married, but in the version I’ve read she doesn’t love him at all and is just kind of stuck with him.

 

Background:

The participant is a freshman at the University of Southern California and was raised in Chicago, Illinois with a strong Christian religious background. Her mom introduced her to mythology, mostly Greek and Egyptian, at a very young age.

Context:

An in person conversation recorded while walking to an event.

 

Analysis:

I found this myth really captivating because I also used to love Greek mythology and was an avid reader of myths such as this one. I hadn’t heard this version before in regards to how that is where seasons originate. I believe when I used to read Greek mythology it was from a children’s book so it makes sense why details such as that would be left out. It is interesting to see how folk myths, even when tied to religion, still have variations from one to the next.

 

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Snowmaiden, Snegurochka

Folklore Piece:

“Ok, so, there’s these two parents. Well, wait, not parents. There’s this couple, and they can’t have kids, and they’re, like, pretty old now. So it’s snowing one day, and the husband goes outside, and has an idea to build a snowgirl…? So like a little girl instead of a snowman. They made her look really realistic and then a stranger comes by one night, and he, like, does some sort of magic and then he leaves. Then, at night, the snowgirl comes to life. And so they’re really excited, because now they have a daughter, so they take her inside. But, she’s, like, snow, so they keep her from going outside as it becomes spring and summer, and in the summer the girl wants to go outside, um, and her parents always tell her ‘no’, and they don’t tell her why, they don’t tell her why, they don’t tell her that she’s snow. Um, so, the parents go to like the market, or they leave the house one day, and the girl goes outside, and she melts. And the parents come back and she’s, I guess, dead.”

 

Background information

I mean, I like it. It’s stuck with my all of these years. I don’t know, I didn’t do, like, a great job of telling it. I think the message is to always be honest, I guess? And I like that, I think if the parents were, um, more honest with their daughter they could’ve saved her.”

Context

My parents got, like, a little set of stories from India. It’s not an Indian story, but they used to read it to me at night. Sure enough, I actually met the informant’s mother later that day. I asked her about the story and she said, “Oh yes, we used to have plenty of books filled with little stories that we’d tell the kids before they went to bed. Not necessarily Spanish, or Indian, just some fairy tales and little stories.”

 

Analysis

I had originally asked this informant to participate because I knew that her and her family were very much still in touch with their roots. She visits India nearly every year, goes to Indian weddings, lived in Spain near her family for half a year, talks about all the traditional Spanish food her mom makes. So when I asked her to share with me some form of folklore, be it a proverb or a cultural event, or a story, that this is the one she thought of.

To be honest, it could have been because she had been around a previous informant who was also telling a tale, but I still believe it is telling. Out of all the stories that her mother told her over the  years, and I’m sure countless relatives had told her, she remembered “the one about the snow girl.” She couldn’t remember exactly what the story was for some time, and I suggested that maybe she think of something else. But she was adamant about teling this story; she called her mom, called her dad, called the house, and finally it clicked.

After more of my own research, I found the origin of the “Snow Girl” tale to be, in fact, Russian. The Snow Girl, or Snow Maiden, is formally known in Russian folklore as Snegurochka. There are many tales of Snegurochka, and many variations of this same story that the informant had told me. Here is a variant where she melts, but does so intentionally, after her parents compare her to the value of a hen when a fox brings her home from being lost in the woods. However, in this story, she refuses to leave with the fox, and her once banished dog brings her home and is rewarded, and she remains in tact and happy. To read yet another version, you may want to check out The Snow Maiden and Other Russian Tales by Bonnie Marshall. (Marshall, Bonnie C. The Snow Maiden and Other Russian Tales. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004. Print.)

Beyond the interest of all these variations, however, is the context of this informants nationality telling this story. Clearly, with so many stories, the Snegurochka is something that Russian’s identify their culture with. Yet, here is a girl, whose parents are from countries that don’t even traditionally see snow, retelling the tale in Southern California as the one piece of folklore that she would like to share. This just goes to show that while one’s heritage and self-proclaimed culture are important, they are not all encompassing of the folkloric artifacts that they hold dear.

Earth cycle
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Winter Solstice Festival (冬至)

冬至
dōng zhì
Winter Solstice Festival

“The Winter Solstice Festival is very important to the Chinese culture.  It is celebrated around December 21, the shortest day of the year.  This festival celebrates longer daylight, which means that there’s more positive energy.  For this festival, families get together and eat tangyuan.  Tangyuan are glutinous rice balls that represent reunion.  It allows families to reunite.”

My informant learned the item when she grew up in Taiwan.  It’s an important Chinese tradition that most people participate in.  My mom has been celebrating the Winter Solstice Festival ever since she was a little kid, and now my family celebrates it every year.
My family celebrates the festival on December 21.  We have a huge family reunion with my aunts and uncles.  We go to a Chinese restaurant to eat a delicious dinner, while catching up on everybody’s life.  After dinner, each family separates and goes home.  At home, my mom cooks tangyuan for my whole family.  Usually, she makes several stuffed tangyuan and many small plain ones.
My mom enjoys this celebration because she loves family get-togethers.  With the busy lives that everyone leads now, my parents do not get to see their brothers and sisters often.  This festival is a chance for everyone to reunite.  This celebration is particularly important to my mom because of the fact that we always have a family reunion on this day.  This day also allows my mom to sit down with my family while eating tangyuan.
I think that this festival is significant to Chinese culture and Chinese families.  I agree with my mom, and I think that families really don’t have very much time to sit down and talk to each other.  Even family dinners are becoming so rare in American families.  Parents are always working and children have extracurricular activities and large amounts of homework that keep them from eating at a set time.  Also, this festival shows Chinese values.  Chinese people value positive things, so the fact that after the winter solstice is over and there will be days with longer daylight is relative to their beliefs.

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