USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘secular’
Customs
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Apache Blessing and Tying of the Hands in American Indian Wedding Tradition

The informant is a 67-year-old Mexican-American woman who is a reverend. She is known for tailoring wedding receptions to couples from different cultural backgrounds, and in her words “taking old traditions and giving them new meaning.” Many consider her to be the “guru of new wedding traditions.”

While out to breakfast while the informant was visiting me in Los Angeles, I asked her to describe a ritual or tradition that was commonly incorporated in weddings where either the bride or groom has an American Indian cultural background. She described a ritual called “the tying of the hands.”

“The tying of the hands is a lovely tradition. The families provide a traditional rope, which sometimes has a strip of material representing their tribe. I bind the couples’ hands together with the rope, and so they vow to be seen by the community as one. Usually the couple likes me to follow this by saying the Apache blessing. Christians, and secular weddings seem to like it as well. The start of it goes, ‘Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.’”

While the Apache blessing is rooted in American Indian tradition and the tying of the knot may incorporate a bride or groom’s tribal heritage, the combination of the two can be used for a wedding ceremony between two individuals of any background. The Apache blessing in particular is extremely transferrable because it makes no reference to God or any higher power, instead focusing solely on the positive, heartwarming implications of marriage for the bride and the groom. The tying of the hands serves as a physical representation of the couple’s union, followed by the description of the details of this union in the blessing.

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Wooden Shoes for Sinterklaas

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: “St. Nicholas Day there is like December 7th or 8th. It was a secular holiday. I mean everybody, all the Jewish people (all 10% of them, the few left after the war), we all celebrated St. Nicholas day. So, your dad is in the Netherlands with us on St. Nicholas Day, we call it Sinterklaas there, and he looks out the window and says, ‘Oh yes, really secular holiday.’ There’s the St. Nick, whose you know, this cardinal. White haired cardinal all decked out. And then, Swarte Piet, which is Black Pete was a little black guy with him. On St. Nicholas Day in Holland we always put out our wooden shoes. We’d put out the wooden shoes because then they’d be filled with chocolate. They would do it really literally though. So if you were “bad” that year, you would actually get coal in your wooden shoe. Not like they do here in America with the stockings and presents. Even in the United States early on we would always get packages from the Netherlands before St. Nicholas Day.

 

Interviewer: “So could it be any shoes?”

 

Informant: “A wooden shoe! Instead of stockings it was the wooden shoes. If you were a bad kid, then St. Nicholas would put coal in your shoe as opposed to, you know, chocolates.”

 

Analysis: I remember in class we talked about most Christmas traditions being based on older Pagan festivals, and many religious holidays’ links with earth-cycle rituals. St. Nicholas Day being a secular ritual in the Netherlands could be an example of a Christmas tradition’s origins being based in pagan tradition, or it could also be an effect of Christianization of the area where the Netherlands is now.

 

The figure of Black Pete, or Swarte Piet as he is called in Dutch, really fascinates me. I did some research on him and found that there has actually been a good deal of controversy surrounding “Santa’s Black-faced Helper”, as a writer for NPR refers to the figure. It’s not just that there is a statue of a little black man next to the more favorably-sculpted Saint; each year, there is a Sinterklaas parade, during which several individuals in black face dance around as St. Nicholas’s helpers.

 

There are different stories as to why Swarte Piet is swarte. Some say it is because he was once the devil – this in and of itself is problematic in the context of blackface minstrelcy—that black is associated with the devil goes to support racial supremacy theories. Some say that Swarte Piet was a slave of Sinterklaas. Others say Piet is just dirty from sliding down too many chimneys helping St. Nicholas.

 

Regardless of how Piet became Swarte, in recent years there have been more and more people upset by the blackface tradition associated with Sinterklaas parades. It will be interesting to see how the controversy plays out. As of now, the Dutch courts have refused to intervene.

 

For more information on blackface in Sinterklaas celebrations see: http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/12/01/367704573/santas-black-faced-helpers-are-under-fire-in-the-netherlands

Customs
Festival
Holidays

Festivus

The Informant provided the following when asked to describe a tradition in which he took part:

So, every year, instead of celebrating Christmas, some families celebrate the holiday of Festivus, which is, um, basically,you get a giant metal pole, and, like that’s sort of your…. and you decorate that kinda like a tree, and you eat spaghetti and meatballs, and you have an airing of grievances, which is, you can you sit down at the table with everyone and you get to stand up and you get to just say anything you want about anybody in the room, like that’s been bugging you or whatever without any repercussions this one time of the year you can do that, and at the end of the night, the last thing you do is the oldest member of the group wrestles the youngest member of the group, and that goes until the youngest member can pin the oldest member… and that is the festival of Festivus, which is a Christmas… winter? holiday.

The informant said that every year, his fraternity celebrates this festival, and he takes part in it. Although he admitted it is originally from the popular sitcom Seinfeld, making it originally fakelore, it has since taken on a life of its own, being practiced with much more detail and variety than was originally included in the television show from which it developed. Festuvus serves as a secular alternative, or simply an addition, to the Christian Holiday of Christmas, and seems to draw on both traditional and pagan themes to create a winter holiday which will appear to a wide youth demographic.

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