Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.
Informant: So there’s this really strange tradition where I’m from in Chicago. And I mean, I don’t know if it’s only a Chicago thing, I don’t know if they do it in other parts of the States too, but it’s very common to see in Chicago. So like, basically, what the tradition is is that during the cold months, when people have to shovel the snow off of their parking spots, they have to remove their cars, right? So what people do is that they will put a chair, sometimes they put other things, but usually it’s a chair, and they will put the chair in their parking spot so that no one takes it. Because parking in Chicago is really hard. And like people will do this for games too. Like I’ve done it before when I went to a Cubs game. That’s a baseball team in Chicago by the way. But yeah, so it’s super popular to go to, and everyone’s looking for parking, so people will put chairs in their parking spaces to reserve it for them.
Collector: Do people actually respect these chairs?
Informant: Yes. I mean, of course there’s some people who don’t. But most of the time, because everyone does it, yes, they respect it. Like you won’t really see someone removing a chair unless it’s their chair, and they’re taking their parking space. It’s just because parking goes so fast there, because there’s so many people. But people tend to be respectful of it, it’s a pretty big tradition there.
Collector: Is there anything that you particularly like about this tradition?
Informant: Well, I always find it funny when I go down the streets and I see a bunch of chairs all over the place. I like it because it reminds me that it’s going to be the holidays soon. But other than humor, I’m pretty indifferent towards it.
I think this story is really cool because its so different from my culture. Where I’m from, Sao Paulo, there are a lot of people and also difficulties finding parking, but if somebody were to put a chair to save their parking space, people would laugh, remove the chair, and park their anyways. I think it’s interesting how this has become such a tradition in Chicago that people respect other people’s chairs and parking spaces. It’s also cool to see how a tradition can arise from external factors such a temperature and spacial arrangement.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
Information on the Informant: Troy Dixon, the informant of this particular saying, is a 20 year old student who attends Lafayette college in Pennsylvania. He plays college football there and is a linebacker. Troy grew up in Santa Monica, California and attended high school in Los Angeles. Ever since he was born, Troy was an avid skier. He went up with his family to their house in Mammoth every week that was possible during the winter. Because he skied so often he became extremely skilled and became a member of the Mammoth mountain ski team. This only lasted for a few years, however, because it was such a large time commitment. However, Troy has remained an expert skier who frequently travels around California skiing the tallest and fastest mountain. This particular proverb was something he introduced to me numerous times since I met him in 2012 and something he frequently told me while we were on the mountain together.
Me: “What exactly is the proverb that you always say when you’re on the mountain and there is fresh snow?”
Informant: “The saying goes, ‘There are no such thing as friends on a powder day’.”
Me: “So what exactly does this saying mean?”
Informant: “Okay so what this means is that when there is new snow on the mountain, or ‘powder,’ as a lot of skiers and snowboarders call it, you have no friends, aka skiing the fresh snow takes priority over skiing or conversing with your friends. It pretty much means that nothing, especially not your friends, can distract you from being able to ski the amazing snow.”
Me: “Where was the first time you heard this saying?”
Informant:”My dad told me about it when I was 6 years old and when I went to the top of the mountain for the first time and skied in powder. My dad has skied for 30 years and is an expert skier so he learned it from some of his friends who he went to the mountain with over the years.”
Analysis: This saying is a traditional skiers proverb. It appears that it is one of those sayings that most people know but aren’t exactly sure of the direct origin. The informant, Troy, also stated that his father has skied all over the world and heard the saying before in other states besides California.
“So when I was a little girl my grandma, I used to live with my grandma in Hawaii and whenever she told me to get ready for bed, I would get ready for bed and you know how, like, little kids will sometimes, um, like put their clothes on inside out or backwards. Well, my grandma, I would do that occasionally and my grandma ended up convincing me that that . . . like that brought good luck and like if you do that, then it brings good luck. So then I started purposely, purposefully, um, wearing my pajamas backwards and inside out and my mom never understood it, but I always would tell her, obviously, that it brings good luck.”
The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies communication and minors in dance and is a part of a prominent sorority on campus. She grew up in a relatively small town in southern California (with short stretches in other areas of the country) and was the captain of a prominent sports organization. She has danced for her entire life and, when she was growing up, would often drive for long stretches of time with her family to dance competitions. This interview took place while the informant, whom I live with, was making lunch and telling me about her grandmother’s superstitions. Of her grandmother, she said, “My grandma’s a very spiritual person. She still believes it, she’ll still tell me.” She went on to say, “It’s like a family joke now. So like if I come down now wearing my pajamas inside out and backwards, my grandma will always be like, ‘Oh! It’s really good luck, right?’ . . . My mom thinks it’s a joke, but my grandma’s like super serious about it, she’s like, ‘It is. It is for good luck.’”
When I asked the informant what she thinks it means, she said, “My grandma’s very spiritual and thinks everything happens for a reason and so, like, the average person puts on their clothes the normal way that it’s supposed to be worn, so if you think you’re putting on your clothes a certain way and it turns out it’s actually backwards or inside out, well then it must mean something else. Then it must mean that there’s good luck coming to you.” When I said I had never heard of this folk belief before, the informant noted, “It’s interesting because I brought [the folk belief] up in my practice, and one of the girls said that she was taught that growing up, if she were to wear her pajamas inside out or backwards that it was gonna bring snow. And so during the winter seasons, she did that as a young girl hoping it would bring snow.”
At the end of the interview, the informant said, “And the thing is, I still do, a little part of me still believes that it’s gonna bring me good luck.”
This folk belief was interesting to me because it’s such a simple action, yet it is thought by some to make something happen, such as bring good luck or make it snow. I think it is partially performed because it is a relatively silly thing to get children to do, and it gives them a sense of control over the world. It could also serve as a way to teach them to embrace the unusual side of their personalities. When they perform this folk belief, they are doing something that goes against social norms. However, they are told this action causes good things to happen, and so the thought process behind it is reinforced.
One day two pair of woodcutters Minokichi and Mosaku go out into the mountains to gather wood, but a snowstorm prevents them from getting home. Mosaku—the father of Minokichi—suggests that they should find a cabin in the mountains to stay in to hide from the storm, and they do just that. When Minokichi wakes up the next morning though, he sees that Mosaku has been frozen to death, and a beautiful lady in white—that’s Yuki-Onna (雪女; lit. “snow woman”)—is standing over him. She finds Mosaku very handsome so she does not kill him and lets him go, but she says, “You must promise you will never tell anyone about me, or else I must kill you,” and then she disappears.
Years later Mosaku falls in love with a woman, and they get married and have children and everything. But the wife doesn’t age. One night Mosaku tells his wife, “You know, you are so beautiful in such a magical way. Every time I look at you, I remember this one time I met a snow lady just as beautiful as you, and she spared my life.”
Mosaku’s wife becomes angry, exclaiming, “That Yuki-Onna was me!” She wants to kill Mosaku but she didn’t want to hurt her children too, so she spared his life once again, and disappears.
Informant had studied abroad in Japan and considers herself more Japanese than Chinese or American. She learned such folklore from her Japanese friends.
The story of Yuki-Onna seems to have been adapted into a number of fictional materials, possibly because of the motif of the evil but beautiful white-clad woman that kills men, but also possibly because of the plot twist.
The informant speaks below about an annual ritual held at her high school:
This is Head of School Day. Its, um, something we have at Phillips Academy Andover and, um, essentially, um, we were on the trimester system. So in the winter trimester, its just, its . . . if youve ever been to Boston in the winter, its not a very fun place. So I guess kind of its a way to, like, as a kind of way to help out the students theyd have what you call Head of School Day, where the head of school would just randomly call off a day the night before, soprobably at 7 or 8 oclock so that most kids had gotten most of their work done, so that, like, if you didnt sleep in you could actually have, like, a full day off. Whats really interesting about it is that, um, how she would announce it was that she would walk into the, um, the whats-it-called . . . the cafeteria? We had, like, four cafeterias, places, and she would walk in with a hockey stick and she would raise it up and everybody would just go crazy and it was just, it was just this huge thing where everyone was just like, Oh, when is it going to be? And yknow, people had, yknow, theories of like they could nail it down to the exact day, or like if, yknow, it was supposed to be like negative twenty out, then she would call it then so she wouldnt have to call it a snow day, because they didnt have snow days. Even if there was three feet of snow there wasnt a snow day.
I liked it. I thought it was a bit of a cop-out because, like, they wouldnt have snow days and people would be driving for, yknow, 45 minutes and have a good drive in like 3 feet of snow and like, that was like their snow day. But I liked it.
This school must have been a boarding school for the Head to be able to talk to the students directly in the evenings. I wonder how the poor parents would feel about this ritual if it were not a boarding school, having to make plans at 7 or 8 in the evening for their kids to be taken care of the next day during deep snow. This calendrical ritual, like the winter solstice holiday, clearly didnt take place on the same date every year. The holiday, aside from keeping teachers from having to drive in deep snow, seems like a way to celebrate the idealized Western idea of childhoodchildren should be able to go out and play once in a while.