Tag Archives: tradition

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

Swim Team Bleaches Their Hair

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: Every year, the guys on the swim team would bleach their hair. I’m not really sure why, but no one ever questioned it, it was just kind of what they did. Maybe it was so they looked more unified before league finals. 

Thoughts:

I hadn’t realized until after I came to college, but the swim team bleaching their hair at the end of the season was not unique to AK and I’s high school. In fact, it was common practice all across the country. Others I’ve spoken to about this can’t explain the reasoning either, but they all do it. While I would like to know the reason why, I think it’s kind of special for this tradition to be so widespread. This is something that anyone who swam in high school can relate to and remember and bond over. This is an excellent example of how folklore connects people who may not connect otherwise. 

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

Interviewer: So how did it get started in your home town?

Informant: My parents started off just making a couple of gallons with a couple of friends, I’m not sure exactly who they picked it up from. And I think they may have done that in the house before the Bury. Or right around that time, anyway. Probably around 60 years ago (2020). There have been more Elderflower Festivals than my parents have been present for.  There was one in 1967? My parents went on sabbatical to America and their friends broke in and made Elderflower anyway. There was another one when they sailed one of their boats down to the south of France and my brother and me hosted it on our own. I’m pretty sure my brother has been at every Elderflower Festival.

Interviewer: Does it only happen one time a year?

Informant: It has to take place when the flowers are in bloom, usually in the first or second week of June. It cannot be delayed, the flowers do not stay out for very long. It is an event driven entirely by natural forces and the need for alcohol.

Interviewer: What typically goes into the festival preparation wise?

Informant: Well the deal is something around 40 guests are invited and they’re asked to pick Elderflowers so when they arrive they can deliver their flowers. We spread the tarpaulin on the backyard and lay the flowers on it to dry and be shredded. And in return for their labor, the guests are fed a huge buffet lunch. There are a number of elements of that lunch that are obligatory. Coronation Chicken, Roast Beef, Deviled Eggs, Roast Turkey, Potato Salad, and Garlic Bread and there’s always a rice of some sort. There’s a late morning snack of sausages done on a barbecue because we have a late lunch, because we don’t have lunch until we reach a quota of flowers. After lunch, the afternoon is devoted to games, ‘gassing’ (talking), and drinking wine. Because my parents were teachers a lot of the guests were faculty or students. It’s just a thing a lot of Cambridge educators do.

Interviewer: Is there a recipe then that one has to follow to make Elderflower wine?

Informant: There is a certain amount of citrus fruit that needs to be peeled and squeezed and that is combined with boiling water poured through the flowers in a muslin shiv. With a large amount of sugar to feed the yeasts. My father used to be the viter but now my brother does it. Fermentations takes place in large Demi-johns and it takes about 3 months to the point where the wine can be decanted and bottled. Elderflower wine has an unusual ‘nose’ which takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant.

Background: This festival takes place either the first of second week of June, it is a time sensitive celebration that must occur during that time or not at all. Luckily it is also during the summer break for most British educators, so it is an excuse to see each other outside of work and get drunk together.

Context: My informant and I were discussing whether or not there would be an Elderflower Festival this year due to the Corona Virus. This would be the first time since it’s conception that the Elderflower Festival would not be held, but my informant believed it would be for the best since a majority of attendees are rather old and would be at risk.

My Thoughts: I’ve attended the Elderflower Festivals before and they are a riot! There’s a lot a family and friends who attend and at the end, people are gifted a bottle of last year’s batch. The festival has grown over the time I have attended from just 30 people to closer to 60 or 70. People keep bringing friends to come celebrate, which means a lot more time is put into prepping the meals and getting a supply of flowers to shred.

While not directly a festival celebrating life cycles, the festival is based entirely on the production of turning blooming flowers into wine, so there may be some form of symbolism there.

A Modern Quinceañera

Abstract: The Quinceañera also known as quince is a huge milestone in Hispanic culture as it is the right of passage for a girl to become a woman. This is the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday and the meaning behind it has been adapted as time goes on. Initially, it was a ceremony to show that a girl is ready for marriage and to travel the path of motherhood but the ceremony now is more of a transition to dating. The ceremony consists of a few customs such as the girl attending a mass with their godparents and family witness the transition. Later at the dinner, a waltz is performed as a formality and the changing of the girl’s shoes into heels.

Background: H is a student at the University of Southern California who’s experienced this traditional ceremony from her transition into womanhood. She’s lived in California her entire life and is a first-generation American and her family keeps many of their traditions from Mexico alive in her life.  She believes that the way her Quince was conducted is very traditional but also has a few twists that are uncommon to the format. The topic was brought up during lunch while discussing our family roots.

Transcript:

P: So tell me about an event that you think defines your culture and has influenced your growth.

H: My Quince! It was so much fun but it definitely wasn’t as traditional as some would have one of those was I didn’t wear the big dress because my parents wanted to surprise me with a large celebration so that would’ve ruined it and also because of this I didn’t have a chamberlain or a court but we did do a dance my family and myself and it was a lot of fun. Some of the traditions we did follow were we have a mariachi come to my house and play in the backyard and we did attend a mass to stick with the traditions of a quince. We also had a beautiful cake and we had a small ceremony where I put on heels to show that I’m growing up. It was so much fun being with my family. 

Interpretation:This seems to be a fun example of the modernization of a popular tradition where some of the key distinctions are preserved but some of the more outdated elements are omitted from the day. For example, the big dress which is meant to show that a girl is flowering out into a woman wasn’t required for her party since she went with a more mature modern dress which still has the same effect of showing a girl growing up. Second, she didn’t have a small court but rather she spend her time with her family which just shows that women being escorted by men is a bit outdated, and rather the party should show the enjoyment of being in the company of your family. However, the essence of her culture was maintained since she had her whole family with her and they ate a traditional Hispanic dinner while listening to cultural music. For more information of Quinceanera visit this source: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Quinceañera.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 12 Aug. 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/quinceanera.

Superstition- Singing Before Breakfast

Context: My Grandfather -represented as G in the text- grew up in New Jersey in the 1940s. While I was in high school he lived with me and my family and introduced me to some traditions he grew up with. Some mornings on my way to make breakfast I would pass by him sitting in his chair singing a song. If I were to join in on the singing, he would immediately warn me that I shouldn’t sing before I eat breakfast. This was something he learned from his mother, the “lord, and master of the house,” as he described her. He adopted this superstition and says that neither he nor his brothers will sing before they eat. Below is a conversation I had over the phone.

Text:

Me: “Can you tell me about your superstition about singing before breakfast?”

G: “Oh! Gosh! You never want to do that! You never, never, never want to sing before you eat breakfast! You will have bad luck for the rest of the year!”

Me: “The entire year?”

G: “Oh yes the whole g***amn year”

Me: “Sounds like a big deal.”

G: “It is a huge deal”

Interpretation: The first time he told me about this superstition I thought perhaps it came from starting the day (breakfast) before doing anything. Perhaps one shouldn’t celebrate the joy of the day before it has begun. The more I thought about this, however, I came to a more cynical yet realistic conclusion. As a mother of three boys, my great grandmother probably valued peace and quiet in the morning. So if the boys were singing and screaming before they even had breakfast, it would be a reasonable solution to warn them of a year’s worth of bad luck if they continued. 

The Frozen Fruit Cake

Main Piece:

Informant describing a tradition from the theater at his high school:

“At my high school during the fall play, there was this tradition of giving a frozen fruit cake to the favorite freshman by the senior class. The freshman was someone who was like really funny or helped out a lot or did stuff like that. Then that freshman would hold onto it until they were a senior and then gift it to a freshman and the pattern would continue over and over every year”

Background:

The informant went to a public high school in New Jersey with an active theater department. 

Context:

The fruit cake was gifted after closing night of the play each year. The informant told me about this when discussing traditions in his high school theater department. 

Thoughts:

This tradition mirrors a lot of experiences in an American high school. A lot of importance is put on certain things that in any other sense would not mean anything. This fruit cake is a symbol of honor and importance given by a senior, the most powerful type of person in the eyes of a high school freshman. Outside of high school, the senior/freshman dynamic does not mean anything. The continuation of fruit cakes being given and kept until senior year keeps the theater department connected year after year. It creates value and connection through a frozen dessert that otherwise would not hold weight.

Armenian Pomegranate Symbol

Նուռ

Transliteration: Noor

Translation: Pomegranate

Description: In Armenian mythology, pomegranates symbolize fertility and good fortune and the guarding of the evil eye. At a wedding, a bride throws a pomegranate and breaks it into pieces. The scattered seeds symbolize that the bride will bear children. Also it is believed that women who want to have a son, should eat bread made from dough made with pomegranate seeds.

Background Information: This is a very popular symbol/tradition in Armenia. The pomegranate has become a symbol for Armenia. If you ever visit Armenia, you would find pomegranate symbolism every where you turn.

Context: The informant told me about this symbol during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian tradition/folk symbols that she knows about.

Thoughts: I think that fertility and good fortune is very valued in Armenian culture. After the attempted genocide by Turkey, it has become very important for Armenians to repopulate and keep the Armenian culture alive and strong. I think the use of the pomegranate was done as a way to remind Armenians about their heritage, strength, and ability to persevere.

Armenian Tradition on Saint Sarkis Day

Explanation: Saint Sarkis day is celebrated on January 11th every year. St. Sarkis is believed to be the warrior patron of love and youth. There is a tradition where it is believed that an Armenian girl who is single should eat a homemade extremely salty cookie on St. Sarkis day. The saltiness of the cookie will make them very thirsty but they should not drink water so that when they go to sleep thirsty they will have a dream where a man will bring them water. In the dream, the guy who gives her a glass of water will be her future husband.

Background Information: Armenian tradition practiced on St. Sarkis day by young Armenian girls who want to see who their husbands will be.

Context: The informant told me about this proverb during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian tradition that she knows about.

Thoughts: I believe that as the patron saint of love and youth, a good way to celebrate St. Sarkis Day is to incorporate love and youth into the holiday. I think this tradition also shows the importance and pressure that is put on Armenian women to be marriage minded. It could have roots in misogyny as there is no salty cookie for males to eat and see their future wives. I believe that this is done because women have always been expected to be submissive, strive for marriage and children, and to put other aspirations to the side. I think that this idea has changed a lot in the Armenian community, but traditions like these give a glimpse into what society was like a long time ago.

Dia del Niño

Background: Informant is a 22 year old first generation Mexican American.

Main Piece:

Interviewer: Are there any special holidays or traditions that you celebrate with your family?

Informant: There is a holiday called Dia del niño which is celebrated on April 30th in Mexico. We don’t live in Mexico but we still celebrate in on April 30th. The day is to celebrate kids. Parents shower their kids with gifts on this day, sometimes they are small or sometimes they are big, but either way they try to make the day special somehow. My parents usually make us a special dinner.

Context: Interview with a family friend about special holiday traditions.

Thoughts: I always heard of Dia del Niño, but only as being celebrated in Mexico. I didn’t know people celebrated it here in the United States. I know it is a big celebration in Mexico, they have parades and festivals so I guess it makes senes that it is a more calmer celebration here.

Quinceanera celebration

Main piece: 

The following was transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer.

Informant: A tradition… that all families, all hispanic families celebrate, or all families do is a daughter’s 15 year old birthday. They call it a quinceanera. All families do it. The 15 year ceremony is very important because the dad presents his daughter to society… because umm…  because she stops being a girl and becomes a young woman. 

Interviewer: What do you do in the quinceanera? 

Informant: The most important part is mass to give thanks for her 15 years of living. Godparents are chosen for the ceremony. After mass is the party. And in the party there is a lot of food… eh there are different types of you know ehh platters depending on the region. There’s dance, wine, y around 10 in the night, the waltz is danced with the dad, the brothers if any, and the rest of the males in the family including grandparents, uncles, and cousins. After that there are other dances, the one that the quinceanera likes and she dances with her “chambelanes”. They change attire and after the dancing, there is one last ceremony. The madrina gives her one last doll, the last doll she’ll be given because she stops being a girl and the madrina crowns her with a crown and replaces her shoes with slippers. Once that’s done, she’s officially considered a princess and a young woman. 

Background: The informant was my mom who was born in Mexico City. She was raised in Mexico but came to the U.S. about 20 years ago. She still goes back during the summer to visit family and that sort of thing. She has learned about this tradition since she was very young because all her cousins and sisters went through the quinceanera so she knows the ceremony very well. However, she did not have one because instead of a party/ceremony, she wanted a car so she got that instead.

Context: I was in the kitchen with my mom and I needed one more collection piece from her so I asked her straight up what’s another tradition that she knows really well because I needed one more. She told me the importance of the quinceanera as I was helping her prepare food and I had my phone out to record our conversation.

Thoughts: I know the quinceanera is a big tradition because I lived it with my sister when she turned 15. I’m not a good dancer, or even like dancing, but I had to for my sister’s ceremony in order to keep with tradition. I can tell it’s a special moment for them because like my mom explained, it is the transition from a girl to a young woman. Everyone in the family enjoys the ceremony and it’s a fun time overall. The girl never forgets her quinceanera because of how grand the spectacle is.