USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘tradition’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fruits of the New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Okay so, when I was at your house, you have grapes? over the…

CS: Mhm

ZM: What are those about?

CS: So um, it’s like a, I think it’s an Asian thing, it might just be a Filipino thing, but it’s like um…At the beginning of every year, fruits are like symbols of like Mother Mary and her bearing the fruit of Jesus. So, it’s sort of to bring good luck. So, you always have like before the new year comes in, in every, like, living space, you have to have a bowl of twelve fruits. So, in the kitchen, in the living room, you have to have a big bowl of twelve fruits. Twelve different fruits.

ZM: Why twelve?

CS: Each month of the year.

ZM: Okay.

CS: And then above each entry into a room you have to do twelve grapes to symbolize like the same thing. So like, it’s supposed to bring you like good wealth and good luck into the new year and it’s like a symbol of Mother Mary and like how she was blessed because she was gifted with like the fruit of the womb of Jesus or whatever.

ZM: That’s cool.

CS: Yeah. So my mom always has to go out and buy like twelve different fruits. It’s a struggle.

ZM: Yeah, how do you get twelve different fruits.

CS: We have grapefruits in the backyard, lemons in the backyard. Sometimes if she can’t find more, she cheats and she gets avocados. (laughs) It’s always like melons, like she’ll get a watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a honeydew. And then like, apples, peaches, and then the ones in our backyard, and then like, if she’s really tryin’ it she’ll like get a lime and a lemon.

ZM: Do you leave the fruit up all year?

CS: Yes! And it gets DIsgusting. Absolutely gross. Like one time, the grapes started falling on the one over, like going outside to the patio thing, like, the atrium, back there. We have one over there, and I was like “The grapes are falling. Like, you need to fix it.” My mom grabbed saran wrap, and then she like (laughs) she like made a saran wrap bag and then pinned it there and then when I was taking them down towards like… You usually change everything towards like, Thanksgiving/Christmas. So you don’t do it like right before the new year. You like start preparing for the new year around like, after Thanksgiving, like before Christmas. As we were changing them, I took down the bag and it’s like MOLDY, cause like usually they’re just out in the air. So it’s like, they just turn into raisins, but like this one had a bag because she was keeping all of the ones that fell and it was literally wet and moldy and it was like green and white mold, and I almost vomited, and I was like “This needs to never happen again.” Yeah you keep it the WHOLE year. If it falls down you HAVE to keep it up there somehow.

 

Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed fruit hanging from the doorways. A few days later I asked her about them and this conversation was recorded then.

 

Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.

 

Analysis:I thought this was a very interesting tradition. I have heard of fruit being a sign of fertility, but mostly in spring, but this tradition takes place around the new year.

 

 

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Halloween Festival

Context & Analysis

The subject is from Ashland, Oregon—a relatively small town in Oregon that is an extremely tight-knit community. She expressed to me that Ashland has a rich tradition of festivals—particularly ones that involve floats. I asked her to elaborate on a few of her favorite festivals and she brought up Halloween. The subject has a lot of pride for her town and it’s traditions and it’s interesting that this is a tradition that involved the entire town. The shut-down of the town reflects the ‘suspension of regular life’ that often is related to festivals, even more so because of the size of the town. I find it unique and interesting that stores will hand out candy.

Main Piece

“The biggest festival in Ashland is I’d say probably Halloween, um my town is really really big on parades, so there’s always like a huge parade for fourth of July, the festival of lights, Halloween. And it starts at like, 3—3:30? And, um, everybody meets at the library and they shut down, like, the main strip of town. Um and everyone dresses up in costumes, there’s always costume contests and there’s always like a run the morning of and it’s this giant parade you walk from the library all the way down to the plaza in all of your costumes and you get candy from all of the stores you get to, like trick or treat um and you go around and there’s like food and it’s fun and um everyone just has such a good time and people go all out. Like my town is just….so extra [laughs] it’s unbelievable.”

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Material
Protection

Pre-Race Breakfast

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about some of his experiences at USC; particularly, I asked him if he knew of any strong traditions at USC (aside from the obvious ‘Fight On’!). The subject is a member of the USC Triathlon team and is very active and involved on the team. He described one of the strong pre-race traditions as having a regular breakfast before the grueling, hours-long race. Different teammates have different foods that they eat, but each individual on the team always eats the exact same thing before every race. Though I’ve categorized this as a tradition, this ritual also has elements of folk superstition as well—even though the athletes might not necessarily personally believe that eating the same pre-race food is lucky, it implies that it is a special ritual for them.

Main Piece

“Traditional foods that we’ll have for, like, breakfast, like, it’s not really routine as in like more traditional and meaningful. My food is pretty lame—it’s just oatmeal—but it’s sort of a comfort, like a pre-race food. And like everyone has that. Some people have like PB and J.”

Folk speech
Humor

“Dark in Here!”

Context & Analysis

The subject is a BFA in USC’s School of Dramatic Arts Acting program, which is extremely competitive. I asked him if he knew of any theater traditions or sayings specific to USC’s theater program. I included the full dialogue of our conversation below for clarity.

Main Piece

Subject: ‘Dark in here’ is a big one for the BFA’s. Any time the lights turn off someone just has to go ‘Dark in here!”

Me: What’s the context of that?
Subject: It was a line in a scene and we—Mary Jo probably made them do that line for an hour straight.

Me: Who’s Mary Jo?

Subject: Mary Jo Negro is the head of undergraduate acting at USC, she’s our acting professor, she’s the one that cuts us [laughs]

Me: So what play was it taken from?

Subject: It’s a 10-minute play called ‘Tape’. It’s very bad. [laughs]

Me: So why did it become a saying within the BFA’s?

Subject: Uh, because we’re the ones that had to run through it for an hour—it was just that line. And so then every time the lights turn off we’d have to go ‘Dark in here!’—so the lights turn off and he [the main character] goes ‘Dark in here” and so now any time any professor ever turns the lights off somebody goes “Dark in here” and I hate it [laughs].

Customs
Narrative

Family Poetry Tradition

Subject:  Family tradition of Narrative Verse.

Collection:

“Are you ready?

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

 

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.

Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows.

He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;

Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

 

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.

Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.

If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;

It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

 

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,

And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,

He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;

And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

 

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of groan:

“It’s the cursèd cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.

Yet ’tain’t being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;

So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

 

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, and I swore I would not fail;

And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.

[at a bird] Oh yeah, there he goes!

He crouched…ah, let’s see…

He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;

And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

 

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,

With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;

It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,

But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate these last remains.”

 

Ah… I’ll just skip a little…

The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;

And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

 

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;

It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a thrice it was called the “Alice May.”

And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;

And “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

 

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;

Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;

The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;

And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

 

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;

And the huskies howled, and the heavens scowled, and the wind began to blow.

It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;

And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

 

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;

But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;

I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.

I guess he’s cooked, it’s time I looked”; … and the door I opened wide.

 

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;

And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close the door.

It’s warm in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—

Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

 

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.”

Background Info: B. Taylor is a long-time resident of San Clemente, CA where he raised his two sons and now resides with his wife. He holds undergraduate and pharmacy degrees from the University of Southern California.

Context: This video was taken of my grandfather reciting the poem on the banks of an Alaskan river. He frequently recites it at family gatherings and around the campfire on trips to Mexico, so I have personally heard a live telling of the poem multiple times. He learned the poem from his father who learned it from his father, and my father’s elder brother is the last person to have learned the poem purely through hearing it recited. Before my father’s family had tv or radio, their primary activity in the evenings was sharing narratives and poems. This is my grandfather’s favorite.

Analysis: The integration of the poem into our family’s traditions shows the interaction between the ways a piece of copyright material can be adopted and then modified. While members of the family subconsciously recognize the poem is from a book, it is thought of as now belonging to our family’s history. Furthermore, the slight changes in language and the omissions that have occurred over the years, make it distinct to our family’s oral traditions. In this way, the poem carries the weight, intellect, and history of those who came before me. In our family’s history, the Service poems were learned by the males in my family while women learned the biblical and romantic poetries. In this way, the memorization of the correct genre of verse is a rite of passage (since, once you learn the poem and can bear it, you now have authority in these family gatherings) and an assertion of one’s role within the family structure.

Furthermore, sharing the poem around a campfire is one of the key ways that the family bond is establish and then reinforced. One of the ironies of the poem is the setting in which my family shares it, compared to the content of the poem: a quest to find warmth, ending in a cremation. The poem beautifully captures the struggle of survival and human agency against uncontrollable natural elements (with the added element of the macabre). My family’s retention of the poem is contrary to the rapid spread of technology that has occurred since the book was published, it is a reminder of a time without television or cell phones where people connected to each other and the world around them. Especially today, our performance of the poem acts as resistance to the dominant cultural forces that threaten to eliminate the ways of life that the older members of my family hold dear.

Every telling is different, this wiggle room in the structure of the verse allows for the narrator to alter the poem to suit their dramatic vision. Depending on the teller, different characters have different voices, and certain moments become more poignant. It is through these retellings that the poem comes to life, and my family reconnects through actively displaying our ties to one another.

For Further Reading: The complete text of Robert W. Service’s poem can be found online at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45081/the-cremation-of-sam-mcgee. My grandfather owns an original copy of Service’s book The Spell of the Yukon published in 1907 from which the family first learned the poem.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Henrietta’s Pacing

I’ve always thought of this friend as an interesting guy, but we’ve only ever joked and traded some silly stories from high school. He’s hinted at coming from a large and established family in Texas, although I’ve never really gotten much more than that. This project was a great opportunity for me to find out a bit more, as I, too, share ancestral lineage from the South, and have always been interested in unique little stories of haunted houses and ancient apparitions.

The following was transcribed from a recording taken in class and shared among three or four other classmates. Though the background buzzed with chatter from other students, the spooky nature of this story made me feel very still inside.

“I come from a big ranching family, and we go back – our family history dates back to like 1853 in Texas. So from the early, early days of the state. And our family is still in-tact and everything, very close together, and the ranch is still there. So um, there’s a lot of history to it in South Texas. So with that there comes a lot of ghost stories and whatnot. Um, so there’s a lot of reports of people seeing ghosts in the main house and stuff like that. The house itself is as old as the ranch, so very, very old. It’s a hundred an- we just celebrated it’s a hundred-and-sixty-fifth anniversary. Well actually, excuse myself. The ranch is a hundred-and-sixty-five years old, and the house just turned a hundred. So, yes. Very, very old. I’m a sixth generation out of seven, in terms of family members, so there’s been that many people that have gone through the house. Four generations lived in the house their entire lives, um. So naturally, the ghosts aren’t always the same. The ghost that I saw is… Let’s see. The ghost that I saw or rather heard or believe I heard at least is – I was going to bed in my room which is on the first floor, and uh, the floors are made of wood on the second floor. So my room is right under this room we call Henrietta’s room which is the room of the matriarch of the original generation, the first generation. So in Henrietta’s room – it’s the biggest one in the house. It’s basically like the original one. And it’s also where most of the ghost sightings and experiences are seen is up, up in hers. So my room is right below. And I haven’t had any encounters like visually. But the one I have had is I was going to sleep one night, and I was trying to go to bed. I was the only one in the house, and um, the thing is the house is very, very big, and it’s kind of a rarity to be the only one in the house. Normally there’s at least 2 or 3 other people staying there. And I was the only one there that night, kind of taking care of the house before I left the next day. I was going to bed and I heard this creaking above me, as if someone was walking around on the wood. Um, on the second floor. AKA, Henrietta’s room. And I didn’t think much of it before I realized I was the only one in the house. And I thought, ‘oh, is there an intruder?’. And I got really, really scared, um, cause those things can happen. But there’s also a lot of security. So then again, nothing so much. But I listened really closely, and the footsteps were going in a circle, as if they were just plodding around the room. And they were just going in an endless circle, and the steps were very, very slow too. Like, a very slow walking pace, basically. And I was listening to these footsteps going in an endless circle. I think eventually I fell asleep, but it was interesting that being my first ghost experience. And basically having to accept the fact that there’s a ghost walking around above me. And I just went to sleep comfortable, knowing that it was a ghost and not an intruder. So that was nice for me.”

It is rare for a ghost to be preferred over another human being. However, if the ghost is a loving relative in a lineage that values family and tradition, then it makes sense to prefer its presence to a possibly violent intruder. This piece breaks the American stereotype of all ghosts being malevolent beings hell-bent on revenge and retribution. Instead, it offers a different outlook on the world of the supernatural – that ghosts come out when they think no one is home and simply go about their business. Perhaps Henrietta craves the nostalgia of her old room, and comes back to enjoy the sights and scents whenever she can. Little did she know her great-great-great-great-great grandson slept soundly below.

Customs
Foodways

Mao Zedong’s Birthday

  1. The main piece: Mao Zedong’s Birthday

“Okay, so Mao Zedong’s birthday is December 26th, and on that day, we eat long noodles. It’s because if you cut the noodle, you’re cutting his life. Which doesn’t really make sense because he’s dead.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“Mao Zedong is the communist leader of China, and he’s very important because he led the communist revolution and changed China forever, for both better and worse.

“Oh yeah, everyone loves Mao. Mao’s on all the money. It’s either Mao or flowers. It’s the day after Christmas and the day before my mom’s birthday.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This tradition of eating long noodles on Mao Zedong’s birthday symbolizes a long life for him, and, accordingly, for the communist nation and ideals that he created. I think that this is a key example of the usage of folklore to build nationalistic sentiment and to increase feelings of personal connection and importance to central sociopolitical powers. Even though the informant is from a later generation from the one in which Mao Zedong was active and alive, the fact that this tradition continues years after, even after his death, shows the lasting impact of using folklore as a nation-state building device.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18-year old female of Japanese and Chinese descent. She grew up in Oahu, Hawaii in a family that had moved there five generations earlier, and explained how none of her parents or grandparents knew any Japanese or Chinese. Celebrating Japanese and Chinese cultural traditions helped her feel more connected to her heritage growing up, because she felt that her parents and grandparents were very disconnected from the culture other than with these traditions.

Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nowruz – Jumping over Fire

The following informant is a 22-year-old Persian-American women from Southern California. In this account she is describing a tradition that is done before Persian New Year (Nowruz). This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: For Persian New Year, what you do like the Wednesday before, is you jump over fire. The point is to basically like ward off the bad vibes of the past, and like my parents told me that if I ever don’t jump over the fire then, like you don’t actually go into the New Year with bad vibes, but like the bad vibes are going to be more prominent. So, I will always try to go to whoever’s house to jump over fire, because you know, bad vibes.

K: So do you normally go to your family’s house?

S: Yeah or like, this year I jumped over a candle with my friend, still works

K: Do all Persians partake in this tradition, or is it a specific to Persian-Americans

S: Yeah, all Persians do it, or like 70… 80… like 90%

K: Do you have to do it in a group or can you do it by yourself?

S: No, you can do it by yourself, but it’s just more fun to do it with your family. So that you can jump with someone else, so you are both leaving bad vibes in the past, that is like what typically happens.

K: What does it mean to you, to partake in the tradition?

 

S: Um, I don’t really believe that you actually leave bad vibes back in that sense, like you don’t have to jump over fire to get rid of the bad vibes of the past year. But I think it is a fun way of keeping a tradition, a cultural tradition alive. So, to me it’s just a fun cultural activity, and even though a lot of Persians don’t live in Iran, they still do it.

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. I was visiting the informant at USD, and after providing a different collection of folklore, she continued on to talk about this tradition. The conversation was recorded and transcribed

Thoughts:

I think it is a wonderful tradition. As the informant describes you don’t actually have to believe in its ability to ward off, as she says, “bad vibes” in order to participate. Any Persian can participate anywhere in the world, but still feel connected to one another.

general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Day of the Ditch

The following informant is a 20 year old college student from Upland. Here she is explaining the tradition of Senior Ditch Day at her highschool. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as GA and I am identified as K:

GA: So, every year the seniors of Upland High School would have a Senior Ditch Day, and all of the seniors, well … maybe not all of them cause maybe some would not go … but a lot of them would go to the beach.

K: Were you guys aloud to miss school?

GA: No, like the teachers were pretty adamant, they did not want anyone to go!

K: So how did it work? Did you first meet at the school?

GA: Yeah, we first meet at the school and then carpool to the beach, we would spend the day at the beach and then comeback. After the day no one really talks about it because we did not want to get in trouble. Like no one posted anything about it cause the teachers might find it

K: How did you hear about the tradition?

GA: Umm.. like everyone was just talking about it and being like secretive about it because they did not want the teachers to hear about it. I found out probably when I was a junior, that other people were doing it so I kind of got excited about it, but then forgot about it, and then when I was a senior it came up and I was like oh man! This is a tradition.

K: How did it feel to participate in this tradition of Senior Ditch Day?

GA: It was a lot of fun… to get away… you felt pretty reckless. But like a lot of the teachers they did not want you to leave! And I remember that day there was like a couple of quizzes that a lot of people missed

Context: She told me this while we were sitting at her dining room table one evening.

Thoughts:

I think the Senior Ditch Day tradition for Upland High is great. These kids are seniors, about to embark on a new journey and leave high school, something needs to mark this occasion. This makes me think of the Rites of Passage, and how when we change identities we often ritualize it. That is kind of what this is, also like GA said it makes you feel a little reckless, it aloud her and her class to blow off some steam.

general
Holidays

Aerosols, C4, and High-Powered Rifles

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (EC) and I (ZM).

ZM: Do you do anything, like special, around Christmas? Other than like the goulash?

EC: Not really. We have a lot of like very family specific traditions, um, because my grandparents owned like a huge ranch in Napa and had like a winery and everything. And so like, that has been like in the family for generations and so like a lot of our holiday tradition’s centered around like going up to the house and like being rednecks in general.

ZM: What do you do?

EC: Um like, on Easter, we would like blow things up. So like, for Easter I might get some aerosol paint cans and then some like C4 explosive and put them together and then shoot it with a high powered rifle just to see how big of a fireball I can make.

ZM: (laughs) And that’s just… because they live on a ranch?

EC: That’s just our family. Yeah.

ZM: Do you go every year and like blow stuff up? Is that like a…

EC: Yeah. It actually burned down, so like not in the last year with this recent fires, but yeah um before that we would go for like every holiday, like Fourth of July, Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, other random stuff.

ZM: And do you blow stuff up every holiday?

EC: Basically. Every holiday involves shooting guns in our family.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with EC originally about her German traditions.

 

Background: EC is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. She is of German descent.

 

Analysis: I thought it was ironic that EC and her family always try to create the biggest fireballs that they can on the ranch and it ended up burning down, but the two events were completely unrelated. The actual act seemed unrelated to the variety of holidays it is performed on. The explosions seem more like something they do when they’re together and they just happen to be together on those holidays.

 

[geolocation]