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

Nowruz

Context: I was sitting at a restaurant in West Hollywood with a good friend who is also of Persian descent, discussing our respective families plans of celebrating the Persian New Year. In the piece, my informant is identified as R.M. and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: My family is one that has assimilated more towards American culture, and does not perform all traditional rituals performed on Nowruz. However, R.M. and her family take the New Year very seriously, and plan large gatherings for the holiday every year.

 

Main Piece:

DS: “So what are you guys doing tomorrow night”

RM: “My mom is going all out as usual. We’re having like 60 people over, I have to help her set up all day tomorrow”

DS: “What do you guys even do? Jumping over the fire and all that?”

RM: “Oh yeah, there’s definitely going to be a bonfire. She bought a bunch of goldfish too, setting up that whole haft table and all.”

DS: “What else goes on the table?”

RM: “A bunch of spices, a mirror, the goldfish, some money, fruits, eggs. There’s definitely some more that I’m forgetting but you get the idea of it.”

DS: “Are you going to jump over the fire this year”

RM: “I think so, I don’t know, I always just get so nervous getting close to it every year but my parents say it’s important so I want to try it out.”

 

Analysis: Each aspect of the setting traditions of the New Year are for specific metaphorical purposes. For example, jumping over the bonfire is thought to ensure good health for the new year. The mirror is to reflect on the past year. The goldfish is to represent new life and rebirth. The money is to encourage prosperity. The eggs for fertility. Each family often celebrates and prepares differently, with each component on their table representing what they want to attract in the year to come. The Persian culture is very poetic and spiritual, so it comes as no surprise that the culture chooses certain items for these grand representations.

Childhood
Holidays
Legends
Narrative

The Witch’s House

Context: A friend and I were taking a walk through the residential area Beverly Hills. We passed by a landmark often referred to as “The Witch’s House”. We then began discussing the history of this house to the surrounding community, one that my friend was born and raised in. In the piece, my informant is identified as D.P., and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: The Witch’s House sits in the middle of the Beverly Hills flats on Walden Drive. It looks as if it were straight out of a storybook. It was originally built in 1920 and was intended for a studio film, never for a resident. It’s stood on the corner of the street, untouched since then. However, the house has a different history for the surrounding community.

 

Main Piece:

DP: “This is honestly a defining characteristic of Beverly Hills for me. I love it. The first house I lived in was 2 houses down from it”

DS: “Were you not scared to go around it? It looks so spooky, I’d be so scared as a little kid”

DP: “It was definitely very spooky, but it’s just the greatest. Every Halloween night all the kids from the neighborhood would just know to meet on Walden by the Witch’s House at like 8. Everyone would bring shaving cream and all the kids would have a huge shaving cream fight on the street. All the parents would come out and hose off the kids afterwards because we were all covered.”

DS: “Does someone live in there?”

DP: “I’m pretty sure someone bought it at some point and remodeled the inside but made it a point to never touch the outside. I’m not sure if he actually lives out of the house but either way it’s the staple of this street for sure. It’s been in the background of so many movies too. I know it was in a scene of the movie Clueless”

DS: “Are there any scary stories or legends about it?”

DP: “As kids we all used to think that witches actually lived in there or that it was haunted, we were honestly scared to go around it, especially at night.”

 

Analysis: This point in Beverly Hills is one that brought a community together and remains the defining characteristic of the neighborhood and city as a whole. It’s a landmark that connects the locals to Hollywood while also ties together the surrounding neighborhood.

Customs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Driving on Eggshells

Context: Following a conversation I was having with my father about warding off the evil eye, I asked him about another ritual we often performed – specifically, whenever one of our family members got a new car. 

 

Background: Persian culture often uses different foods, herbs, or spices as symbols. The egg often represents fertility, rebirth, or something new. In this case, the egg is used to celebrate the new while simultaneously keeping away the evil eye for that new endeavor. This ritual is a different way of warding off the evil eye, practiced in instances of large purchases.

 

Main Piece: “Persians are very superstitious and sensitive when they talk about anything very good happening or having something expensive. They are nervous about other people judging them or cursing them. So any time one of you gets a new car, I take out the eggs and I start drawing the circles. The circles are supposed to represent an eye, or the evil eye I guess. I think in my head to myself of anybody I can think of off the top of my head that would look at us with a negative energy because of our purchase. I draw as many as I can in place of those people, and say their names while I draw the circles and say a prayer that the new car won’t bring a bad fortune. After I finish drawings, I put the eggs in a paper bag and I usually have you drive to a different street from our house, put the eggs in front of the wheels of the car, and tell you guys to drive over it. It sounds a little silly. But the idea is that you shatter any possible evil eyes that would come your way for getting this car. It’s for precaution, just to ensure protection and good luck.”

 

Analysis: The notion of the evil eye is particularly sensitive for the Persian community. Persians have a number of different rituals that they perform to ward it off depending on the circumstance and situation. This one in particular ties to significant purchases. Some others are burning sage, hanging an evil eye charm in the vehicle, or keeping prayer books within the car.

 

Customs
Foodways
Material

Lentils on Monday

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: It was a Monday afternoon and my informant was eating a bowl of lentils, she explained that she did so every Monday, as explained by a common Peruvian folklore custom. Her parents and grandparents have followed this tradition for as long as she can remember, and she feels that it’s something that connects her to her family, even while she’s away from home.

 

Main Piece: “So every Monday I make sure to eat a bowl of lentils. Back at home, my mom would make them for dinner every Monday night for our whole family to eat. No matter what else she made, there were always lentils involved and we always had to have at least one bite, no matter how badly we didn’t want to eat them. The reason is that it’s supposed to bring or attract money, prosperity, and good luck. I’m not sure where this tradition started, but my grandparents grew up on it, so did my mom, and she makes sure we all take part in it too. Peruvians use a lot of foods to represent or attract different things into life. Food is a huge part of the culture. I’m not sure how much I believe that this tradition works or anything like that, but it’s something that I’ve done for so long that it feels natural to continue. Little things like this keep me connected to my family which is important to me now that I haven’t been able to see them since I’m away at school.”

 

Analysis: The continuation of cultural traditions and rituals is something very important to the elders of immigrant families. It’s easy to assimilate to the current lifestyle of where a person lives, so it’s refreshing to hear that first or even second generation immigrants keep their culture alive.

 

Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Wedding Ritual

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: N.D. explained that she was going home to Miami in the coming week to celebrate her eldest sister’s wedding. She and her other four sisters planned to perform a traditional Greek bachelorette ritual, that had been done in her family for years. It’s a generations-old ritual that my informant’s family, relatives, and friends, all perform, and it is deeply rooted in Greek culture.

 

Main Piece: “The night before the couple’s wedding, all of the single friends of the bride usually do this thing where we come together and decorate the couple’s future marriage bed. A few of my sister’s friends will be there, but it’s me and my sisters that are going to be doing most of the work. Basically you put a bunch of flowers all over, and put rice all around the room and on the bed, and also leave out coins and money. The idea is that it promotes prosperity, fertility, and love for that couple. My family is very into these little traditions and it’s a fun way for all of us to get together before the wedding and celebrate the bride. Rice is used in a lot of ceremonies like this in Greek culture, and Peruvian culture too actually. Even though it’s such an old tradition, it still has a lot to do with the typical American bachelorette party activities. We’re planning on doing that too, but this is a different way of celebrating that also takes us back to our roots a little bit.”

 

Analysis: I found it interesting how the idea of rice is intertwined in such a large number of cultural customs, especially in regards to weddings. In other cultures, the throwing of the rice at the end of the wedding ceremony symbolizes rain, which is thought to be a sign of good fortune and prosperity. In the case of Greek culture, the rice is placed in the most intimate part of the couple’s life.

 

Customs
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Smashing Plates

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: While discussing her sister’s upcoming wedding, my informant described a Greek ritual that is often performed at celebrations. It’s the idea of smashing plates to promote fun, good spirits, and positivity. N.D. couldn’t place how or when the tradition began, but mentioned that it was deeply rooted in authentic Greek culture.

 

Main Piece: “Any time we’re at some big party, usually a wedding or an engagement or something like that, there’s always some point where everyone just picks up a plate and starts smashing them onto the floor. It usually happens at the peak of the party, when everyone is dancing and drinking and having fun. It’s supposed to symbolize the idea of good spirit and fun. My parents say it promotes positivity. When I go back to Greece in the summers to visit my family there, you see it everywhere. The restaurants there are very lively and upbeat and play great music. At one point a lot of people will start dancing once they finish eating, and you’ll see the plate smashing there too. I don’t think it has some crazy symbolic meaning to it, but it’s something you’ll always see in Greek culture.”

 

Analysis: The idea of breaking glass, especially in regards to weddings, reminds me of Jewish tradition as well. At Jewish weddings, the groom usually stomps on a glass, to symbolize the loss suffered by the Jewish people throughout history. Though it’s a somber reminder, it represents healing and better fortunes ahead. Broken glass in many cultures emphasizes positivity and happiness, among other things. It’s interesting to see the similarities across cultures for this kind of ritual.

 

Customs
Gestures
Holidays
Humor
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dayenu on Passover

Context: My informant is a 63 year-old man of Persian descent. The piece is a ritual practiced by Persian Jews at traditional Passover seders, which is a generations-old gathering where specific foods are eaten to remind oneself of the hardships faced by Jews in Egypt. Each food symbolizes an aspect of the suffrage, and is consumed after reading stories and prayers from the Haggadah – the text recited at the seder.

 

Background: The morning after I had a Passover seder with my family, I decided to ask my informant about a tradition almost exclusively practiced by Persian Jews. He explained that they had practiced this tradition while still living in Iran, before they moved to Los Angeles after the fall of the Shah. It remains a staple of Passover seders at any Persian Jewish home.

 

Main Piece: “When it’s time in the seder for the green onions, we do Dayenu. This food symbolizes how we remember that the Jews were beaten and whipped as slaves in Egypt. Persian Sephardic Jews have a fun twist on this to make the seder more fun and enjoyable while also remembering these hardships. After reading the piece from the book and saying the prayer over the green onion, everyone starts singing the Dayenu song and runs around hitting each other with the onions. It’s fun and chaos, and it makes such a long traditional seder a little more lively and bearable. I’m not sure how this ritual originated, but only Sephardic Jews do it usually. It mimics what the slaves went through in Egypt but it also brings a fun and enjoyment to the holiday.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see the distinction between practices of different sectors of Jews. While Orthodox and Ashkenazi Jews take a more traditional aspect to the Passover Seder, Sephardic Jews practice this ritual to celebrate the remembrance while also bringing excitement to the tradition. There is debate about where the custom originates, but it’s typically practiced by Sephardic Jews from Iran and Afghanistan.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material

Lentils and Pork on New Year’s Eve

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. The piece describes a traditional New Year’s custom for Italians, which is thought to bring good luck and prosperity.

 

Background: My informant has practiced this custom in her family for as long as she can remember. Her family participated in this tradition while still living in Italy, and she and they all continue to practice it after having moved to Los Angeles.

 

Main Piece: “Every year the family spends New Year’s Eve together whether we’re in L.A. or visiting family in Sicily. My dad and his 4 brothers are all chefs so food is definitely a very important aspect of our daily life. On New Year’s Eve, they all prepare a big meal together and we sit down and eat with the whole family, it’s always like 40 or 50 of us. At midnight, we all come back around the table and eat lentils and pork sausage. Lentils symbolize good luck and the pork symbolizes prosperity and good fortune. Eating those foods at midnight is supposed to bring you a year filled with good luck and prosperity, so it’s really important to my dad and uncles that we all take part in it. Food in Italian culture has a lot of symbolic meaning.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to hear how important food is in so many different cultures, and the symbolic meaning it holds. In another interview, an informant explained a Peruvian custom, which requires eating lentils, also to bring good luck and prosperity.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

La Pasquetta

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. She and I were discussing the upcoming holidays – Passover and Easter – that we planned on celebrating with our families. She mentioned an Easter tradition celebrated exclusively among Italians.

 

Background: The tradition described below is called La Pasquetta or, Easter Monday. My informant explained that the tradition is deeply rooted in Italian history and culture. She was not sure how it began, but it’s been celebrated in her family for generations.

 

Main Piece: “The day after Easter has always been my favorite part of the holiday for me. For Italians, Easter day is more reflective and has a somber vibe to it, but the Monday after is the exact opposite. My dad usually invites his family over, which means like 50 people at our house and we have a big barbeque, him and his brothers cook another feast, and we spend the day outside in the sun. I think the point of having La Pasquetta is to rejoice after a day of mourning. In Italy everyone celebrates it. My dad says everyone would take that day off, go to the park and have picnics. It’s a day to celebrate Easter in a happier way, but also to celebrate spring and being surrounded by family. It’s kind of a staple in Italy and my family definitely hasn’t let go of it even after moving to America. The holiday definitely has some historical aspects to it, but I’m not 100% how or where it started. All I know is that my family has celebrated it forever.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see how one religion’s holiday is celebrated in so many different ways across cultures. In American culture, Easter is typically a happy day, celebrated with family. In Greek and Italian culture, it’s a more somber day, usually spent in church. To compensate for a day of mourning, Italians choose to have their celebration the day after.

Customs
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Red Eggs on Easter

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, but goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: While discussing the upcoming holiday of Easter, my informant described a generations-old Greek Orthodox tradition that she has practiced with her family for years. Her father’s family participated in the tradition in Greece, and she and all of her relatives have continued the tradition after having moved to Miami.

 

Main Piece: “The night before Easter Sunday my parents always dye the eggs red. We used to do it all together when my sisters and I were little, but as we got older we got a little less involved but they always kept it going. My dad and his entire family have been doing this for years in Greece and since his family is very religious it’s really important to him that we keep the tradition going. The red dye on the egg symbolizes the blood of Christ that was on the cross ‘for us’. Then the morning of Easter when we’re all sitting together, we start cracking the red eggs, and that symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection, because the egg represents his tomb, and it also represents new life. Since I moved to New York for school this is one tradition I haven’t kept up with on my own and neither have any of my sisters. Our family definitely isn’t that religious even though my dad is Greek Orthodox, things like this are just traditions we would do as a family to spend quality time and celebrate together. It also kept us really entertained when we were younger.”

 

Analysis: This Greek tradition is an interesting take on the symbolism of eggs on Easter. Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus emerging from his tomb, but most cultures, especially in America, choose to decorate the eggs in colorful patterns to celebrate the coming of spring. This Greek Orthodox take on the deeply-rooted tradition is one of great solidarity with Christ, in order to remind oneself of the sacrifice he made.

 

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