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

Name Days

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. While discussing how she celebrates Easter as a Greek Orthodox, she mentioned another tradition that caught my attention.

 

Background: The tradition is referred to as Name Days, and has been a custom of Greek Orthodox culture for centuries. My informant explained that she and all of her siblings celebrate their name days, as they are all named after saints.

 

Main Piece: “For Greeks, your name day is more important than your actual birthday. Your name day is the birthday of your icon, or the saint that you were named after. Me and my siblings are all named after saints, and the same goes for my more distant relatives. Greek Orthodox people are really into using generational and famous names that are important in their history. So I’m named after Saint Katherine, so my name day is some time in November, but my actual birthday is in May. Obviously being in American culture now, my birthday is equally as important, and I celebrate it with my family and friends, but my name day is still a huge deal in my family. On my name day my parents always go all out with the presents, we have my whole family over, and it’s just a big celebration. The same goes for all of my siblings. It’s pretty great because it’s like having two birthdays every year that are equally as celebrated. I also see how important it is to my grandparents especially that we celebrate name days so it’s something I definitely want to pass on to my kids too.”

 

Analysis: I found this tradition very interesting, as I had never heard of Name Days prior to this encounter. After doing additional research on this ritual, I learned that they are actually celebrated in many countries across Europe and Latin America. It’s a nice way to celebrate yourself, as well as the historical icon that you were named after.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Material

Coin in the Cake

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. She wasn’t able to go home for Easter this year, as she usually does, but she described a tradition that her family practices every year on Easter.

 

Background: She explained that this tradition normally takes place in Greek tradition on New Year’s Eve, but that her family celebrates it on Easter instead, as she and her siblings usually spend New Year’s with friends.

 

Main Piece: “So this is usually done on New Years, but we always do it on Easter since that’s one holiday Greek Orthodox people take very seriously, so we’re almost always all together as a family. We’re always separated on New Years so this is just the best time to do this tradition I guess. Basically, my mom or grandma will bake a cake, and they bake a gold coin into the cake itself. They put it in the oven, take it out, and then they cut it all up and serve it. The person who gets the piece with the coin in it is supposed to have the luckiest year out of everyone else. Essentially it’s going to be like their golden year. It kind of defeats the purpose that we do it in April of every year, but Easter also represents rebirth and whatnot so I guess it kind of works when you think about it.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see how much a culture’s folklore can be taken into interpretation. The meaning remains the same, but the tradition is made flexible. I found it compelling how many different traditions there are throughout cultures to ensure a lucky or prosperous year ahead.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Night Before Greek Easter

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. She and I were discussing her Easter traditions and whether she still celebrates her Greek Orthodox traditions despite being away from her family.

 

Background: The following ritual is deeply rooted in the Greek Orthodox tradition and takes place the night before Easter Sunday. My informant can’t place the exact root of this ritual, but it’s likely to have been performed since biblical times.

 

Main Piece: “In Greek Orthodox tradition we follow the biblical Jewish calendar, so pretty often Greek Easter doesn’t fall on the same day as American Easter. Like this year it’s the week after American Easter. The night before Easter, we go to church at around 11pm, and we wear all black to mourn Jesus’ murder. We go the night before because it’s the night before Jesus’ resurrection. Everyone lights a candle, and we say a few prayers. Then at midnight everyone starts walking around the church chanting christos anesti, which means Christ has risen. Since coming to school, it’s hard to go back home to celebrate with my family, so my parents make me go to a Greek Orthodox church in Downtown L.A. This is the biggest holiday in Greek Orthodox tradition, so it’s really important to them and honestly for myself that I keep it up even while being away from home.”

 

Analysis: It was interesting to learn that Greek Orthodox culture follows the old Jewish calendar. As a Jew I follow the same calendar in regards to holidays, the New Year, and so on. But I wasn’t aware that other cultures still follow this historical timeline as well.

 

Customs
Holidays
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cutting Hair for Chinese New Year

[The subject is MW. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

ME: Can you tell me about a Chinese New Year tradition?

MW: Chinese New Year, or Chinese New Year eve, we will put the whole table. Mother cook, or have the servant cook, all kinds of goodies, but we cannot eat first. But they still put the wine and the chopstick, and the whole table, but that’s let the ancestor come, ancestor, I mean we don’t see them- the people already pass away like my grandma, or grandma, you know? My mother always, we cannot- the kids eat later, just have to let them, still, put the best food, all warm, but we cannot touch the chair. It’s grand-grandpa, and grand-grandma, let them eat first. And after the time, bring the food back to the kitchen, and then bring it back and then we can eat.

And then also, in Chinese New Year, we have to go to have a haircut, the kids all have to go have a haircut.

ME: Why is that?

MW: It’s like for a new year, then you have to clean up the whole thing. And the next day, we have to go to, for our auntie, and grandma, those kowtow. And then they give us a red envelope.

Context: MW is my grandmother, who was born in Shanghai and then lived in Hong Kong later on in her youth. She moved to San Francisco as a young adult and has lived in the Bay Area for the last six decades. She is a native Mandarin speaker, but is also fluent in English. I sat down with her and asked her to talk about some traditions and stories she remembers from living in China.

Thoughts: I am half-Chinese and have lived in the United States for my entire life, so while the tradition of eating a big dinner on Chinese New Year is familiar to me, but the less common tradition of getting a haircut for the new year was not. I believe that this tradition could be associated with Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic, because the chopping of the hair seems to represent chopping off what you no longer want to hold onto from the last year, and creates good luck going forward.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Shabbat Dinner

The following is a Jewish tradition.  The informant is represented by an S and I am represented by a K.

Piece:

K: Okay, so can you tell me about some of your Jewish traditions.

S: Okay, so we have Shabbat, which is a celebration, every Friday night… uhh… basically you have Shabbat service, like uh, you say prayers, and uh, light candles, and uh… I wouldn’t quote myself on that ’cause I’m not positive, but I think you do light candles every Shabbat, and then uhm, it’s a tradition to have wine on Shabbat nights… Uh, some people who are… more orthodox or conservative, do like no cell phones on Shabbat, and like Shabbat is very serious for… those type of people. And uhh, what else do we have?

K: What’s the significance of this religious tradition for you?

S: Uhhh… Shabbat, uhm, it means a lot to me.  It’s a time where I get to come together with my family, who I love very much, and I don’t get to see often, so when I celebrate Shabbat, it’s a way of, you know, getting in touch with religion and celebrating my culture… and yea.  It’s just a great way to get together with people in the Jewish community.

K: And what’s like the setting of it.

S: The setting? Like where is it?

K: Yeah.

S: Oh yeah! So usually you have it at someone’s house.. uh.. they’ll just have a nice dinner prepared… common dinner would be like matzo ball soup and latkes… I don’t know if that’s important or not, but… and it’s at someone’s house usually, and it could be anywhere from like 10 to like 50 people.

Context:

The informant was sitting at her desk, working on some homework for a music class, and I walked into the room and asked about her Jewish traditions.  She was sitting in a chair, and I sat down on my bed.  There was a group of our friends in the living room talking and hanging out.

My Thoughts:

I think this is a really cool Jewish tradition.  I grew up in a Catholic household, so for me, this kind of reminds me of Sunday mass with little tables of food located in the chapel or outside the church for after mass.  I think it’s cool this is a dinner, though, and it’s hosted at a household with so many people.  It’s definitely a way for people to get together every week and celebrate their shared religion/culture.

Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Predicting Children- A Korean wedding ritual

Main Text:

Collector: ” You mentioned the clothing of the bride and groom that is traditional to Korean Weddings, but are there any acts that the bride and groom perform at most weddings that you have been to?”

HK: “I do remember one actually. So after the wedding ceremony, the bride has a white cloth that they have to drape and carry around their arms and someone else would have to carry the bottom of it because they are really long. Usually the groom’s parents will toss little ball-like objects into the air towards the bride and however many the bride can catch with this cloth determines how many kids she will have.”

Collector: “Does the cloth have a specific color like the clothes did?”

HK: ” I think the cloth can be any color but usually I have seen it as a white cloth.”

Context:

After I asked HK whether or not there were specific acts performed at Korean weddings she listed out many traditional pieces ranging from the color of the clothes the bride and groom are supposed to wear all the way to this piece about predicting how many children the new married couple will now have has been to family weddings in Korea as well as in the United States and and observed these wedding rituals in practice. When asked about her interpretation about why Korean weddings contain this act she said that children and family are a large part in Korean culture and that once a couple gets married it is expected that they jumpstart the process to conceiving children, so the act of predicting how many children they will have is a sort of precursor to this. I also asked her why she remembers this ‘performance’ specifically and if she would do it at her wedding to which she responded, ” I remember it because I thought that it was a really cute thing to do for a new family and I like to think I would do it at my wedding too because it is a fun part of my culture.”

Analysis:

The ritual that HK is describing is a ritual that is used in many Korean weddings to present day and the “ball-like” objects that the bride is catching are dates (대추), also called jujubes. While the weddings HK described in particular use the dates as a way of predicting the number of children that the couple is going to have this ritualistic act can also be interpreted in another way that is very similar to her explanation. The dates that the bride catches also symbolize the fertility of the bride and her ability to bear many children. As HK explained, children and family are very important to Korean culture so it makes sense to have such an act in the wedding.

Another explanation for this act is that it could figuratively symbolize the “deflowering” of the bride.  Proof of this symbolic deflowerment is that balls are being tossed into a cloth which is supposed to represent fertility or one’s womb and since the cloth is white , it is also supposed to represent purity and virginity. To many cultures, marriage is not necessarily about love but instead building a home together as well as procreating. This being said, the symbolic deflowering of the bride represents this belief that marriage is all about the next generation and establishing a place for your children in society. I think that this wedding tradition continues in traditional Korean Weddings because it is does, as I mentioned before, serve as a nice precursor for the family that is to be built by the newly married couple, which Korean culture places a heavy influence on.

general
Humor
Signs

Bellarmine College Preparatory Seal

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO. In this account, he explains the legend of the reason why his school puts ropes around his school seal at the center of his high school campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, where he is identified as A.

 

Text:

A: I attended Bellarmine College Preparatory for 4 years as part of my 12 years of Catholic education, which in retrospect, I would not do.  [laughs] So Bellarmine is an all boys school, a little bit of toxic masculinity there… One of the most prideful traditions was… our symbol was the “B” for “Bellarmine,” and so we had in the main quad, uh, imprinted on the quad was maybe a 6×6 rounded print of our logo on the quad.

What the school told everyone–and what we told ourselves–to fit into the standard was that no one could step on the “B,” so everyone walked around it. No one could step on the “B” because it was too disrespectful. Um, and so we do things like try to jump over it, you know like if you’re really risky like I did freshman year, but then one day near the middle of my freshman year, we showed up to school and Bellarmine literally put up ropes around the B. 

No one knows why the B was suddenly roped, but I guess someone must have stepped on it or maybe graffitied it or maybe defaced it? But there’s been stories, my favorite being that, our rival, St. Francis… one of their fine gentlemen defecated on the B. [laughs]

So now our tradition is enshrined, now instead of like a, uh, proverbial “hey don’t step on the B,” now it’s “hm, why does this area look like a crime scene?” It’s because it was a crime scene, probably because that man defecated on our prideful school symbol.

 

Thoughts:

The way Bellarmine treats its school seal is an oikotype of how many schools choose to treat their own school seals. Schools seals are usually incredibly sacred, and touching it (especially before you graduate) can bring you bad luck or be seen as a sign of disrespect towards your school. To maintain school pride, many schools protect this sacred symbol of their school, especially from rivaling schools, who also follow the tradition of trying to deface their rival school’s seals. USC’s rival with UCLA also reflects this type of folklore: during the week of the rivalry football game, USC duct tapes and guards Tommy Trojan 24/7 to ensure that UCLA is unsuccessful in painting Tommy Trojan blue and gold. Similarly, UCLA builds a cage around their school’s bear statue to protect it from USC’s attempts to paint it red and gold.

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Presents in Shoes During Christmas

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College.This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening. The informant and I were alone in a private space, and, out of her collection of folklore, this is one that she chose to share with me. In this account, she is describing a tradition that she experienced when she celebrated Christmas in Mexico with her family when she was a young girl. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Um, ok, so, the folklore that I am talking about is, ummm, connected to most of my extended family. Um, most of my extended family on the one side of my family still lives in Guadalajara, which is a state in Mexico. And although I don’t go down as much as I used to, one time when I was about eight years old we were there around Christmas and one sort of tradition that they have in Mexico that is pretty common is that instead of using stocking—the way that a lot of, um, American households use to hold presents—they instead use shoes. So if you, um, put your shoes or your boots in front of the fireplace, then the next morning that’s kind-of where your Christmas gifts and presents will be.

K: When exactly, like, did this happen?… Like what year?

E: Ummm, I think the year… Ok, so I was in 4th grade, which means I was ten, which means it was ten years ago, which means it was 2009. Actually I think it was 2008, let’s do 2008.

K: Have you like heard of this tradition outside of your family?

E: Yes, because it’s like pretty commonly done… I think it’s not only in Mexico, though, like I’m pretty sure people do it in Europe, too? I just don’t know that it’s like… Or I haven’t heard about it as widely like in the U.S.

K: Um, can you just set up the context of when this would happen? I know you said it was during Christmas, but can you be more specific?

E: Um, ok, so kind of like the idea is that… like… on any Christmas morning, instead of like kind of the more conventional U.S. version of kind of waking up to like stockings with presents in them, it’s like boots or shoes with like smaller presents in them. But it’s kind of like akin either way.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that the concept of putting Christmas presents in shoes was quite intriguing, and I wondered if there was a legend, myth, or tale that created this tradition of putting presents in shoes. Though my informant never mentioned a reason why this became a tradition in her family, she did mention that she knew that it was not just something that occurred in Mexico, but in Europe, as well. I did some investigating and found that in the days leading up to December 6, which is St. Nicholas’s feast day,  children in Europe put their shoes or a special St. Nicholas boot out in front of the fireplace at night to find them filled with presents the next morning. Some differences between this tradition and my informant’s experience is that my informant put her shoes out on Christmas Eve day rather than in the many days leading up to Christmas, and also the mere fact that she celebrated this in Mexico rather than in a European country. Perhaps the reason there is such deviation between the way it is traditionally celebrated from the way my informant celebrates it is because Mexico is so far from the origin of the tradition,  which allowed for the tradition to take its own form and adjust to its new culture (as folklore should).

 

general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Walter Payton High School

Context:

My informant is a 19 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place at a cafe one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, where our mutual friends sat and the table and listened to this conversation happen, as well. In this account, she explains a tradition from her high school. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as L and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

L: Ok, so, in my high school, umm, it was named “Walter Payton” after a Chicago Bears football player who was very philanthropic and like dedicated to empowering the community. Um, his number was 34, so on March 4th (which is like, 3/4 ) we had a day called “Sweetness Day” where every advisory would go out and do a service project in the community and Walter Payton died as he was finishing building our school, um, cause he wanted it to be accessible to all the youth of Chicago. And so his brother comes in his honor, er, his son I mean, would come and hype us up and get ready for the day of service and stuff, so like we stayed with the same service group and it was just so cool to like check back in with them and like a lot of advisory ended up volunteering for them externally too. It was so cute, it was such a fun day and the whole school just loves “Sweetness Day.”

K: How did you learn this tradition?

L: Um, I learned it pretty much like as… cause in Chicago you have to apply to high schools, you don’t…

K: Wait what.

L: Yeah, public high schools. You have to apply to public high schools, which is insane. So basically like you have to go to open houses and like info sessions with the high schools because, um, there’s 10 selective enrollment ones that are just basically magnets. You take an entrance exam to get in and whatever, but like at the open houses and stuff, everyone couldn’t stop talking like how much “Sweetness Day” meant to them and how it’s such a big part of like our school. Being as unspirited as we are, like no one came to sports games, but like everyone got hyped for the “Sweetness Day” pep rally, so it was really cool.

K: Why do you love “Sweetness Day”?

L: I love it because it’s how I got close to a lot of people I probably wouldn’t have gotten close to, so since it’s with your advisory, like I had… like what our school prides itself in being incredibly diverse, so I had a lot of students in my advisory who had like very different backgrounds than me or like very different day-to-day lives. Like some of them took the redline for an hour and a half to school everyday, whereas I walked like for 20 minutes a day. So like, I loved that I was able to do something really empowering and cool while also like doing it with a network of like really driven people, too.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that this tradition was very endearing, and also epitomized one of the main purposes of folklore, which is to strengthen the culture of a group. Though this type of folklore, where a school gathers and dedicates a day to do philanthropy as a community, is very special to Walter Payton High School, I also know that it is a common folklore among many schools across the nation (each one with their own oikotype). Personally, my school also engaged in a day dedicated to volunteering, but we called it “Lodge Day.” This is because our school mascot was the beaver (and so we called ourselves “Bryant Beavers”), and for this one day a year we would come together as a “lodge” and volunteer to improve our schools. This meant doing activities such as reorganizing the library, planting new plants in the garden, scraping gum off of the sidewalks, spreading and evening bark chips and the playground, and so on and so forth. Overall, this is a common type of folklore that each school can adjust to fit their own school culture, as folklore should.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Convocation

Main Piece (Direct Transcription):

A tradition at my school for all sixth graders is called convocation.  I remember my first day of sixth grade, they paired me up with a senior the first day of school and we walked up the long brick pathway at our school up to the gym.  It’s a way of initiating the entering sixth graders into the school, and kind of a way of saying farewell to the seniors since it will be their last year.   After we went to the gym, we took our seats to listen to a convocation speech.

 

Context:  The informant K, my brother, is a high school student living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He attends the same middle/high school that I attended, and we were talking about all the interesting and unique traditions that our school has while I was home for spring break.  I was reminiscing about different events that I was able to take part in while I was a student at the school, while listening to my brother’s perspective and take on these different traditions.  We both agreed that we feel like our school is very unique, and that we don’t believe a lot of schools have the traditions that ours does.  Although folklore is often considered to be something that larger groups of people can relate to, I believe that folklore and tradition surrounding schools and small local areas are sometimes some of the most interesting to hear about.  It gives insight into how the individuals in these areas live and gives valuable insight into what their values might be.  Because of this, I asked my brother to tell me more about his experience with these traditions to tell in my folklore collection.

 

 

My Thoughts:

I have an interesting perspective on this tradition because I was both the sixth grader and the senior.  Although it is one event that the whole school takes part of, there are several different perspectives individuals can have on the event.  Since my brother is only a junior in high school right now, he has not yet gotten to walk a 6th grader up the path and has only been the 6th grader walked by a senior.  I was both the 6th grader, feeling nervous and excited on the first day of school, and the senior, feeling sentimental on the last first day at the school.  I was also able to be the spectator from grade 7 to 11, and still felt excited watching the seniors and new sixth graders walk into the gym after their walk up the path.  This traditional ceremony at the school is something that a lot of people look forward to every year, and I believe it serves as an excellent first entrance to the school for 6th graders.  The school has so many unique and powerful traditions and ceremonies that happen year after year, and the new students are able to get a small taste of what is in store for them throughout their time at this school.

[geolocation]