USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘tradition’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection

Protection Against Compliments and the Evil Eye

Informant: The informant is Aliki, an eighteen-year-old young woman who grew up in Yonkers, New York. She is a freshman at Concordia University in Irvine, California. She is of Greek descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat on the floor of my dorm room at the University of Southern California when Aliki visited me during her spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: So, in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, they make fun of this, but it’s kind of true. In Greece, we believe very heavily in the evil eye and that its disease very easy to get. If you receive a lot of compliments, and you don’t do this one superstitious thing, you can get the evil eye. Everyone, or at least every Greek, knows that one person who died from the evil eye. Honestly, maybe he or she died from cancer, but there’s always that one grandmother who believes the death was because of the evil eye. Basically, when you get complimented, someone will warn you that you will get the evil eye. If a family member complimented me, for instance, then someone would probably say that he or she is giving me the evil eye. Then, I would have to make a spitting noise three times. Sometimes, someone else can do that for you. Also, sometimes people compliment you but say that you don’t have to do the three spitting noises. They will explain that they are just stating a fact and not complimenting you in an envious way. Some people give compliments out of jealousy or resentment, but if they don’t and say that they don’t, then you don’t have to make the spitting noises. If you do make the spitting noises in front of someone who complimented you, they will not take offense to it. Also, people can walk up to you and make the spitting noises three times  and say that they did it just in case someone compliments you today. People will not stop complimenting you. You just have to do this to avoid the evil eye. Everyone in Greece does this. I learned this from my mother when I was really little.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s important because I don’t want to get the evil eye! Actually, one time, one of my cousins had a friend who died when she was little. She told me that it was because of the evil eye, and it really freaked me out. I asked my mom, and she told me not to believe that too heavily but to always follow the superstition to be safe. Once, in high school, I got a really bad headache for days. My mom asked if I had been doing the spitting noises, and I hadn’t for a while, so I got back to doing that. Also, sometimes when my mom gets lightheaded, she blames it on that. It’s all in our heads, but in the back of our minds, we think it’s possible.


Personal Thoughts: I really enjoyed hearing about this piece of folklore because I never realized how seriously Aliki, and Greeks in general, take the evil eye. What is also interesting is that this piece promotes those receiving compliments to take caution. In a sense, it keeps them from being conceited and just accepting compliments, which is admirable.

Gestures
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jumping the Broom at Weddings

Informant: The informant is Briana, a nineteen-year-old freshman at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Vacaville, California, in the Bay Area, and has lived there for her entire life, until she moved to Los Angeles for college. She is of African descent.

Context of the performance: This performance was done while we were sitting on the grass outside of our dorm building on USC’s campus- Arts and Humanities at Parkside.

Original Script:

Informant: So, at weddings, African Americans have a tradition of the newlywed spouses jumping over a broom after they say their vows. Basically, someone brings a broom up to the altar so that when the spouses are leaving, they have to jump over it to exit the ceremony area, whether it’s a church or not. It’s supposed to represent sweeping your past behind you, whether that was any issues you had dating or just your past as single people.Your lives as single people are behind you, and you enter into your relationship as a married couple and your new, shared life together.

Interviewer: Who taught you about this ritual?

Informant: My grandmother told me this when I was in middle school.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: I think it’s cool because it’s a tradition that’s been done for a long time. Also, my mom and dad did it, and so I want to do it. I would keep the broom, personally, and I would show my kids. It would be really sentimental for them to see it.


Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed hearing about this ritual because I, personally, have never been to a wedding. However, I do know that my family does not follow this tradition, so it was quite interesting to learn about. At first, I was confused as to why the couple would step over a broom, but, with Briana’s explanation, the ritual totally makes sense. It is also interesting that she knew the reasoning behind this piece of folklore because many people who observe or participate in folklore do not know about its true message.

general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Mendyke Open

Context: I collected this from a friend on a trip over Spring Break, after he’d heard me talking about folklore with another friend I was collecting from.

Background: This is an annual gathering that my friend’s family holds. Below is a story illustrating the type of events that happens at these gatherings.

Dialogue: My great-grandfather, before he died… Uh, eventually he was one of the oldest people at these gatherings, and… and um, as I mentioned there were these golf courses and so, they’d basically all get together and play golf, um… So, at one point, my great grandfather decided to— that he’d go play a round. Now, at this point he was, like, in his 90s, he was pretty much blind, pretty much deaf, um… So he gets up to the golf course, he takes the golf, uh, the, the golf club, and he starts aiming the golf ball, but… it seems to be in the complete opposite direction, or like a completely different direction than where the hole is, and so everyone is just, they start yelling, “No, not that way, the other way! That way!” And he just shoos them off, and, uh, everyone’s like, “Okay, I guess he’s crazy, just let him be.” So, he swings, er, he holds it up, he swings, and hits… and a hole in one!

Analysis: The story above isn’t something that my friend himself witness, but something he’d been told by other family members. Because of this, the story feels more like an example of the family’s camaraderie, and how them coming together brings about exciting events. It’s more about the experience of being together as a family than any actually miraculous golf swing that could happen.

Foodways
general
Material

Conserving Chili Oil

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend is Chinese on his mother’s side, and she grew up in a poorer part of Communist China.

Dialogue: Recently, when my mom cooked, she would kind of be leading me through what she was doing, because I was gonna be going to college and needed to know how to cook for myself, live on my own and everything, and in the the past, like, three years I’ve helped her with cooking, helped her with dinner and everything. Um, and specifically, there is a sauce that we had at my house. My entire childhood we had this sauce. It was a, a special chili oil that actually her mo- her father made for her. Um… and I think I’m diverging but that’s fine! But the— this chili oil, like, it’s kind of like… You know how when people make sourdough you need to have, uh, like a seed sourdough batch that you use to build the next one, and then each sourdough is like a build on that previous sourdough? The chili oil was kind of like that, so she would have this— er, her father would have this chili oil that he, he had made a very long time ago, and then it would run low, and then he would just build on what he already had… Um, and so then the chili oil that we have in my house is vastly different from where it began, and honestly I have no idea if he was the first one to make the chili oil. But it’s in little glass jars now, so, it’s… become a little modernized now, at the very least.

Analysis: I really love how symbolic this is of the passing of the family line, and has some connections to the idea of ancestors living on in the form of little bits of chili oil that are still left over from decades earlier. It’s very unique as well, for something out of Chinese culture, and really reflective of how the Communist regime in the country affected the poor, what will the recycling of materials for each fresh batch of chili oil.

Customs
Folk speech
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

How to Name Scottish Royalty

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate comes from “a long lineage of Scottish kings and clan leaders of a certain group of isles.”

The Tradition: In Scotland, the ritual for naming a child in a family line, particularly if they’re royalty, is to simply add the prefix “Mc” or “Mac” to the name of the father and make that the child’s surname.

Example: My roommate has an ancestor with the full title Angus McRonald McDonald Sworely, King of the Isles. Thus, he is alternatively know as King Angus, Son of Ronald McDonald Sworely, who was himself at one point King Ronald, Son of Donald Sworely.

(Note: The proper spelling of the surname “Sworely” is unknown.)

Analysis: I found this Scottish process of naming is most comparable to the Vikings’ method of creating the “____son” surname (Ex: Lief Erikson, or Lief, Son of Erik). I put a little research into the claims my roommate made, and the only thing I found off about the whole thing was that the names mentioned above are in fact “MacDonald” rather than “McDonald” (I kept the piece above as is for the sake of putting down what I was told by my roommate).

Narrative

The Story of “Pile o’ Bones”

Main Piece: Canadian Story (Pile o’ Bones)

 

Full Piece –

“The transformation of the Canadian provincial capital of Regina, Saskatchewan, over the past 130 years has been nothing short of remarkable. Back in 1882, it was little more than a pile of bones – literally.

The location, near a creek, had been a stopping point for buffalo hunters and gotten its name from remains left at the site. The mounds of buffalo bones, some left by Cree Indians, were staggering.

The bones remaining from the hunt were laid out into cylindrical piles about six feet high and about 40 feet around at the base, with the shin and other long bones protruding from the center to make stable and artistic piles.

Because of this, the city was called “Pile o’ Bones.” It was also referred to as “manybones”, “bone creek”, all of which hurt the local chamber of commerce trying to promote the area.

In 1882, Pile o’ Bones was renamed Regina, after Queen Victoria, and the name change resulted positively. It was much easier to attract immigrants to the newly named town as opposed to “Pile o’ Bones.”

 

Background:

 

My mother told me of this story, with some help from the internet to refresh her memory. My mom grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, and this story is a big part of their heritage as is explains how a town that used to just be an old post for hunters returning from the hunt where they would discard the animal remains. My mom heard this story from her parents, and was told it in school as well.

They take pride about this in Regina, because it is now the capital of Saskatchewan in Canada. This is more so of a creation story in a sense as opposed to a myth or a legend, because it tells of why the city has such an out-there nickname, “pile o’ bones.”

 

Context:

 

Of course, the name Regina sounds oddly similar to another word that would get elementary school kids to giggle (and even the occasional adult), so when my mom would tell people where she was from, she would often give this story as a background to what the city used to be known as, so as to keep the inner 3 year-old of everyone at bay.

This isn’t the type of story that would be told around the campfire or as a bedtime story, but it does give a good idea of how certain places came to be. In this example, it shows how a simple name change can affect the overall attractiveness of a location, and without it, it would most likely never have become the province’s capital, as well as be nearly as populated.

 

 

My thoughts:

 

My mother said that still to this day people refer to Regina, Saskatchewan as “Pile o’ Bones” and unless you were from there, odds are you’re going to wonder why this is. I feel like this story is more so one that is going to be told on a tour of the city right at the beginning as they begin to talk about the history of the city, but could also be adapted and stretched to get a little more interest from the audience.

I like this piece in that it is a cultural heritage type of thing, and the natives to the town have something to hold onto as their own, and like I said not everyone who goes to visit will know why it is called Pile o’ bones, but the citizens will always have that in common with eachother.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Finnish Tradition

Main Piece: Finnish Tradition

 

Told to me by my high school friend Mika, about his Finnish grandmother:

 

“On Christmas before dinner Mummi(his grandmother) would sneak off into the forests near their house with her brothers and sisters to go pick wild boysenberries, and explore in the forest.

After picking berries and bringing them back to the house, her brothers and sisters would go into the sauna, then after a short while after getting hot in the sauna they would run out and jump into either the snow or into a freezing cold lake.”

 

 

Background:

 

My friend Mika told me this story after I had first met his grandmother Mummi, and she had a very heavy accent so I asked where she was from. He told me that her and her husband were born and raised in Finland, so he went on to tell me some stories that she had passed down to him.

He particularly likes this story because he grew up in southern California where his house was surrounded by other houses, and the weather rarely dropped below 65. We have been friends since elementary school, and in the winter we used to go in his sauna when it was freezing cold out and after we got too hot we would run out and jump into his freezing (most likely 60 degree) pool, and cool off. I never really thought anything of this, just thinking it was something we did when we were bored and hanging out. But Mika did this because of what his grandmother had told him about when she was a kid.

 

Context:

 

Mika was first told this story during one of his family gatherings at Christmas time. Mummi told this story when they were all sitting down at dinner as a way to pass on her heritage to her grandchildren. That was another tradition that Mika told me had been in his family for many years, where they would have Christmas dinner with extended family, having grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins all for a large feast.

There isn’t much other context this sort of tradition would be passed on in, other than if you were in Finland and were attending their family Christmas. This may not necessarily a country wide tradition, but it is something unique to their family given where Mika’s grandmother was raised.

 

My thoughts:

 

I think this a pretty interesting tradition as it is very specific to the location and climate where Mummi grew up. It seems like something only the children would really do, as getting your body hot then jumping into something freezing cold to cool you off seems like a bad idea. My family has a Christmas tradition of watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation every Christmas eve, and I like to think this is a lot like that .

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Peruvian New Year’s Tradition

Main Piece: Peruvian New Year’s tradition

 

This was told to me by my friend Liv about a New Year’s tradition in Peru:

 

“In high school, my Spanish teacher was from Lima, Peru. She told us about celebrating New Years Eve in Peru and the many festivities that went on. First, people in Peru buy new clothing to wear on New Years Eve to represent a fresh start in a new year with new clothes. They frequently buy and wear yellow clothing, as yellow represents happiness and luck. Some people even go so far as to wear yellow underwear. Secondly, at the stroke of midnight, adults and children across Peru eat 12 grapes for good luck in the upcoming year- 12 grapes for 12 months.”

 

Background:

 

Liv is a freshman at USC, and this tradition was told to her by her high school Spanish teacher around New Years before they went on winter break. Liv likes this piece because it is a great tradition, and has much more of a meaning than how Americans usually celebrate New Year’s with parties and those types of festivities.

Liv told me she began to incorporate these traditions into her New Year’s celebration to give it a more symbolic meaning. She doubts many other people will do it, but it is something she enjoys doing.

 

Context:

 

This is a commonly practiced tradition in Peru, and occurs every year with most of the citizens participating. This tradition is only practiced on New Year’s and does not necessarily hold any other context.

 

My Thoughts:

 

I personally like this tradition, as it gives an added symbolic meaning to the New Year, not just people going out and not remembering the festivities and making resolutions that fall through within the next week.

I may start using this tradition at New Year’s, and could give me something to take the New Year seriously and use it as a time to get more done and more effectively.

Foodways
Material

English Recipe

Main Piece: English Recipe

 

This was told to me by my friend Liv, who’s grandmother was born and raised in England.

 

“My grandmother was born in Wimbledon, England and grew up during WWII. Her father worked for the British Army putting out incendiary bombs with sand and her mother did not work, so they did not have a lot of money. Because of this, my grandmother and her siblings would often eat mashed turnips or rutabaga to fill up their stomach as they were growing children. On special occasions though, their mother would make them Shepards Pie, a recipe that is still his favorite many years later. The recipe has been passed down from her mother to my grandmother, to my mother, and finally to me. It is pretty simple as it just uses the ingredients for mashed potatoes for the top, and a lot of different fresh spices, vegetables, and ground beef for the filling.”

 

Background:

 

Liv’s grandmother passed this recipe down to her, and it is one of their families favorites. Liv likes this recipe because not only is it delicious, but has a cultural connection to where her family came from and their heritage.

This was passed to Liv’s grandmother by her mother, and it continues to be passed down through the generations, and gets brought out for family gatherings and holiday celebrations.

 

Context:

 

The present day context of this recipe is not the same as what it was used for back when Liv’s grandmother first had it, but it is still used in the same sense. It is brought out at family gatherings because they all have the same ties to the culture and heritage of England, and her family’s recipe is something she holds close to her.

This is a common recipe found with microwave options and even variations at restaurants that put a modern spin on a classic dish. The origins though are English, and the traditional recipe is something unique to different families from the region.

 

My Thoughts:

 

I’m personally a fan of Shephards Pie, and remember my favorite being sold by a street vendor I passed after surfing one day. I’ve never had a traditional Shepherd’s pie, but I hope some day to try the recipe Liv has been taught by her grandmother.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Eve Soup

I asked my friend if she had any holiday traditions. She told me that on Christmas Eve, her mom prepares soup:

Me: Why soup?

Lindsey: My mom’s side of the family is Irish, so I think it’s tradition in Irish culture to have soup on Christmas. Maybe the warmth of the soup is comforting in wintertime? Also, I think soup is an easy meal to have on Christmas when people would rather be focused on their family than on cooking.

Me: What type of soup does she traditionally make?

Lindsey: It’s just a stew of different vegetables and beef. Really light. Really simple.

 

Analysis: Having soup on Christmas Eve is not a tradition I had ever heard of. I think the idea of spending time with one’s loved ones instead of cooking in the kitchen makes sense. It is more important to have Christmas with family and invest in quality time, than having an extravagant meal.

[geolocation]