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

Chinese New Year

Main Piece:

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

ZM: What do you do for Chinese New Year?

HH: Umm… In terms of when I’m here in college or when I’m back home?

ZM: When you’re at home.

HH: When I’m home um my parents would clean the house, like um frantically because we need to be clean for the new year and we also can’t wash our hair on the first day of New Year’s too because if you wash your hair, you’re washing your luck. Yeah. Very interesting. Um, it’s nothing really special, it’s just being with your family, um… The whole day you um… Do you know what Yum ta is?

ZM: No.

HH: Like going out for morning tea, like with dim sum…

ZM: I’ve never heard of that. I don’t, I don’t know.

HH: Okay um so uh we do yum ta, which is like going to um a local, um a nearby restaurant around our house and inviting all of our relatives and…

ZM: Is that New Year’s day?

HH: New Year’s day yeah. Um, and all of our relatives will come and we exchange um red envelopes with money inside and um its umm… If you’re married you give, you give a red envelope to the kids so…As long as I’m not married I can still receive them.

ZM: But you don’t give any?

HH: I don’t give any until I’m married. Yeah it’s a perk. (laughs) Uhhh yeah and then um on the day, or like… Chinese New Year goes for like a few days like up to fifteen days. It depends on how long you want to celebrate it. Umm, like the first few days um either relatives and friends come to your house or you can go to their house and you bring gifts like oranges or like crackers or whatever to uh to bring to their house and you get to exchange gifts, and you guys talk and drink tea and all of that.

ZM: Do the oranges have any significance? Like why oranges or…?

HH: Umm… I feel like they do, but I don’t know (laughs) Uh that’s pretty much what we do. And um we eat chicken. It’s for a reason, but I don’t know why also. But, chicken is like a good kind of meat like… Um you always want um, like for dinner you always, for like the first few days, my brother’s in-laws and us we all eat together as a big family. Like a sign of um, a union. Um, so we have like up to ten dishes for like not even ten people. Like, um it’s very lavish dinner with like chicken, umm duck, fish, all kind of veggies, noodles, noodles really important as a sign of longetivity in life. So, yeah.


Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.

Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.


Analysis: I thought it was interesting that you only begin giving red envelopes when you are married. Even if you are an adult and you are not married, you do not have to give the envelopes, you only receive them. But, if they’re married and they don’t have kids to give envelopes to they exchange red envelopes between husband and wife. While marriage and adulthood would’ve previously been equivalent, in today’s society they can be very separate, and this changes the tradition a little bit.



How to fight

Main Piece: How to Fight

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about a folk tradition that has been passed down in his family. He is marked as AT, and I am marked as DM.

AT: I was maybe about (pause) prolly about six years old. I remember we were in laundry mat and I remember uh a kid was hitting me and he was a little bigger than me and I didn’t want to part of it and then my dad said “if you don’t fight back, I’m gonna uh you know I’m gonna hit you so who you prefer for him to hit you or for me to hit or for me to hit you” so I got in a fight that day. It was my first fight ever uh after that day at the house he said “hey come on Alex let’s go outside” and she said “hey you gonna learn how to fight today” and I was like “learn how to fight?” and we uh you know showed me how to punch uh showed me certain things uh it was more mental than physical at the time and he told me I remember he said “fight is like learning is like something every man needs to know its like a survival thing”. I thought it was just me and sure enough he did it to my brother we were at the park same thing a kid was hitting him bigger than him I was going to get in a fight with the kid and my dad said “no David you get in a fight or I am going to beat you up you know I’m am going to kick your butt you know you choose who do you want” and sure enough David got into a fight you know. I’ve done it with Christine the baby in a more uh filtered way you know she’s done the boxing and you know and I don’t know maybe my grandkids one day they’ll prolly I’ll prolly do it to them and you know  


The participant is thirty-four years old. He is a Mexican police officer with the University of Southern California. He told me about how his father taught him how to defend himself.   

DM: Why do you like having this piece of folk tradition being tied to your family?

AT: Fighting is no stranger to the Mexican culture and I think it’s just a way of life in Mexico you learn how to fight.

DM: Why is this tradition important to you?

AT: As I grew up, I learned the psychology behind it. Nothing scares me and I use that it helped me to be very successful.

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

This tradition that has been passed down AT’s family is also a big tradition in Mexico. This means that this tradition has been passed down throughout many families within Mexico and other places that those Mexicans have moved to. When they move, they take their traditions with them. AT’s father was born in Mexico and AT has lived the United States most of his life. AT’s kids are in the United States, which means that this tradition will grow in the United States or where ever AT’s go.

Life cycle

Family Tattoo Tradition

Everybody in Nicolette’s family gets a tattoo of a bull when they are 18, because her last name is bull… but everybody’s bull tattoo is done in a different style that accurately reflects their personality.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Christmas Pickle

“So what it is, is like, every Christmas on Christmas Eve, um, my family, like, after we go to Christmas Mass (unintelligible) my family does it personally, I don’t know if it has to be like after mass, but like, that’s just what we do. ‘Cause we always go to the midnight mass too, so we come back like super early in the morning. And, I think the reason we do that, honestly, is because my mom has been, like, has been Santa growing up, so she hasn’t gone to Christmas Mass. So, like, I think that’s probably why it happens. Um…so family, whole thing there. But, um, what happens is, like, all of the kids like go upstairs, and it’s like me and my…my brothers. Um, so we all go upstairs, and while we’re up there, my mom, like, and dad like hide this green pickle ornament – in the tree, is what it used to be. Um, and, so it’s like, it’s hard to find, right? ‘Cause you have all the other ornaments there, and it’s, like, deep in this, like, green tree and it’s, like, reflective, so you just, like, you’re going around this tree for like…a while trying to find it. Um, and so…yeah, so like, after they end up hiding it, um, there…the (unintelligible) and stuff, they like run down, they tell us to come down. And, um, whoever finds the pickle first gets the first gift of Christmas. Um, and then there’s kind of a competition ‘cause there’s three kids, and so, like, we all want this, like, gift. Um, so it’s pretty much what I was – I think it’s like – I think it’s a German tradition. From what I, like I’ve heard it’s supposed to symbolize, like, the first gift of Christmas.”

This tradition was described by a classmate after class ended.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Easter Eggs

Main Piece: Easter Eggs

The following was a story told to me by a college of mine, ER, and I am DM. The story was about a new tradition created within her family that changed the way her family celebrates Easter.

ER: I am going to tell the transition of my family celebrating Easter. My grandma grew up in a traditional Catholic household where they would go to mass every Easter. In terms of Easter, she would always mention that they would go to mass on like Christmas Easter and that they would be there and kind of celebrating the resurrection of the Lord and so this idea of faith kind of guiding your year of setting the tone for the practices of daily life. When moved to the United States, um they did not go to mass growing up so my grandmother kid of lost this tradition of when she raised my father and his siblings. They did not go to mass other than Christmas and they didn’t really celebrate Easter and that Tradition was lost for about thirty years. My brother and all of my cousins started to having children so it’s kind of another layer of transition in our family holidays where Easter was now more about the kids. Everyone got together on Easter day to celebrate and we would use typically in Mexico these are called cascarones which are confetti filled eggs and so typically you go around smashing them on people’s head kind of a fun little chiste (joke) that you do with each other. My family thinks they are very funny so my cousins always try to get us like when we were unaware. Two years ago, bought the color dye from the color runs on Amazon and filled the eggs with the dye. So every year we have about 500-1000 Easter eggs that we break on each others heads. We have this huge cascarone fight. It has been interesting seeing the change transition from going to a typical conservative formal Easter celebration to nowhere really it’s just a day to spend with family and focus on each other and that time together.


The participant is thirty-two years old. She is a Mexican American high school English 10 teacher. She told me about how her Easter evolved from a traditional Catholic Easter to a new tradition.  

DM: Where/who did they learn it from?

ER: It is just something that happened organically over time

DM: Why is this tradition important to you?

ER: I think part of that we are going over the typical norm of like society and just being typical Latino like you go to church that was the obligation that you had to do to now like making it our own and kind of making it what works for us.

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

I think this is a perfect example of how one thing changes over time but still the same thing. The tradition of celebrating Easter has stayed the same, but the way they Easter is celebrating is different. There are multiple ways these generations celebrated Easter day. 

You can find the story of the eggs here:

Rentería, Melissa. “’Confetti-Filled Eggs’ a Tradition.” San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio Express-News, 21 Apr. 2011, This article talks more in depth about the history of where these cascarones came from as well as how popular they are today. They mention how there are stores where they just sell these cascarones.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tradition of Gift Giving- Christmas (Cali, Colombia)

During Christmas, it is, really common for people to make a lot of breads and pastries in Columbia to just give to surrounding neighbors. The more popular treats would be empanadas which are a pastry in which the inside is filled with different type of sweet pastes. The sweet pastries are a form of telling your neighbors to enjoy the festivities and have a great time, basically a good omen for the holidays. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people. This seems like a great way to start the holidays with gifts, as how usual Christmas goes in the United States.

Folk Beliefs


When you greet each other, combination of being catholic in Columbia, you ask or give a bendicion(blessing). It is a common thing to do every time when you greet each other or you are saying good-bye. It is asking for a blessing basically from the other on the one as a sign of belief and good fortune after dismissing the other one from the phone. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people

Rituals, festivals, holidays


Novenas 9 days before Christmas, novenas happen. They are a custom done at home in Columbia in which family gets together and has potluck style meals as well as praying together. The meals usually consist of home grown fruits as well as white meats. The Novenas, are usually more prayer oriented, the potluck tradition just grew as a well-mannered custom. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people. This tradition kind of reminds me of when someone dies, you light a candle for 9 days as well as praying together with family and sharing potluck meals.


Bath Time – Japan

My informant was born and raised in Japan, but moved to America to finish her college degree at the University of San Diego. She told me about a childhood custom that is common among Japanese families.

“In Japan a little daughter and dad shower and bath together is normal–with son too. People from other countries say that’s disgusting. (But) it’s because normally dads don’t have time to communicate with their kids cause the work, so bath time is perfect time to have kids time to them. We did until I was 7 or something.”

I knew she had an older brother, so I asked if her dad would shower with both of them simultaneously or one by one. Her response was:

“Both! But that’s only when we’re little like 3 or 4. After that let’s say probably when I’m taking the bath my dad join me after. We just talk and play in the bathtub. Maybe he help me wash my hair, but not the body.”

I thought it was interesting how my informant pointed out how other countries saw this custom as strange, and felt the need to provide an explanation (almost in a defensive manner). I think it is because in Western culture it is more commonly heard of for mothers to take baths with their children since they are the ones to have given birth and are the “caretakers” of the family. A father  taking a bath with his child–especially a daughter– could be interpreted as inappropriate or even as sexual abuse.

However, baths are a huge part of Japanese custom. Japan has numerous public bathhouses located all over the country, varying from rural to urban areas. These bathhouses have large communal baths that are typically segregated by gender. Visitors comfortably bathe and walk around nude in front of complete strangers. With this information in mind, I was not surprised to hear that it is typical for children to bathe with their fathers.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish Easter Basket Blessing

Nationality: Polish

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Polish

Age: 28

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 15, 2017 (Skype)


Christopher is a 28 year old man, born and raised in Warsaw, Poland and who emigrated with his family to the United States when he was 8 years old.  He is a College Graduate with a degree in Political Science. He is currently employed as a doorman in an apartment building in Queens, New York.


Interviewer: Good Afternoon. Does today being Holy Saturday bring back any memories of how you celebrated Easter in Poland?


Informant: So on Holy Saturday we would wake up very early and we would make um an Easter Basket with the family. Usually the youngest in the family will make the basket and in the basket you would put in a boiled egg, a piece of bread so ah a piece of Kielbasa little items like that. And that Saturday Morning, you and the family would head to Church and the Easter Basket would be blessed by a Priest. You would not be allowed to eat meat until that Easter Basket is blessed. Once the basket is blessed the whole family can enjoy meat on that Saturday. And that is the Polish Tradition of Easter on Holly Saturday.


Interviewer: Do you have any special remembrances when you celebrated in Poland as a young child then when you immigrated to the United States?


Informant: Oh my best memory is just how people would dress up and take the holiday very seriously. It was a very big, big holiday in Poland growing up.


Interviewer: Were there any changes when you got to the United States and the way the Polish Community celebrated Easter as opposed to in Poland?


Informant: Well in Poland they would held a big mass and this would take two hours to do. Everyone would get together with the Easter Eggs and baskets and getting blessed.  Over here in America I noticed it is a quick five minute process. You enter the church, you see the priest, then you are right out the door.


Interviewer: Now, as you live in America and people are less devoted to faith then in Poland, does the holiday take on another significance beyond religious?


Informant: For me personally this is ah about family, it keeps the family together. This tradition keeps the family together. It is about tradition.  Without tradition we start to lose family. As I said, we all get together for dinner, we see each so it is just a great way to catch up with family you haven’t seen in a quite a while.


Thoughts about the piece:  

Polish immigrants that want to continue or revive this tradition of “swieconka” in the US, can find a list of church services and traditional basket ingredients on sites like this: Symbolism of basket ingredients is explained here;