USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘traditional’
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Visiting Spirits and Dead Babies

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. She’d speak fondly of their unusual ceremonies and traditions, and how, by the end of it, her host families said she was so in tune with the culture, that if they closed their eyes, they couldn’t tell she was a foreigner.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

“In Japan, it’s a uh … a worshipping of dead ancestors day in August, Oh-Bon. They put out the dead people’s – the dead grandpa, the dead grandma, they put out their favorite food, and they put out chopsticks, and they will, you know, burn their favorite incense and they do all this so the dead can come and visit. They do this in their home. Every year, in August. It’s always in August. So it’s like Halloween, except it’s got a religious significance. It’s when the dead come back. They have festivals in town too, Oh-Bon-Matsi.

“It was a festival for dead children. And there was a river running through the town. Not dead babies but dead children. And, they… But. You know lanterns with lights in them? They’d float these lanterns with lights in them down the river and it was just gorgeous. Each lantern represented a dead child and they had this beautiful eerie music, just vocalizations for the occasion. Traditional Japanese instruments too. And incense burning. It was a very volcanic, sort of lunarscape in the far north. I can’t remember the name of the… the far north of Honshu. So you can look up ‘dead baby festival Honshu’ and figure it out.”

This is a very comforting view of the afterlife. It’s as if death is not the end, but merely a move to a different city. Growing up, she imparted this same sense of the dead on me. She’d always tell me not to fear death or the presence of ghosts, but to welcome them, as they were once in our shoes and only wanted to visit. The dead baby festival further illustrates their benevolent view of death. In America, when a child dies, we mourn and often times never speak of it. In Japan, it is tragic, however they still take time to celebrate their lives. No matter if that life was only for an instant.

 

Foodways

Stollen – Traditional German Sweet Bread

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

My brother commented on a food tradition he picked up on.

Julian: “Every Christmas our Mom makes the same dish every year. It’s called Stollen, and it’s a traditional German sweet bread. It’s tastes like a crunchy fruitcake, but it’s not bad. Mom’s been making it for as long as I can remember. I’ve helped her make it before, so I think I can tell you what goes into it.”

“Stollen is made out of dried fruit, cake mix, marzipan, nuts, and gets powdered sugar thrown on top.”

“From what other people tell me, it’s sort of an acquired taste. I can imagine why, but I just like it a lot so I don’t really care what other people think. My mom got the recipe from her mother and so on so forth.”

Summary:

Stollen is a traditional German Sweetbread eaten as an alternative to fruitcake.

I one-hundred percent agree with my brother here. Stollen is a delicious food. Everybody’s always got that one thing they like that’s traditional. It doesn’t taste amazing, but it has that familiar flavor that just keeps you coming back. 

 

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