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

Wearing white after labor day

Informant is a student at the Penn State University who grew up in upper NJ.

She told me about a certain rule in the fashion world which requires people to refrain from wearing white after Labor Day:

 

“So the rule is, you can’t wear white after Labor Day… until Memorial Day when you can again.” she says.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because… that’s just the rule.” she tells me. “That’s what my mom told me and we do it,  and everybody else I know does it too.”

 

She couldn’t tell me why, other than that it’s just something people do. I’m not really sure I have a great guess either.

After some research I learned that in the early 1900s, wealthy socialites would create secret “fashion rules” to tell new and old money apart. Eventually it just trickled down to the masses in 1950.

Interesting that despite the information widely available, these traditions continue.

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Good Luck Butterflies

An old woman told my friend that seeing seeing white butterflies is good luck.

Lindsey: I was working on a community service gardening project and this old woman started talking to me. She said that if a black butterfly lands on you, it means you or someone you are close to will die or get very very ill. By the same token, a white butterfly indicates good luck.

Me: Had you ever heard of this before?

Lindsey: No, but I told my mom, and she said that a white butterfly is only good luck if the first butterfly you see in a year is white.

Analysis: In many cultures and religions, butterflies can be a symbol of rebirth. At first, one is young, and then they go into a sort of hibernation, and then they break from a cocoon into a beautiful butterfly. White is an auspicious color as well, in that white often symbolizes purity, goodness, and untarnished youth. To see a white butterfly, an animal which is relatively elusive and fast-moving, is to glimpse at a special gift that feels as though only you were meant to see it.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Protection

Funeral Customs

Funeral Customs

Funeral:

Q: Why do Koreans wear white at funerals?

A: Because it’s clean. It shows that when they’re being sent off from this world to another, whatever world there is, they’re going off cleanly. It cleanses them of their life they led on earth and also paves the road in front of them to be smooth and clean.

Q: Why do people where black now?

A: Because it’s an American tradition. Normally Koreans, Asian cultures in general, wore white. Traditional clothes are also worn at funerals; it’s a sign of respect.

 

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Casa Matusita A

This house situated in Downtown Lima, Peru is the most famous haunted structure in the entire country. It is famous throughout, you can ask anyone in Lima, and they will all know of it whether they believe in paranormal phenomena or not. The house was first brought to my attention when I moved to Peru by one of my maids, she told me all about it and then my mother confirmed the stories circulated, but said they were all made up. During her last visit, I had her recount a couple of versions of the story of the Matusita which she knew (there are dozens):
At the turn of the twentieth century, there lived in the house a cruel man with two servants (cook and butler). During dinner with friends, the servants decided to get their revenge and poison their master and his friends with hallucinogenic substances. They served the tampered dinner and locked the door of the dining room. A few minutes later, the servants heard  a horrible scuffle. They waited until the noises ceased and then when they opened the door, they saw that the diners were torn to pieces, there was blood spread everywhere. The servants felt terribly guilty and took their lives right there. This version is said to explain the loud voices, conversation and laughter followed by blood curling cries and sepulchral silence that neighbors and passerbyers have attributed to the house.  It is said that if they get close to the house or look in, they will go mad at the sights of gore and debauchery inside.
This version shows the rift between the master and his servants which can be extended to the sentiments that the indigenous and African workers feel towards their European (and later on Asian) masters. This tension is found to this very day since in Peru there is a very strong, but passive racist undercurrent that is perpetuated from generation to generation and never confronted. The race of the master is left unsaid in some versions of the story like this one (it is implied he was white); however , there are also versions that connect this version to version b which I also discuss. In those versions, the master is Asian and a descendent of the Chinese family who lived in the house in the 19th century.

Childhood
Folk medicine
Foodways

Chinese Custom: Wearing White

Last month when I was home for Spring Break, my mother once again berated me for wearing a cream colored hair bow. She says that in China, wearing white in your hair means that someone in your family has died and it is taboo to wear white in your hair when that is not true. In Chinese culture, the color white is the color of mourning and death. So, a lot of the times people wear white to the funeral.

This has always been interesting to me because in American culture, people wear all black to funerals and white is the color of pureness and innocence. Then, a woman wears white at her wedding to represent her final transference into womanhood. In Chinese culture, brides often wear red and gold because red is the color of happiness and gold represents wealthiness. I feel that color is always such an interesting kind of symbolism in today’s culture. In each society, certain colors mean different things and can transfer different messages. I know that roses are always a big deal because if a guy gives a girl yellow roses, he only wants friendship, they have to be deep red to be romantic.

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