Author Archives: af

Wishing on 11:11

Main Piece:

What is this ritual?

“When it’s the minute [11:11], I close my eyes and make a wish. I try and repeat is as many times as I can until the minutes is over. It usually involves crossing my fingers because I’ve been told that it makes it better.” 

When and how did you learn this?

“I’m sure in elementary school, it was one of the few luck superstitions I was taught. I heard in passing, like no one teaches you ‘sit down and do this.’” 

Background/Context:

My informant is my roommate. She went to public elementary school in Los Angeles. I noticed her pointing out the time 11:11 am, so I asked her to explain it to me. We were standing in our kitchen looking at the digital clock on our oven. 

Thoughts:

Wish-making rituals are very common (wishing on a star, making a wish on an eyelash, etc.) but what’s so interesting about this ritual is that it’s origin can be dated, and a terminus post quem can be established. The time 11:11 only looks special on digital clocks because it’s four 1s in a row. It doesn’t look or feel special on an analog clock. Therefore, this ritual must have been established after the invention and popularization of digital clocks. 

Mud Hugs

Main Piece:

What’s the story behind the tradition?

“I don’t know if this story is true, but every summer the oldest age group went on their long camping trip, overnight-thing. Then they would come back to camp, and for some reason, one year, the age group ended up …like… in an orange grove or some back area that was dusty, and then somehow water was involved and they accidentally got covered in mud, and then they ran into camp and started hugging everyone.”

What does the tradition look like now?

“It became a tradition, and now it’s very… everyone does it and gets completely covered in mud. There’s a dance, you make a dance and a chant, and you perform and then you go run and hug everyone and then you go shower. Once everyone is all nice and clean, we all put on while clothes and celebrate Shabbat [the Jewish Sabbath].”

Context:

My informant is my twin sister. She is Jewish, attended Los Angeles public school, and is currently a USC student. She went to a Jewish summer camp for multiple years. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other. Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, is celebrated from Friday night to Saturday night every week.

Analysis:

I’m familiar with this tradition because I have participated in it, both as the person hugging and as the person receiving hugs. It’s the culmination of a week-long camping trip without showers, so getting covered in mud is a symbol of how dirty the participants feel. The layers of mud are so thick that the participants almost don’t look human. The dance and the chant give the participants a chance to celebrate themselves after a hard week. The hugs are a lot of fun because you get to cover a group of completely clean people in mud. After getting clean, all of the participants wear white to juxtapose how dirty they used to be. My mother attended this same summer camp in the 70s and she never observed this tradition. This means we can establish a terminus post quem and claim that this legend and tradition originated after the 70s.

Chinese Food & Jewish Christmas + a Joke

Main Piece:

How would you describe this tradition?

“For American Jewry, frequently if they don’t have friends or family to spend Christmas with, they needed somewhere to go on Christmas when everything was closed, and one thing that seemed to be open was Chinese food restaurants, which were not closed on Christmas. And there’s a joke that goes along with this: If it’s the Jewish year 5749 and the Chinese year 4257, what did the Jews do for 1276 years? All my numbers are wrong, but it works because the Jewish calendar is older than the Chinese calendar. And this tradition is national.”

Context/Background:

The informant is my father. He was raised culturally Jewish, and his career is within the science field. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other. Jewish people tend to not celebrate Christmas because anything related to the figure of Jesus isn’t a part of Jewish scripture. 

Analysis:

I have consumed Dim Sum (a category of Chinese food) every Christmas day for as long as I can remember. A tradition that emerged out of convenience became something to look forward to every year. If my family sees other non-Chinese people at the Dim Sum restaurant on Christmas, we probably know them because they’re members of our synagogue. The joke emphasizes how widespread this tradition is, and how reliant Jews have become on Chinese food to feed themselves every Christmas. Getting Chinese food on Christmas has become a stereotype, so much so that even some Jewish Channukah merchandise includes images of Chinese takeout. 

Tie-day Friday

Main Piece:

What was this event?

“I did not participate in it, but Tie-day-Friday was… did the school do it? No, it just started by people wearing ties on Friday. It was in elementary school, I have no idea who started it. I feel like people just started saying it because it was fun, and then it became a thing”

Context:

 My informant is my twin sister. She is Jewish, attended Los Angeles public school, and is currently a USC sophomore. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.

Analysis:

I was an active participant of Tie-day Friday. It was a fun tradition that allowed elementary schoolers to wear something an elementary schooler wouldn’t wear normally. No one knows who started it, but it created a fun inside joke shared by the student body. This inside joke unified us against the administration because they didn’t know that they were supposed to wear ties on Fridays, which was very amusing to the students.  

Bloody Mary, but make it Jewish?

Main Piece:

How did you learn about Bloody Mary?

“When I was in Hebrew school, a teacher told me that Mary was related to Jewish history. She was a Jewish figure that would haunt you, and the teacher was trying to connect it to Jewish curriculum. I was like ‘why are you trying to ruin this story’, like yes, I was genuinely afraid but that was so stupid (laughs).” 

How do you play Bloody Mary?

“You get into a bathroom, close the door, turn off the lights, look into a mirror, say bloody Mary 3 times, she’s supposed to appear and do something bad.”

Context/Background: 

My informant is my roommate. She was raised in Conservative Judaism and attended Hebrew School from elementary school through high school. This story was collected when we were talking about Judaism during dinner. 

Analysis: 

Many young children are taught a version of Bloody Mary. Various accounts can be seen in Alan Dundes’ article “Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety.” In my own experiences, I’ve been told that Bloody Mary is a wife who got killed before her wedding or a woman who died in a bloody car crash. However, in the case of this specific account, the person teaching this game to my informant tried to alter the backstory so it would fit into her religious education. My informant’s Hebrew school teacher saw the value in this myth and its impact on children, so the teacher tried morph it to fit her agenda. My informant saw straight through this attempt, but still ended up fearing the figure, Bloody Mary.

Dundes, Alan. “Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety.” Western Folklore, vol. 57, no. 2/3, 1998, pp. 119–135. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1500216.