Author Archives: Athena Boyle

Gingerbread Christmas Tradition


“Every Christmas on my mum’s side of the family we made these little gingerbread houses and it, until the last couple years it was at my grandparent’s house, my mum’s parents’ house, and it would be me and my mum and my dad and my brother and then my mums two siblings and their families and my grandparents obviously. And my grandma would bake all the houses and then you know we each bring some candies or something to decorate them with. And she would always have a crockpot full of cinnamon and apples and orange peels and stuff, not to eat just to kind of smell nice and it was also kind of a potluck thing so pretty much like everyone who was coming would bring some food, it might just be like picking up some you know like chips and salsa from a restaurant or someone might bake something, but my grandma usually made a casserole and like a dessert or something and my grandpa would, like my grandma would bake the houses and my grandpa would put them together with the icing. And also, my mum and my uncle and my grandpa are all engineers so usually their houses are very intricate and very put together. And you know it had been going on since, I think it started in the 90s, in my family, it might’ve been a little later than that actually I think it was mostly for the kids so when my brother and I were young and my cousins who are a little younger than my brother, my brother is the oldest, and even though it was oriented around the kids all the adults *laugh* would really go hard and put a lot of effort into the houses and again a bunch of engineers it was hyper-detailed like intricate ornate houses um.

This was mostly just my mum’s side of the family. It was organized by my grandparents, my dad was there but not really his side of the family. It wasn’t just to build the houses either, especially when the kids got older and busier and so did the adults and parents, it kind of became an excuse to socialize and see everyone around the holidays, and we would also, after that around the 24th and 23rd we would also see that family but yeah it was mostly an excuse to get together and the food and the houses and the smelly stuff was just kind of an accessory, an excuse to get together and stuff. But yeah, it has pretty much only been the people who I’ve mentioned. My grandma didn’t have the best family life growing up so I think it was really important to her to try and cultivate that as best as she could. She is like very giving and wants good things for people so I think this was kind of her yearly way to make the little house for everyone. So everyone made a house except for her because she was replacing the icing bags and things like that, so for her, I think this was honestly a stressful time, but it was worth it because the family was all laughing and stuff.”

Context: The informant has always participated in this tradition and continues to participate yearly. The informant’s family has lived in Southern California for several generations. The informant believes that the purpose of the gingerbread tradition is to bring family closer together and to create happy memories.


I agree with the informant’s analysis explaining the purpose of the gingerbread tradition as cultivating a loving family environment and encouraging family bonding. The informant’s grandmother appears to have designed the gingerbread activity to be as enjoyable for everyone participating and likely wanted to primarily strengthen family relationships and create pleasant memories. The gingerbread serves as an opportunity for the family to all partake in a festive activity together while eating, creating a very hospitable environment for families to enjoy each other’s company.

Tamales Christmas Tradition


“This one is definitely a traditionally Hispanic cultural thing, which I’m not, I’m white, but on my other side of my family so my dad’s side, my grandma remarried and her husband had kids coming into that marriage so my uncle Bobby, my dad’s stepbrother married my aunt Hilda and they actually got divorced so they’re not together anymore which I’ll talk about more in a second, but when they were together um every Christmas we would make tamales and you know that’s a particularly common thing to do in a group and tamales especially are a very Christmas time kind of thing. Um but you kind of build them in an assembly line kind of thing, so the whole family was in the kitchen and my family was like completely white, and the people who—my grandpa who married by grandma was white, it was just my aunt Hilda, but she was kind of sharing that culture with us. We would all be like one step at a time, you know fill the tamale, wrap it in the corn husk, you know the whole process, and when that was happening, I was too young the be in the kitchen actually helping, but I would still see my mum and my dad and my aunts and uncles all kind of in the kitchen making food together, talking and smiling. Um and yeah again, even though it wasn’t like my culture I still grew up around it and it meant a lot to my childhood and was a central part of the holiday experience. They did divorce, I don’t know how long ago, I was probably 8 when they split up, but I’m still um my aunt Hilda um I still call her aunt Hilda even though she isn’t technically my aunt anymore, but she had two children with my uncle and I guess my uncle isn’t my blood uncle anyway my dad grew up with him, but anyway but we’re still on good terms with her and I’m pretty close with my cousins still um my cousin Tory and Ariana, two sisters. Even though I don’t see them as much anymore at least my aunt and uncle, I see my cousins semi-regularly still, but um every Christmas she still drops off tamales or like a soup, and even though we’re not making it like we used to in the kitchen in an assembly line kind of thing there’s still a part of that tradition that carries over even though the family has kind of fractured. Um so yeah I don’t know it’s still kind of nice to have a piece of that tradition still intact. Also, Ariana the younger of my cousins is a vegan so I get vegan tamales at Christmas which is nice. I really, I don’t know it was a very important part of my Christmas. I’m sad it’s not the same as it was but you know my aunt still drops them off and it’s sweet to stay in touch.

 I think seeing everyone in the same room all together working on something together and then we get to make it all together and eat it all together it’s just a really good community thing. I think it brought everyone physically close. Making food I think is pretty important to that kind of thing, making it and eating it. Like building relationships—and there’s some relationships pre-built in and I don’t know I think those are the time where you get to really feel close and it’s not just biological and with this group, I wasn’t biologically related to most of them, but they were my family. I feel like it really helped me get close and made my cousins and aunt more than just family I appreciated it, the community that it created, and I’m glad that my aunt shared that part of her culture and upbringing with us.”

Context: The informant has experienced this tradition since they were born until their aunt and uncle divorced. The primary reasoning as to the purpose of the tradition is to bring family closer together through the sharing of activities. and another’s culture. Ultimately, the informant believes that their aunt just wanted to bring the family closer to her by sharing a part of her upbringing with the rest of the family.

Analysis: The informant’s tradition primarily serves as a way for a family to bond and strengthen their relationships. Furthermore, the fact that tamales are being prepared is significant because the informant’s aunt is sharing her culture and a part of her upbringing with her new family. Sharing part of one’s own culture can help foster intimacy and allow people to get to know each other on a deeper level. The use of tamales as a method of sharing culture is particularly useful because it is a communal cooking process and further encourages family bonding. The fact that the informant’s aunt continues to bring food to the family despite being somewhat distanced since her divorce only further shows how the use of food is used to create connections and send the message of love.  

The Nian Monster


“I know this is for sure Chinese. The idea of a Nian monster. I think this was actually the Chinese New Year tradition and where it came from. So once upon a time *laughs* there was this tale that there was a monster called Nian and every time around the current time of Chinese New Year. The Lunar/Chinese New Year is when the monster comes around and then they will either eat people or do a lot of robbery, a lot of killing, a lot of bad things. And then essentially what people end up doing is that someone found out, I don’t remember exactly how, but someone found out that if you played a very loud noise the monster would retreat. They also found out Nian is afraid of the color red. So this is how the Chinese New Year tradition of playing the bianpao which is the firecracker kind of thing, the thing that gives off a very loud sound, that’s how that tradition developed. And that’s also how the very much appreciated tradition of red packet *laughs* developed because I think Nian was particularly fond of children like kidnapping/killing children so the tradition became of like adults, adults would give children a red packet during Chinese New Year so that Nian wouldn’t come near them. They would also light up bianpao so it makes a lot of noise. I’m not sure how this tradition turned into putting money into a red packet but, I benefited *laughs* from this before which is why I remember vividly guess.”


The informant was born and grew up in China before moving to the United States to attend High School. The informant was told of the Nian monster when she was 4 or 5 years old by her grandmother. The story of the Nian monster is so popular that she also read about it in books and discussed the story with family and community members. The informant does not literally believe in the Nian monster, however, she is fond of the story and the traditions that accompany it.


The Nian monster and its incorporation into Chinese New Year traditions is perhaps a representation of the fear of the end of a cycle. Death can often follow the end of a cycle and begin the beginning of a new cycle. One’s awareness of the connection between the end of one thing and the beginning of another is heightened during the New Year. Nian could be seen as representing the possibility of death and thus attacks on the New Year.  Furthermore, the story of the Nian monster incorporates children within cultural New Years traditions and shows them that their family and community care about their safety. Children may end up feeling safer year-round if they are shown how much their community cares for them by having the color red everywhere, making noise, and giving them red packets for protection.

Goodbye From a Ghost


“So it was back in the 60s. I think 64 or 65, but basically um my grandma she had this one uncle that loved her like she was his favorite like niece and basically she heard a knock at the door and my grandma went to open it and he lives in Japan so he was just like “uncle what are you doing here” and then um my grandpa was like “Mona who’s there? Who are you talking to?” She turned around to my grandpa was just like “It’s uncle” and turned back around and he was gone. And then the next day she found out that he had passed away. So um yeah that was sort of like his, how she interprets it is like him sort of saying goodbye, you know like “I remembered you” yeah.”

“She was just like, “I saw him but no one else could” it was just like sort of strange, it was just strange like she seemed confused by the whole situation, “what was that?” um especially um the timing was like it was like coincidence or like it looks like a coincidence. I don’t she says that she believes in ghosts after that so I guess it’s not a coincidence but um yeah she was just very shook I guess.”


The informant was told this ghost story by her grandmother when she was growing up. The informant is unsure if she believes in ghosts or not. However, due to the timing of the ghost visit and the loved one passing, she believes in the story enough not to dismiss the possibility of ghosts outright.


I am not going to judge the validity of this ghost story. However, I think it is a great example of how ghosts can often represent a longing for our deceased loved ones and the confusion that follows immediately after experiencing a loss. While grief affects people differently, it can often make people lose track of time or generally feel ‘out of body’ and confused. Furthermore, a final goodbye from a loved one is often not possible but could help start the process of recovery.

The Haunted House of a Pagan High Priestess

Informant: A

Interviewer: B


A: “So I have a friend who, she was like 22 or 23 when I met her, but that doesn’t really matter, but she is like a certified Pegan High Priestess um a very interesting lady um and we stayed the night at her house one time uh me and my boyfriend at the time and we stayed at her house because we were all going to go to an anime convention the next day. Um and we were staying in her room and she was like “I have to warn you that my house is haunted” and we were like ‘Kimi what do you mean?” *laughs* “What does that mean?” and she was like “As a kid I did a ritual to summon a demon in my basement” and she didn’t realize it was a demon but she did the ritual to summon something in her home and since then, she was like 12, and since then it has been in her house. And we’re like “okay” and she was like “do not go down this specific hallway” and we’re like “okay umm” *strained voice* So um we stayed the night at her house and neither of us could sleep because of this feeling of awful. We were both like “did you just feel dreed all night” and we were like “yeah” and I don’t remember if it was that night or a different night but I distinctly remember um her coming to us and telling us that she woke up with gouging scratch marks on her back which she showed us and we were like “oh that’s fun and cute, how did you sleep through that” and she was like “this happens not infrequently because my house is haunted” and we were loke “COOL were not gonna spend the night at your house again, cool goodbye” and I’m pretty sure to this day that her house is haunted which is weird because she like cleanses houses, like she cleansed one of our rooms, but apparently she can’t get rid of the demon so *laughs* that’s the tale.”

A: “One is always skeptical when a friend of yours comes over and tells you they’ve summoned a demon and in hindsight I had a very high impression of this person because I met her when I was like 14 and she was like 20 something and so I like I already had a very, they’re like an older sister role model to me um but I did believe her because um idk it felt off before she told us that her house was haunted and there were actively, again this could be placebo, but my boyfriend at the time, we had concluded, we had seen things on her balcony. I guess this is a separate story but whenever we went up the stairs you would get up to the top of the stairs and, not out of breath or anything, not out of exertion, but our chests would feel heavy and other people had reported, had told us this too that “your upstairs has bad vibes”, and there was no reason for the upstairs to have bad vibes but it did and we had like seen things on the balcony like shadowy figures and were like you know what this is not good, so she like came and cleansed it and it helped. So obviously it could the placebo and the kind of wanting it to be better but um and I think a lot of ghost stories, their reliability has to do with how much you believe in it sometimes. I don’t know I think it’s fun and I hope she’s not being hurt by something that might be in her house.” *laughs*

B: “What was the house itself like?”

A: “It was a very normal house, the only thing is, it wasn’t out out in the middle of nowhere, but it was kind of on the outs. It was less suburbia and more like, I don’t know if other people use this terminology, but it’s what I would call ‘out in the country’ so but like the inside was perfectly normal. It’s not like the pool where it has an inherently creepy vibe, it was just like a house, yeah.”


The informant learned of the haunting as they were spending the night in their friend’s house. The informant and the owner of the house had been friends for years prior to the incident. The informant believes that the haunting is real and that the High Priestess is telling the truth. The informant saw deep cuts on the High Priestess’s back the night after sleeping in the same room together and barely sleeping due to a feeling of dread. Given that experience, the informant believes that the simplest explanation is that the High Priestess is telling the truth about the demon haunting.


I’m sure that understanding the particular form of Paganism that the High Priestess practices would help provide further context to interpret the haunting. However, the informant does not recall the specifics of the High Priestess’s beliefs. From preliminary research on overarching principles of Paganism, the inclusion of demons appears to be quite sparse. Perhaps the lack of information regarding demons in Paganism is why the High Priestess has not been able to remove the demon. It is also noteworthy that the house itself seemed quite normal and was not an uninviting space—further emphasizing the power of the High Priestess’s beliefs. I do not know what to make of the gauges in High Priestess’ back. The informant reported that the High Priestess’ back was smooth before going to bed and that she shared a room with two other people, none of whom slept deeply or left the room. Given that information, I cannot easily see an explanation for how the cuts appeared. However, I doubt the High Priestess felt that she was in frequent mortal danger as she did invite two friends to stay the night.