Author Archives: Elan Bialobos

Jumping Fire: Persian New Year

The Folklore:

K: Would you like me to tell you about a Persian New Year tradition?

E: Yes, please do.

K: Every Persian New Year everyone  jumps over a burning fire. A contained fire of course.

E: Does everyone participate?

K: Older people and young children don’t. But those who aren’t sick and are able bodied all do it.

E: That is so interesting. Do you know where this tradition originated?

K: Early Persians practiced Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest belief systems, and they viewed fire as extremely holy. They began to hop the fire as a cleanse. The fire would wash away all bad luck, evil eyes, and sicknesses by leaving them in the year that was ending.

E: When did you first hear about this tradition?

K: My fathers first told me about this tradition during Persian new year when I was very young. Ever since then I’ve participated every year.

E: What does it mean to you? What sort of value does it hold with you?

A: It means a lot because it’s the main event during Persian New Year’s. This is one of the largest family celebrations of year where extended family and nuclear family are all together. Everyone experiences this together by leaving our non-positive energy in the past.


My informant is a long time friend of mine who is from Dominican and Iranian descent. Every year I’ve known him I’ve seen the annual videos of him and his family members jumping over the fire without having inquired. I reached out to him over the phone and this was what he told me.


Although strange I see this practice as deeply as symbolic. Zoroastrianism was one of the first belief systems and the fact that God has for us conceived so long ago are still prevalent today reflects how truly special it is as both for the Apple ones on sale to leave behind’s transgressions from the past year as well as enter the new year with family.


Chatsworth Trainwreck Haunting

The Folklore:

E: Are there any strange ghost related phenomenons in the valley?

C: Yes, there is a popular belief that after the Chatsworth train wreck, the railroad has been haunted by the ghosts of the people killed in the wreck.

E: What event triggered this urban legend?

C: In 2008, a train derailed and crashed in Chatsworth, California which is located in the San Fernando Valley. 25 people lost their lives in the train crash.

E: What supposedly happens at this train crash site?

C: It is told that if you park your car on a certain part of the train tracks, handprints will begin to appear on all of your car windows. After that occurs, a force begins to push your car off the train tracks. It is said that the handprints that appear on the car are the people that died in the train wreck, and since they don’t want you to also die in a train wreck they push your car off the train tracks.

E: Where did you learn about this urban legend?

C: I learned about this legend about a year after the train accident and my friend from home had actually experienced this phenomenon. This conspiracy is actually very popular and have heard discussion about this phenomenon numerous times from many different people.

E: Have you ever experienced this phenomenon?

C: No, I have never personally experienced this phenomenon, but I have had friends that have experienced this phenomenon.


This conversation was held in a very casual setting. My friend and I conversed about ghost stories in our surrounding neighborhood. He told me this story as well as another. The train track ghost legend stems from a rumor very close to my informant’s home.


The tragic incident created a story that the community would react to. This story makes people visit the site of the tragedy and it also serves as a means to warn people, don’t park on train tracks. Having lived in the same area for several years, there’s many places in the valley that are supposedly haunted. These stories are used to warn people of dangers but also draw attention to areas where unfortunate events have occurred.

Tuberculosis in Swedish Nursery Rhymes

The Folklore:

I en sal på Lasarettet

I en sal på lasarettet

där de vita sängar står

låg en liten bröstsjuk flicka

blek och tärd med lockigt hår.

Allas hjärtan vann den lilla
där hon låg så mild och god.
Bar sin smärta utan klagan
med ett barnsligt tålamod.

Så en dag hon frågar läkarn,
som vid hennes sida stod:
Får jag komma hem till påsken
till min egen lilla mor?

Läkarn svarar då den lilla:
Nej mitt barn, det får du ej,
men till pingsten kan det hända
du får komma hem till mor.

Pingsten kom med gröna björkar
blomsterklädd står mark och äng,
men den lilla sjuka flickan
låg där ständigt i sin säng.

Så på nytt hon frågar läkarn
som vid hennes sida står:
Får jag komma hem till hösten
till min egen lilla mor?

Läkarn svarar ej den lilla,
men strök sakta hennes hår,
och med tårar i sitt öga
vänder han sig om och går.

Nu hon slumrar uti mullen
slumrar sött i snövit skrud.
Från sin tåligt burna längtan
har hon farit upp till Gud.

In a Ward at the Hospital

In a ward at the hospital
where the white beds stand
lay a small consumptive girl
pale and haggard with curly hair.

Everyone’s hearts the small one won
where she lay, so mild and virtuous.
She bore the pain without lament,
with a naive patience.

Then one day she asked the doctor
standing at her side:
Can I come home for Easter
to my own dear mama?

The doctor answered the small one:
No, my child, you can not,
but for Pentecost it may be
that you could come home to mother.

Pentecost came with green birches
with field and meadow in floral dress,
but the little sickly girl
still lay there in her bed.

So again she asked the doctor
standing at her side:
Can I come home in the fall
to my own dear mama?

The doctor answered not the small one,
but slowly caressed her hair.
And with tears in his eye
he turned around and walked away.

Now she’s slumbering under the loam,
slumbering sweetly in snow-white raiments.
From her patiently borne longing
she has fled up to God.

E: Where did you first hear this?

P: My mother sang it to me when I was really young.

E: Where did she learn it from?

P: She learned it from her mother and her mother alike. Also, despite our age differences my mom also sang it to my older siblings.

E: Do you know any history into its conception?

P: In the 1800’s TB was a major problem across Europe and a large amount of people were impacted by the deaths that occurred. Since this disease was such central aspect of peoples’ lives, it was reflected in the literature of the time.

E: What does this rhyme mean to you?

P: Initially it was just a song to me and I did not understand the meaning behind the lyrics. However, when I got older my mom brought the song to me and I understood the real context of it. This made me realize how dark of an outlook on life people had during this time period.


My informant was born in Sweden and raised in the United States. His entire family prior was from Sweden. He’s never brought up stories from his culture and was ecstatic when I asked him to participate. We sat in a very casual setting.


I’ve never heard a Nursery Rhyme be as overtly somber, but it does remind me of Ring Around the Rosies. Both are about terrible illnesses and reactions to them. As I further conversed with my informant I found out for the nearly half the year it’s dark around 18 hours a day. This creates a darker atmosphere and allows for the creation of more dark works.

La Llorona: A Hispanic Woman in White Tale

The Folklore:

E: What is the story that you wanted to tell me about?

A: What I’m about to tell you is the story of how a popular ghost phenomenon came to be.  So there was once this woman who had gotten so distraught at her husband’s infidelity that she drowned her children. Realizing what she had done, she began to be consumed by regret. Eventually the woman took her own life in the same manner in which she took her children’s.

E: There are a plethora of woman in white ghost stories worldwide, are there any qualities specific to La Llorona?

A: This is a woman in a white who hunts children. Children as seen as having a more keen sense for the supernatural. Also, if she’s got you as her target and you hear her sound far away that means she’s close. The same is applicable in the reversed case.

E: Typically in what context does the story get brought up?

A: Usually it’s brought up by children and family events or just in any social situation.

E: How did you first hear about this?

A: My cousins were actually the first people to tell me about this woman in white. Two of my cousins said as they were driving down a dark road one night when they were children out of the window they saw a woman very vividly, she was in a white dress standing on the side of the road. They asked their parents if they saw what the children had seen but they said that no idea what the children were even talking about.


This is the transcribed conversation I had with a friend of mine as we shared ghost stories from our cultures. My friend is of Latino origin. He grew up in Texas and was still very close to Mexican culture. 


This is an interesting twist on the woman in white story. Though her origin story has been seen before I don’t think I’ve heard of an instance in which the woman only hunted children. In addition I think the auditory component to the story adds symbolic meaning in the sense that danger can be anywhere. It’s a precautionary tale to instill within kids that yeah going out at night alone is maybe not the best idea.


Hats on a Bed…Bad Luck

The Folklore:

E: What peculiar superstitions do you follow?

L: I never put a hat on a bed.

E: Why is that?

L: It’s believed that if someone puts their hat on their bed they are too ill or injured to set it down where it needs to be.

E: What happens if you do set a hat on a bed?

L: You get all sorts of bad luck.

E: Is it all headwear or just hats?

L: Glasses are fine. But I stray from putting beanies or anything else of the sort.

E: Where did you hear this from?

L: I heard it from my father when I was a little girl.

E: What does it mean to you?

L: It makes me a bit less lazy. I have to remind myself to place my hat where it needs to be or else I receive supernatural consequences.


This is a family member of mine from France. I was taught this superstition at a very young age and it came to mind when beginning my research. I called said family member and transcribed our phone call.


This sort of story works well to deter laziness. I feel as though all superstitions hold some sort of deeper meaning or lesson. I wonder circa what year this came from and by proxy the circumstances that created it. I think it is interesting to people who follow superstitions for fear of sway in their faith. I personally heard this superstition when I was younger and have since always practiced it. I won’t even let friends put their hats on beds.

White Lighters: A Smoker’s Superstition

E: So you won’t use a white lighter?

J: Never, it’s horrible luck. I won’t use one, keep one on my person, or be in the room when someone uses one.

E: Why do you say so?

J: All of the members of the “27 Club” were found to have white lighters on or around them at the time of their death.

E: Could you tell me what this club is and who its members are?

J: The “27 Club” is the name associated with young  legendary musicians who all died at the age of 27. The likes of which include: Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Fredo Santana.

E: Have you ever experienced any sort of change in luck with a white lighter?

J: Personally I had glassware break the same week that I used one. It’s an unfortunate coincidence but not one I want to take a chance at again.

E: When did you first hear about white lighters being bad luck?

J: It actually wasn’t till well into high school when a friend told me a story about them and a white lighter that I found out it was a cursed object.

E: What happened in their case?

J: This is one of a few stories that I’ve heard from people and misfortunes with the lighter but this story starts at the beach. Two of my friends went to the beach one day and while they were enjoying their fun in the sun one of them found a white lighter. Thinking “oh cool free lighter!” they went back to my buddy’s house and used it. Later that same night a person was murdered on the beach.


After doing some research I found out none of the members of the 27 club died with white lighters on them and it’s really just a common misconception. For many deaths the iconic white Bic lighter had not even been invented yet. Although I am a very superstitious individual and when I hear a new superstition they stick. I find it interesting that feeding the belief has both proved some strange coincidences as well as created an association with musical legends. This is likely due to a high frequency of addictions in musical history.

4/20 An Informal Holiday

This is the transcribed conversation I had with a friend from Marin County, a county extremely close to San Rafael. This friend also happens to observe this Holiday and I inquired into its origins.

E: How did this unconventional holiday come to be?

J: In the early 70’s at San Rafael high school a group of friends who called themselves “The Waldos” began this tradition. One day one of the teenage boys got word from his brother’s friend that someone had planted a massive field of marijuana plants. Fortunate for the Waldos the field was apparently abandoned, so they decided to try and harvest.

Everyday, at 4:20 p.m., after their sports practices had ended the boys would go search for the bud. Unfortunately they never found the treasured field but it eventually became a tradition that everyday at that same time they would congregate and partake in a group smoking session. Eventually the tradition caught on with other students. It became part of of everyday vernacular. Because the Grateful Dead originate from an area not too far from the origins of 4/20 apparently some of the Waldos were friends with members of the group. Eventually the group further popularized the tradition and terminology, thus this day came to be.

E: When and how did you first hear this story?

J: I was fairly late into middle school or early into high school when an older friend of mine told me about it.

E: There are a lot of other theories as to its origins why are you so certain it stems from the Bay Area?

J: To begin it’s actually a common misconception that Bob Marley’s birthday is 4/20, it’s actually in February. Also, yes it does happen to be Hitler’s birthday but that’s no cause for celebration. The Waldos have the earliest recorded evidence of the use of the phrase and ideas about the tradition.

E: What does this day mean to you?

J: Honestly it’s more than weed. It’s about getting to spend time with people that you enjoy, and if people that you don’t enjoy are present then you can bond over weed. There’s a whole culture that came from that one group of friends in high school, I think that’s pretty special.


I found the alleged origin story of this modern holiday that came to be really interesting. Humble roots to say the least. I think it’s also amazing to see the pride people from the Bay Area have for being the site of its creation. The hometown pride and the sense of camaraderie showed me that the day means a lot more to people than it seems.

Greek Coin Cake

The Folklore:

E: You told me about a Greek New Year’s Day food tradition, could you tell me more about that?

H: Every year on New Year’s Day, my family eats a unique cake known as the Vasilopita, baked with a gold coin in the center. Its a tradition that has been passed down for generations, supposedly having been started with St. Basil centuries ago. He was said to have baked cakes for the poor on a holiday and snuck gold coins to them to help them out as well. Today, the whole household gets together to cut the cake, each slice for a different person. The first three are for the father, son and the holy spirit, the next is for the house, and the next is either the oldest member of the household or the head of the household, and then going down from there. Whoever gets the coin is supposed to be given good luck for the entire year.

E: Where did you learn this?

H: I’ve been doing it my whole life, but I always associate the tradition with my grandmother, because she is usually the one making the cake.

E: Why do you remember it?

H: It’s memorable because its always the first thing we do on the New Year. No matter if I’m at a party or out with friends or anything like that, my first move after that’s over is always to go home and cut the vasilopita with the family

E: What do you like about the tradition?

H: I think the tradition is about staying humble and remembering how lucky we all are. It’s also about hope and optimism with a whole new year just beginning. It sets the tone for the year and refocuses me on what’s ahead.


My informant is a first generation American his family being from Greece. He’s always been very lively when speaking about his heritage. He was elated when he heard I had to interview people about folklore. This was our transcribed conversation.


This is extremely similar to La Fève which is essentially the same concept but in France. I was so happy to see something from my culture have so many parallels with another culture. The only difference is in France instead of a gold coin it’s a figurine. Nonetheless, I believe it serves as a good reminder to be charitable and to come together with your family.

Budda Baba: Pakistani Boogie Man

This is the transcribed conversation I had with a friend of mine from Pakistan about what is essentially the Pakistani Bogeyman.


E: What can you tell me about the Old Man?

A:  Throughout my childhood I would be frightened by the “Budda Baba”, which translates to “old man” in English. This was an icon in the childhoods of many Pakistani children as their parents would use him as a scare. An example from my life that happened the most was that my mother would say that this “Budda Baba” would come if I didn’t go to bed. I would immediately go to bed and hide under my blanket, trying to hide from this fictional man, and by doing so I would eventually go to sleep.

E: Was there any narrative or tale associated with Budda Baba?

A: None that I know of.

E: Did any of your friends experience similar of instances of being told Budda Baba would appear?

A: Many of them, but most instances were when they were misbehaving.

E: Around what age did you first hear about this and until what age did you believe it?

A: My parents first told me about Budda Baba, in the prior example, when I was around 7 years old. I believe it till around 12 when I figured out what my parents were doing.

E: Is it as relevant today?

A: Yes, my younger sister is ten years old and my parents and extended family still pull the Budda Baba on her.

E: What value does this still hold for you, if any?

A: I was never a very disobedient child but it did overtime reinforce the idea of parental authority. Although it is a pretty good way to get your kid to listen to you.


I found the concept of the Budda Baba intriguing. For one the threat of the old man is rather vague, the only information is that he would appear and is visually menacing. I feel as though one of the factors contributing to this fear is how ambiguous it is and the possibility of how morbid it could be. This reminds me of Scandinavian folkloric tales of monsters who would kidnap, torture, or kill misbehaving children, though those stories have more grim endings. I also believe the translation of the monsters name should be noted. Since it’s an old man rather than some horrific beast, I think it reflects a sense of respect for elders and double as a parallel of a patriarchal society.