My informant is originally from Santa Rosa, CA, where she grew up with some small town community ideals and in particular, festivals and annual gatherings.
She noted that there were three festivals that everyone she knew always attended, and that if you didn’t attend, it was questioned why. They were family events, and when one got older they would spend the evenings at the events with their friends.
The first festival was the Gravenstein Apple Festival in Padalum, CA. It usually took place in August, and my informant went every year with her family, just like her father had gone every year when he was younger. There were a variety of arts and crafts and apple oriented foods there at the festival. The biggest event was the pie contest, however. This event was possible because of the abundance of apples in the region, so my informant has told me. It was also used to promote local businesses as they would often donate gift baskets to give away at the event as a means to get exposure for their products. She also remembers other farm-like activities like an animal petting zoo and craft booths.
The second festival was the Sonoma County Fair (in Santa Rosa Fair grounds). It was the other event that you went to if you grew up in Santa Rosa. This was the presentation/competition of the animals. Kids could also enter ‘art projects.’ My informant listed cross stitch as an art project specifically. Schools promoted this festival because they passed out entry forms to the students in schools, a component that is different with contemporary folklore, using the school to promote traditional festivals.
The last annual event that my informant said she always attended was a 4th of July potluck picnic held in her court, which all of the residents would block off for the day. It would be a big potluck barbecue. Kids would ride their bikes around the court. They would have games like egg toss and water balloons for kids. When it started to get dark everyone had fireworks and everyone would set them off. The entire event lasted for about 12 hours. She noted that the people involved with these events had usually lived in the area for a prolonged period of time and there was a real sense of community at all of the festivals.
My Mother said that growing up, her mother would always burn a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve for good luck and that they would also burn it on New Years Day for good luck. It would burn the entire day until it the wax ran out.
According to my mother, this tradition comes from England, and then was continued as a New England tradition during colonial times. My mother told me that her mother’s side was English, and had the last name of Trasp, which is where the tradition of burning the candle came from in her family. She was not sure why it was a bayberry candle was burned, however.
My mother said that it wasn’t a tradition to make the candle, they usually just bought it. But the candle comes from the wax scraped off the berries of the bayberry shrub, and the bayberry plant is found in both Europe and North America.
This is interesting because in earlier colonial times the bayberry wax would be collected, perhaps because the animal fat used to make candles was scarce. Now the candles are made from other materials, with the bayberry scent, and burned for the sake of tradition.
The interesting thing that I found was that there were many traditional things that my mother did for good luck that came from different regions, and the bayberry candle was just one of them. There were multiple traditions around the holidays and my mother said they did them all, from burning a bayberry candle to a traditional German New Year’s dinner.
I thought it would be interesting to ask students who went to school in very rural settings what they did for fun or any college festivals and parties they would have. My informant, who is on a sports team that forms a very tight knit community and serves as her primary group of friends, described to me a usual party held around Christmas time. It was started by the boys soccer team living in a particular house near campus eight years ago. Since then it has become a tradition.
The boys from the soccer teams and basketball teams traditionally ask the girls from the girls’ soccer team to the formal, which is really just a college drinking party. The reason why the boys from the soccer team asks the girls’ soccer team is because those are the people who come out to support their games and share the field with them, which in turn almost makes all of the lore surrounding their sport the very thing that draws them together.
Those who attend the formal wear cocktail attire, which is unique to this event. The reason why it is unique is because, as my informant told me, most of their parties are in very casual and warm clothing because of the small town atmosphere on campus. You have to be comfortable because everyone walks on the icy sidewalks during the winter, and the sports teams in general usually dress more casually than the rest of the student body at Allegheny College.
My informant told me about the traditions surrounding Devil’s Night, or October 30th, the night before Halloween. She mentioned that the normal activities boys would participate in would be egging houses at night and “doorbell ditching.” When egging became an issue of destruction of property and legal action could be taken against the children involved, they switched from egging a house to using toilet paper, spreading it around trees and the house yard.
My informant felt that this was a very east coast tradition because of our association to early Halloween traditions and witches in Salem. She could not name when Devil’s Night started, just that several generations of her family knew about it and all that went on that night, usually criminal behavior.
Often this would involve smashing pumpkins as well. My informant thought that maybe this was another imitation of spirits because of the stories surrounding Halloween. My informant said that when she was younger, her parents would tell her scary stories of things that happened on Devil’s Night to prevent her from going out and taking part in the activities that got her fellow classmates into trouble.
My informant, whose background actually features multiple nationalities, remembers her traditional dinner that they had every New Years day for good luck. It consisted of pork and sauerkraut. When she talked of this dinner she actually referred to it as a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, the Pennsylvania Dutch actually referring to German Immigrants, a mispronunciation of the German word for Germans, Deutsch.
The sauerkraut is cooked in a crock-pot with the pork for the entire day, and my informant said that apples were sometimes included in the pot with the sauerkraut to make it sweeter. Considering the abundance of apples in the region, this is no surprise that they were used.
The Pennsylvania Dutch traditional dish from which my informant’s contemporary meal comes from is actually something known as hog maw, which was pork sausage and potatoes stuffed into in a cleaned pig’s stomach, boiled, and sliced.
My informant also mentioned that kielbasa, an Eastern European traditional sausage, was also included with the shredded pork and sauerkraut. This influence comes from the Pittsburgh area, which features a large eastern European population that immigrated to the area for jobs in the steel mills around the turn of the century 1900s.