Author Archives: Crystal Vine

Tradition – Sweden

“Each Christmas the house is decorated with statues, pictures, and ornaments.  Our family from Sweden always brings gifts, and over the years they have always brought the wicker animals… with the red ribbon wrapped around them.  They look like goats, or horses, and come in all different sizes.  We put out the tiny ones for decoration.  Every Christmas, someone would hide one of them and you girls [my three cousins] would try to find it.  And then whoever found it would get a chance to hide it and that’s how it went on.”

After I interviewed my grandma, she called my Swedish relatives to find out more about the Julbock.  They told her that the Julbock (the Yule Goat) has long been a part of Swedish tradition.  Sometimes made from the last straw of the harvest, the Julbock has often been associated with farming and represents hope for the new year (hope for good crops and prosperity).  One of my Swedish cousins said that it is possible that the game of hiding the Julbock was a way of integrating a Pagan holiday ritual with the more formal Christian traditions that occur during Christmas.  However, most people in my family are not religious and are not trying to unite their religion with pagan traditions.  In fact, most of my family, including myself, did not know why we hid the Julbock, even though it has been a tradition in our family for many generations.  I always figured my grandma made up the game to keep my cousins and I out of trouble and to give us something to do in between unwrapping presents and eating Christmas dinner.

Also, in our family we do not even call it a Julbock; my grandma usually refers to it as “the goat”.  Since my family knows so little about the tradition of hiding the Julbock, I asked my grandmother why we continue the tradition every Christmas.  She said that she liked seeing my cousins and I playing together, and that it reminded her of when my dad was younger and would also try and find the toy animal.  Therefore, it seems like even though my family may not know the historical origins of the Julbock, the tradition has great importance because it brings our family members together during the holidays.  Also, it helps establish our family as a unique group with our own identity, since not every family hides a Julbock during Christmastime.

Festival – St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Northridge, California

“Every year the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church has a big Greek festival as a fundraiser for the Church and its services. Not only do they have booths with different types of Greek food such as souvlakia, pastries, loukamathes, calamari, and gyros, but also game booths for the kids and many booths with different Greek cultural items such as clothes and jewelry. My family has been a part of it every year and about five or so years ago my dad started his own booth, the souvlakia booth.  Every year there is a competition to see who sells the most and every year we have been able to sell out by Sunday, which is awesome for the church. It is a very culture filled weekend (memorial day weekend) because there are also many different activities going on around the booths such as Greek dancing from the Golden Greeks and others along with Greek music from a live band and Greek cooking lessons on top of all that. This festival is mainly as a fundraiser but also made to share the Greek Orthodox culture with the community and get everyone involved in the different aspects of Greek life out in Los Angeles. The Greek community is really big around the valley and our Church isn’t the only one that has festivals and everyone from different churches comes and supports each Church during their festival.”

The Greek Festival in the San Fernando Valley helps strengthen the bond between Greek members of the church, and also allows the general public to experience some Greek traditions that are not commonly seen in everyday activity.  Kaitlin said that the Greek festival put on by her church brings Greek Orthodox members from other churches, too.  This clearly brings together a unique cultural segment of Los Angeles so they can celebrate their heritage.  However, the festival also allows the non-Greek Orthodox public in order to show the community what traditional Greek culture is like.  Though the festival has some aspects that involve more “authentic” Greek traditions, like the Golden Greek dancers that dress in traditional dancing clothes and perform dances that have been around for centuries, many of the food booths sell modern Greek food that many of the church families eat on a regular basis.  This blend of old and new gives the public a more encompassing view of Greek culture and may spark some interest in people that have never been exposed to this culture before.  It also shows how original Greek traditions are changed as they are transmitted through generations and altered to fit life in Los Angeles.

This festival takes place each Memorial Day Weekend.  Kaitlin said that there was no cultural significance behind this.  She said that since the festival takes place during a three-day weekend, a lot of people are able to come to the festival, at least for one day.  People can focus on food one day, and get involved in dances and other activities on another day.  Also, the three days makes it easier for Greek churches from other cities (and even states) to come and participate in the festival.

Kaitlin has been involved with her church’s Greek festival since she was a little girl because her parents run a booth every year.  Kaitlin said that she looks forward to the festival because it is a fun experience, and there is a vast amount of delicious Greek food to eat.  Even for someone that is Greek like Kaitlin, the festival is a special occasion because she does not get to enjoy some traditional aspects of Greek culture on a daily basis.  Going to the festival reminds her of her family’s roots, and also gives her a chance to connect with other members of her church.  In addition, it has given Kaitlin the opportunity to bring friends to the festival who are unfamiliar with Greek culture.  By doing so, she exposes them to Greek life and some of her family’s traditions.

I have gone to the same Greek festival that Kaitlin’s family participates in since I was a little girl.  My next-door neighbors are also members of that church and told my family about the festival, so every Memorial Day weekend I make sure to go to the festival.  I love going because it has been a tradition, and also because I really like the Greek food and music.  Even though it is held in front of the church and clearly does not look like Greece, I feel like everyone at the festival is separate from the rest of the world for the weekend.  Also, everyone at the festival shares this common experience, and it is easy to feel like you are actually a part of the Greek community.  Therefore, it seems like festivals, regardless of what culture they are celebrating, help bring all members of the community together by linking together people who share a similar heritage, or even similar interests in a certain culture.


“Before every soccer game I’ve played since I started playing AYSO, I have put my socks on starting with the right foot.  My best friend and I did it when we played AYSO.  I’m not sure if other people did it, maybe they were older than us, but we definitely always did it before every game, every time.  Even when I played club and played for the high school team, I always put my right sock on first.  It just became a habit, and I knew I would have a horrible game or something really bad would happen if I didn’t put that sock on first.  Obviously, I didn’t win every game, but it just would be wrong if I didn’t put my socks on in that order.”

Rachael told me that she put her socks on starting with her right foot ever since she started playing soccer.  Since that time, she has formed an association between putting socks on in a specific order with performing well on the soccer field.  In Rachael’s case, putting on socks is both a superstition and a tradition.  Although she said that usually only she and her best friend would put on socks in a specific order, Rachael knew older teammates that followed the same tradition.  When asked if seeing other teammates put on socks in a specific order provoked her to do the same, Rachael could not remember because she has been playing soccer since elementary school and does not know when the tradition began.

Like Rachael, many athletes have certain pre-game rituals that are associated with superstitions.  Whether it involves putting on socks, or going through a certain locker room door, or saying a certain chant three times, various teams have developed traditions that must be performed before they can play.  When an entire team has a certain ritual, it seems like that kind of activity would reinforce team unity and help the team to feel connected before they face an opponent.

In Rachael’s case, however, the rest of her team did not put on socks in a given order.  For Rachael, following this superstition made her feel more in control and like a better player.  Like she said, without the right sock order, things were “wrong.”   Even though it seems unlikely that breaking this sock tradition would actually impact Rachael’s soccer ability, it is possible that the ritual gives her the extra boost of confidence she needs to perform well on the field.  Also, performing the ritual allowed Rachael to focus on other things.  If she did not put on her right sock first, she would feel like she was not going to play well and would dwell on the sock issue instead of the game.  Thus, even though superstitions may be deemed silly or insignificant, they actually can impact they way a person thinks and feels if there is a strong belief in the superstition.

Joke – Canada

Joke-  Question: How do you kill a Fox?

Answer: Tell it to run across Canada.

This joke refers to Terry Fox, a Canadian man who attempted to run across Canada but died before he completed his mission.  Terry Fox was an athlete until he was injured in a car accident and discovered that he had osteosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in his right leg.  He was forced to have his right leg amputated at the age of 18, but decided to run from one coast of Canada to the other in order to raise money for cancer research.  Unfortunately, Terry Fox only made it to Ontario when doctors found that the cancer had spread to his lungs.  In June of 1981, Terry Fox passed away.

Paul said that this joke has been around for a very long time, and he has heard it since he was a child.  He said that it is inappropriate, but funny in a strange way.  He thinks that the reason the joke has stayed relevant might be due to the fact that Terry Fox is an iconic Canadian figure, and charity events like the Terry Fox Run and other cancer research organizations that use Terry Fox are still visible to the public.  Since he is still known to the public, it makes it easy for the joke to continue to be passed around.  When asked if people ever get angry when the joke is told, he said that among his friends or people his age and younger there was no stigma attached to telling this joke.  However, some adults are offended when this joke is told.

It seems as though the younger generation does not have a real connection to Terry Fox and his untimely death.  Because Terry Fox is still remembered and honored, younger people are aware of his story and tell the joke, but probably do not realize the significance of his death or his mission.  However, for adults and people who were alive when Terry Fox died, the joke is probably less humorous since they have a greater emotional attachment to that event.  Also, it seems like when the joke was first created, it might have been used as a coping mechanism or a way to make sense of Terry Fox’s tragic death.  However, in more recent times, children or teenagers probably use the joke just because they know it, not because of any deep connection to the story of Terry Fox.


Once there were two animals, a frog and a scorpion.  Both were standing on the edge of a river, looking to cross to the other side.  Although the frog could easily swim to the other side, the scorpion could not.  So the scorpion asked the frog if he could ride on the frog’s back in order to get across the river.  The frog was suspicious at first, and said “How do I know that you won’t sting me if I help you?”  The scorpion replied, saying, “Why would I sting you?  Then we would both drown and die.”  Believing this to be a reasonable explanation, the frog allowed the scorpion to get on his back, and they began to cross the river.  Once they had almost reached the other side, however, the frog felt a sharp pain in his side and realized that the scorpion had stung him.  “Why would you do that? You said you wouldn’t sting me!”  the frog cried.  Jumping off of the frog’s paralyzed body and onto the shore, the scorpion said “Because I can” and walked away, while the current of the river took the frog’s body.

Unlike many fairytales that have a “happily ever after” ending, this folktale has a more serious resolution.  The moral of the story seems to be that someone’s innate character cannot be suppressed, and it would be foolish to assume otherwise.  In this story, the frog thinks that despite the scorpion’s reputation as a known killer with its poisonous sting, the frog will be safe since the scorpion promised not to sting him.  Unfortunately, the frog learns a fatal lesson when he is stung and killed, and not even out of spite or vengeance, but merely because the scorpion can kill the frog.

In other versions of this folktale that I have heard, the scorpion stings the frog when they are only half way across the river, and both drown in the swift current.  This version further emphasizes the idea that dangerous creatures (or people) should not be trusted, under any circumstances.  It seems to say that if someone is willing to be so dangerous, they may not even care about their own self-preservation as long as their destructive behavior continues.

The simple structure of this folktale seems to indicate that this story is intended for a young audience.  The moral is easy to pick out and understand and the entire story is fairly short, so children listening to the folktale should not lose interest easily.  By gearing this folktale toward children, it is possible to see how the values and ideas of a society can be transmitted from the older (wiser) generation to the younger (presumably naïve) generation.

Although Kathryn’s father learned this story from his mother, who is fully Mexican, it was told to him in English and he passed on the story to Kathryn in English, too.  I thought that the folktale might have been unique to the culture Kathryn’s grandma was raised in, but Kathryn also heard this story later in life from people of different ethnic backgrounds.  Thus, perhaps the story does have some cultural values that are transmitted through the telling of the story, but these values are upheld by many different cultures.  Kathryn said that her dad told her this story when she was about six years old, during a car ride to school.  She said her dad would always tell her a story in the car, and she was especially interested in stories about animals, so this tale had a deep impact on Kat.  She said she felt sad the rest of the day because the frog died, and to this day can recall exactly how she felt when the story was told to her.  Thus, it is clear that passing on stories to children can have a profound impact on them.  Even though Kat said she was affected by hearing the story and learned a moral as a result, she would not want to pass on the story to her children because she said it was almost too traumatic, and that other stories would be more appropriate for little kids to hear.