Author Archives: Emma Clarke

Italian Christening robes

“On the Christening robes of babies, they have these little charms, little golden charms. There’s a monkey fist, a bull horn, all different ones, and they’re all supposed to keep the evil eye away.”

 

My informant comes from a devout Italian Catholic family. Although the evil eye is not a Christian belief, it has seeped so deeply into the culture from pre-Christian folk beliefs to the extent that a modern Catholic family believes in it enough to take precautions against it harming their infants. Again, there is the idea that celebration can draw the wrath of the evil eye; even a religious celebration is dangerous.

No meat on Christmas Eve

“We didn’t eat meat on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is fine, but not on Christmas Eve. So we’d eat, like, baccala, which is salted cod. And calamari and other fish and seafood.”

 

My informant is an Italian Catholic. Refraining from meat on Christmas Eve is one of many cultural traditions practiced by this group. There are certain traditional fish dishes prepared, including baccala. My informant told me that she doesn’t particularly like baccala, and neither does the rest of her family. However, they make and eat it every year because it is traditional to do so.

Black eyed peas for New Year

“On New Year’s, we eat black eyed peas and greens.”

 

My informant is of Italian Catholic extraction and grew up in Chicago. Despite her family having no connection to the South, they eat the traditionally Southern dish of black eyed peas and greens on New Year’s. This is an indication of the way that culture spreads throughout the United States. Both foods are traditionally lucky to eat, especially as a way to help ring in the new year. My informant wasn’t sure what the significance of the foods is; she just knows that it’s lucky and they do it every year.

Cross yourself when you speak of the dead

“When you’re talking about someone who died, you have to do the sign of the cross after you say something, especially if you said something bad.”

 

My informant comes from an Irish-American Catholic family. Crossing oneself is a common gesture within this community, especially when talking of the dead. Although Catholics don’t technically believe in ghosts, the general consensus seems to be that speaking ill of the dead could lead to repercussions for the speaker. Crossing oneself could help with any negative effects of speaking ill of the dead. In addition, crossing oneself when speaking of the dead in general serves as a blessing and a way of commemorating the dead; it is a sign of respect.

Gate to hell

“So there are seven gates to hell, and this is one of them. It’s this old cemetery in the middle of nowhere, it used to have a church and a small town, and it’s in the middle of nowhere, and people just think it’s a portal to hell. And there’s just sketchy stuff that happens there all the time.”

 

Here my informant is talking about a cemetery near her hometown in Kansas. She remembers growing up hearing supernatural stories about the area, and she told me that she refuses to go near it to this day. As the story goes, there are seven gates to hell, but only five have been found (she was unclear about where the other five are located). Some of the “sketchy stuff” involves the disappearance of animals and people; she remembers stories from when she was in high school about friends of friends going missing, never to be found again.

This is a classic urban legend; a local spot is chosen because it is “spooky” looking, and it is said to be supernatural in some way. There must be thousands of similar spots across the US.