Entry: The Haftsin is a type of altar for prepared for Persian New Year (Nowruz).
Context: SG is a 21 year old woman from San Francisco, CA. Her mother is Iranian, though SG explained that her mother didn’t “raise [her and her brother] in a very Persian way.” However, SG’s grandmother “always lived either with [them] or close to [them],” and would always celebrate Persian traditions. One such example occurs at Nowruz, or Persian New Year, which marks the beginning of Spring. There is the tradition of the Haftsin, an altar upon which seven items beginning with the letter S in Farsi are placed. This includes “seer, which is garlic, somagh,” or sumac, which is a spice, and more. SG explained that she didn’t remember why it is specifically items that start with S, but that the tradition is meant to give thanks to the year that just passed and hope for a good New Year. She said:“my grandma has also always done it where, if some members of our immediate family can’t be there – like this year my uncle, my mom, me, my brother, we were all at her house with her, but she had a photo of my aunt, and that’s just so that she’s there in spirit and so we can all start the New Year together.” SG says she is not sure whether or not other Persian families do this, or if it is a tradition started by her grandmother. She explained one other variation: “Some people put out prayer beads, too, but my family is not very religious in that way, like my mom grew up Catholic, even though my extended family is Muslim… so we don’t have those beads. My grandma decorates it more with the evil eye to ward off any spirits going into the New Year.”
Analysis: I found this account very poignant in explaining how variations in a tradition can create new understandings of what that tradition means. SG did not know whether putting photos of non-present family members on the altar was widely accepted as part of the tradition or not – however, she will most likely do this when she continues this into adulthood. When you grow up within a tradition, you oftentimes only truly understand your own. Especially because SG said she does not practice a lot of other Persian traditions (besides eating her grandmother’s Persian cooking), the traditions she does engage in have a much larger weight on this aspect of her identity than if she were to practice many. It is also interesting that even within one family, a cultural tradition can take different forms based on religious affiliations: that her grandmother puts out evil eyes instead of prayer beads struck me because SG said that her “extended family” did put out the prayer beads. These types of celebrations of shifting phases are highly important across cultures, and such actions can tell us so much about the group from which they come.
Context: AH is a 21 year old man from Los Angeles. He and a few other people are the heads of Ziahism, a religion that he first had visions about when he was a child. When he was 14, he dreamt of a story that would become the basis of the recipe in the picture: the tale of Hima, or the winter solstice. The full story can be found here: https://ziahism.wordpress.com/Hima/ The main components relating to the recipe, however, are that a bison named Flushjanu sacrificed his own body so that the ossiahs (gods) could live, and they ate his meat wrapped in masa or wheat. The winter after he wrote this story, AH bought pizza dough and made little buns filled with bison meat, mushrooms (which are also very important to the religion), and other spices. This bison buns are called Fluzjao, named after Flushjanu. The first year, it was only AH and his family. However, the next year and all years after that (besides those over COVID), he and his fellow Ziahists have made these buns together and eaten in honor of Hima. In the second year of this, they made mashed sweet potatoes and it was decided that they are only to be eaten in a wooden bowl. Others also made contributions, such as ceramic candle holders depicting the story of Flushjanu. Sometimes people ask him what they should do if they can’t get bison meat, and he tells them to eat any type of meat in any little bread pocket they can find.
Analysis: So many cultures have created so many traditions regarding solstices. Seeing how one such tradition comes into life is a beautiful thing – it is not often that you get to meet the mind of the one who created a religious tradition that is actively followed by at least a small group of people. While the specific traditions are important for the holiday in this religion, it is also important that AH encourages people to engage in the tradition however they are able, rather than shunning them for not being able to find the right ingredients. So many traditions are less about the physical things that are in front of the individuals celebrating, and more about the concept of celebration and togetherness. While the bison represents a very literal aspect of the story, the warmth of any food that resembles this also represents the hearth and fire, the congregation of souls, that AH’s tale inspires.
Context: AR is a 19 year old woman living in Los Angeles. This picture shows her wearing a dress that she wore in highschool to be a dama in a friend’s quinceñera. Quinceñeras are “a tradition in Mexican culture and also in other Latin American cultures where, when a girl turns fifteen, she has this really big party and she does elaborate dance numbers with her damas and chambelanes, which are kind of like her backup dancers… On the day of the party, she’ll do a bunch of dance routines with them and then they’ll all celebrate.” The girl whose quinceñera it is usually chooses the outfits of the damas, though the damas get to keep the dresses after.
Analysis: Even in a tradition that is technically celebrating one person, all the people in supporting roles are those who actually make the tradition what it is. In some ways, damas are like bridesmaids – wearing matching outfits, supporting their friend on a big day that announces them as a woman, as a new person. However, that AR still wears this dress shows that traditions can be pervasive and seep into the rest of a person’s life. While the dama dress was once a highly important aspect of this tradition, AR now wears it in casual ways (she told me that she has played soccer in it) but also in newly formal ways (she had a celebration similar to a quinceñera but much smaller, without all of the traditional preparations, and she wore this dama dress to that). When it comes to apparel, it seems wasteful to purchase something to wear it only once – hence, bringing tradition into the realm of the ordinary is both practical and also adds a sense of joy to the people who can experience an article of clothing in so many ways. Perhaps every time the item is worn, a new connotation can be given to the original tradition and likewise, a new tradition can be formed just by wearing it in new places and in new ways.
Context: This entry comes from SW, who is a 25 year old man living in New York. He comes from a Catholic Italian American family from New Jersey, though he was born and raised in San Francisco. This photograph depicts a “pizza rustica,” or an Italian Easter pie. Though it is called a pizza and a pie, it is more like a quiche – pastry dough on the outsides, and an egg mixture filled with cold cuts and various cheeses. SW explained that his family cooks this recipe every year on Easter, as many other Italian and Italian American families do.
Analysis: When discussing this recipe with SW, he told me that he had been talking about pizza rustica with a coworker earlier in the day. They discussed “the various ingredients that went into each of [theirs],” and noted how “you couldn’t cut into it before it cooled all the way or else you get a goopy mess, which is something you would never know unless you ‘knew.’” I find this last comment highly interesting because SW told me that he learned the recipe from the internet rather than the classic learning from a relative. Even though his family had been making pizza rustica for generations, he never got the chance to learn from his late grandmother. Because his mother never learned the recipe, he had to find an alternate route to continue the tradition: the internet. Thus, I assume that the online recipe warns its readers against cutting into the pie too early, although the performance of tradition, of not knowing unless you “know” is still important to maintaining a sense of identity. In this sense, although online recipes might take away from certain aspects of learning about traditions, it also provides the opportunity for a family to continue a tradition that had been lost by one generation who did not learn from their parents. SW tries out new types of cold cuts every year in his pizza rustica – now, he makes his own traditions.
Entry: “I cross my fingers every time I see a black bird.”
Context: JJ is a 24 year old woman from Los Angeles. She explained to me that she crosses her fingers every time she sees any type of black bird, and that the reasoning behind this has two parts. When she was in middle school, JJ knew a girl whose uncle died one week after a crow died on his doorstep. JJ then explained to me how in middle school, kids would always say “if you swear to God, it doesn’t count if you cross your fingers.” JJ told me that she constantly had her fingers crossed, that she “never uncrossed them because [she] was always in fear of going to Hell.”
Analysis: This superstition is very interesting because it comes from two relatively common beliefs – that black birds are bad luck and (particularly amongst children) crossing your fingers has the power to offset an action or statement. However, JJ combines these superstitions to create her own that is highly steeped in both her own personal history and in the lore of her fellow schoolmates, as well as that of schoolchildren in general. Superstitions and magic are, at least in America, mostly present in children’s folk groups. JJ’s continuation of this action into adulthood thus speaks to the weight of the superstition: connecting death to a specific animal (one that already has negative connotations in most cultures) at such a young age when you are already involved in other forms of magical thinking. The sympathetic connection between black birds and death already existed, but the personal nature of JJ’s story helps us understand how superstitions stay alive for longer because they have more of an effect on the person who carries them.