Author Archives: glgustav@usc.edu

Modern Passover dinner

I asked a fellow classmate if he partook in any traditions regarding a specific holiday, and the conversation was led to the topic of food:

“Every year at Passover dinner my family and I eat the same food. There will always be a traditional Seder plate which will have around 5 or 6 items on it like bitter herbs, egg, and some sort of vegetable. My Nana will also always make her homemade brisket which is what her and her parents did for Passover in Romania where she’s from. And we always have Matzah Ball soup too.”

I then asked how long this tradition has been in his life and where it started in his family:

“I have had this meal on Passover since the first Passover I can remember. And my Nana is the one who brought it to our family.“

 

Background Information: Matthew is a 19-year old male born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Both of his parents are Jewish.

Context: Matthew shared this story with me in a conversation about holiday traditions with our families over coffee.

Analysis: Growing up in a Christian home, it was very interesting to gain an understanding of a cultural tradition, that for me, is unfamiliar and never personally experienced. It led me to think about my own traditions with reference to food and the meals my family will consistently have year after year for specific holidays or events. Attached is a picture the actual Seder plate Matthew’s family provided at Passover dinner this year (2018).

 

The seder plate at Passover dinner this year (2018)

The seder plate at Passover dinner this year (2018)

For more information of a traditional Seder plate served at Passover : https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/1998/jewish/The-Seder-Plate.htm

Italian Family tradition

I asked Mae her earliest memories of traveling to Chicago to visit her extended family, she responded:

“My great- great grandma moved to the U.S. directly from Italy so obviously they had a really Italian family and they ended up living in south side Chicago. She owned chickens, and every Sunday she would go into her coop, ring a chickens neck, clean it kill it, and make pasta Bolognese using the meat.”

I then asked, “When did you first learn the recipe or heard about the story?”:

“I must have first made the Bolognese sauce in 4th grade. I know I didn’t hear the story until later because I remember in 9th grade for an art class I did an art painting about my family and I painted a chicken head on the front”

 

Background: Mae is a 19 year old girl raised in Westwood, CA and currently living in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents are originally from Chicago and Little Rock, and she lived in Princeton, NJ briefly as a young girl.

Context:Mae shared this story with me while we were cleaning the dishes in our apartment.

Analysis: It is incredibly easy to overlook elements of someone’s culture that affect their folkloric practices simply by never asking questions. Mae is one of my closest friends, and I had no idea that her grandma immigrated from Italy or lived in south side Chicago. Understanding where someone comes from culturally and geographically creates the opportunity to really understand more about their identity. Hearing this story about Mae’s grandmother I felt like I was seeing a new side of her and gaining a clearer understanding of the origins to her stories she tells every day. I was reminded of recipes I have learned from my family members that have truly become a part of my own identity and my family’s identity like my mom’s banana bread and my grandmother’s scalloped potatoes.

Christmas presents & Christmas stockings tradition

My mother has established a very specific way that we do Christmas presents and stockings in our family and it goes as follows:

Stockings are opened on Christmas morning only with our immediate family (extended family waiting in another room) and takes place sitting on my parents’ bed in our pajamas. We would then go downstairs for the rest of the presents.

As young children, we would receive one big gift from “Santa” that was left unwrapped under our fireplace, and the rest of the presents were found under the tree and were addressed from the respective person who bought them (Dad, Mom, Grandma etc.)

As older adults, we still open presents but we open a couple from immediate family members at Christmas Eve dinner and the rest Christmas morning, without an unwrapped gift from Santa.

 

 

Background: Tamara has lived her entire life in Southern California and moved her family to Malibu in 2001. She is married and has two children.

Context: My mom started this tradition in our family once me and my brother were both born, and we still do it to this day on Christmas. I asked my mom if she came up with the tradition on her own last weekend while we were at a family dinner and she said she started it when she had kids.

Analysis: As a kid, I thought this was customary, and everyone who celebrated Christmas did it in the same way my family did. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized every family had their own unique Christmas traditions, and how much I appreciated my own. This tradition that my mom started years ago is something I will definitely carry on when I have a family of my own, and I am excited at the idea of adapting it in my own way, while continuing my mother’s ritual.

Oreo Practical Joke

As a practical joke on friends and family Grant as a child would lick the inside of an Oreo out and refill it with white-colored toothpaste. He would then put them back inside the Oreo container and offer them to people.

 

Background: Grant is a twenty-two year old raised in Los Angeles, CA with one younger sister.

Context: Grant told me this joke over lunch talking about funny things we would do as kids.

Analysis: In my opinion, practical jokes are so heavily connected to youth and a lighthearted motive that usually they are just funny and not something to ever get upset over. Especially with the practical joke Grant would play, it is ridiculous to be genuinely mad; more so than getting angry, you just want to get them back with another practical joke. Practical jokes have always been something I find intriguing because I could never think of one off the top of my head or ever have the courage to play a practical joke on another person. I think practical jokes are a compelling element of folklore because the willingness to play a practical joke and which practical joke you choose is a revealing element of someone’s character

Friendship Toast

When at a large group dinner with many friends all drinking and eating, Lizzie offers a toast:

“There’s good ships and wood ships and ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships so cheers to you and me”

After she gave the toast, I ask when she uses that particular toast:

“I use it every time I’m with good friends, old or new, to bring everyone together. Regardless of if everyone knows each other or not, it gives everyone a reason to laugh.”

 

 

Background: Lizzie is a recent graduate from USC originally from Riverside, CA and now living in Westwood, CA.

Context: Lizzie will offer this toast frequently when out drinking or eating with friends. I personally heard her say this once at a small party and another time at a birthday dinner. Originally, Lizzie heard it from another friend offering it as a toast when she was 17 years old living in Riverside. She then adopted it as her signature toast and her friends always expect it from her now.

Analysis: Proverbial sayings and in particular short toasts spread very easily since they are usually concise and catchy. In this circumstance, I found it interesting to consider a proverb or toast becoming a part of someone’s personal identity or image to other people like this has for Lizzie. Whenever Lizzie is at an intimate social event, her friends expect this toast from her. It made me consider any phrases or sayings that I frequently use in my daily vocabulary, and if there is a word-based habit that would remind my friends or family of me.