Author Archives: Haley Winters

Jewish girls get slapped on their first menstrual cycle

When a Jewish girl has her first ever menstrual cycle, every woman in the family (and sometimes, any woman) will slap her across the face. 

My informant recollects getting her period for the first time while she was alone with her younger sister at their grandma’s house. She was panicking because no one was home and her post-menopausal grandmother doesn’t keep the necessary supplies in the house. When her grandma got home that afternoon, she tentatively whispered what had happened. Her grandmother screamed in delight, raised her hand and slapped her across the face with full gusto. My informant started sobbing, and then her sister did too, because they had no idea why grandma was hitting her!

I’ve been on both the receiving and giving end of the slap, and it’s meant as as gesture of love, and a very exciting time. When a girl gets her period for the first time, it’s not unusual for the entire extended family to be informed, and then that girl is subjected to slaps as her aunts and cousins and grandmothers come to congratulate her. It’s part of the rite of passage that comes with “becoming a woman.”

The slap supposedly comes out of ancient times, when a woman getting her period was a sign of her coming into her sexual maturity–and needed to be slapped for being a sinful, sexual being (basically implying that she is a whore.) For most Jews now, though, the slap is a joyous, fun, and slightly painful tradition.

Fairies in Croatia

My informant is from Croatia, and her family goes back generations in a very rural part of Croatia.
In my informant’s grandma’s time, in their village, they didn’t have a doctor but there was always one older woman in village who knew how to handle diseases– this was my informant’s great-grandmother. She was also known as the town witch. She used to tell her daughter–my informant’s grandmother–all about fairies. My informant’s grandmother, great-grandmother, as well as most people in that area of Croatia, staunchly believe in fairies.

From my informant:
“Everybody knew that fairies exist. My grandma told me that with that certainty like she would state that the sky is blue. All the people from those hills who claimed to saw the faries had the exact same description:
– fairies were the most beautiful women. There are no women of such beauty on earth.
– they are always wearing white
– they are always seen near the water (ponds, rivers)
– they want you to dance with them in a circle. You must obey their wishes or you will die
– they are afraid of the fire
– they liked kids very much, and if you left your kid unwashed before bedtime, you would find the baby clean in the morning.”

Her grandma also told her about the father of her great-great grandma, called Andrija. Hewas the best looking guy in the region. He was tall, handsome, strong, very energetic and kind of quarrelsome.
One night when her great-great grandma was a toddler, her father went to close the stables (stables were always far away from house). He was very very late. his wife was worried. And when he finally came back, he was exhausted, soaking wet and angry. He said he came across fairies and they made him dance with them and they threw him in the water. They told him not to tell anyone or he’d die.
He ate his dinner then, went to bed and died in his sleep that night.


In Germany, there is Santa (Saint Nicholas) and then they have Ruprecht. Ruprecht is kind of like Santa’s henchman, and he physically reprimands naughty kids, just as Santa rewards good kids with toys or candy (or in Germany, oranges and coins in your shoes).

My informant tells me: “When my mom was little, one of her older brothers was very naughty, so on Christmas morning, the doorbell rang, and then Ruprecht came and took her brother away in a burlap sack, kicking and screaming. Ever since, my mom was terrified, and physically sick to her stomach, every Christmas, living in fear that Ruprecht would come and beat the shit out of her. Long story short, we’re thinking of introducing the folklore of “Ruprecht” into our house. [My informant is the mother of two small children.] Time outs are not as effective as one might hope they’d be.”

The Pancake Blanket

There once was an incredibly lazy man. His wife’s mother got very sick, so she had to leave home for a week to go take care of her. “But who will prepare my food and take care of me?”, the man asked. “I will make you a giant pancake that you can wear as a blanket. That way, you can sit in your chair, with the pancake-blanket to keep you warm. When you get hungry, you can pull up the blanket and take a bite.” When the wife returned home after a week, the husband had starved to death. He had been too lazy to pull up the blanket.

This is an old Chinese story. My informant’s father is Chinese, and her mother is American. Whenever her dad, the primary cook in her parents’ relationship, goes away, he makes her mother a pancake “blanket” as well. It’s a symbol of love and affection from one to the other.


“Kenahora” is a curse in Yinglish (bastardized english/yiddish) world that comes from three words slurred together: the Yiddish word kein, meaning no,  ayin, which is Hebrew for eye, and hara, Hebrew for Evil. My informant’s mother would always say “don’t give us /it a kenahora” to mean “don’t give us bad luck.”
“If you are driving cross country let’s say, and making great time – but stupid decide to comment “Oh boy we are making great time” – BANG – you will instantly hit traffic – BUMPER TO BUMPER. It  always happens!” my informant tells me.

My informant’s grandmother also used to spit after saying Kenahora, “pu-pu-pu!” It implied spitting on the demon to stop it.