CONTEXT: MM is a third year student at USC, originally from Pennsylvania. He describes a tradition he learned from his grandmother of eating spaghetti and meatballs on Christmas. This tradition is very important to him and he reflects positively on it.
MM: We had to eat spaghetti and meatballs on Christmas. We’ve done it as long as I’ve been alive. I don’t know if we did it until we moved to Pennsylvania. I don’t know. It’s associated with family. It used to be my grandma always did it, but she’s not quite able to anymore; she’s pretty old. So my aunt took over, usually. But someone has to do it, but it’s fine whoever does it. I’ll probably continue to do it, it’s the celebration meal. It’s a special thing.
ANALYSIS: This is a foodway and a way of marking a religious holiday, Christmas. It is a traditional food for MM’s family and is associated with family all being together. MM indicates that there is no hierarchy of who is allowed or who should make the meal, but one person is in charge of it. It is possible that that person is a responsible party, and seems to be typically an older member of the family. MM associates the meal with celebration and his grandmother. It has to be homemade, indicating that the time and effort put into the dish is important, potentially due to the fact that it means more time spent together as a family. Christmas is a major holiday for MM’s family, so this dish is for special occasions. MM plans to continue this tradition.
CONTEXT: JM is a third year USC student from Pennsylvania. He describes a tradition he learned from his mom to mark the new year (Jan 1). He reflects fondly on the tradition, though he expresses that he didn’t really understand why they did it.
JM: On New Year’s Day, my mom would make us eat donuts in the morning for good luck and for dinner we would always have pork and sauerkraut. I think it’s a German thing but I’m not entirely sure why. So breakfast was donuts and dinner was pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. I think you’re technically supposed to eat the donut at New Year’s Eve, but my mom always gave it to us in the morning. She’s Italian, but I think her dad’s side is German and that’s where it came from.
ANALYSIS: This is a foodway, and a celebration and marker of the start of a new calendar year. JM believes this tradition follows German tradition that his mother inherited from her family. I have heard of donuts and pork and sauerkraut being eaten in Germany for good luck. This also makes it a tradition that brings family together, both when it is eaten, and across generations. Eating pork and sauerkraut for New Year’s Day is also practiced by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities, commonly in the region where JM is from. Both foods are eaten for good luck, which is a superstition associated with the calendar year- starting new.
CONTEXT: TL is a fourth year student at USC. He is originally from Connecticut and first heard of this ritual from his classmates in elementary school. He does not believe that it works, and no longer participates in the ritual, but did for a short time as a child.
TL: So back in elementary school the night before a projected snow day, I would always put a spoon under my pillow as a superstition for snow. I also did the wear pajamas inside out too, and I learned this from my classmates who told me about doing that. This was like first or second grade.
Me: Do you still do this now?
Me: why not?
TL: Because superstition does not impact whether or not it is a snow day. The weather impacts whether or not it is a snow day. And the judgment of the school board is what determines if it’s a snow day or not. I stopped doing this at probably 8 or 9. It was just any spoon I had in the kitchen.
ANALYSIS: This is a ritual that I have heard of before. It is a piece of children’s folklore ritual with the intent of creating enough snow that it is not possible to make it in to school. This is from a time before virtual school days, and in a region of the U.S. that gets a fair amount of snow per year. Snow days probably appear illogical and a little bit random to young kids who do not follow the weather, but as they grow older and begin to follow weather predictions and understand that how snow days are determined, the mystery disappears and so does the magic quality of the ritual. It is a sign of growing older categorized by the end of the mystery and the end of school.
CONTEXT: TL is a fourth year student at USC. He is originally from Connecticut and first participated in this tradition with his family. He continued in this tradition marking the Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year until he moved to USC for college. TL’s parents are both from Thailand, and he does not feel very connected to this tradition, but participated for many years for his dad.
TL: So every year, before college, on Chinese New Year, even though my family isn’t Chinese, my dad always made us have fish because I think that there’s something about fish being good luck in Chinese culture. So we always had fish…. He’s always really impressed by the China in the 21st century and he tried to convince my family to move to China when I was younger. Well, my dad’s grandparents immigrated from China, but he grew up in Thailand. I honestly don’t think it’s because of his family lineage, I think it’s just because he just really likes China and wants us to embrace Chinese culture, even though I don’t consider my family to be Chinese. So we ate fish for dinner and that was the main dish. I don’t think there was a specific kind of fish, it differed every year. It was the whole fish. In Chinese culture and in Asian culture you eat the entire fish as a family. But there’s no chance I will continue to do this.
I think this family tradition, started by TL’s dad, is one way of mirroring a culture he has a lot of respect for. Based on TL’s description and interpretation, it is possible that TL’s dad tries to incorporate other aspects of his understanding or interpretation of Chinese culture, whether from his grandparents or from his own time spent in China, into his own life, and that this tradition is one way to involve his family. It is also a tradition to mark a specific time of year, which is significant because it brings family together at least once per year, with predictability. TL’s family does not otherwise celebrate Lunar New Year in any way, or celebrate any other Chinese holidays. After some research into the Lunar New Year, I found that it is not only celebrated in China, and though it is not a public holiday in Thailand, it is still celebrated as about 15% of the population in Thailand is of Chinese descent (as of 2023). Being that TL’s dad is from Thailand, it may also be that he was around the celebration in childhood and wants his children to share in that experience. TL does not plan to continue this tradition as he does not wish to celebrate the Lunar New Year because he says he does not feel a strong connection to it.
CONTEXT: HL is a second year student at USC, originally from Maryland. HL learned this practice from her grandparents, who she lived with until moving to Los Angeles. HL’s grandparents are both from Korea, which is where they learned this practice. HL’s relationship with this is that she does not believe it had any effect on her health and strength, but appreciates that her grandparents wanted that for her.
HL: So for some reason – in Korean culture – my grandparents would always have one of their siblings visit Korea and come back, and when they came back the would bring this syrup/juice thing that was made up of crushed up deer bones or some kind of big animal. It was the most bitter disgusting thing I had ever eaten in my entire life and I always knew when they opened the big red box that it was in there. So then I would have to drink this pouch of the crushed up bone juice, and they were like, “oh its so that you grow up to be healthy and strong” and stuff. So it’s a common East Asian herbal medicine thing. Yeah that was a tradition I grew up with. It would happen once or twice a year – whenever someone would go to Korea on vacation and come back. Probably from when I was about four to when I was ten. They prioritize it more for kids, and you can find these boxes with the pouches in HMART, like here I’ve seen them. They’re hidden away in a special area on a special shelf near the alcohol section. They’re like 100 or 200 dollars for a box of these pouches. I thought it was bullshit but I did it because they forced me too, or sometimes if I did it they would give me money. To specify, the pouches were actually red ginseng, other root things, and deer antlers, but I swear my grandpa told me it was bones.
ANALYSIS: This is an example of folk medicine, also related to life cycle, as it is primarily given to children. Red ginseng is native to Korea, as are deer, so both could be part of folk traditions going back many years. I do not know of the health benefits of either, but as with other folk medicine there could be medical benefits derived from them. HL said the mixture did not taste good, which can invoke a feeling that if it doesn’t taste good, but someone is drinking it anyway, then it must have some other benefit, such as health. It is a marker of life cycle, as HL said that this is mostly only done until 18. This folk medicine practice also serves as a way of passing down family practices and cultural heritage related to being Korean, as HL’s grandparents insisted she participate, which connects her to something they learned while growing up in Korea, while she was growing up in the US.