Author Archives: James Hansen II

The Christmas Pickle

BACKGOUND: NH is a friend of the interviewer.
CONTEXT: NH describes his family’s “Christmas Pickle” tradition.
Informant: “Every Christmas Eve, my grandma would hide a green pickle ornament somewhere in our Christmas tree. My three cousins and I would compete to find it first. She usually hid it deep in the tree somewhere. Whoever found it first got $10 or so.
While it does have German-American roots, and my family is of Luxembourg origin – so it kind of tracks – I also think we might do it because our last name is Heinz, like the infamous pickle-makers. You know, 57 Varieties of Pickles?”
Interviewer: “Yeah, of course. Any known relation to the company?”
Informant: “No, unfortunately.”
ANALYSIS: The Christmas Pickle is a known, semi-practiced Christmastime folk tradition originating, as NH described, in German-American households. The use of a pickle ornament could be a reference to pickles’ prominence in Germany, Poland, and Eastern Europe cuisine. The cash prize associated with the tradition goes along with the idea of Christmas as a time for gift-giving, even though there is slightly more work involved to get the cash than with a usual Christmas gift. For another version of the Christmas Pickle tradition, one that delves into the tradition’s history, see:

Churchill, Alexandra. “The Untold Story of the Christmas Pickle Ornament.” Martha Stewart, 10 Dec. 2019,

Spicy Uno

BACKGROUND: JM is the interviewer’s friend. Spicy Uno is a variation on the popular Uno card game, one that we’ve played many times as friends, and a game that can get quite heated at times.

JM: “Here are our rules:
Play a 4, no talking. Whoever talks has to draw 1 card for each word they say.Play a 6, all hands need to go in the middle of the table. Last hand draws 3.Person who plays 0 chooses 2 people to swap hands (can include themselves).+2 cards and +4 cards can stack, but not on each other.You can ask for help and can help someone, but you can’t show them the card before.You can skip to yourself by playing an exact match of what’s on top of the pile.If you have UNO and someone else calls UNO for you, draw 6.
There’s the famous moment when we were playing, someone drew 4, and then someone knocked on the door. You went ‘it’s all good, we’re taking a break, we don’t need to be quiet anymore. The game is paused, the game is paused.’ Watching you draw 22 cards was maybe the greatest time I’ve ever played the game.”

ANALYSIS: The Spicy Uno variation of the Uno card game is a popular one among Millenials and Gen Z, one that qualifies as folklore since there are no exact rules and no known origin — everyone plays it slightly differently. It’s a modern folk tradition, one that can forge friendships and break them apart in the same round. For another version of Spicy Uno, see:

“How to Play Spicy Uno.” Crazy Little Projects, 30 Jul. 2020,

The Haunting of Greystone Mansion

BACKGROUND: GH is the interviewer’s father. A first assistant director for movies and TV shows, he has worked many times at Greystone Mansion, a famous estate in Beverly Hills, now open to the public and a popular site for film shoots. Rumors of hauntings and horror stories have been going back since the mansion was built.

GH: “We were shooting at Greystone for two days. After the first days, some young sound guys thought it’d be fun to leave their equipment running all night, see if they could hear anything when we got back in the morning, prove any of those old rumors. We get back to set the next day. They’re going through the audio, and there’s absolutely nothing. They start speeding through… still nothing… until a huge crash is heard. They slow it back down to normal, and find that for two or three minutes, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, every door in that house slammed open, shut, open, shut. A few minutes later, it ceased, and silence for the rest of the night.”

ANALYSIS: Estates in Los Angeles are ripe for any number of ghost stories or hauntings, are an intrinsic part of the city’s folklore. Such is the case with Greystone. This story is a chilling example of a ghost narrative.

Doctor Mouse, Tooth Fairy

BACKGROUND: MS is the interviewer’s friend.

MS: “In my family, instead of the Tooth Fairy we had ‘Dr. Mouse.’ I don’t think it’s done in just my family. I believe it has its origins in Mexico since it was on that side of the family, but I’m not sure if it was specific to a region or whatever. It’s functionally identical to the Tooth Fairy except I remember doing teeth in shoes rather than under pillows, so that the mouse MD could get to it.”

ANALYSIS: This is a regional custom, one that takes a common tradition of adolescence and remixes it. The shoes are a nice touch in adding to the realism of the ritual’s fantasy, as that’s the only way the mouse can access the teeth. 

Taste the Soup

BACKGROUND: GH is the interviewer’s father.

GH: “ “Guy goes into a restaurant, orders soup. Soup’s delivered. After awhile, he signals the waiter. The waiter says “sir, is there a problem with the soup?”
The man says, “taste the soup.”
“Is it too hot?”
“Taste the soup.”
“is it too cold?”
“tASTE the soup.”
“Is it too spicy?”
“Taste the soup.”
“Is it too bland?”
“Taste the soup.”
Finally, the waiter, now exasperated, says “okay.” He goes down to taste the soup, and says “there’s no spoon.”
The man: “A-HA!
My dad used to tell me the joke, and I used to say “taste the soup” when someone finally came up with a solution to a problem, often one right in front of us. No one ever got it.”

ANALYSIS: “Taste the soup” is a traditional folk joke, one that has become specific family folklore. Eddie Murphy performed it in Coming to America, but my father had heard it for decades prior as a young boy. The punchline has been appropriated as a short-hand, which shows the joke’s dexterity and cultural staying power (even if not many get it).