Author Archives: Kelly Girskis

Driving Folk Religious Practices

Folk Religious Ritual of Kissing the Car Roof when Driving through a Yellow Light

“You kiss your hand then touch the roof when you run a yellow light”

My best friend Kelsey always does this ritual when driving through yellow lights in her car. She kisses her right hand and touches that same hand to the top of the car roof right above her as she goes under the traffic light.  When I questioned her on why she did this she described it as a precautionary measure to ensure safety during the risk of running a yellow light that will soon turn red. She apparently picked it up in high school when she first began driving and has done it under every yellow light since for the past 7 years. She denies any direct religious ties but does admit that she is asking god or angels to protect her. Now she says it is second nature and the meaning behind the gesture is almost lost. She seems to not even know she is doing it.

I have seen a few other drivers preforming the same yellow light act and have even caught myself in the midst of it once or twice.

I think it is most definitely a folk religious practice to ask god or someone up there(through the roof via kiss) for safety in a risky manuver. It seems however to not be associated with any one religious practicing group since I have witnessed both Jews and Roman Catholics participating in the act. I suppose the practice will continue to be spread from driver to passenger through direct performance.

Unfinished Rooms – Jewish Tradition

Leaving Rooms unfinished in the Jewish Tradition

“Alot of people leave a part of their house unfinished to represent the destruction of the temple…to be a reminder that it can all be destroyed or something like that. Like they will have unpainted walls or unfurnished rooms.
It’s a reminder that ..I think it’s supposed to be that.. it’s not complete. Like it’s not complete until the temple is complete or the Messiah comes.”

My friend Jessie, a practicing Jew with strong ties to the Jewish community, described to me why her parents have an unfinished wing of their home.  She described that some Jews leave a part of their home unfinished, some without flooring or paint or sometimes simply without furniture, to remind themselves of the destruction of the temple and the wait for the Messiah.  It is left undone to represent the incompleteness of life and the look of what is to come.

It is an important folk religious practice that many Jews observe as a reminder of their faith and the future.  It is a daily reminder and a physical image of a hard concept to convey with words alone.  According to my informant, it has been going on for hundreds of years in the Jewish tradition, yet no rule or instructions are found in any written history of the Jewish faith.  I assume the tradition is passed down through families, with children growing up accustom to the practice and go on to build their homes in a similar fashion as a way to honor their faith and upbringing.

Toast and Cat Riddle

“If toast always lands butter side down and a cat always lands on it’s feet. What happens when you put the toast on the cats back butter side down.”

This riddle or paradox was asked of me by my friend Sarah, who had heard it from a classmate in class the previous day.  It had puzzled her just as much as it puzzled me.  She suggested that it is a combination of two adages:

1. Cats always land on their feet.

2. Buttered toast always lands butter side down.

Putting these two together makes a paradox that is hard to wrap your head around.  She attempted to reason her way around it for a day but came up with nothing for this tongue-in-cheek riddle.

I further explored this paradox and found that humorous scientists have actually conducted experiments to test this. In 2003, Kimberly Minor created the film Perpetual Motion, based on a student’s ideas on the toast and cat paradox.  This film won a Student Academy Award that same year.  There have also been comic book strips and even a website devoted to cats and buttered toast.

I believe this riddle continues to circulate based on its humor as well as somewhat thought provoking nature.  It allows discussion within a group and provides entertainment for coming up with new ‘scientific’ theories on the topic.

Annotation: Minor, Kimberly. Perpetual Motion. Animated Short. 2003.


“The Buttered Cat Paradox”. <> 2006-02-13.

Israeli Siren Ritual

“In Israel, there is a siren to commemorate the soldiers or Holocaust victims…. The siren runs for a minute and everyone gets out of their cars and stops whatever they are doing and stand at… like… attention . The siren goes twice a year… once for Holocaust Memorial day and once for Memorial Day that is for the military.”

My friend Jessica splits her time between Israel and the United States and is a practicing Jew.  When in Israel for her first time about 15 years ago, she recalls being asked to get out of her cab when a siren was blaring near the city of Netanya.  Her father explained to her that a siren blows twice a year to commemorate those lost in the Holocaust or in the line of duty as a solider in war.  She explained that she felt connected to the country and proud to be part of a nation that honors the dead in such a physical way.  Everyone stops everything she explained.  You stop talking, you stop driving, you stand up and at attention.  Jessica feels it is an important enactment of national identity and connection to the past.

I agree with Jessica.  The siren is a sound that allows people to stop what they are doing and take a few moments to reflect on those lost and the history of her people.  It is an enactment of identity as well and only those within the group would know what that siren denotes.  This ritual maintains the unity of a people and allows ties to the past to be remembered and revered.

Free Entry on St. Andrew’s Day

“On St Andrew’s Day, everything is free in Scotland.  St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and entry to everything is free. Government buildings, bars, and museums are open and free. Shows and movies are free. They just want everyone to be out and celebrating.”

My friend Sarah studied abroad in Scotland for two years.  On November 30th, Scotland celebrates St. Andrew’s day, honoring the patron saint of the country.  Not only is school cancelled for the day, but all entry fees are waived at various places such as museums, movies, historic sites, castles, and bars.  She says it is to allow the country to celebrate their patron saint and not have any reason (including money) not to enjoy the day.

I find this an exciting and generous tradition of St. Andrew’s Day.  Crowds tend to build up at historic sites and allow groups to gather and celebrate their nation-state.  It is interesting that government owned buildings or sites are free which seems to solidify not only the honoring of the Saint but also the nation-state of Scotland.  This folk tradition works for the government and nation-state model of identity and self-belonging to Scotland.  People celebrate St. Andrew’s day to honor not only a saint but their identity as Scots.