Author Archives: Jordan Kessler

Senior Year Scavenger Hunt: Los Angeles High School Folk Tradition

Folk Custom:

So basically it was off the grid, no one was supposed to know about it. All the students would get together. A couple students would organize it. If you got invited it meant you were cool cause the popular kids would do it. I got invited my senior year. You got this list of stuff you’re supposed to do thats really bad stuff. You drive around my neighborhood. You get points for the stuff you do on the list. Whoever has the most points by sunrise gets wins a bunch of money that everyone pools before. And so there are certain things that are automatic win like get a tattoo on your ass cheek that says senior scavenger hunt, or – they got rid of this before I did it – but it was drive to Vegas and back. It was all stuff like have sex on the football field. Go streaking. I did go streaking. Piss in a strangers pool. I did that. Most of us were drunk except for the drivers. They also gave you this bag of flour before you left and anyone you saw around the neighborhood (it was far out like 23 miles) you were supposed to throw flour at them or at their car which is so dangerous.” 


This was a senior year tradition at a high school in the valley in Los Angeles. It was done at the end of the year in celebration of graduation. Informant says, “It’s been going on maybe like 10 years. I think its definitely still going on. I vaguely knew about it before being invited. I heard whisperings and usually something bad about it. Someone got arrested during one of the senior scavenger hunts. “

Informant Background:

The informant is 21, from the valley. He only learned about this formally after being invited.

My Analysis:

There is a lot of children’s folklore created by adults that teach lessons. This is a children’s folk custom generated by children in celebration of the freedom of childhood. Your senior year of high school is regarded culturally as your last year of childhood before you turn 18, move out, and are recognized (at least in American law) as an adult. This final hurrah is a chance for the children of the school to act recklessly and carelessly while there are not the weighted responsibilities attached as they would be in adulthood.

This game resembles the one presented in the movie “Nerve”. In that movie, everyone is either a watcher or a player. Players are given risks at different levels. Completing risks earns players money. The bigger risks like jumping off crane or going under train warrant more monetary rewards.

The fact that both games use money to motivate people to do completely absurd and dangerous things they would never do otherwise speaks to the huge weight it has over our society. People today are willing to do anything for the right price. I think in the case of these teenagers from the valley, it could go the other way around. Since they are the ones supplying the money and setting the rules of the game, perhaps they want to use the money to justify actions they are not allowed to do otherwise.

Don’t Sing At the Table!: German Superstition

Context and Practice of Superstition:

“So basically when we were sitting at the dinner table, if someone whistled or sang my grandmother would stop them and she would say if you whistle or sing at the dinner table (meal time) you would have a crazy spouse.” 

Significance to Informant:

“Now when anybody is singing or whistling at the dinner table, I will remember what she said and I will say it. Maybe I think sitting at the table is a time for family to be talking to one another and paying attention to one another, not being self absorbed in their own music and their own. Ya know.”

Informant Background Information:

The informant is 56 and from New York. Learned this saying from his grandmother who was born in New York in 1907 to German immigrants. Informant says she probably got this from her mother. Informant says, “[My sisters] would try to sing their music and my grandma would tell them not to. I’m sure she said it to me too, but they were older than me so they were singing and whistling at the table before I was.”

My Analysis:

I think that this superstition speaks to how people of the informant’s grandmother’s time value table etiquette. Rich people then and now could pay silly amounts of money to take classes in table etiquette. Abiding by these decided social rules in public could outwardly indicate your social standing. Singing at the dinner table does not follow the rules of table etiquette, so doing that would signify your uneducated/lower social status. Marking yourself as lower status would probably fend off higher class potential partners, leaving you with less socially-desirable pickings (AKA someone “crazy”).

An alternative interpretation is that this stems from something more wholesome as the speaker indicates, like valuing interpersonal connection. We still value interpersonal connection today, as many parents tell their children today not to use their cellphone during dinner. Following this train of thought, parents could fear that if their children lack social skills (at the dinner table), they will probably end up marrying someone who also lacks social skills. 

Silly Grandma, Smart Grandma: Children’s Folklore Impressing Protection in Silly Ways

Folk Practice:

My grandma has a thing where first she’d look at you when you’d be looking away and she would do this [Informant puts one hand under chin and wiggles fingers in my general direction] and if you didn’t do it back then she’d go like this [Informant puts both hands under his chin and wiggles his fingers faster] and you’d have bad luck or something.”

Context of Practice:

“She would do this to all the kids in the family. My siblings and I are the oldest of all my cousins. It was me and my two cousins who are one year younger than me and then like five years younger than me? Six years younger than me? She would do it literally like all the time. It would be like two or three times an evening. It would be when she was walking past you or when you weren’t expecting it. Usually when people were in pissy moods and thats how she’d get you out of it. She was like a scary old lady from Brooklyn… I don’t know. She was very intimidating.”

Informant Background:

My family has a lot of superstitions I think cause they’re catholic. On my dad’s side. I think [my grandma] was already in New York because my great grandpa was a county lord in Ireland. I think my grandma was born in New York. She’s probably in her 80’s or 90’s now. I think she just turned 90? I don’t know.”

The informant himself is 21 and grew up in Los Angeles.

My Analysis:

This practice could be a way to impress the importance of spatial-awareness and attentiveness in children. The informant specified many times that his grandmother would do this when the children were not paying attention or least expecting it. The idea that children would have “bad luck” if they were not cognizant and responsive to their surroundings is another way of impressing upon them that they could be harmed if they are not careful. “Bad Luck” is just a substitute for actual sinister things in our world. This is a common lesson in children’s folklore. For example, Little Red Riding Hood not being as quick-witted to realize that the big bad wolf is her grandmother before it is too late ended up getting her eaten in some iterations.

The reason she did this at times when people were upset could be that it is when we are caught up in our emotions that we pay the least attention to our surroundings. Those are the times we are most vulnerable to harm.


Reindeer Chow: Martha Stewart’s Fakelore becomes Folklore

Folk Tradition:

I don’t know where my mom got this and it’s pretty vague. But my mom used to make reindeer chow. I totally bought into it when I was a kid. It was basically she would make this, and I would always help my mom with this, but we would make bowls of just oatmeal (dry oatmeal), glitter, and I think rainbow sprinkles? And then we put it outside our front door Christmas eve. This was in addition to milk and cookies for Santa. I would go to bed early and I’d wake up the next morning and it would all be gone. And of course my stupid fucking kid brain would be like, ‘They came to eat it! My parents can’t eat oatmeal and dry glitter they’d die!’ And then I found it on a Martha Stewart website reposted from some Etsy thing it’s everywhere. I don’t know where she found it or if it’s that old.”


“Christmas time. This definitely started just with our [nuclear] family, but I think she heard about it from other people she’s friends with. Cause people went all out for Christmas where I’m from even though they’re all Jewish. Cause it’s fashionable. My mom is Jewish. We also celebrate Hanukkah but only for the presents…She just wanted us to celebrate Christmas cause she wanted to give us presents. I love that my mom put so much effort to make sure we just really had a special Christmas.” 

Informant Background:

The informant is 21, from Los Angeles. His dad is Catholic and his mother is Jewish. His mother started this tradition in their family and he said he intends to recreate it for his children.

My Analysis:

I think this piece is unique because it is an example of someone from outside the religious community trying to adopt the folk practice of that religion. I grew up Christian and never knew of this practice, so it is my inclination to assume that it started as fakelore probably created by crafting websites to sell more glitter around the holidays. However, since the informant said he found it on multiple websites and portals as an adult, many people around the U.S. at least appear to be practicing this new holiday tradition. This is similar to the “elf on the shelf” concept, which is fakelore turned folklore. Now that a new wave of children have been raised with this custom, they will pass it on to their children. The descent of practice is what makes it genuine tradition, regardless of how it began.


Corned Beef & Cabbage at Silver Lake Potluck for St. Pat’s day

Folk Tradition:

We of course to corned beef and cabbage but that ain’t too original for St. Pats. We do open house pot-lucks at our house every year. A tradition my dad’s family did back on Long Island was basically where the party goes on all day and anyone can just walk in and out. But by the end of the night at my house it really looks like the boys in my family drank too much Jameson, stumbling over just about everything as we sing to The Dubliners.


“So, yeah, my dad taught me how to marinate the corned beef and my mom taught me how to add vinegar to the cabbage so it don’t taste like old laundry.…both my parents are third generation in America and all the stories I know of my great great grandparents are of them coming from Ireland. I know we’re not entirely Irish but that’s the majority of it. Specifically, my moms side is from the county Clare. And then I’m not sure who taught them, but I would venture to say it was my grandpa on my moms side and some uncle/aunt on my dads side.”

The informant is 21 and grew up in Los Angeles.

My Analysis:

I think the open-door policy on the family pot luck stemming from his dad’s family in Long Island could speak to the prevalent Irish community on Long Island. Many Irish immigrants settled in pockets there, so it would make sense to keep your door open for your neighbors who are also celebrating the holiday.

For another mention of the Irish St. Patrick’s day corned beef and cabbage tradition see: Henri, Kirsten. “St. Patrick’s Day.” Philadelphia Weekly 16 Mar. 2005: 46. Web.


Senior Year Hoodie Design Competition: Folk Tradition for High Schoolers in Dubai

Folk Tradition:

Basically every year the senior class orders these hoodies. Theres a design submission contest of all the different designs/ideas.  Every year is different. On the back it says your grad year and it has in small letters everyone in the grade’s name. And on the top you would get your own nickname or something funny or something people would call you. The cabinet starts planning it the year before when you’re a junior. They call for design submissions. They narrow it down to two and then the grade votes on the grade facebook page and everyone would pick from the top two. They announce winner based off facebook poll. All semester the next year its like, ‘When are they ready?’ ‘They’ll be ready soon.’ Since its done by the grade, productivity depends on the people doing it.

It’s a really fun day cause everyone is so excited to wear them. The day we do it depends on who the people who are ordering it are. Each grade has their own cabinet in the general student council. The cabinet is who orders them and plans it. But there’s not an official day like the fifth month or whatever. But everyone gets it on the same day and then everyone wears it.

For our year the design was the Dubai skyline. The Burj, the highest building, said 2016 cause that was our graduation year. Underneath it was the Dubai skyline. Every year is different. On the back it says your grad year and it has in small letters everyone in the grade’s name. And on the top you would get your own nickname or something funny or something people would call you. I was gonna get [informant’s nickname], but since I didn’t go to school there anymore I thought it would be funny to get ‘she doesn’t even go here’.”


This tradition is hosted by the leaders in student government, but not the school itself. Being an American school in Dubai, I think this is funny that they put so much weight on this hoodie design competition because I went to high school in Southern California and we had a big design competition for our senior grad night t shirts as well.


The informant is 21, and self identifies as a “third-culture-kid”, meaning she does not identify as being from one place alone. She grew up in Southern California, Wisconsin, Lebanon, and Dubai. This tradition is from her American school in Dubai. She says that, “The school actually isn’t there anymore. They merged it with another school so it just doesn’t exist.” 

My Analysis:

The folklore of an American school in Dubai is interesting to look at because most of the attendees, like my informant, have not grown up in either location predominantly. Most of the attendees have lived their lives all over the globe, bouncing from country to country. So, the folklore of this location is unique because it is exclusively made up by the people and not attached to any one geographic space. A hoodie is the perfect reflection of that. Many other senior pranks or traditions are tied to the space of the school itself. For example, I’ve heard of students pooling money to donate a bench in their classes’ name or a tree. Those permanent things do not have meaning to this community because they are all so transient. For example, my informant was not in attendance her senior year. However, she could still participate in the tradition because they could mail her a hoodie. It is something small and easily packaged for everyone’s future travels.

Oysters For New Years in Bayou, Louisiana

Folk Tradition:

“Basically my godmother’s niece married this guy who lives in Bayou, Louisiana so it’s like two hours away from New Orleans?  And it’s a really tiny town and their whole schtick is that they have oysters. It’s like where they farm all these oysters. So oysters are really special or whatever there. Whenever she married him or whatever it became their tradition to to harvest them on New Years Eve. And then they like all make them. And now we all go over to my godparents house on New Years. And my godfather is a really good chef and shucks them and he makes different oyster dishes and we eat them.

We started having this be a party when I was in high school so like four years ago ish? But they’ve been doing this forever, they just didn’t start coming over till they had a kid. Then it became more of a family thing. Their family will come to New Orleans and we’ll all meet there. Now my friends fight to like come with me. It’s like a fun thing cause my godfather’s a really good chef. Oysters are so special to Louisiana, but its a really niche tradition and cool. But Bayou is not that far away from New Orleans and not that many people in Louisiana know that people there only eat Oysters for New Years. For them it’s like the way thanksgiving is with turkey.” 


New Year’s in Bayou, Louisiana.

Informant Background:

The informant is 20, from New Orleans.

My Analysis:

This is a perfect example of folklore transcending geography. While the oysters on New Years are a tradition unique to the Bayou region (Informant specified that people in New Orleans, only two hours away, generally don’t even know about this tradition), this family brought the unique folk tradition to New Orleans, where it is now being shared with friends of family and extended beyond the Bayou region exponentially. My informant now resides in LA and she says that should she get married and settle here, she will institute this tradition in her home.

After doing some digging, I discovered that this tradition is of French origin:

Beardsley, NPR. “For the French, New Year Means Good Oysters.” All Things Considered, 04/20/19,

This makes sense as Louisiana is proud of its heritage, being colonized by dominantly French immigrants. Perhaps the reason the tradition has only been preserved in the Bayou region is because of the higher proportion of French immigrants there than in New Orleans. Again, this is an example of mobile folk traditions, having been brought to Louisiana by the French.


Mufleta Recipe: Jewish Moroccan Passover Traditional Food


  • 3 cups flour (add more or less depending on desired texture)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups water
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup oil

1. Mix flour and salt, add water to the other mix. You’ll you get a dough consistency. Pour some oil on top of the dough cover. Let it stand.

2. On a baking sheet pour the measured oil. Make balls of the dough and place on the oil. Repeat and cover and let rest for about 15 minutes.

3. Dunk the dough balls in oil and stretch out the dough. While flattening out the balls, heat a large skillet.

4. Cook them like pancakes and stack upon one another and then roll in sweet sauce of your choosing.



“This is a traditional Jewish Moroccan food. Make this to break the fast for Passover and because it’s “chametz”. It’s a thing you’re not allowed to eat during Passover. It’s kind of like a crepe you eat it with butter or honey or chocolate. It’s a desert.”


The informant is Moroccan and Jewish, but grew up in LA. She said, “My mom makes it, she learned from grandma. Mom was born in Morocco and lived in Israel, but now lives in LA.” The informant is 20.

My Analysis:

Most families I know have one dessert that they love to make for breaking of the fast, usually it is an iteration of kugel, another starch-heavy meal. It makes sense that these recipes are so simple and consist of almost only flour because in Jewish tradition, you cannot eat flour leading up to passover. So, this is a sweet and delicious way to eat a lot of what you have been barred from eating for a period of time.


Papa Soup: Colombian Comfort Soup


  1. Long onions scallions
  2. Potatoes sliced in cubes
  3. Eggs
  4. Hot water

Boil potatoes add scallions mix eggs in add salt to taste.


“I learned this recipe from my grandmother. I was born in Colombia and raised by my grandmother there for the first several years of my life. She would make this for me when I was sick. It is also supposed to be a good hangover cure, but I was never hungover. I make it for my kids now whenever they are sick.”

The informant is 55, from Medellin, Colombia. She now resides in Southern California.

My Analysis:

This is a very simple recipe with nearly no instructions. It is easy to make, so easy that a sick person could probably cook it for themselves. The fact that my informant’s grandmother would make it for her and she now makes it for her family members when they get sick shows that the people who make this recipe value service. Even if it is not a grand gesture, this simple soup makes a meaningful gift to friends and family when they are ill.

Colombian Kids Folk Song

Folk Song:

“El Marinero que se fue a la mar y mar y mar a ver qué podía ver y ver y ver y lo único que pudo ver y ver y ver fue el fondo de la mar y mar y mar” which translates to, “The mariner who went to the sea and sea and sea to see what he could see and see and see and the only thing he could see and see and see was the bottom of the sea and sea and sea.”


“So you know how kids learn patty cake patty cake and all that, that’s just one of those things that you learn as a kid. It’s almost like a tongue twister. It’s just a thing kids learn as something to do and play and occupy their time. A lot of girls do with clapping of the hands and circles and things like that. You are suppose to start slow and speed up as you go along.”


The informant is from Medellin, Colombia, but now resides in San Diego. He is 58.

My Analysis:

Colombia has coastlines on the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, so the rhyme being about the mariner could be significant of the seafaring culture in these regions in Colombia. However, based on my informant’s understanding, this is a predominately linguistic training exercise. Spanish pronunciation of “r” requires the rolling of the tongue, which is a skill that requires practice at a young age to achieve properly. This rhyme has a lot of “r’s” in it to help kids acquire this skill. The progressive speeding up of the rhyme enables players to practice making the noise faster. Clapping helps children with coordination.

To see this done in practice, see this Youtube video: Solis, Maru. “Marinero Que Se Fue a La Mar…” YouTube, YouTube, 29 Sept. 2015,