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.