Author Archives: Lilian Min

Polish-Catholic religious rituals

INFO:
Receive blessed chalk from priest. Above each doorway to your house, write the initials of the three Wise Men: Balthasar, Caspar, Melchior. Then you light some incense by those doors. For his family, Christmas didn’t end until the Epiphany, that’s when the Wise Men find Jesus, which was January 6th.

For Christmas and Easter, you exchange an oplatek (a more synthetic-feeling communion wafer). You’d take a piece from a plate and then go around to each of your family members and break off a piece of their’s yourself and take it, and then they’d take a piece of your’s, and you’d all wish each other well. After everybody’s exchanged and had a piece with everybody else, you eat it.

BACKGROUND:
The informant participated in these rituals growing up and still participates in them now, usually in family-based groups of six or seven people, all Polish-Catholic.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
The informant isn’t particularly religious now, so it’s interesting to me that he still participates in these deeply religious ceremonies in the presence of family. Additionally, though I’ve heard of the practice of taking communion wafers, I didn’t realize that there could be regional/event-based differences in the supposedly universal, standardized practice.

Belsnickel

INFO:
There are variations of the story in which Belsnickel would arrive before Christmas to scare children into being good, but the “more terrifying” story (according to my informant) is when if you were bad, Belsnickel would come between Christmas and Epiphany and take your presents. Belsnickel has patchy fur, tattered clothing and a black hat and claws.

BACKGROUND:
The informant’s parents used to threaten him with Belsnickel’s wrath if he were behaving badly. His father told him that Belsnickel’s origins were German because his mother used to threaten him with the story. Compared to everything else the informant’s family practiced as proud Polish-Americans, anything that wasn’t distinctly Polish was delineated as so by his parents.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
In this particular case, the fact that the informant’s parents went out of their way to distinguish the “national heritage” of this particular folklore figure is interesting. Even though many cultures share overlapping facets of folklore, the strong national distinctions many people feel actually do make their way into the spreading of stories and figures.

Chinese birthday noodles

INFO:
The informant’s parents would make her noodles on her birthday. No particular kind — just any sort of Asian noodles (not spaghetti) in soup, with no particular seasonings.

You have to eat noodles on your birthday and you can’t bite them — they symbolize long life, so don’t literally cut it short.

BACKGROUND:
There are a lot of noodle dishes in Asian culture, and the correlation between the long noodles and the idea of longevity is one that’s very prominent in Asian food cultures.

The informant’s parents would make her noodles on her birthday. No particular kind — just any sort of Asian noodles (not spaghetti) in soup, with no particular seasonings.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
I also grew up in a Chinese household, but I never heard the story about the noodles in the context of birthdays, only in general. It’s interesting to see how even when I’ve engaged with a particular piece of folklore, there is still variation in how that piece is presented.

Accounting jokes

18. Brooke Briody: Accounting jokes (5/1)

INFO:
There are 3 types of accountants. Those who can count and those who can’t.

How does Santa’s accountant value his sleigh? Net PRESENT value.

Where do homeless accountants live? In a tax shelter.

BACKGROUND:
The informant is going to be an accountant soon, but was told the story during a friend’s birthday party, when a random man at the party walked up to her group of friends and tried to chat them up with a series of cheesy accounting jokes, not realizing that she and many of her friends were accounting majors at USC.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
While these jokes are ostensibly for people in the accounting occupation, someone with a basic understanding of what the profession entails (dry, “nerdy”) can also hear these jokes and find them funny, not because they’re funny but because they’re so in line with popular perceptions of what accountant humor is like.

Italian-American holiday meals

INFO:
Before every holiday meal, which is several courses, the informant’s grandmother will make lasagna with meatballs in it, then wedding soup which has lentils and meatballs in it, then the full meal itself with has the “random staples of each holiday,” but there will always be pizza bread (cheese and sauce on toasted bread) and spinach bread. Each family member has their own favorite desserts too, like ice cream cake rolls, a “gross-tasting” checkered cheesecake that they all eat to appease his grandmother. The only one who still cares about saying grace at the table is his grandmother now.

His favorite meal is a gnocchi, which has to be specially requested for a meal — he loves shaking parmesan cheese over them. He also loves “a good ham,” with some pineapple and maraschino cherries, and apple kuchen (a golden cake and a hard bottom layer of coconut).

BACKGROUND:
Though the informant’s family is several generations removed from their initial immigration from Italy, the family’s still kept up many food traditions, even as other traditions, such as saying grace, have fallen by the wayside. The informant also mentioned that the meal courses were generally set around a core menu, and these satellite dishes may not be as “traditional” as those core items.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
I really like the idea of carrying on food traditions but leaving room for them to expand and grow, as they do here. Additionally, the informant’s recounting of the meal clearly brought a smile to his face — it’s always cool to see how people you may not know too well, as in the case with the informant, react when they engage with their heritage in a previously unknown way.