Author Archives: Michael McMonigle

“La famiglia è la patria del cuore”

Main Piece: Proverb 

“La famiglia è la patria del cuore”


“The family is the home of the heart”

Background info: 

Informant is Italian American with family from Italy who use Italian proverbs. She learned while spending time with her grandmother who would often say it when she was pleased that she could spend time with her entire family. Her grandmother helped teach her the importance of loving and enjoying being with family above all else through using this proverb. 

Context: This is an Italian proverb that directly translates into English as “the family is the home of the heart”. My informant is Italian American and many proverbs she knows translate differently because the language or pronunciation is “Americanised” however this proverb comes directly from Italy. This proverb was collected in person at the informant’s dorm in Dallas, Texas.

Analysis: This proverb is neat because it is something my informant has gotten directly from Italy through her grandmother who grew up there. It shows that being connected with family is a large part of Italian culture and how the family is a large part of Italian culture.


“Salud Chindon”

Main piece: Proverb

“Salud Chindon”


“Good health for a hundred years”

Background Information:

Why does the informant know this piece?

Her family is Italian American and uses this proverb.

Where did the informant learn this piece?

She learned it from her family who uses the proverb when drinking or making toasts.

What does it mean to them?

It means to always keep your health as a priority and to wish good fortune and health to your loved ones and friends.

Context: This is an Italian American proverb that descends from the Italian word “Salute”, which means well being, and the Italian phrase “cent anno” which means one hundred years. It is a phrase that Italian Americans have blended the original Italian words to both sound differently and a slightly different mean than the direct translations. This proverb was collected in person at the informant’s dorm in Dallas, Texas.

Analysis: I find this proverb to be interesting because it is an example of a language being “Americanised.” It is an example of Italian Americans still connecting with their Italian culture but creating their own folklore for their community. 


Blue Ceilings

Interviewer: Could you tell me about a superstition you have learned from your family in Alabama?

AC: Yes, one in particular that my family took and uses is we have our ceilings in our rooms painted blue. 

Interviewer: What’s the reasoning for that?

AC: The superstition behind it is that people believe that if your ceilings and doors are painted blue then they block spirits and ghosts from passing through to the room. My mom calls it “sleeping under blue skies”.

Interviewer: Why does the blue stop the spirits or ghosts?

AC: It’s supposed to represent water. I guess that they can’t pass through water. 

Interviewer: How do you feel about participating in this superstition? What does it mean to you?

AC: I really like it because like most little kids I would be scared of monsters and ghost being in my room while I was sleeping my room and my parents would tell me that they couldn’t come in because of the blue and it would always reassure me.

Interviewer: Where else have you seen this?

AC: My mom’s whole side of the family lives in Alabama, grandparents and both sets of cousins, and they all use it. But I have seen it in other places in the south at friends homes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. So it’s more of a southern thing than an Alabama thing. 

Context:  The informant is an eighteen-year-old young woman from Dallas, Texas. Her mother is from Alabama where the rest of her side of their family still lives. She frequently visits Alabama and her family there so she is very familiar with their superstitions. The explaining of this superstition was collected in person at the informant’s dorm in Dallas, Texas.

Analysis: This is a fascinating superstition that is used to calm the fear of ghosts and spirits that kids have. I never realized that this is why blue is often a color of rooms in the south but now I will recognize the meaning behind it when I see this. It is also interesting that this is something the informant’s immediate and distant family all participates in. 


“The Ass That Lays Money”

Interviewer: Is there any fairy tales, legends or myths, you have learned from your Italian side of the family?

LC: Yes, I know one called the “ass that lays money very well”. So the story goes that there was a very poor woman who lived only with her young son. When she and her son began to starve and not be able to afford food she sent her son to her brother, the boys uncle, to look for help. The boy then traveled to his uncle’s farm where he was received with warmly. The boy tells his uncle of him and his mom’s troubles and the uncle tells him he would be happy to help. The uncle gives the boy an ass, a donkey, and explains that the ass lays money and all he has to do is put a cloth underneath it to catch the money and they will never need money again but the uncle warns the boy that he must tell anyone and take the ass straight home to his mother to keep it safe. The boy thanks his uncle and leaves to return home but he stops at an inn on the way. He tells the manager of the inn that he must have his ass in his room with him and that he wont leave him outside. The manager finds this very peculiar but allows it. Then once the boy is asleep, the curious manager goes to his room and looks through the keyhole to see what is going on, he then sees the ass laying money. The manager then decides he must get the ass so he replaces the ass with a similarly looking one while the boy sleeps. The boy then leaves with the wrong ass ion the morning but he soon realizes it doesn’t lay money and looks slightly different leading him to return to the inn to demand for his ass back. The manager tells him he didn’t steal the ass and that the boy should leave if he’s going to accuse him of being a thief. So the boy returns to his uncle and asks for help once more. The uncle then gives him a table cloth that magically prepares a meal when the words “make ready” are said. But the uncle warns him once more to go directly home and tell no one about the tablecloth. The boy then decides to stop at the same inn once again and tells the manager that he doesn’t need any food for the night which raises the manager’s suspicion once again. The manager then looks through the boy’s keyhole once again and watches him use the table cloth once again and decides he must have this too. So the manager waits for the boy to sleep once again before replacing the table cloth with an identical one. The next morning the boy leaves to return home, but when he stops for a meal on the way there he realizes he had been tricked once again and that this was not the same magical table cloth. The boy then goes back to his uncle’s farm and once again tells him what happened. The uncle is mad but he still gives the boy something else to reclaim his items. He gives him a magical wooden stick that beats everything in sight when the words “hit hit” are said and stops when someone says “stop”. He tells the boy to go back to the inn and use it. So the boy goes back and asks for a room. This time when the manager sneaks into his room the boy pretends to be asleep and then says “hit hit”. The stick then beats the manager so badly that he begs the boy to stop it and says he will give his ass and tablecloth back. So the boy stops it and leaves to go home with his items. When the boy gets home his mother is so happy and they celebrate by inviting their family over for a feast and that’s the end.

Interviewer: That is quite the tale, how did you learn it?

LC: My grandma on my Dad’s side of the family learned it from growing up in Italy and passed it down through our family and would tell it to me and my sister when we were little.

Interviewer: What meaning does this story have to you? Why do you like it?

LC: I guess it taught me that when someone steals, karma will end up getting them back. I just really like it because it was one of my grandma’s favorite stories and I always loved when she would tell me stories. 

Interviewer: Have you only heard about this story from your family? 

LC: Yes just my grandma mainly and sometimes my mom would tell me it. I think that’s because it’s a very Italian fairy tale and isn’t that popular in America. 

Context: The informant is a seventeen-year-old young woman from Dallas, Texas. Her father’s parents are from Italy while both of hers are from America. She learned this story through her Italian grandmother telling her it. I collected this performance from the informant in person at the informant’s home in Dallas, Texas.

Analysis: I thought this was a very interesting fairy tale that I had not heard before. I found it to be both entertaining and fascinating. I was fascinated by it because it had a lot of aspects of fairy tales I was familiar with even though it comes from an Italian culture that I am not familiar with. It had classic elements of the “hero” leaving home on a quest, being warned of what not to and still doing not, encountering a “trickster” and a glorious return that can be found in stories vast amounts of other fairy tales. I also enjoyed how my informant was able to connect with her Italian heritage through the form of storytelling. 


For another version of this tale you can find it in:

Crane, Thomas Frederick. Italian Popular Tales. Singing Tree Press, 1968.

“The Clever Girl”

Interviewer: Do you have any other Italian folktales?

LC: Yes another one I really like was called “The Clever Girl”. It was about a girl who came from a very poor family that lived on a farm. When the girl was a baby she was kissed by a fairy who blessed her with wit and beauty. When the girl was older her father came to her after finding a golden mortar, or bowl, in the woods, he told the girl that he would take it to the king as a gift. The girl told him that wouldn’t be smart because she thought the king would be offended that he didn’t have the pestle to go with the mortar. The father still took the mortar to the kind and the king was offended like she had guessed. The father apologized and told the king that his daughter told him this would happen. The king responded by telling him if she was so clever she would have to figure out how to make him and his army one thousand shirts out of this little cloth and spindles made of fish bones in order to save them. The man disappointingly brought the materials and news home to his daughter who wasn’t scared and told her father to tell the king that she would once he made her a loom of fish bones. The father then went and reluctantly told the king who was actually delighted by the girl’s wit. The king if the girl came to his castle neither naked or dressed and neither or on a horse or by foot he would have a husband for her. So after getting the news from her father the girl dropped her hair and it reached her toes, she wrapped herself in it and went to see the king riding on the back of her father’s ram. The king was stunned by both her wit and beauty and decided to marry the girl himself. Then they lived happily ever after. 

Interviewer: How and when did you learn of this story?

LC: I learned this one from my grandma who’s from Italy, she told it to me a lot when I was little. 

Interviewer: Does this story have any special meaning to you?

LC: Yes, I really like this one because of the girl in it. My grandma used to always tell it to me and my sister because she said we reminded of her of the girl because we were witty and beautiful. It also let me see myself as the girl who gets to marry the king and live happily ever after which every little girl loves.

Interviewer: Did you only hear this story from your grandma? 

LC: Mainly yes, but she also taught it to my mom so she could also tell it to me and my sister. 

Context: The informant is a seventeen-year-old young woman from Dallas, Texas. Her father’s parents are from Italy while both of hers are from America. She learned through her Italian grandmother telling her it. I collected this performance from the informant in person at the informant’s home in Dallas.

Analysis: I enjoyed this story because of the characteristics of the story and are embodied by the main character. I also enjoyed hearing it from my informant because it was something she felt near to both because how it was shared with her and the personal connection she felt to the girl in the story through her families folklore.


Another version of this tale can be found in:

Crane, Thomas Frederick. Italian Popular Tales. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1885. 


Chinese Food on Christmas

Interviewer: Does your family engage in any Jewish culinary customs such as eating kosher?

SS: We aren’t kosher but like a lot of other Jewish Americans we actually eat Chinese food on Christmas which is an interesting tradition. 

Interviewer: Can you tell me more about this?

SS: I’ve been doing it since as long as I can remember. Every Christmas for dinner me and my family has a bunch of Chinese food and has a really good dinner usually with my immediate family, my cousins that live in Los Angeles, and my grandparents. 

Interviewer: When did you start doing this?

SS: It’s something that my family does every year and that we got from my dad and his side of the family. He did it with his family growing up and they passed it down to ours.

Interviewer: Who else that you know does this?

SS: I actually know quite a bit of Jewish people who do this. I have a bunch of family friends who do it and most of my relatives.

Interviewer: Do people outside your family do this in the same manner or is there any differences?

SS: Well actually most people I know have the meal Christmas morning. My family is a little different we like to do it for dinner

Interviewer: Do you know where this custom came from?

SS: I’m not all entirely sure. However, my dad has explained it a little bit. He basically said that it started decades ago when his parents were kids and that it is used as a way to feel connected to jewish culture on a day where we feel a bit outcast from the rest of society. It’s a way for us to engage in an activity on a day where most of the world is doing something completely different. 

Interviewer: How do you personally feel about this tradition your family has?

SS: I personally love it. I feel like if my family didn’t have this especially at a young age Christmas would have been a weird day for me. But instead, I have something to look forward to. It really brings us together and we always enjoy it a lot. It’s also nice to know that I’m doing something similar to friends and family in my Jewish community. 

Context:  I received this explaining of a Jewish folk tradition from an 18-year-old male Jewish from Los Angeles. He practices Judaism and been raised in a Jewish household his entire life. This interview was done in person at the USC Leavey Library. 

Analysis: This is folk tradition of Jewish people eating Chinese food on Christmas day is an interesting one. It is an example of a community creating a tradition in order to feel connected to their own identities and their communities in a creative manner. 


Breaking Glass at Jewish Weddings

Interviewer: Do you have any other unique customs or traditions that are particular to your Jewish community?

SS: Yes one off too the top of my head is breaking glass at weddings.

Interviewer: What exactly happens?

SS: At the end of the wedding ceremony the newlyweds will traditionally stomp on some sort of glass together.

Interviewer: When did you learn of this tradition or first see it?

SS: Everyone who’s Jewish pretty much knows it, but I think I first saw it at my uncle’s wedding when I was seven or eight years old. 

Interviewer: Is there anything particular about the glass or the manner with which they stomp it?

SS: Yes, it depends at some weddings I have been too it has been a glass cup, usually it’s a plate in between a napkin, but I’ve even seen it be a light bulb. Also at some weddings, it’s only the groom who does the breaking, but that was more common in the past, now the tradition is usually both the bride and the groom doing it. 

Interviewer: Do you know what the meaning of this tradition is?

SS: Yes, it is used to signify how fragile relationships can be and how easily they can be broken but by breaking the glass it serves as good luck to the marriage never breaking. 

Context:  I received this explanation of a Jewish wedding custom from an 18-year-old male Jewish from Los Angeles. He practices Judaism and been raised in a Jewish household his entire life. This interview was done in person at the USC Leavey Library. 

Analysis: This marriage custom is a unique one that I was familiar with though seeing it in some movies but I was unaware of the meaning and manner of how it happens. It is interesting that it is used to signify luck for the marriage and that although it is done at almost all traditional Jewish weddings but can be done in different ways. 


A Greek Easter

Interviewer: Do you know of any traditions that are different in Greece compared to America?

AH: Yes one that is very different is how we celebrate Easter. It is a much bigger thing there, we take a whole week off and do a lot of different stuff. 

Interviewer: What else is different? How do you celebrate?

AH: We start by generally having dinner throughout the week with family and friends to celebrate all week. At these dinners we do a thing with eggs, where we have red boiled eggs, the red represents the blood of Christ, and at dinner, you smash your egg against those next to and see who’s breaks. If yours breaks you lose and you eat it but if you win you keep doing it until it breaks. Another thing is that at the church everyone gathers the night before Easter Sunday at the church and the church does a ceremony representing the resurrection of Christ and everyone goes crazy after. We celebrate that like how Americans do the fourth of July, with fireworks and stuff. 

Interviewer: Are these traditions special to Greece? 

AH: I’m not really sure, I thought everyone did it until I came to America and saw how differently easter is celebrated. But everyone in Greece does it this way. 

Interviewer: How do you feel about the different traditions of celebrating Easter?

AH: I prefer how we do it in Greece, it makes Easter feel more special and more important and it is something that is very fun.

Context: My informant is an eighteen-year-old student at USC. He was born in Athens, Greece and lived there his entire life until coming to Los Angeles for college. He is Catholic and has celebrated Easter every year of his life in Greece. This interview took place in person at Leavey library on USC’s campus. 

Analysis: This is a good example of how as people we view our traditions as very normal until seeing a group that in this instance celebrates the same thing with their own culture’s different traditions and customs. It also shows how Greece is a place that takes celebrating Easter perhaps more seriously than America, even though those who celebrate are celebrating something very important to their religion. I enjoyed hearing my informant explain something that I thought I knew all about, celebrating Easter, in a different fashion.



Interviewer: Can you tell me about the greek dance the Sirtaki?

AH: Yeah, that’s probably the most famous greek dance people always are performing it at celebrations and stuff.

Interviewer: What type of celebrations is it performed at?

AH: you can see it at a lot of stuff like holidays, parades, birthdays, just whenever there is an official celebration of something. 

Interviewer: How do you actually do the dance?

AH: You basically are in a line of people where you stick out your arms and put them on the people next to you’s shoulders and then move back in forth as a unit kicking your legs and lunging. 

Interviewer: Do you know the origin off the dance?

AH: No not really but everyone in Greece knows it and it is a pretty old part of our culture, I think it has been around for hundreds of years. 

Interviewer: How do you feel about the dance? 

AH: I think its pretty fun to see. Since its usually done while I’m celebrating something it’s always in a fun environment and its usually kind of funny too see because the people doing it are usually dressed up and it’s a funny looking dance.

Context: My informant is an eighteen-year-old student at USC. He was born in Athens Greece and lived there his entire life until coming to Los Angeles for college. He learned about this folk dance during his time living in Greece. This interview took place in person at Leavey library on USC’s campus. 

Analysis: This is folk dance is an interesting piece of Greek folklore. It reminds me of how when I visited Spain I was able to see how much the flamenco is a part of the Spanish culture. I enjoyed hearing that this is not a dance that is commercialized or sold as part of Greek culture but rather a real part that greek people enjoy.

“Al povero mancano tante cose, all’avaro tutte”

Main piece: Proverb

“Al povero mancano tante cose, all’avaro tutte”


“the poor man is lacking many things, the greedy man all”

Background Information:

Informant is Italian and lived a portion of his life in Milan, Italy. He learned it through spending time with his father, he would tell him this when he asked for money. To my informant, it means that a greedy man will never be satisfied and truly happy. But it is also humorous to him that when he would ask his father for money as a kid that this was his joking response.

Context: This is an Italian proverb that my informant learned from his father while living in Italy. It is a proverb that warns against being greedy. It translates directly to English while still keeping its intended meaning. I received this proverb from my informant in person in his dorm. 

Analysis: I enjoyed learning this proverb from my informant for a few reasons. One is that it is something he learned while actually living in Italy as a kid and another is that I find it heartening that his father taught him this lesson about greed by using this proverb in a funny yet meaningful way. This another example of how proverbs are an important part of Italian folklore.