Author Archives: Nick Neal

Noose Wearing Ritual – Ghent, Belgium

Context: I heard about this ritual from my friend MG, who is originally from Ghent, but went to boarding school in England and finally ended up at USC as a student. We talked for a while about the related history of this ritual, and MG is the type of person to ramble so in the interest of keeping the collection entry concise and readable I have shortened our conversation to the best of my ability while staying true to MG’s telling.

Collection: In the 16th century, the King of Spain, Charles V, invaded Belgium and Ghent was now Spanish territory. So in 1541 or something like that Ghent’s population refused to pay taxes because they wanted to resist the Spanish ruler. [Long tangent about how King Charles is from Ghent] So they decided to revolt and got like heavily f*cking suppressed, and a lot of people died. As a punishment for the revolt they had to walk around the city in nooses like this *imitating the walk with his arms held straight out in front of him* to show the punishment all in a line all attached to this one cord to humiliate the Ghent population to show them that they have no authority no strength no like.. yaknow they are basically owned by the Spanish. So that was like a scarring experience but we are still so proud of resisting and like trying to protect our families our values our homes. Now its become a symbol of resistance and a symbol of stubbornness and pride of the Ghent population. The Ghent population in general is known as a stubborn population that does what it wants like within a country doing its own thing. [Long tangent about banking systems and the history of Ghent] So the tradition remembers that period because it was a period of thriving for the Ghent population.

Analysis: This ritual is very interesting because MG told me that it isn’t tied to a specific date, rather it is done during hard times. The last one he could recall was in 2008 during the financial crisis which was hard on the people. Additionally, MG said that it is more of a somber thing; people don’t celebrate or gather too much. It is more of something that happens as a reminder of the Ghent peoples strength that people can observe passively throughout the day. I think that this ritual says a lot about the culture of Ghent, as well as Belgium as a whole. Being a small nation without much power on the world stage, the people of Belgium take pride in their ability to silently resist authority. Reenacting this historical event is a way to bring the people of Ghent together and show that even through difficult times they will continue to resist and thrive.

Costa Rican Independence Day Traditions/Celebrations

Context: RJ is currently a university student and grew up in San Jose, Costa Rica until her family moved to the United States before she started high school. She was kind enough to share some traditional aspects of celebrating the Costa Rican Independence Day, and did so by writing all she knew/remembered in a document.


RJ: All of these are aspects of and traditions from Costa Rican Independence Day, which we celebrated on September 15th: Women dress up in traditional faldas that follow the color scheme of the national flag. It is also worn with a white blouse that completes the outfit, it has blue and red stripes on it. This is a typical latin american practice. Every country wears their flags colors (duh) Men wear “campesinos” outfits which are khakis, a white shirt (collared usually), with a straw hat, or farmers type hat. Men also hold red banderas in their hands (wave them around during fan or wear them around their necks.

At every school around the country, young children practice typical folk dances for months in preparation for independence day. When September 15 roles around, all the kids dress up and perform in the parade on the streets. This happens in the city, the beach, the mountains, etc. For my school, elementary students performed their dance, by grade,  on the recess field (which was a huge soccer field with lots of grass) and the whole school came and watched (k-12) including teachers and parents.

Lantern Walk: These lanterns (faroles) are homemade. You can buy them in the store and then fold them up. Sometimes you make them in class. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some look like the typical homes of Costa Rica, “casitas típicas” or ox carts. Others are just cylindrical though its up to the consumer which one they want to walk with for the parade. At my school we would all gather in our classrooms at 8am, dressed up with our lanterns, and then walk around the entire school together to the national anthem before all gathering in the field to begin the parade. 

We always had arroz con pollo with frijoles molidos, papas, and plantains. It’s a really easy dish to make in large amounts and I’m sure people around the country ate the same food after they paraded.

Analysis: The traditions of this holiday seem to reflect the culture of the common people of Costa Rica. The food eaten is not some special and expensive dish like one may eat for a big holiday, but rather a food that everyone in the country has some access too, celebrating the collective in the country. Similarly, the clothes worn represent both patriotism and the dress that would typically be worn by the lower classes of society rather than the elite class. There is a constant presence of the youth performing many of these traditions, potentially a representation of Costa Rica as a young nation and placing the emphasis on the nation’s future. The folk tradition of lanterns again puts the focus on the common people of the country, having the shapes of traditional houses or common farming equipment. Additionally, the symbolism of light behind within these shapes shows an understanding that the heart of their country resides in the the common people.

Ukrainian Christmas

Context: This festival comes from my friend JZ, a USC student who grew up in a Chinese Ukrainian household in Toronto. He celebrated both aspects of Chinese and Ukrainian culture and was kind enough to share some of the experiences he’s had with that in his life with me.


JZ: Ukraine is very religious, so the entire country is basically Orthodox Christians. The entire family would gather for our Christmas and there would be a Christmas eve service that everyone went to and there was also a Christmas day service. The dinner before Christmas Day always had to be vegetarian… well there could be fish, but everything else had to be vegetarian. After the Christmas day service everything was pretty much normal, Ukrainians are big on pierogi and cabbage rolls. Food was a massive thing, my Ukrainian grandparents would get pissed, like really mad, if we didn’t eat everything. The only thing that made our Christmas Ukrainian was the food, everything else was standard with what I’ve heard from other Christmas traditions. The essential things was pierogis, cabbage rolls, borsch, sausages, shit like that. Basic European stuff.

Analysis: This Ukrainian variation on Christmas points to some of the important aspects of Ukrainian culture. Religious piety is the biggest one, as it seemed from JZ’s telling that service, both before and after Christmas was given, as if everyone did it. Where I am from, people tend to vary on how religious they are, and it is common for people to skip any kind of religious services all together. In Ukraine it is clear that the people have a generally homogenized religion and all follow relatively piously, although it could be the case that JZ’s family was particularly religious. The other difference that JZ’s celebration had with other celebrations I have heard of is the food. Many people would consider traditional Christmas food to be some kind of large meat, like turkey or ham, and an assortment of side dishes, at least in the United States. In Ukraine it makes sense that they eat popular Ukrainian foods, as these are the foods that they have the most access to.

Chinese Moon Festival

Context: This festival comes from my friend JZ, a USC student who grew up in a Chinese Ukrainian household in Toronto. He celebrated both aspects of Chinese and Ukrainian culture and was kind enough to share some of the experiences he’s had with that in his life with me.


JZ: Lunar cycles are so big in China there’s so many festivals that are associated with them. I remember this one, its called just Moon Festival. I don’t really recall the story behind it but you have to eat moon cakes for it. You literally never eat moon cakes outside of the moon festival, I hated them they suck so much. There are all of these flavors that they are filled with but I never liked any of them. The typical go to filling is this red bean paste that is really popular in China. It’s sweet but weird. Chinese people like to put weird things in their desserts.

Analysis: This festival is in line with the other things that JZ told me about Chinese culture and celebration. For one thing, the emphasis on the lunar cycles indicates that China is a very cyclical culture that has reverence for its past and history. The traditional eating of moon cakes points towards China’s emphasis on food and food as a ritual that brings family together. Although the actual moon cake may not be very good, it is still traditionally eaten because it is a way to bring the family together under one roof at one table all eating the same thing.

Chinese Rice Cake Festival And Old Philosopher Story

Context: This festival comes from my friend JZ, a USC student who grew up in a Chinese Ukrainian household in Toronto. He celebrated both aspects of Chinese and Ukrainian culture and was kind enough to share some of the experiences he’s had with that in his life with me.


JZ: One of the, not most important, but really big Chinese festivals is based on a story. It’s kinda dumb, theres this long backstory that doesn’t matter, but a long time ago this old philosopher went and jumped into a river, a river that actually exists in China. He ended up dying in the river, I think the story says that he killed himself but I don’t really remember. The nearby townspeople were really sad though, because the philosopher was very well liked, so the people began making these rice cakes or rice balls, I’m not sure how to describe them. Then they started throwing the rice cakes into the river so that the fish would eat the rice cakes instead of eating the philosopher. We would eat the rice cakes every year, it has nothing to do with the guy anymore its more like the lore behind the holiday, it kind of explains the origin behind the rice cakes.

Me: Did your family throw the rice cakes into a nearby river or just eat them?

JZ: No we just ate them. It was weird because people will eat these all the time but you like have to eat the rice cakes on this specific festival. I’m sure some people in China throw rice cakes into the rivers but we didn’t. The story just is kind of the lore behind the rice cakes.

Analysis: This festival and related story show some important aspects of Chinese culture. Firstly, the presence of the old philosopher shows the Chinese reverence for the wise and the elderly. In the story, the people feel the need to respect his memory by tossing their own food into the river, showing a respect and embrace of the elderly. Secondly, the supposed origin for a commonly eaten food in China places an emphasis on the importance of tradition and history. As JZ was telling me before he mentioned this story, religion isn’t very big in China and many people are actually atheist. But for many the history and traditions of China tend to replace religious holidays and festivals. A celebrated origin story for an item of food shows a great reverence for the history and ancestry of China.