Author Archives: Rebecca Southern

Russian Wedding Traditions

My informant is from Lipitsk, Russia. She moved to the United States for graduate studies, and is a graduate student at USC at the age of 33. I collected many superstitions from my informant, and also wedding traditions, using her own wedding as an example. My informant gave me many Russian wedding traditions. My informant is married to a man from the United States. Their wedding was in Russia, with the traditional elements. I asked my informant why she did all of these traditional things and she explained the importance of tradition in Russia. “Tradition is important to the family. There are certain expectations and you do not wan tot upset everyone. The structure is always there, and it works well. Russians are very traditional, it is just the way things are done. At my wedding, I wanted to show my in laws the Russian wedding and show them my culture. The M.C. brings the two families together. Like they have to do this special dance with each side of the family. One tradition is at the wedding receptions where when someone means a word translated to “sour or lemons”, the couple has to kiss.”

I thought this tradition was interesting because at my aunts wedding reception there was karaoke and anytime a song had the word “kiss” in it, a couple had to kiss.  My informant told me about an M.C. that is hired to run the wedding. There are many weddings games to play, and the M.C. facilitates bringing the two families together. My informant’s parents in law liked how involved they were able to be, as the groom’s parents.

There is another Russian superstition that says “if it is raining on your wedding day, you will be rich.”

Another tradition that I found especially interesting was that the bride will be “stolen” and the groom must buy her back. This is very similar to my informant from Bangladesh, where the groom’s side of the family had to pay to get in to the reception. Similarly, in Russian tradition, the bride’s shoe is often stolen, just as the groom’s shoes were stolen in the wedding from my informant from Bangladesh. My Russian informant said that the stealing of the shoes symbolizes a “loss of virginity.” It is interesting that these themes of buying back the bride and stealing of shoes come up in countries across the world.

Countering the bad luck of a black cat

My informant is from Lipitsk, Russia. She moved to the United States for graduate studies, and is a graduate student at USC at the age of 33. I collected many superstitions from my informant, and also wedding traditions, using her own wedding as an example. This collection is a counteraction of the bad luck of seeing a black cat. You must spit three times and knock on wood to reverse the bad luck of the black cat.

Continuing the woman with buckets story:

Me: Is there a way to counteract or undo this? [the bucket story]

Informant: with the woman and the buckets no, but with the cat, you got to spit 3 times and then knock on wood 3 times [informant demonstrates]. Sometimes people cross themselves so there is this weird blend in Russia of the Orthodox religion so Christian Russian orthodox and Pagan traditions. So we’re mixed of boths because on the one hand we got the.. so when you see the superstitions they are technically pagan. So they come to this pagan, prior to Christ. Because there shouldn’t really be Christian traditions. But then they counteract the tradition of the black cat they cross themselves. So they are using the Christian way to counteract the pagan belief. So in the Russian mind, both of the m coexist.

It was interesting to see that the black cat comes up in other cultures besides our own. A black cat seems to be the universal symbol of bad luck. Additionally, in the United States people knock on wood to reverse bad luck, just as in this Russian folk belief. The spitting, however, is something that is not commonly accepted in the United States. The idea of spitting could be seen as a way to get the bad luck out of your system. The comment on the fact that the Church who does not allow superstitions,  yet crossing is used as a way to counteract them, shows how the two religions are mixed in with the folk beliefs.

Coffee and Tea jump rope song

My informant from Jacksonville, Florida gave me a second jump rope rhyme:

“I like coffee, I like tea, I like [person’s name] to play with me. [that person jumps in and their name is spelled in rhythm to the song.”

Unlike the Cinderella rhyme, I had not heard this version. When I was growing up, the rhyme we sang was “I like coffee, I like tea, I like boys and they like me. Yes, No, Maybe so. Yes, No, Maybe so… [kept going until the jumper messed up]”. Both rhymes have the same beginning and same rhythm, but the outcomes are different. In the version collected from my informant, a second person who was called on had to jump in with the first. In the version I played, the jumper kept jumping while everyone playing chanted yes, no, maybe so. Whichever one was being said when the person messed up their jumping or got caught in the rope, was the fate of the person. I played these jump rope games when I was in third grade, the same age as my informant. These games were important to me because it helped build friendships. I had certain people that I played jump rope with on a day to day basis. It was also a big part of “recess culture” to know the songs, and not different versions. I came across this a lot when I moved around from state to state when I was in elementary school. I found that different regions of the country have similar songs, but are slightly different. Knowing the songs being sung during jump rope was very important for a girl’s ability to participate in the games. Jump rope culture also developed as there were certain groups of girls that always played jump rope and there were certain jump ropes that were “better” than others, so girls would race to our bucket of toys to claim the best jump rope as recess was starting. These collections were interesting because I was able to compare them to my childhood experience and compare the songs and the actual performance of jumping rope as my informant demonstrated to me. I also found how difficult it is to swing the rope exactly right when out of practice, and my informant had to correct me a lot in my technique of rope turning.

The Nose Game

My informant is eight years old from Jacksonville, Florida. She is 8 years old, and is in third grade at a small Catholic School in her area. Her father is in the Navy, who works at a Naval base nearby and her mother stays at home. She has three sisters, all of which are older than her. While her family moved around a lot, she has lived her entire life in Florida.

The Nose Game

Me: The nose game is where if you don’t want to do something…then you put your finger on your nose real fast and the last one to do it has to do whatever the thing is

Me: do what?

Informant: whatever the people don’t want to do. Mostly answering the phone or getting off the couch.

Me: where did you learn that from?

Informant: Lisa and Bri and Katherine [informant’s sisters]

Me: who do you usually play with?

Informant: I play at school a lot. For who has to clean up at recess. I’m usually the first to yell “nose game!” and point on my nose

I have also heard the version, “nose goes,” as in the person who doesn’t notice that everyone has their finger on their nose must “go” and do whatever task, usually something that no one wants to do. In my home in Minnesota, the nose game is used a lot for who has to go back outside to get something from the car when it is freezing out. It is also common for someone to just touch their nose without saying anything, and the last to notice is the loser. Sometimes this can take awhile, and it is always a little joke or point of ridicule if they didn’t notice.


Annotation: In an Episode of Scrubs, the nose game is used to decide who will help Dr. Perry Cox write a will.

Cinderella Jump Rope Song

My informant is the same as the nose game entry. Setting is outside in my yard over spring break, and the weather was very cold. She is 8 years old, from Jacksonville Florida. She attends a small Catholic school there. My informant plays this jump rope game on the playground with her friends. She sang the song for me and we also went outside and she demonstrated how she plays the game.

“Cinderella dressed in yella went upstairs to kiss a fella. By mistake she kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5..”

My informant demonstrated the jump rope game for me. A long rope is used and two people hold one end and one person is jumping to the time of the rhyme. My informant had me and another person hold the two ends while she demonstrated the jumping. I asked her who plays the game and she replied that her and her friends play. I asked her if boys played and she said no. One time a boy in her class tried it but was really bad at it- boys usually play kickball at her school. The girl who is jumping will either start standing next to the rope, or will “jump in,” if they are more experienced. The swingers chant “one, two, three and over,” swinging the rope over the jumper’s head and they begin singing the song. The alternative way to start is where the rope is swung to a beat and then jumper runs in at the right time and starts jumping. My informant showed me both ways, but had a little more difficulty running in. My informant claims to have learned the song in first grade (she is now in third grade) and has been playing ever since. This collection was interesting for me because I sang the same song when I was growing up, even though I grew up in a different state. It was interesting to see that the song is conserved across the country. However, when I played we did not chant “one, two, three, and over” to start a game. This was a game predominantly played by girls when I played at recess as well.

Orange Blossom- Family Superstition

Informant: My next story is relatively recent. So, my grandfather, he had an older brother who is much, significantly older than him. Like, old enough that his nephews were in some cases older than him. And what happened was that the land when their father died, the land was divided in two between the two brothers. My grandfather and his older brother. But multiple families were living on this land. Because my grandfather’s older brother had two sons, so now the people who were living on this land, my grandfather, his older brother and his families and my grandfather had just gotten there. So he only had a wife, he didn’t have any kinds. While half the family had 3 families on it, and one half had just a couple. And what had happened was so on the land that we had. We had a lot of orange trees and the thing that Moroccans really love is orange trees and Moroccans like the extract from orange blossoms. That’s something they did a lot of, was sell these orange blossoms that are used to get an extract that is used for cooking, for perfume, or plenty of things. So when the harvest happened and they got all their orange blossoms, the family on the other side of the land, because we have 4 or 5 families, we should divide them evenly. It’s not fair. When Technically my grandfather had the right to claim half of the harvest because he had half the land. But they were like no, because you are just a young guy with a wife. And his mother realized that there could be a lot of family drama and she did not want that to happen. So she told my grandfather, “look, just let them have it. That’s what’s going to happen. People are going to cheat you all the time.” And she created this rule that no Biaz should ever extract orange blossoms on their own. Like you should always get it from outside. So even though we harvest and have orange blossoms, the rule was not to use it for our own, so just to sell it and go buy it if we needed it. To avoid family drama. And its true, it did avoid the family drama and things were fine and his wife who respected that tradition, that rule. Because a lot of Moroccan wives like to do it, they like to create the extract themselves, like this is mine. And she was like I respect that, I won’t do that. She respected it, but then his second wife, who is my grandmother did not. And she started doing it in secret and she wanted to have her own orange blossom. She was like “No, this is stupid that some lady some time said we should do this.” So when that happened, let me think, where was I… She started doing it in secret. And then there was this, some sort of celebration, I think it was someone’s wedding. She was doing it in secret and she did it one night when my grandfather was off at work. she did it all, she got it all prepared and then the next day, when everyone was having the festivities, my dad, who was the youngest of 12, was 2 or 3 at the time and so he was just wandering around into the kitchen. And there was a large kettle of boiling water on the stove and somehow, somehow, it fell on him. And burned a good portion of his leg. And it was pretty severe burns. And he still has scars form it. And my grandmother flipped out and she assumed that it had something to do with her. She just blamed herself, and felt terrible about it. And she thought okay this must be related, and she never again extracted orange blossoms in secrete. Not only that, but when she got older and all of her sons got married, she made sure to tell every single one of their lives not to do orange blossoms. So to this day, no Biaz does any orange blossom extracts, even though we still have orange trees and orange blossoms.

Me: So what is the orange blossom extract?

Informant: Its like orange blossom, so its like a flower. On orange trees you have fruit, so we have oranges. They create an extract and create an extract out of it. And it’s a liquid and they love it for a bunch of things. They use it for food, cooking, and it smells really good. And they use it for perfume.

Me: When did you hear this story?

Informant: I was in twelfth grade.

Me: Why were you told? Why did it come up?

Informant: We just can’t make that even though we have it. Even the people that live there now, they are distant relatives, they still can’t.

Me: Is your dad scared of orange blossoms now because they burned him?

Informant: (laughs) My dad kind of thinks its amusing. But, but, there are some of his sisters in law who are scared.

Me: Do they want to extract orange blossoms? Why do people want to do that in Morocco?

Informant: Because it is fun, it is something that is your own. And you can have it around the house. And its not always the same, depending on how you prepare it. Its kind of like a dish. Like how certain families eat certain things. Like, “my mom makes it this way and its really nice” so its just kind of their own flavor, you know what I mean.

Me: Did some of their wives, they used to not make it and now they cant?

Informant: Some of them yes.

: Why do you tell that story? Or any of these stories that you have told me

Informant: Well, so my dad is the youngest of 12, but he is the one that tells the stories the most. And they say that he is always telling stories, and most of the stories that he tells me, my cousins don’t know because their fathers don’t tell them. Or they just don’t talk about it. And I think that it is, it is just aw ay for me, after having moved away, to kind of get back. And they say that there is always, that even back, the Biazes, there has always been a son who kind of becomes the storyteller. That’s the one who passes it along. So I guess this time it is my dad. So he took it upon himself.

Me: So now it’s on you, because you have no brothers right?

Informant: So now it’s on me, yes. All the stories. I do like listening to the stories.

This collection was very rich in that I not only got a story, but a story that developed into a strong family superstition. This item is a narrative and a superstition. No one in the Biaz family extracts orange blossoms to this day, because of this story. My informants grandmother made sure to tell every one of her daughter in-laws that they can never extract orange blossoms, and this is actually followed in their family. From this collection, I also learned a lot about Moroccan culture, and the importance of orange blossom extraction. The preparation of the orange extracts is also another form of folklore. My informant told me how Moroccan women love to do this because they can make it their own creation and use it for different things. However, in this family, this traditional practice is banned. The point my informant makes about the passing down of the stories is also important. My informant’s very distant family (see other entries) were very small, so he confirms that the accuracy of the stories by saying they were all passed down “father to son, father to son.” My informant’s father was the youngest son, and my informant notes that he is the one that knows all of the stories and tells them. My informant, being the only son in his family, will be the next active bearer. My informant shares these stories because they are funny and interesting, but also are important to him personally because they involve his ancestors.

Origin of the last name Biaz

My informant was born in Fez, Morocco, then moved to the United States, and then moved back to Morocco but to the mountains when he was five years old. He attended high school in Auburn, Alabama. My informant told me stories about the origin of his last name, how is family got to Morocco, folklore stories about his family, and a family superstition. All three stories that I collected were passed down from father to son to father to son, my informant being the son. My informant’s father, who is one of twelve children in his family, became the active bearer of this family lore. My informant is the only son in his family, so he commented that he will be the active bearer after his father passes. My informant speaks French at home, and these stories were translated from French to English. The setting is an apartment bedroom in Los Angeles.

Informant: The origin of my last name/family.  So this is the story because the Biazes have long been just father son father son father son so the stories have been passed down pretty well. And pretty consistently from father to son. And also because before my grandfather no Biaz had ever had more than 2-3 children which is actually kind of atypical in Morroccan family. SO because of that we had a very small family so it was very easy to track our history. SO, what happened was that sometime in the very very distant past, a sultan in Persia wanted to offer a gift to some nobility in Spain and he decided to send him these birds of prey mainly falcons to be trained to send messages. But with the falcons, he sent a trainer and that trainer is called a Biaz because falcons are called “baz” in the English transliteration of the Arabic word. So that is what happened and of course at this time, people were known by their occupation which was essentially his last name. And he had a family and for a couple hundred years our family was in Spain, and then the Reconquista happened. And that pushed a lot of the Arabs down to Morocco so that’s how we ended up in Morocco, which is wear we are to this day. So we started in Persia, stayed in Spain for a long time, then pushed down to Morocco. And all through this time we remained birds of prey trainer. I think we even had a family crest. And then we were in Fez Morocco ever since. And that’s where I was born.

Me: So those stories were passed down from father to son-father to son? What was the first time you heard this story?

Informant: The first time I heard the family origin story was years and year  and years ago. I don’t remember. I think I’ve always known that story.

This story is important to my informant because it is the story of the origin of his family’s name. He says that when the topic of names comes up, he always has a good story to tell, while some of his friends have no idea where their names come from. He also validates the family stories by the fact that they were passed down father to son for many generations. The small size of his family also makes it easy to pass down.

Visiting graves on Easter tradition

My informant is from Lipitsk, Russia. She moved to the United States for graduate studies, and is a graduate student at USC at the age of 33. I collected many superstitions from my informant, and also wedding traditions, using her own wedding as an example.

Informant: So for Easter, Easter is an Ortho-Christian holiday so in a Russian-orthodox Church, the Christ resurrection, resurrection of Christ but in the old pagan tradition, it used to be that people went…It was like the day of the day. So the people they also went to church they also went to the cemetery. And they brought like um little pieces of food, some eggs, and some shots of vodka, and left it on the graves…and communicate with the dead. So and of course the church was very much against it because, again, it is a superstition. Its about liberating Christ and communicating with your dead ones at the grave. But it still happens. And its like every- I mean it been happening, even the soviet rejection of religion they couldn’t. Even now for Easter, now everyone goes to the cemetery to leave some food, or some vodka at the grave…Unless you don’t have anybody who is technically. I mean, If you don’t have anybody buried in this area so you don’t have go. But if you have somebody you can go there, within the proximity. So its not you know, relatives buried in Siberia and you are in Moscow. But if you know, lets say you live in Los Angeles and its in proximity. IF the cemetery is in proximity and you have someone there. So that’s why, when I was young I didn’t have anybody.. Because our family moved so we didn’t have any older relatives buried anywhere, so we didn’t have anybody to visit technically in the cemetery. And I remember when there was the Easter day, you know, my friends, id be like “Oh guys lets hang out and they’d be like, “we are going to the cemetery with our parents.” And I didn’t have anybody.

Me: Where did you move from?

Informant: Its actually not me, its my family. But they moved from Moscow, my grandparents moved from Moscow to Lipitsk. So a smaller city so that’s where they stayed. So their parents were killed so that’s why I didn’t have any great grandparents. I didn’t have any uncles or aunts. Just my grandparents, parents and me.

My informant herself did not participate in the practice of visiting graves on Easter because she did not have family in the area. However, this practice was very common among my informants friends, who would all go to the the graves of loved ones on Easter. I think this practice fits with Easter because the holiday has to do with the dying and rising of Christ.

If you see a woman carrying empty buckets, it is bad luck

My informant is from Lipitsk, Russia. She moved to the United States for graduate studies, and is a graduate student at USC at the age of 33. I collected many superstitions from my informant, and also wedding traditions, using her own wedding as an example.

Informant: So lets see… The traditional superstitions. One of them have to do with women. For good luck and bad luck, women are always viewed as bad luck (laughs). So if you leave your house in the morning and see a woman with empty buckets or empty anything, that’s bad luck for the whole day…. uh in the village it used to be that they would carry water in the buckets. So I guess that’s how it came from. They would go like to the well to get water. So if you had full buckets of water, then that was a good luck. But if you saw them with empty buckets just going there, it was bad luck. The city of course they don’t go to the well anymore. Buuut they do carry the buckets to the trash dumpsters. I guess if she has a bucket full of trash it is better luck than no trash.  It’s a pretty powerful one. I remember going to the exam, and I would just make sure.. I would as my mom “Mom, can you go ahead of me and check to make sure there’s no woman in front of me, you know. (laughs)

Me: Do you know where you heard it from?

Informant: I cant say.. its just in the culture. Its like the black cat….Yeah, its just kind of something everyone knows.

This is an example of a Russian superstition. My analysis is that the empty buckets could symbolize emptiness in life or lack of money. My informant also noted that in Russia, women are always associated with bad luck. This is a common theme across all Russian superstitions, which is important to note in this example. If there is a man carrying something empty, then it would mean nothing. However, it is usually the woman who would be doing this sort of housework.

Do not step on paper because you are spiting the God of Knowledge

My informant’s grandmother is from Madras, India. She always told my informant to never step on paper because it was seen as spiting the God of Knowledge. This idea was ingrained in the informants mind growing up, that she says it is always in the back of her mind. This affected my informant so much that now she just does not step on paper to this day. She says that she is always conscious of it. It doesn’t take over her life, but she just always steps around paper if it is on the ground. My informant also says she has other folk beliefs or things that her grandmother has told her that she still lives by today. It is something that she had been told so early in her life that now she takes all of these things with her, even as she entered adulthood. I thought this folk belief was interesting because it is something that I never thought of before. I do not consciously go out of my way to step on paper, but I would never think of it as a bad thing. Now that I have heard this, I am more conscious of whether or not I do this.