Author Archives: Samantha Beatty

Superstition/Ritual

All dirty laundry needs to be washed before December 31st at midnight. My mom makes me search the entire house.

Notes:

The subject had many New Year’s rituals to share pertaining to his family. He said that every New Year’s Eve his mother made him search the house for all dirty laundry so that she could wash it before the New Year. He emphasized all laundry stating that everything and anything dirty that could be cleaned in the washing machine, was. When I asked about the reasoning behind this he says that it is considered bad luck when crossing over into the New Year if you have dirty laundry. He furthered this making a connection between the cleaning process and the superstition saying that it’s not a clean start to the New Year. The subject was unsure of its origins exactly but said that it was a popular custom in African American families, saying that his entire family does it.

At first I thought that his may be a clever way to make the kids get all of the dirty laundry done before the New Year, however once I heard that it was not a clean start to the year, I believe it has more to do with this. I think it reflects the idea of a clean slate, making sure that the New Year is started fresh without the trials and tarnishes from the previous year. I think it symbolizes a lot more than what it first sounds like. Having a clean house and clean clothes to enter the New Year allows the family to ease into the year without having to deal with the problems from the past. The clothes can be seen as past year occurrences that need to be washed away before the New Year. I think that the fact his mother makes him search through the entire house, which he emphasized telling me that even socks or pillowcases were included, shows her strong belief in it. It is obviously a big stress reliever for her as well, since entering the New Year the house is clean and she does not have to do the laundry.

Ritual

For New Year’s Dinner, everyone in my family must eat collard greens and black eyed peas. Collard greens symbolize money, and therefore promote a good financial start to the New Year. I don’t quite remember what the black eyed peas represent, but we always eat them every year.

Notes:

This subject in particular had a lot of different customs revolving around New Year’s Day. He said that this meal was served every year for New Year’s dinner because it helped to promote a good start to the year. He explained the importance and symbolization of the collard greens as representing money, and thus a great start to the New Year. He said that black-eyed peas were also served every year but that he couldn’t remember what they stood for exactly.

There are many different rituals centered around the New Year, and although this one seems new, I believe that there are many more like it. The whole idea behind the New Year rituals is to make the next year the best in every way possible. I think that this dinner represents just that. The food is meant to represent money, which is a common theme among many New Years traditions. Money is often wished or hoped for, and symbolized for good luck in many different occasions. My guess for the black-eyed peas is that they symbolize another good luck charm for the New Year, something along the lines of good health. I think that the most important part of this tradition is that it is repeated every year and that the family comes together for this celebration. New Year’s Day in regard to American households is not considered the most family-oriented holiday, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, therefore this ritual makes it possible for the family to celebrate the past year together and start a new one together as well.

Superstition – Brazilian

Well, my mom does not put her purse on the floor because it is a commonly believed Brazilian tradition that if you put your purse on the floor, your money will disappear. And trust me she really believes and follows this. She says my grandma believes the same.

Notes:

I encountered this superstition twice in my collection. First this subject said it was a Brazilian superstition and the subject told me that his mom and grandmother followed it, and that they believed that if you set your purse on the ground than your money would disappear. He said that his mother never sets her purse on the floor for fear of this.

I think that this superstition could possibly stem from an idea that the ground is the lowest point, and setting something as important as money down on the ground is sort of careless and disrespectful. I also think that his version could have something to do with lower mythology, and perhaps setting the purse on the floor makes it easier for trolls to come and steal the money and thus it would disappear.

The second time I encountered the subject said that it is a popular belief in Mexican culture not to set your purse on the ground, saying that it is considered bad luck because you will not receive any money. She was not sure of the exact reason why it had to do with the ground or anything, but that all of the women in her family followed it.

I think that his version is much like the first in regard to the disrespect and carelessness by setting your purse on the floor. For this I think that the ground being low has more to do with the bad luck aspect, as the setting the purse on the floor makes it seem as though you don’t care about the money. Maybe the idea is that the fact that you are so careless and therefore you will not receive any money.

I think its interesting to see the difference between the two variants, one has the idea that you will not receive any money and the other is that the money you have will disappear. I looked up the superstition on the internet but could not find anything that stated why or the origin of it.

Superstition – University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California

Don’t shave on Game-day. (with reference to USC football)

Notes:

The subject told me that its bad luck to shave (a guy’s face) on game day, saying that the team you were rooting for would lose. This is a huge superstition on USC campus, due to the obsession with USC’s football team. The subject is a member of the Trojan Marching Band and stated that this is a widely held belief for the band as well as most students on campus. When he told me this superstition a few other guys were around and he pointed at one and said you shaved when he played Oregon State (USC lost the football game this past season (06-07) to an unranked Oregon State). The guy quickly denied it, as if he wanted to deflect the blame of losing the game. It was obvious that they both believed and followed this tradition. The subject however was not sure how it started or why it only referred to shaving but swears it works.

I had never of this superstition before coming to USC, but that could be because all of the sports at my high school were not amazing. I think that this ritual definitely has a lot to do with the university and its tie to athletics, in particular to football. I do not think that the act of shaving itself has a lot to do with the custom, other than the fact that it is an everyday occurrence for men, and skipping it implies that they are doing something special. I think that if there were other things men did as often as shave, other than bathing, eating and sleeping, they would be equal contenders as to this ritual. I did find it interesting that both boys were so into the custom, and that the accused one was so quick to deny the comment. It really showed how fervently they followed the superstition.

Superstition – Mexican

If you talk back to your mother, your hand will fall off.

Notes:

The subject told me that when she was young her mother told her a lot of different superstitions to get her to behave. One of the ones she used the most often was the above, which was about talking back to your mother and how your hand will fall off as a result. I asked her why it was the hand, and she said it came from the idea that if you raise your hand at her, then you will be punished by losing your hand. She did not know the origins of the saying exactly, however it was not only her mother who used it, as another subject said that her mother would say it to her as well. I asked if the superstition prevented her from talking back to her mother, and she said that for awhile it really scared her, but as she grew older she began to realize that it was not true and ignored it.

I think that this superstition is clearly created to keep children in line. At first I did not see the connection between losing a hand and talking back to your mother, however after she clarified it, explaining the act of raising your hand at your mother it made much more sense. I think that this idea of behaving towards your parents reflects the common Mexican tradition of respecting your elders. Mexican culture is very community and family-oriented, where the grandmother and grandfather expect to be taken care of by their sons and daughters, often residing in the same house. To typical Americans this sound preposterous, however Mexican tradition puts a high value on the elders and their wisdom. This idea that talking back to your mother would cause you physical harm is not so much about the harm as it is about teaching the child to respect their parents and eventually to care for them in the future.