Author Archives:

Mexico: Day of the Death

Informant: Día de los Muertos, which translates to Day of the Death, is one of the biggest holidays in all of Mexico. Basically, the holiday is a celebration of the dead so it works as an opportunity for people to pay homage to the ones they have lost. Even though the holiday revolves around dead, it’s very joyous. 

Collector: Are there any special rituals or traditions you do during this time? 

Informant: Oh yeah so many. You need an altar and in the altar you usually put pictures of your loved ones along with some of their favorite foods and items. You then adorn everything with marigold and make a little walkway so that the spirits can find the altar. Supposedly the spirits of the dead come back that night to visit their families, so the marigold leads them to their corresponding altar. The foods and items the family puts up serves as a tribute to the dead and as a gift for when they “visit.” 

Collector: Do you remember how you were introduced to the holiday? 

Informant: Everyone in Mexico celebrates it and they teach it at school so I’ve literally known about it ever since I was born. 


Day of the Death is an extremely popular and sacred holiday in Mexico. It is interesting to see the recognition it has gotten lately, with movies like Pixar’s Coco. My favorite part about this holiday is that it chooses to embrace death. The holiday literally revolves around the spirits of the death and the afterlife. The fact that death and family are such an integral part of one of the main holidays in Mexico says a lot about Mexican culture. For starters, it demonstrates how family oriented Mexico is. The whole point of Día de los Muertos is that your altar will allow your dead family members to see you again. It also demonstrates Mexicans relationship with death. They’re not necessarily frightened by death, but instead, take it to be a natural part of life and view it as a different cycle.

The use of the marigold is crucial to this holiday and demonstrates how culture heavy Día de los Muertos is. These flowers were sacred to the Aztecs, and are used throughout all of Mexico as an homage to Mexican culture and roots. The fact that they take center stage in one of Mexico’s most important holidays shows just how culturally relevant the marigold is. It is a reminder of Mexico’s past and a flower representative of the country.

I think Día de los Muertos is an amazing holiday that relies heavily on culture and family. I love the approach that the holiday takes towards death and I can understand why this was such a prominent part of the informant’s life; he claims that he has been surrounded by Día de los Muertos festivities ever since he was born. It sounds like a very joyous holiday where one is supposed to celebrate life through death. Even though death is a crucial aspect of this holiday, there is nothing sorrowful or scary about it. Instead, it’s about remembering and maintaining a connection with our loved ones and the people who have passed on.

Brazil: Saci

Informant: I really like myths and Brazilian myths were such a big part of my childhood that many of them have stuck with me throughout the years. This myth is  about Saci and the first time I looked into it was after watching the Disney movie “Aladdin,” which was one of my favorties growing up. Saci is basically a Brazilian figure that is a one-legged mulatto and smokes a pipe. He has a magical cap that lets him disappear and reappear and if you catch him or steal his hat he will grant you a wish. The reason why I was drawn to the myth of Saci after watching “Aladdin” was because of the genie that appears in the movie. Even though they are completely different magical creatures, both grant you a wish so Saci kind of reminded me of the genie. 

Collector: So you heard about Saci before or after watching “Aladdin”? 

Informant: Well I already had a vague idea of Saci before watching “Aladdin” but it wasn’t until I watched the movie that I started researching into the myth and became attracted to it. 

Collector: And from where had you heard about Saci before watching “Aladdin”? 

Informer: From other kids at school. It wasn’t uncommon for kids to speak about myths and a lot of times we would research them at school. However, I wasn’t really interested in the Saci myth until I was able to relate it to the movie. I guess this was because “Aladdin” was such a popular movie and seeing it made me realize the similarities that the myths used there had with the ones in Brazil. 


This interview was an interesting one. Saci and the genie in Aladdin are completely different, and the informer is aware of this. However, he claims that the reason why he was able to relate both figures was because both of them grant wishes. Aladdin is based on folklore so it was amazing to see how one piece of folklore can lead a person to be interested in another piece of folklore. In this case, the informant already had a vague idea about Saci but was never drawn to the mythological figure until he saw “Aladdin.” He claims it had something to do with Aladdin’s popularity and how it made him realize the similarities between folklore from one culture and folklore from another one. Another important thing to take note of is that Saci has a tendency to disappear and reappear. To me, this sounds like Saci is presented as a trickster. This imagery is not uncommon to encounter in myths and tales, which goes to further show the overlap that occurs between different pieces of folklore.

This is definitely not uncommon in folklore; there is often a lot of overlap between the myths, legends, and stories of one culture and another. The beauty of folklore is how one piece of folklore can lead to the interest in another. This was definitely the case with this informant. As for the myth itself, it manages to represent different aspects of Brazilian cultures. The informer claimed that Saci was mulatto, and this is something that might resonate with the population of Brazil since it is composed of people from many different places.

Russia: Snail Song

Informant: There’s this song me and my childhood friends used to sing in order to get a snail to come out of its shell. It went something like “snail snail bring your bull horns out, and go to the puddle and drink warm water and then go to the river and drink cloudy water.” We used it as kind of a game. Like we would go to the garden and find snails and then sing to them. Whoever could get their snail to come out first would win. It was very entertaining and fun. I remember doing this since I was a child and I think I learned the song at the playground in school. 


I thought this piece of folklore was really cute and relatable. It demonstrates how folk music is often used as a way of entertainment and as a way to create games. It also delineates the social power of folk music. In the informant’s case, it was a way to make friends at school during the playground. Therefore, there is definitely a social factor involved in folk music that creates a sense of community. Furthermore, folk music can also help establish relationships. It it a shared experience, and this example proves that by demonstrating how music transcends and becomes an activity.

I also think it is interesting how the lyrics of the song is coherent with the activity. The point is to get a snail to come out of its shell, and the lyrics reflect such a goal. This would explain why the informant was so specific when explaining when she would sing the song. There is a specific purpose to the song that encourages kids to participate in the ensuing activity.

Brazil: Iara

Informant: The myth of Iara is known throughout most of Brazil. I have been hearing it since I was a child because they used to teach it at school. I think it originated from Tupi mythology. The word Iara literally means “lady of the lake” and the myth tells the story of a beautiful mermaid with green hair and brown skin. According to the story, she would sit on a rock and brush her hair. When any men came by, she would start singing as a way to lure them into the water. The man would instantly fall in love with her and leave his life behind to go live with her underwater, where she would take care of him. The reason why she’s able to have so many lovers is because she’s supposedly immortal, so every time one of the men would die she would replace him with another. It was very common to hear this myth in school. All of my friends were familiar with it so I grew up listening to this myth. 


This myth is very similar to most mermaid mythology. It reminded me a lot about the sirens from Greek mythology with the exception that Iara does not kill her lovers but instead takes care of them. Tupi mythology is part of the Guaraní people, who live in the south-central part of South America. Therefore, this myth is definitely regional which would explain why the informant heard and learned it through school.

The fact that Iara does not kill her lovers but instead takes care of them until they die is extremely interesting. This might be Iara’s way to deal with loneliness. She finds someone to love and once they are gone she replaces them. At the end of the day, this myth is one about love and its approach to love is unique despite the common trope it contains, such as the image of the mermaid. It basically states that companionship is an inherent part of love and life. Iara keeps on luring the men because it makes her happy to have someone and provides respite from her immortality and lonely life. This brings another interesting point; it showcases immortality as a curse rather than a blessing. It is because Iara is immortal that she feels the need to keep on luring men. Hence, immortality is equated with loneliness. Such undercurrents to the myth are an important aspect of Brazilian culture, which explains why Iara is such a popular piece of folklore in this region.

Taiwan: Kumquat Soup

Informant: Every time my brother or I would get sick, our mother would boil kumquat with sugar. She would make like a soup out of it and make us drink it. According to her, it was really good for our throats and could cure our flu. 

Collector: Has she been doing this since you were a baby? 

Informant: Yes. She learned it from her mother and has always claimed that it is the perfect remedy for a soar throat or runny nose. 

Collector: And does it work?

Informant: Yeah. I always feel better after taking it. It’s just very soothing. So I don’t know how much medical validity it has but I always feel better after having taken it. 

Collector: Do you still use this recipe even though you don’t live at home. 

Informant: Always. Every time I feel sick with the flu I make it for myself. I even make it for my friends when they’re sick. 


I think folk medicine is extremely interesting because it gets passed down from parents to children. I do think that there are medicinal properties to the ingredients being used, but I think the main thing about home remedies are the comfort they provide. It is such comfort which I believe make people feel better; the home remedy may in fact be useless, but the comfort is brings provides a certain relief. I think this is the case with this informant. She claims that her mother has been making it for her and her brother ever since they were babies. Therefore, it would make sense that the recipe is a source of comfort that instantly makes her feel connected to home and, thus, physically better.

The kumquat plant is native to south Asia and the Asian-Pacific coast. Hence, it makes sense that this would be the main ingredient used in a Taiwanese household. This demonstrates how the region and location of a society is extremely important in defining folklore, especially when it comes to folk medicine which relies heavily on regional vegetation. Kumquats have a lot of antioxidants, vitamin B, and mineral such as calcium and potassium. Therefore, it can be argued that this folk medicine contains a certain degree of validity due to the natural properties of the main ingredient.

I love hearing about home remedies and I’m very curious to try this out. The informant sounded confident in the healing powers of kumquats and it’s very interesting to see how the recipe has been maintained by her through her college years.