Author Archives: Sophia Meyer

International Women’s Day in Georgia

[T:] 8th of March, International Women’s Day, is huge in Georgia. My grandma was just telling me about it…like she parked in a no-parking zone and came out and they were giving her a ticket and she was like, “Guys…it’s the 8th of March” like they let women get away with anything. It’s tradition to give everyone violets, all of the women, and they’re wild violets they’re really pretty but they’re always wrapped with string so it’s very natural, straight out of the earth kind of thing. You have to give every woman you love that…the men particularly.

[Me]: Do you have any idea why, of all the things you could do to celebrate, why violets wrapped with string?

[T]: It’s called აი ია [pronounced “ai ia”] in Georgian, and I don’t know the exact, or if there is even like an exact thing but it’s…from the very beginning we have this book of alphabets…and it’s called აი ია which translates to this violet…or there’s a violet or something, so that’s the first one…it’s like ‘a’ is for apple, ‘b’ is for blah blah, so that’s how they start it with აი ია so it’s just very associated with beginnings and the first bloom of spring and everything new and very pure.

T is a 19 year old USC student who grew up in Tbilisi, Georgia. Prior to the “official” start to the interview, I asked if she had any Georgian-specific festival traditions that she would be open to sharing with me, and the above conversation ensued.

Although most of the world celebrates March 8th as International Women’s Day, these specific modes of celebration speak to the way that Georgian culture views women, and how those views are tied into even the more trivial aspects of their lives. T’s use of the word “pure” is particularly interesting to me; the violet represents women to Georgians because it plays a role in their alphabet book that they’ve known since childhood—it’s the first symbol to appear in the book and thus symbolizes new beginnings and rebirth. This kind of rhetoric has followed women for a long time—throughout many cultures and eras—but the fact that it’s tied to something so important as the alphabet book that every Georgian child has read and will read forever makes me wonder about what other aspects of sociocultural tradition are ingrained in other parts of the Georgian lifestyle.

One other aspect from this interview I wanted to touch on was T’s comment that women can “get away with anything” on March 8th. This very much reminded me of conversations we’ve had in lecture about “ritual inversion” being a big part of a lot of festival celebrations around the world—Halloween and Mardi Gras, to name some of the more well-known examples. On International Women’s Day in Georgia, they essentially participate in ritual inversion; it may not be “official,” but there’s a general understanding that the normal rules of social or legal engagement do not apply to women on this day. As women are more often than not seen as the “weaker,” “fairer,” or “lesser” sex, it’s no surprise that this is one of the ways that IWD is celebrated. It gives women a reprieve from the near-constant pressure and simply being a women in the modern world and allow them a day of peace—and maybe even a bit of mischief.

Georgian Funeral Traditions

[T]: Funerals…I hated those things. They’re usually first held in whoever dies…their house. There’s usually a casket, usually an open casket in the living room and everyone and their mother literally has to show up or else you’re the most disgraceful thing known to humankind so there’s like hundreds of people and you know that someone’s died because you walk or drive past the street and there’s hundreds of people going in and out of the apartment building.

[Me]: Is it everybody in the community or just everybody that ever knew the person?

[T]: Everyone that ever knew the person basically…word gets around. And then…you have to typically wear black, you go in straight faced and when you walk into the living room you have to…there’s like all the women that were closely related to the deceased person sitting in a circle around the open casket and then you have to walk in a circle around the casket and look in…which is really traumatizing and then you say your condolences to everyone and typically in like more the villages and the outer areas of Georgia, the women weep loudly…that’s another thing they audibly weep the whole time and the louder they weep the more it shows that they loved the person. After you do that round you turn around and leave and go outside and usually people stand outside and have a drink or two and then they leave.

Day two of celebrations is when you have a huge feast, but that’s a little more intimate. It’s usually only like 100 people as opposed to like a thousand.

[Me]: Is there anything that you characteristically make for this feast? Like a food staple? Does everyone bring something or does the family of the deceased make everything?

[T]: Typically all of our feasts are the same cuisine…just a lot of typical Georgian food: a lot of meats, fish, grains, because grains are tied to the earth and holiness, a lot of greens and spinach and nuts…our typical feast tradition is that is has to look as though no one’s touched it so it has to be a lot of food…like mountains of food and especially when you’re honoring the dead it has to look like no one’s touched it so it’s a sign of respect.

[Me]: Do any of these funeral rites have official titles or are they just understood to be done when someone dies?

[T]: Oh yeah the viewing is called გასვენება [pronounced “gasveneba”] which kind of translates to “letting them rest” or “resting them away” and then…oh no, the first part is called პანაშვიდი [pronounced “panashvidi”] and the second part is called გასვენება [pronounced “gasveneba”] which is when they take them…there’s a bunch of people that drive to the church and then to the graveyard where they’re buried. Part 3 is the feast which is called the ქელეხი pronounced “qelekhi”], don’t know what that translates to but that’s what it’s called.

Translation Key:

გასვენება – pronunciation: gasveneba – literal translation: “letting them rest” – English equivalent: wake

პანაშვიდი – pronunciation: panashvidi – literal translation: ? – English equivalent: funeral

ქელეხი – pronunciation: qelekhi – literal translation: ? – English equivalent: funeral feast

T is a 19 year old USC student who grew up in Tbilisi, Georgia. Prior to the “official” start to the interview, I asked if she had any Georgian-specific wedding, funeral, or other ritual traditions that she would be open to sharing with me, and the above conversation ensued.

There’s a lot of insight into Georgian culture from these funeral traditions. From the expectation of women weeping loudly at the wake to the abundant feast, it’s clear that the community places a lot of emphasis on paying respect to the deceased in traditional ways. The way that T describes the foods present at the qelekhi (ქელეხი) also speak to the overarching themes the culture and community value: connections to the Earth and holiness. T is a close friend of mine, and from other conversations we’ve had I know that outside of the capital city of Tbilisi, the villages are rather poor, very religious, and close-knit—these funeral traditions absolutely reflect that fact. Funerals represent, for a lot of cultures, a transition in identity for the deceased as they leave their place amongst the living and join the dead; I would have to do more research to be sure, but these traditions seem to indicate that in Georgian culture, people who have died are still very much a part of the community—just in a different way.


[L]: For weddings, we always have like specific instruments for like the ceremony. We have tabals, which are a certain kind of drum that will be at every wedding, every Lebanese wedding reception. There’s also the darbuka which is another type of drum and then there’s also a little like flute…I don’t really know what it’s called but if you googled “lebanese flute” you could find it. [I did google it, and it’s called a zamour] And those three instruments are essential for Lebanese weddings.

[Me]: Do you happen to know why?

[L]: Well those are just the instruments that are used for all parties, aka hafle, but those instruments are just like at the center of almost all like party music and they’ve all been used in the region forever. You’ll find variations of those instruments in every other country in the Middle East..but yeah.

[Me]: Are there particular types of songs that they play? Or even a particular mood or tone or rhythm of them?

[L]: Usually very upbeat, um, and the mood or rhythm…there’s a very iconic Lebanese party music if you look up Faris Karam, he’s a very….iconic singer and his songs will always be at weddings. There’s also a dance that we do called dabke and we do that at all of our parties and weddings.

L is 20 years old and a student at USC. She grew up in Michigan, but spent most summers in Lebanon with family. Her dad grew up in Lebanon and immigrated to the United States in his early 20s, and her mom grew up in the United States in a Lebanese immigrant family. L has been to multiple Lebanese weddings—though only in the United States—so this information comes from her first-hand experiences as well as her general knowledge of Lebanese culture from her upbringing. 

I was fortunate enough to attend a USC Lebanese, Egyptian, Persian club crossover event with L very shortly after conducting this interview, and was able to experience and witness dabke first-hand. The dance didn’t make an appearance until about 2 hours had gone by of vibrant Arabic music blasting all around, but when it did surface, it was unstoppable. There was no distinction between those of Lebanese or Egyptian or Persian origin, this was a moment of people coming together to perform a dance that they knew as well as their own names. The most wonderful part of dabke, in my humble opinion, is that it works in a similar fashion to a conga line—participants can keep joining at the end of the chain—but instead of being linear, the front of the line begins to spiral inward to create a sort of pinwheel of people, all holding hands and united in dance. It makes perfect sense that this would be a dance performed at weddings and other celebrations alike—upon doing a little bit of research, I found that the dance has ties to community, family bonding, and resilience: “A simple message of locking arms together, stomping to the ground, and singing or chanting has left a deep mark in the culture…it unifies us against our oppressor” (Dabke Dance: A Shared Tradition of the Levant). Dabke is a folk dance known well in regions like Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, where people live and die by their connections to their family and community. Speaking to the specific wedding performance of dabke, a wedding is a liminal period in one’s life, and thus a dance promoting and encouraging resilience and unity would serve to reassure the newlyweds and make sure that they know they have the strength and love of the community behind them. All in all, dabke is a beautiful manifestation of the dearly held beliefs, ideals, and traditions of both Lebanese and other middle-eastern cultures.

Swedish Christmas Traditions

[E]: During Christmas we have a bunch of Swedish traditions…we eat a lot of food…i’m not gonna say the food is great, it’s more traditional food. It’s fish, peas, potatoes, it’s very…you know…viking. But we do this celebration before we end up opening presents which is always on Christmas Eve and we all hold hands and the person in the front, who’s usually the oldest person in my family so it’s always my grandmother, we all hold hands in a line and sing this song and dance around the house and we go into every single room in the entire house singing this song. It’s basically just talking about how it’s a new year and we’re ridding the house of any negative spirits from the year before or any negative auras, like saying a room but everyone’s in there and we’re all singing together. So then we go back to the kitchen and we wrap around this island in the kitchen and we pass around this big…what’s it called…pitcher of beer and you pass it around to every person next to you and they do that in Sweden to make sure that nobody poisoned the beer because that would be the beer that they’d drink from for the whole night. You say these things, it’s a bunch of Swedish words that mean “can I drink this? Yes you can drink this! Cheers” and cheers is skol.

E is a 20 year old college student who grew up in Pasadena, CA and has grown up visiting her family in Sweden often. She is also very close to her grandmother, who was born and raised in Sweden and who has passed a lot of knowledge down to E.

Based on this interview, it’s easy to see that these Swedish Christmas traditions are deeply tied to Swedish history, ideals, and customs. E refers to the traditional Christmas food as “viking,” indicating that she sees a direct connection between Sweden’s long history and the present. The ritual of going through each room of the house while singing represents a belief in the importance of cleansing and renewal, and the idea of starting the new year with a clean slate. I’d be interested in further exploring what E meant when she talked about “negative spirits,” specifically whether or not she actually believes that there are metaphysical spirits or if that’s just the tradition that’s been passed down. Additionally, the act of passing the pitcher around to make sure that no one has poisoned the beer shows a level of trust and community spirit, as well as a wariness of potential dangers—likely established over a long period of time, when people used to be legitimately poisoned at such gatherings. All in all, these Christmas traditions show that modern Swedish customs and celebrations are very connected to the physical and cultural history of the nation and its people.

La Llorona

[A]: La Llorona is a classic Mexican myth, and the myth is that a woman that had two children she loses them…or they get killed…or she kills them…or something like that and for the rest of her life she’s a spirit that roams around the streets screaming, “Ay mis hijos,” and people would hear it and when people would hear her scream everyone would rush into their house so that she wouldn’t take their kids, that’s the idea that she could take your kids if you’re not looking after them…so yeah

[Me]: Is it just a well-known thing or did your parents throw that at you when you weren’t coming inside?

[A]: Oh actually I don’t know! It seems like something they definitely would have done but I can’t say for certain that I remember that happening…It was definitely a well-known thing though and on Dia de los Muertos they would tell her story at school 

When I asked A if he could think of any tales, legends, or myths from his childhood that he’d like to tell me about, the first thing he said was, “Well there’s La Llorona of course,” like it was the most common thing in the world. Had we not discussed this legend in class, I would’ve had no idea what he was talking about because it’s not folklore from a community that I belong to; however, La Llorona was so deeply woven into A’s background that I don’t think it would have occurred to him that I might not have known the story beforehand. This begs the bigger question in the discussion of how folklore influences the filter through which we see the world, like how almost all American folklore echoes the future-orientation of the vast majority of Americans. Although the published La Llorona legend that we looked at in class had implications for motherhood and gender roles, A interprets the legend as a warning to kids to listen to their parents so they don’t get kidnapped. It’s more than likely that certain pockets of Mexican communities have adapted the “traditional”—and I use that word in the loosest sense possible—La Llorona legend to fit their child-rearing needs.