Author Archives: Shay Thiede

USC Football Superstitions – kick the lamp post


NC: “Before a football game, when you are walking to the Coliseum, you have to kick the lamp post right before you leave campus or else USC will have bad luck in the game. I have no idea where that comes from, but my friend told me on our way to one of the first football games we went to our freshman year. We saw a bunch of other people doing it too, so we did it. Now, I always do it because I don’t want to curse the team with bad luck. It’s like subconscious, I mean I’m not superstitious about anything else, but I always do it without fail before the game. You only do it before football games too, nothing else.”


NC is a undergraduate student at USC. She is 20 years old, and she is a sophomore. She is from Seattle, Washington, and did not most of USC traditions before coming to the school. She originally learned of this superstition in the fall of her freshman year. She does not know the origins of this tradition. I collected this superstition in person and recorded her to transcribe what she stated.


University of Southern California, as do many old and large universities, has many traditions that are passed on through new students in each incoming class. Often, the origins of these traditions are lost over the years, as is the case with this superstition. USC has a very large culture that is very specific to the people who are a part of the community, especially regarding football. These might be hand gestures, songs, objects, or in this case, superstitions. Even though many people who attend this school are not superstitious people by nature, they still partake in this game day good luck action. Kicking a lamp post for luck is not based in reason, and probably seems silly to people who are not a part of the community, as is common with superstitions. However, the desire to be a part of the community and partake in rituals nudges people to take part in a superstition they might initially think is illogical. As a person begins to feel the belonging associated with partaking in certain ritual experiences, the person is more and more likely to do the act associated with the superstition, until they believe in the truth of the superstition themselves, essentially causing an illusionary truth effect. This superstition clearly shows cultural influence on a person’s personal beliefs.

Russian Superstition – itchy ears


LM: ” If your ears or nose are itchy, that means that someone is talking about you. If they are hot, then they are talking ill towards you. I remember both my mother and my grandmother telling me this. My grandmother was from Russia, and she always told me it was a Russian superstition, which meant it was true. I don’t really remember if anyone outside of my family said this, but I know I always told it to my children.”


I was told this superstition by my grandmother, LM. She is 83 years old and lives in California. She is of Russian decent, and this superstition she says is Russian. I remember her telling me this on numerous occasions growing up, usually when I said I was itchy, or specifically my nose/ears were itchy. She shared this information with me in an over the phone interview.


This is a superstition that has been passed along through each generation of the family. When my informant learned about this superstition it was presented to her as fact, and she believes it to this day, even if it has no logical or scientific reasoning. Usually, superstitions like this are believed without any proof, especially if many people within the culture believe it or it was taught to them while a person was a child. Superstitions are often even subconscious beliefs, like avoiding walking under ladders. Usually there is some supernatural or spiritual component that grants good or bad luck. That is not the case here, but in other iterations of this superstition, the person with itchy will have good luck if they can guess who is talking about them right. However, this is not the version that LM learned or believes. This superstition has a lot of multiplicity and variation amongst the various cultures that it is found in. It is also interesting that LM’s grandmother believes that only Russian superstitions are true, whereas other culture’s superstitions are silly or false. Often, the cultural specificity of a superstition or folk belief plays a significant role in a person’s willingness to believe in the superstition or not. Because the superstition is “Russian,” LM’s grandmother believes it because it connects her to her culture, even if the superstition did not originate in Russia.

St. Patrick’s Day – holiday practices


KT: “So St. Patrick’s Day is definitely a holiday. It’s a pretty popular holiday in the US and think in Ireland now too, but we celebrate it more traditionally American maybe. We [her family] usually try to go to mass. Sometimes it’s hard for you guys [her kids] because of school, but I always try to go if I can. It’s a Holy Day of Obligation, so technically you are required to go to mass. We also always wear green of some kind. I still jokingly pinch people if they aren’t in green, especially if they come to my house for dinner, they know better. St. Patrick’s Day is always during Lent, so when it falls on a Friday in Lent, it’s nice because there is no fasting on St. Patrick’s Day. We usually have dinner with the whole family. As you know, me, your grandmother, and your aunt always make corned beef, cabbage, and boiled potatoes. There’s also usually lots of good drinking going on too.”

Me: “Why do you make those dishes specifically?”

KT: “It’s what my family has always had. I mean even growing up that what’s we had. I know it’s a pretty cheap dish, which my family was pretty poor growing up, so it was kind a cheap meal, but still special. I mean it’s pretty famously what you eat on St. Patrick’s Day, but I think it had something to do with when all the poor Irish immigrants fled to America, it was what they could afford to celebrate with. Your dad and his family never celebrated much when he was little, so it’s pretty much the meal now. I like to keep the traditions the same.”

Me: “Did you ever go to bars to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?”

KT: “Probably when I was younger. When I lived in New York I could barely afford to fly home for Christmas and such, so me and your dad usually celebrated with friends in the city. I’m sure we went out to bars and stuff, as young people do, but it was always more of a religious and family centered holiday when I was growing up. We also watched the parade when we [KT and her husband] lived in the city, but we don’t really do that so much now. I didn’t really do it when I was younger either. As you know, now we obviously celebrate at home with a big family [aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.] dinner.”


KT is a 59 year old from California. She is from Irish descent, as well as Catholic. Therefore, for her St. Patrick’s Day is both a cultural holiday practice and a religious holiday practice. I gathered this information in an interview that I recorded and then transcribed.


St. Patrick is an interesting holiday because its many different practices hold many different origins. Most of the practices were popularized by Irish immigrants in the United States, rather than in Ireland. For example, corned beef and cabbage is a distinctly American custom that was started by Irish immigrants, which now serves a traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal. However, some aspects of the holiday practice, especially when religious in nature, stem from Ireland, such as going to mass to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, on his feast day. Feast days celebrates and venerates saints, usually on the day the died. The practice of St. Patrick’s in the United States developed to celebrate Irish culture. It is an interesting case of acculturation, as many traditional ways of celebration have been forgone and the more commercial aspects, such as parades, dyeing the river green, and bar crawls have overtaken to become what the holiday is popularly known for. In many ways, the holiday has become a sort of tourist attraction to Irish culture, one that is usually incorrect, a parody of, or an over exaggeration. Even so, for people from Irish or Catholic cultures, this day is often celebrated differently from the masses in order to give proper fidelity or honor to the cultural/religious holiday. While it is still a day of celebration, it is centered around family and worship, rather than parades or drinking. Therefore, the holiday practice varies widely based on the person who is celebrating because the cultural/religious holiday has become widely popularized and commercialized.

Wedding Bells – Irish wedding rituals


KT: “This is a wedding tradition that mostly comes from my dad’s side of the family [Irish heritage], but I did it at my wedding and I believe my mother did it at her and my father’s wedding too. So, after me and your dad left the church, all the guests rang little silver bells that were passed out before the ceremony. Bells are said to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck in a marriage. They also rang the church bells too if I remember correctly, which is pretty normal for church weddings. The guests got to keep the bells and they rang them as we can in for the reception too which was really pretty. I really liked that.”

Me: “Where did you learn about this wedding tradition?”

KT: “I learned about it from my parents, I think. Like I said, I think they did something similar at their wedding. Your grandmother isn’t Irish, but your grandfather is, so they incorporated some Irish traditions into the wedding. I think he must have learned it from his family because I think I remember my mom saying my uncle did the same thing at his wedding too.”

Me: “Do you know what generation American you are?”

KT: “Yes, so my dad’s dad came from Ireland. That means my grandfather and grandmother, which would make me a 2nd generation American, I think. So, I guess that tradition is probably pretty popular in Ireland, at least in our family. I don’t know anyone in Ireland, from our family or otherwise, so I don’t really know. It’s funny too because I don’t think my sister or brother did it at their ceremonies, I can’t really remember, but they both got married first, and my mother was insistent that I do it. My dad passed when I was three months old, but you know, my mom remarried, so I was the last of her kids from my real dad. I think that’s why she really wanted me to do it since I was the last one from that side of the family.

Me: “Did you incorporate any other family or cultural traditions into your wedding?”

KT: “Well we had a Catholic wedding ceremony, which has specific things to complete the Sacrament of Matrimony. I don’t know if we really have any other specific family traditions. Well, I guess besides the bells, that’s kind of a tradition now.”

Me: “Did it feel important to connect to your Irish heritage, and in a way your dad?”

KT: “Yeah, it was nice. I never really knew him, only my stepfather, so doing something like that I like to think my dad would have appreciated it. My stepfather was Irish too, so we still did a lot of Irish things and such growing up, but it was special because my real dad did it at his wedding.”

Context: KT is a 59 year old from California. She is of Irish decent. This wedding celebration was passed down to her from her parents, and she is unsure of how far back the tradition goes in her family, but it is a very popular wedding tradition in Ireland. She told me this story in-person, and I recorded it to transcribe.

Analysis: This is a relatively common Irish tradition, one that has influence in even non-Irish weddings. As my informant mentioned, even churches for non-Irish ceremonies have a practice of ringing the church bells after the ceremony is concluded. This Irish tradition has been acculturated into a religious tradition as well, in part, likely due to the strong religious ties in Ireland. This practice is directly linked to folk legends of fairies and spirits in Ireland, as the bells are to ward off evil spirits that could cause strife for the celebrations or the new couple. It is also important to note that this tradition was encouraged by KT’s mother to connect KT to her heritage and her father, even though it is not a practice from her culture [KT’s mother is Russian]. She wanted KT to connect to her culture and the important cultural practices. It was also a way that KT was able to remember her father and have a link to him on a very important day in her life, one that is centered around family. KT also mentions that she got married in a Catholic church, and in doing so, took part in the Sacrament of Matrimony. This is a religious tradition, which has its own set of specific rites that are completed. To receive this sacrament, certain things must be completed by the bride and groom, no matter what cultural background they are from, since it is purely religious in nature.

Russian recipes – Piroshkis, Borscht


KT: “There are a couple recipes that I have memorized and these three I learned from my grandmother, so your great-grandmother, who I am almost sure learned them from her mother. Your great-great grandmother came from to America from Russia, so that would make sense.”

Me: “Where did you first learn them?”

KT: “I have memories of learning them from her when I was probably around your age, maybe a little younger, when she lived out in Lancaster. I learned how to make piroshki, and both hot and cold borscht from her. My mother knows how to make them too, so I’m sure I also made them with her, but I distinctly remember make them in my grandmother’s little kitchen with her.”

Me: “What are the traditional dishes called and how do you make them?”

KT: “Well piroshkis are kind of like little loaves of bread that are fried and filled with meat and rice. Your dad likes when I make those the most. My favorite is borscht. I know how to make both hot and cold borscht, which are kind of similar. They are both made with beats and cabbage, just one of them is a cold soup and one is a hot soup.”

Me: “How do have the recipe, is it hand-written or is it in a cookbook?”

KT: “I might have them written down somewhere, but I just have them memorized, so I never need to look up how.”


KT is a 59 year old woman from California. Her, her mother, and her grandmother have all lived here for most of their lives. Her great-grandmother immigrated from Russia and brought these recipes with her, which have been passed down the generations. She has the recipes memorized, so does her mother and grandmother. Usually, she or the other women in the family make all the meals, traditional or otherwise, for family gatherings. She still makes these recipes regularly. I have eaten all three of these dishes that she has prepared, but I do not know how to make them. She told me this in an in-person interview that I recorded and later transcribed.


These three dishes are traditional recipes from Eastern Europe that have been collected and stored matrilineally. Cooking holds a special significance because it is a way to stay connected to older family members, a person’s culture, or enjoy foods that remind a person of their family/childhood. It is something that is often taught to a younger family member by an older or more experienced family member. Usually, these recipes are shared (especially in the 21st century) when a person is first entering young adulthood. Cooking is often viewed, especially historically, as a part of the domestic sphere which regulated it to a women’s role in the household. This means that much of traditional cooking is preserved through the women in a family line or culture. We can see the structure of domestic ideologies of Eastern Europe through the preservation of cooking as a female role, even into the 21st century. Many of these recipes also have spread and gained popularity. Often, different Eastern European countries will have the same dishes by different names. However, these dishes have also gained popularity in several non-eastern European countries due to Russian diaspora. The countries have collected the dishes as their own, often under a significantly different name, when at various times in history huge swaths of the Russian or Eastern European populations left and settled in new areas, such as is the case with my informant’s great-grandmother in the United States.