Author Archives: Valentina Navarro-Marsili

“Crossed Fingers” Good Luck Necklace Pendant

Original Text: “My superstition or ritual I guess for getting good luck is this necklace my mom gave me for college auditions and it’s kind of just like a “crossing your fingers” pendant, like a little hand with crossed fingers for good luck. I rub it or touch it when I need luck. I feel like it has helped me because I got into my dream school, USC, and every time I wear it and touch it, it just feels like I’m getting good luck”

Context: The informant is 18 years old and studies musical theater at USC. Her family is Chinese, but she was raised in Singapore for most of her life. The informant was given this gold necklace with a crossed fingers charm by her mother for good luck during her college auditions. Her parents have “always supported my [her] pursuit of musical theater” and this necklace represents that. She always wears the necklace because it “means a lot” to her. She believes that the crossed fingers themselves amplify the luck already associated with the necklace.

Analysis: The necklace itself is fully gold, which in Chinese culture represents wealth, luck, and happiness. Her mom gifted her this piece of jewelry, which mirrors the common tradition of women gifting and passing down jewelry to each other that contain traditional knowledge, magic, or significance. Perhaps a man would not choose the same gift. The “crossed fingers” symbol that’s featured as a pendant is a common gesture for luck in Western culture and can be used to call on God for protection. Although this gesture is not uniquely Chinese or Singaporean, Singapore’s national language is English and the nation has a strong Western influence — explaining the luckiness of the “crossed fingers” for the informant and her family. 

The Magic of Wishing on 11:11

Original Text: INFORMANT: “I am a huge believer that 11:11 is good luck. When I was like in 8th grade, for anything that I really wanted, I would wait until exactly 11:11 and just think about my wish over and over again during the full minute. And I have several examples of those things actually coming true. When I was in 8th grade, I really wanted to get into a performing arts high school, and I wished on 11:11 every night and day after my auditions for it, and I got in! You have to do it for the full minute though, or else it wont work. And specifically 11:11 is the number that works, not any other numbers. Now I don’t do it as intensely, but like if I do see that it’s 11:11, I’ll think of something random to put out into the universe, because I think it will come back to me.”

Context: The informant is an 18-year-old female first year at USC. She is half-Indian and half-American. She firmly believes in karma and manifestation, and 11:11 is a tangible number with magical energy that she can use to manifest. The fact that it has brought her good things in the past further solidifies her belief in it. She does not recall where she learned this from but thinks she probably saw it online when she was in 8th grade. She still continues this magic ritual today.

Analysis: Wishing on 11:11 is a widely spread belief amongst many cultures, and cannot be pinned down to a single origin. Repeated numbers like 1111 are often called angel numbers, a belief rooted in numerology, which was supposedly invented by Pythagorus in Ancient Greece. It is believed that certain numbers have a specific vibration or magic that can be used to make things happen. Numerology is widely spread in India where the informant is from, but it has also worked its way into Western culture. 1111 has no specific meaning because different people have different thoughts on it, but it is generally agreed that it is a sign of growth, power, new beginnings, or spiritual support. Given these general meanings, it makes sense that the informant would use the particular magic energy of 1111 (versus other angel numbers) to channel into an arts high school acceptance, for example. Manifestation is also a popular belief in India. Posting 11:11 on your Snapchat story was a popular thing to do in 2016-2019 (ish) to bring about luck or love, which might have been an influence on the informant as an 8th grader during those years.

Right Foot First and say “דַּיֵּנוּ (Dayenu)”: Jewish Air Travel Ritual

Original Text Pt. 1: דַּיֵּנוּ

Transliteration: Dayenu

Translation: it would be enough/sufficient

Original Text Pt. 2: “I am a Jew, and before we get on a plane, we get on with our right foot and we say ‘dayenu’. If you don’t, the plane is going to blow up and you’re going to die. And that’s just always been the thing, I don’t know, I’ve done that every time I’ve ever gotten on a plane. Anytime I don’t do that or I forget, I spend the whole plane ride like ‘fuck, I’m going to die’. It’s just this cute little tradition we do in our family. My parents introduced it to me, and their parents probably introduced it to them.” 

Context: The informant is 18 years old, a first year at USC, and a Jewish female. “Dayenu” is a Hebrew word that holds significance in the Jewish community. The informant says her “parents introduced it” to her, and that her grandparents probably introduced it to them. The informant still practices this ritual today and feels distressed if/when she forgets to do it. It makes her feel connected to her family when traveling far away and to the larger Jewish community.

Analysis: “Dayenu” translates to “it would have been enough” in Hebrew. It is the name of a song traditionally sung at Passover. The song itself references all the gifts God gave the Jewish people, and that even if he had given them just one gift “it would have been enough”. Saying “dayenu” before traveling is a tradition in Jewish culture. Perhaps it is a way of giving thanks to God before embarking on a potentially dangerous journey for good conscience and protection. The right side is associated positively, while the left is associated negatively in Jewish culture, explaining why using the right foot to step onto the plane would magically give someone protection. This ritual has ancestral wisdom and the weight of religion behind it, which adds to why the informant trusts it and continues to practice it. 

Danielle Slutsky, and Misha Slutsky. “Dayenu with English Hebrew and Transliteration | Passover Haggadah by Danielle & Misha Slutsky.” Haggadot,

The Christmas Pickle: A Christmas Tradition

Original Text:

INFORMANT: “We do it at my own house, like the one that I live at, and then we also do it at my grandparent’s house. At my grandparent’s house, it’s a little bit more of a tradition because we all go there on Christmas day to celebrate. Before everyone arrives, only my dad hides the Christmas pickle in the tree.”

COLLECTOR: “Is it a real pickle?”

INFORMANT: No, it’s an ornament. But its the same ornament we have had forever. Its glass and shiny so it fits in with all the other ornaments. But, before everyone gets there, my grandfather hides it in the tree somewhere and he’s very good at it. And he never tells anyone where it is. And then we all get there on Christmas day, and when we are doing our presents after dinner on Christmas day, he usually announces that the pickle is in the tree and that there will be a prize for the first person to find it. There’s no time limit, but people start looking right away. Sometimes we can find it really fast, and sometimes we can’t. And then usually its my aunt who finds it, but last year I found it and it was a cash prize and snacks. Like 25 bucks. It’s fun, I don’t know.” 

Context: The informant is 19 years old and studies Theater at USC. Her and her family are of mixed European descent, and they have lived in Salem, Virginia for decades. The informant is not religious, but her family is Christian.  She learned the Christmas pickle tradition from her grandparents. She enjoys this tradition because “hiding the pickle and searching for it is childish, but it’s accepted and it gives you the opportunity to have young innocent fun”. She hates that “as you grow up, being a child becomes less and less acceptable”, but the tradition of the pickle is “a way to keep the holiday spirit alive”.

Analysis: The Christmas pickle tradition is rumored to original from Germany, but that theory has been disproven. Although Christmas is a secular holiday for many, the informants family is Christian, and having a fun tradition like the Christmas pickle is a way to bring the family closer together on this holy day. The fact that it takes place in her grandparents house allows for the different generations in the informants family to connect. In the rural town of Salem, Virginia, there isn’t a large mall with a Santa or a Christmas parade in the city to go to every year. Families are more inclined to make special traditions at home to keep the magic alive. The patriarch of the family, the informants grandfather, always has the privilege of hiding the pickle. The practice of searching for a magical object for a prize like the Christmas pickle mirrors other Christian holiday traditions like Easter eggs. 

Russian Greeting Ritual: Never Shake Hands Through a Doorway

Original Text: “My family has a lot of different customs. And a big part of Russian culture is in the greeting. Basically, whenever you greet someone you have to shake hands and make eye contact. That’s specifically for men like they shake hands. If it’s a man and a woman, you shake hands but more gently. If it’s two women they kiss on the cheek three times. But for men shaking hands, basically, you have to make eye contact, but a really interesting rule is that you cant greet someone through a doorway. You have to invite the person in before you make a greeting cuz it’s seen as bad luck. I learned this from my family, anytime I tried to hug someone or greet someone through the door, they would be like ‘No you have to bring them in and welcome them’”

Context: The informant is an 18-year-old first year at USC. He is from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but his family is from Russia. He learned this Russian greeting custom from his close and extended Russian family and still practices it today. He is a male, so he has participated in the man-man and man-woman greetings. It is a way that he can “relate” to his Russian family and show his love for his heritage, and of course not bring bad luck upon his family.

Analysis: In Russian culture it is bad luck to shake hands through a doorway, and people will refuse to shake your hand if you attempt it, just as the informant described. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the in-between space of the doorway, outside, and inside is a liminal space. A greeting cannot be properly given in a liminal space because of the magical bad luck that exists because of it. Shaking someone’s hand inside the home is a physical manifestation of the greeting due to the location of the handshake. Russian culture is patriarchal, therefore it makes sense that men would shake hands in a display of power versus kiss because shaking hands is not associated with sexuality or expressions of love. They also shake hands with women gently versus firmly because they are more fragile/dainty. Women kiss each other on the cheek, mirroring the emphasis on love and sexuality that permeates women’s lives as opposed to men.