Category Archives: Customs

Customs, conventions, and traditions of a group

Lintu lentää, liitää laataa, kiitää kaataa, hocus pocus pocus!

Informant Background:

My informant, KL, is my mother. Her father was born in Finland and immigrated to the United States as a young adult. She described this nursery rhyme that she remembers from growing up and then passed down to my sister and myself when we were very young.

Piece of Folklore:

Original Wording: “Lintu lentää, liitää laataa, kiitää kaataa, hocus pocus pocus!”

Translation: bird flying, soaring high, diving down, hocus pocus pocus!

This short lullaby would be accompanied with hand movements mimicking a bird flying overhead for the first half (the part spoken in Finnish), followed by the hand “diving down” to snatch the child as a meal, i.e. tickle the child’s stomach or chin during “hocus pocus pocus.”

Analysis:

            I remember giggling to this often as a child. In addition to the tickling itself, as the lullaby was repeated over the duration of my early childhood, there was an aspect of anticipation – I knew the tickling was coming, and so I would burst into laughter before I was even touched. From a larger cultural standpoint, the lyrics of the lullaby reflect a naturalistic element of Finnish culture. There is a concept of the Sielulintu, or soul-bird, which was thought to deliver souls to children when they were born and carry them away when they died, which may be related to this tradition.

Evil Eye

Main Piece. 

Informant: Yeah so in Turkey the evil eye, which is called I’m blanking on the name, it’ll come back to me. But it’s like yeah, it’s a form of protection. It protects you from you know, the evil but like more specific cases like if someone is like bad-mouthing you like talking behind your back that people in Turkey believe that if you have like an evil eye in your house or in your car or anything like it’ll protect you from-from things like that. You know it comes in different colors. It’s it’s-it’s supposed to be hung. Yeah, like in your car. People have bracelets rings they get tattoos of it. But in your home a lot of like Turkish like bazaars like the markets. They will hang it so they make like they put them in like birdhouses to like they put the evil eye design in like different like domestic objects, so that you can hang it it always has to be hanging that’s that’s something I mean, I guess like via tattoo then. I don’t know how that counts. But but in terms of like the jewelry or like the object itself, it has to be hanging because it like hangs like over you. So you want to hang it like above a door or like the entrance to your home like you walk in and it’s right there. 

Informants Relationship to the Piece. 

My informant was taught this by her parents and recalled a story of the time her mother had given her an evil eye for her car. 

Informant: When I first got my license, I was going to drive for the first time by myself in a car. She had me hang an evil eye chain on the front mirror as like protection and then when I got in a car accident, she actually was like ‘It’s because that was in your car and it protected you’, because I didn’t have any injuries. And it’s really crazy how people believe it. But my mom believes in it very much so and because of that, it’s like yeah, it’s really been passed on to me where I have one hanging right there (she points to her wall where she has a small evil eye chain-hung”

Context: 

The informant is one of my friends, a 20-year-old Turkish-American theatre major at the University of Southern California. I was told this as we were hanging out in her room after I asked her about some superstitions she believes in. 

Analysis:

I definitely grew up seeing a lot of my friends wear an evil eye and seeing vendors who sold jewelry that contained the symbol, but I never really knew what it meant, other than being a pretty symbol. I think it’s interesting how the main purpose of the evil eye is to protect you from people bad-mouthing you behind your back, but for my informants’ family it’s become a catch-all symbol for protection, especially for their children as they begin to leave the house and become more independent, the evil eye becomes a way for the parents to keep an “eye” on their children.

Pomegranate for New Years

Main Piece:

Informant: We crack a pomegranate on New Year’s Eve, or like as soon as it like midnight again, I don’t know why, like if I asked my mom she’d be like like this just something we have to do. I’m like, okay, cool. Yeah, like I’d guess pomegranates are a symbol of life and like a new beginning kind of which is why you crack it like, you know, at midnight for the new year. But no, she takes it very seriously too. So like, for example, this past New-New Years. It was just me my mom, my sister. My dad was at work and yeah, so we watched the ball drop in Times Square. And then my mom had a pomegranate ready, like a full one, like you don’t touch it at all. And what you do is you go to your front porch or like the entrance to your house or like, wherever you want something that’s like, again, like an entry. I feel like in Turkey that that’s a lot of important like entrances of like, you know, you start something new, so you want to do it at an entrance of your life or something like symbolizes, you know, like when you walk into your home, it’s not something new. It’s a new year. So anyways, we go to our front porch and you’ve just like hold the, the pomegranate the full thing in your hand and you just drop it and you have to have a crack if it doesn’t crack, you know, you just keep going. And then and then it’s like okay, yay. Like now the new year has officially begun. So for her it didn’t it doesn’t start till then and then you you know, clean up the shells. And as many of the seeds that didn’t touch that like the seeds that are still in the pomegranate. Obviously, you throw the ones that touch the ground out and then you eat the seeds.

Relationship to the piece:

“If we don’t do it, then it doesn’t feel like the start of a new year. It doesn’t feel like the past is behind us. Like something it just kind of like commemorates a new beginning and if we don’t do it, it’s like we’re still in the old year. Kind of thing.”

Context: 

The informant is one of my friends, a 20 year old Turkish American theatre major at the University of Southern California. I was told this as we were hanging out in her room after I asked her about some of the traditions she grew up with. 

Analysis:

I’d never heard of this tradition, but I feel like a lot of traditions surrounding the new year have to do with inviting in what you want for the New Year, but for my informant, this tradition is about welcoming in the New Year. Breaking the pomegranate is like breaking open the new year and then you have to ingest what’s been broken, you’re literally taking in the New Year. I also think it’s interesting how, for many children of immigrants we follow traditions because our parents tell us to, rather than doing it because we know exactly what it means. We just know that certain holidays don’t feel right if we don’t follow these traditions. 

Cherry Festival

Main Piece:

Well in Traverse City during the summer is the Cherry Festival. Oh, my sister was the cherry princess! And I remember that cuz I was like in preschool and basically for that the parents the dads make a float. So all the cherry princesses they which is one from every school, and there are 25 schools or something. And so all the two princesses someone from a first graders have a girl and a guy Tirpitz is for prints, and the cherry princesses and princes from each school make a float, and our float was Herbie. There’s like a theme of the float, which was like Disney or something. And we did Herbie, do you remember that like the racecar? So I vividly remember like we took a car, we painted a car, like a dumpster car, and it was on a float. And then on the cherry festival parade all of the floats go through. And then they vote on like a Cherry Queen and the queen is like in high school or older. She like takes pictures with all the princesses. That’s a big deal and Cherry Festival, well there’s like a fair and there’s events that happen every every day and it’s like a very big thing a lot of fugdies, a lot of people would call fudgies people from like South Michigan who to Traverse City for the cherry festival. It’s a big deal. But none of the people who live in Traverse City actually like the festival because they make the grass dirty, without it the grass is like fluorescent green. 

Context:

My informant is one of my roommates, a 20-year-old dance major at USC. She’s from Michigan and this performance took place in our kitchen as she was cooking. 

Background:

My informant grew up with this festival and her sister was a cherry princess one year. She loves cherries and says it’s the only fruit that tastes better in Michigan than in California. 

Analysis:

I thought it was fascinating how much my informant talked up this festival and her families involvement, only to reveal at the very end that the people who live there don’t actually like the festival, that it’s much more for the people in Michigan who live outside of Traverse city than for the actual residents. So while this festival is a part of Michigan culture, it’s a yearly annoyance for the actual residents of the city.

Jeep Wave

Main Piece:

So my thing is more of a gesture. It’s kind of something that happens and I didn’t know about it till after I got my car. But basically, once you get the Jeep, there’s something known as a Jeep wave. And so basically it’s with, I don’t really know, like, I think there are different variations of how you do it. But the one I was told is that you put one hand and one hands on the wheel, and it’s just like, three of your fingers are just like couple your fingers up. And it’s the idea is if you see a Jeep, like driver and you and you’re driving your Jeep and you’ll see each other you do a Jeep wave. And it’s a form of like a community type thing, but like it’s really just like a wave that you do. So

Relationship to the Piece:

My informant has driven a Jeep for the last few years and was told this by his friend who also drove a Jeep and it’s become a way for him to connect to his community of Jeep drivers, especially as he recently began to drive his Jeep around LA. 

Context: 

My informant is a 19-year-old BFA lighting design student at the University of Southern California and I was told this as we were hanging out in a theatre on campus swapping tales of folklore. 

Analysis:

I’d never heard of the Jeep wave, but I think it makes sense, as especially in America, the cars we drive often become aspects of our identity, especially with all the stereotypes we associate with certain makes and models of vehicles. It makes sense that a little community would form around certain cars, but it also creates questions, like who began the gesture and how it spreads.