Category Archives: Earth cycle

Seasonal and celetial based

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

--Informant Info--
Nationality: British European
Age: 58
Occupation: Storyboard Artist
Residence: Sherman Oaks, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 5, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Interviewer: So how did it get started in your home town?

Informant: My parents started off just making a couple of gallons with a couple of friends, I’m not sure exactly who they picked it up from. And I think they may have done that in the house before the Bury. Or right around that time, anyway. Probably around 60 years ago (2020). There have been more Elderflower Festivals than my parents have been present for.  There was one in 1967? My parents went on sabbatical to America and their friends broke in and made Elderflower anyway. There was another one when they sailed one of their boats down to the south of France and my brother and me hosted it on our own. I’m pretty sure my brother has been at every Elderflower Festival.

Interviewer: Does it only happen one time a year?

Informant: It has to take place when the flowers are in bloom, usually in the first or second week of June. It cannot be delayed, the flowers do not stay out for very long. It is an event driven entirely by natural forces and the need for alcohol.

Interviewer: What typically goes into the festival preparation wise?

Informant: Well the deal is something around 40 guests are invited and they’re asked to pick Elderflowers so when they arrive they can deliver their flowers. We spread the tarpaulin on the backyard and lay the flowers on it to dry and be shredded. And in return for their labor, the guests are fed a huge buffet lunch. There are a number of elements of that lunch that are obligatory. Coronation Chicken, Roast Beef, Deviled Eggs, Roast Turkey, Potato Salad, and Garlic Bread and there’s always a rice of some sort. There’s a late morning snack of sausages done on a barbecue because we have a late lunch, because we don’t have lunch until we reach a quota of flowers. After lunch, the afternoon is devoted to games, ‘gassing’ (talking), and drinking wine. Because my parents were teachers a lot of the guests were faculty or students. It’s just a thing a lot of Cambridge educators do.

Interviewer: Is there a recipe then that one has to follow to make Elderflower wine?

Informant: There is a certain amount of citrus fruit that needs to be peeled and squeezed and that is combined with boiling water poured through the flowers in a muslin shiv. With a large amount of sugar to feed the yeasts. My father used to be the viter but now my brother does it. Fermentations takes place in large Demi-johns and it takes about 3 months to the point where the wine can be decanted and bottled. Elderflower wine has an unusual ‘nose’ which takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant.

Background: This festival takes place either the first of second week of June, it is a time sensitive celebration that must occur during that time or not at all. Luckily it is also during the summer break for most British educators, so it is an excuse to see each other outside of work and get drunk together.

Context: My informant and I were discussing whether or not there would be an Elderflower Festival this year due to the Corona Virus. This would be the first time since it’s conception that the Elderflower Festival would not be held, but my informant believed it would be for the best since a majority of attendees are rather old and would be at risk.

My Thoughts: I’ve attended the Elderflower Festivals before and they are a riot! There’s a lot a family and friends who attend and at the end, people are gifted a bottle of last year’s batch. The festival has grown over the time I have attended from just 30 people to closer to 60 or 70. People keep bringing friends to come celebrate, which means a lot more time is put into prepping the meals and getting a supply of flowers to shred.

While not directly a festival celebrating life cycles, the festival is based entirely on the production of turning blooming flowers into wine, so there may be some form of symbolism there.

We Are A Circle- A Pagan Chant

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Houston, TX
Date of Performance/Collection: April 25, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Background: My informant (M) shared with me her experience with a song we learned growing up. We attended a daycare, which was run by our grandmother, from infancy to 5 years old, and would frequently stay there during summer breaks. She shared with me her perspective on a ritual we performed daily. Neither of us had ever thought too much about this ritual until we got older, but talking about it now we could tell there was probably more to this chant than we realized as kids. Our grandmother always talked about the importance of being kind to the Earth and thanking it whenever we took something from it, like food. As kids, this was just part of growing up, and the chant was part of our daily routine, we agreed that we never thought about the words or meaning until we got older.

M’s Perspective on The Ritual: 

M: “I guess it was a way for all of the daycare kids to come together and bond and be calm. We would sit in a circle with a candle in the middle and we would sing childhood songs and tell nursery rhymes. At the end of the “circle time,” as our grandmother called it, we would have a closing ceremony of sorts where we would stand up and join hands and we would sing this one song. She played it on a CD, but we all knew all the words and we would look at each other and sing. There were a couple of verses to the song that I don’t remember very well, but during the chorus, we would all sing loud and join hands and walk in a circle. Then it would be another verse and we would stop walking. The verses all had to do with the elements, you know fire and wind and stuff. And with each new chorus, we would walk faster and faster until it got a little crazy and we were screaming this song (laughs). I don’t think she does it anymore because it started getting a little aggressive. But anyway the closing line had something to do with coming “FACE TO FACE” and we would all get really close to each other- you know face to face- and we would throw our hands up and someone would blow out the candle and that was it (laughs and pauses).

And we did this for probably ten years or more. It was a little strange now that I’m thinking about it, like what was that even about? We never really anything else that I can look back on as being out of the ordinary.         

Main Text:

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

You hear us sing, you hear us cry

Now hear us all you, spirits of air and sky

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Inside our hearts there grows a spark

Love and desire, a burning fire

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Within our blood, within our tears

There lies the altar of living waiter

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Take our fear, take our pain

Take the darkness into the Earth again

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

The circle closes between two worlds

To mark this sacred space where we come face to face

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Analysis: I looked up this song to find the lyrics we remember from our grandmother’s. I also wanted to see if I could find an explanation for it. What I found was the song has strong ties to paganism and Wicca, relating to a spiritual bond with the Earth and magic. The song is written by Rick Hamouris in the 80s so I’m not sure when or where our grandmother learned it. It seems like it’s been adopted by Wicca and other pagan religions and some say it is a song for festivals or a full moon chant. The book Casting Circles and Ceremonies by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart explains how circle chants like this one are effective for “casting circles” and “calling quarters.” These terms refer to creating the circle, which is the safe and sacred space and utilizing the Earth’s quarters-the four elements and the four directions. 

You can read more about this here: http://www.egreenway.com/wands8/envoke1.htm

Grapes and Red Underwear on New Years Eve

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Arizona
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Context:

MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and much of her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this story from her in a video conference call from our respective homes. Her aunt taught her this and said it’s a Venezuelan tradition.

Text:

MV: You’re supposed to eat thirteen grapes in the last ten seconds of the new year. And if you do it, then that’s good luck. Also if you wear red underwear.

JS: Why grapes?

MV: I don’t know, that one’s just a weird challenge.

Thoughts:

Ritual transitional ceremonies such as new year celebrations often involve superstition and folk belief, as ways of marking a transition from one period to another. In other iterations of this practice, you eat twelve grapes, one for each month of the year. The element of skill and difficulty make this tradition a fun and competitive ritual. The tradition can be traced back to Spain, where the bourgeoise adopted it from the French, who ate grapes and drank champagne on the new year. The tradition was picked up by members of other classes who ate the grapes likely to make fun of the upper class. The fact that one is scarfing these grapes at a high speed can be seen as a mocking gesture towards the elite, who would daintily eat the grapes with their champagne, a way to mimic and critique the ways in which they cover up their pernicious and consumptive practices of economic exploitation with a mask of civility and decadence.

As for the red underwear, red symbolizes lust, luck, and life in many cultures. Being a Spanish tradition, the use of red resonates with the colors of the nation. The choice of garment suggests sexual overtones in this bit of folk superstition, with the new year as a time for new beginnings, creation, and sexual proliferation. The belief also, for the duration of the new years celebration, allows undergarments to be a topic of conversation, allowing for a less sexually repressed and euphemistic celebration, with the topic coming up more apparently to the surface.

Oliebollen

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Dutch American
Age: 55
Occupation: Micro-Biologist
Residence: San Francisco, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Dutch, German,

Context:

NS, my father, is a 55-year-old Dutch immigrant to the US. He grew up in the small town of Delft. He told me about this new year’s eve food tradition that is observed where he grew up.

Text:

NS: New years is one of the most important holidays for the Dutch. On new years’ eve, we would gather together, there would be on the TV a comedian doing a run-down of the year, and we would have oliebollen (oil balls). They are a food you only eat during new years and you can get them from a stand on the street in late December. My mom used to make them. To make them, you put some flour and yeast together in a bowl with some sugar to let the mixture rise. Then you add all kinds of stuff in it: nuts, apple, raisins, cranberries, other dried fruits. You plop them into balls and fry them in oil. Then once you’re done you can put some powdered sugar on them.

Thoughts:

The informant, even though he now lives in San Francisco, makes this treat every year as a member of a global nationality. He likes oliebollen because he associates the taste with childhood memories and festivities. He told me that the new year is one of the most important and elaborate celebrations for the Dutch, so it makes sense that he wants to keep this foodway alive as he carries out his identity as a Dutch-American. I have eaten them every new year as well, the informant is my dad, and I have to say that the taste definitely reminds me of that particular time. Since they are only consumed once a year for this event, they take on a special significance and anticipation which leads me to savor each bite when I get the chance. The food tradition is a way for my dad to keep his sense of Dutch-ness alive as he lives abroad in a foreign land.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit

--Informant Info--
Nationality: White American
Age: 56
Occupation: Media relations specialist
Residence: San Francisco, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/23/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

I received this tradition and superstition from my mother, who grew up in a white suburban household in Colorado during the late 20th century. She learned it from her father, an English professor, who read it in a student paper about superstitions. When I was younger, she used to practice this little act of magic, but she does not do it anymore.

Text:

If the first words you say in the month are “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit,” you will have good luck for the whole month.

Thoughts:

Rabbits symbolize good luck in various cultures. I have seen rabbit foot keychains, which are intended to endow their owners with good luck. The word comes in threes, another example of the primacy of the number three in American folk belief. This piece of folklore was transmitted through the written word and stuck in my own family. To attach a special incantation to the beginning of each month gives the start of the month some special significance. It helps to mark off the months as distinct from one another, each as an opportunity for a new beginning, a renewal of luck. Rabbits are also associated with procreation and fertility, so their evocation at the beginning of each monthly cycle could signify renewal, new birth, and fecundity. This incantation is a way to be ‘reborn’ each month, as if to say: “no matter how difficult or painful last month was for me, here’s a chance to start one anew.” This little act of superstition can help people to maintain their faith in the future and retain a spirit of hope and growth going into each new month.

Celebration of Springfest at an All-Female High School

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: United States
Date of Performance/Collection: April 10
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

The informant explained to me that there was a tradition of celebrating Springfest at their all-girls high school. Each year the juniors would all wear white dresses and the seniors would wear dresses of any color. The whole school from grades 5-12 would go sit in the chapel, while the juniors and seniors would be a part of the ceremony. The organist would always play a sort of calming, “water” music on the organ. After the music had been playing for a bit, the ceremony would start. A senior and junior would walk towards one another. Then the senior would hand off an orchid to the junior and they would cross their paths, making them intertwine. The informant explained it was supposed to symbolize handing down the leadership of the school to the juniors. 

In addition to the ceremony, each year there was a Springfest Princess and a Springfest Queen. The Queen was always a junior and the Princess was a fifth grader. The whole school would vote for the Queen and as the informant explained “everyone would vote for the nicest person in the junior class”. The Queen had to wear a floor length, white dress that looked like a wedding dress, provided by the school. She had two flower girls and they would walk in front of her when she walked down the aisle. The Princess went before the Queen and would get a bouquet of flowers. Then the Queen from last year would be wearing a crown and standing at the end of the aisle waiting for her. After the Princess walked, the next Queen would walk and kneel down in front of the old Queen. She would place the crown on the new Queen’s head.

Background:

The informant attended an all-girls, Episcopalian school in the southern United States. This tradition has occurred since before the informant’s Mother went to the same high school. The school mostly consists of girls from white, affluent families.

Context:

The informant explained this tradition to me when they were reminiscing about their high school experience. This festival would always occur in April near the end of the school year, in the midst of spring.

My Thoughts:

Springfest aligns closely with other spring celebrations such as the Swedish Midsummer festival, as it celebrates the springtime with an emphasis on young women. Given that this is an all-girls school, the presentation of girls in all white feels closely to Vaz da Silva’s analysis of white in his article discussing “Chromatic Symbolism in Womanhood in Fairy Tales”. He states “white stands for luminosity and untainted sheen, thus for luminous heaven as much as for purity” (245). These girls are dressed in white to appear as the pure maidens, ready for entering a new stage of their lives. This festival mimics a wedding as the girls are walked down the aisle in all white, being presented to the school as the new leaders. Instead of meeting a husband at the end of the aisle, they are meeting new responsibilities. This moves them one step closer to adulthood.

Citation:

Vaz da Silva, Francisco. 2007 “Red as Blood, White as Snow, Black as Crow: Chromatic Symbolism of Womanhood in Fairy Tales”. Marvels and Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies. 21: 240-252.



Pork and Sauerkraut and Birthday Wishes

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 53
Occupation: Teacher
Residence: United States
Date of Performance/Collection: April 10th
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

This is a transcription of the informant’s New Year’s Day tradition.

“Every New Year’s Day we always go over to my brother’s house with all the extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone. He is a really good cook and makes a giant roast pork and sauerkraut meal that we have been doing since we were little. Then New Year’s Day was my mom’s birthday so we’d cut her the first piece and then she’d put a candle in it for her birthday. It was like a fake little pre-birthday celebration with the whole family. She passed away many years ago but we still light the candle and do the whole thing but instead of a birthday wish it’s a wish for the new year for everyone. It’s sweet I think.”

Background:

The informant is from a large German-American family. 

Context:

The informant described this to me when I inquired about her family’s traditions around the holidays. 

Thoughts:

Pork and Sauerkraut is a very common New Year’s food, especially for those of German heritage. The combination of a birthday wish and luck for the new year appears to go hand in hand. There are certain theories as to why pork is associated with luck for the new year, “In Europe hundreds of years ago, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Also, a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground in the forward direction” (Sherrow 28). The symbolism of a pig digging forward is meant to represent forward movement for those that eat the pig in the coming year. The luck of pork and a birthday wish create a hopeful start to the year for this family  

Sherrow, Victoria. “EAT FOR LUCK!” Child Life, vol. 86, no. 1, Jan, 2007, pp. 28-29. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy2.usc.edu/docview/216762697?accountid=14749.

Birthday Traditions in Elementary School

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: United States
Date of Performance/Collection: April 10th
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

At the informant’s elementary school, there were very intricate birthday traditions. When there was a birthday in the class they would go outside and stand in a large circle. The birthday child would stand in the middle holding a globe. Then all the kids would sing “The earth goes around the sun, tra-la-la. The earth goes around the sun. Around and around and around and the earth goes around the sun” 

Then the teacher would say “and then [birthday child’s name] turned 2!” and a friend of the birthday child would hold a picture of the birthday child when they were two and walk around the entire circle showing all the classmates. The song would then start over and the pattern would continue with 3, 4, 5 and so on until the class reached the age of the birthday child.

Background:

This tradition happened at a private, Montessori school where the informant attended. The school was located in the southern United States so the weather was almost always nice enough to do this tradition outside.

Context:

This tradition was explained to me when the informant was discussing the importance of traditions at their schools throughout their childhood.

Thoughts:

This tradition captures a lot of elements that are important to birth, growing up, and continuing on with one’s life. There is the emphasis on the globe and the sun, to explain to the children that the years pass with each orbit of the sun. Then the photos of the child at each age allow for the children to get to realize what their classmates looked like before they knew each other. This shows the physical changes each child has gone through as they grow up. All these elements mesh into a creative demonstration to show the importance of being one year older that will make an impact on these children.

Nowruz (Persian New Year) Celebration

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Pre-Med Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/7/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant, identified as SK, and myself, GK.

SK: One unique holiday that I celebrate is Nowruz, which is known as Persian New Year. This year it fell on March 20, but the date changes each year.

GK: Why is that?

SK: This is because the holiday falls on the first day of Spring Equinox. So it depends on when exactly the sun crosses the celestial equator.

GK: How do you usually celebrate this holiday?

SK: Um, there’s a lot of things we do. One of the more intriguing events we partake in is called Chaharshanbe Suri. This is a tradition where you jump over the fire, as it serves as a way to purify yourself from all of the sin you’ve partaken in. We also usually have a big feast where we eat Kashke Bademjan (Eggplant Dip), and chicken soltani. 

GK: How long have you been celebrating this for?

SK: It’s been 16 years now. 

Background: The informant, who comes from Persian heritage, knows of this holiday due to the fact he has been celebrating it for the majority of his life. His father, was originally born in Iran, migrated to the U.S. when he was a kid. And with this move, he brought the many traditions and customs along with him. Those traditions have thus been passed on to his son, who deeply enjoys the holiday as it brings his whole family together throughout the start of spring. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this holiday over Facetime. 

My Thoughts: It was very intruiging to hear about the Persian New Year and how different their traditions are vs. our New Year traditions here in the United States. I feel like ours is more of a celebration, while there’s is more of a reflection and cleansing. You could see this through the Chaharshanbe Suri. Hearing about these traditions of the informants makes me want to be more reflective while celebrating New Year’s and think of what I can improve on for the next year. In addition, it was really interesting to hear about how this holiday is connected with the earth cycle. I’ve always wondered why some holidays change dates each year, and that answered my question.

Legend behind Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

--Informant Info--
Nationality: French/ Chinese
Age: 23
Occupation: Accountant
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/25/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): French, Mandarin

The following story was told to me by my friend:

So in China we have the Mid-Autumn festival, as I am sure you have heard of, the mooncakes are famous. But, what a lot of people do not know is the myth of how it came to be. It all became long ago. There is a princess who lives on the moon in her moon castle with her little bunny. And as it goes, on the full moon -the 15th day of the month on the Lunar calendar- the princess could see Earth at its fullest. Every full moon she would look down at earth and she would always look at this one farmer and she eventually fell in love with him from afar. So one day, she went down to Earth and disguised herself as a human. Her and the farmer fell in love and she was happy on Earth. Then one day her brother noticed she was missing, so he searched for her and found her on Earth having married a mortal human. Outraged, he came down to Earth, and took her from her lover since it was a disgrace that a god would marry a human and he took her back to the moon. There, he imprisoned her in her castle and she could no longer see her lover. Eventually, the other gods felt bad for her because she was so very sad. So they made the agreement that in Autumn on the full moon she is allowed to go down once a year to visit her lover. So, the festival happens on the full moon on the 15th in Mid-Autumn every year and it is all about reunion and time with loved ones. 

Background: 

The informant is ½ Chinese and ½ French. While she spent the first 13 years of her life in Paris, she moved to Shanghai for high School to reconnect with her Chinese heritage. This story is one of her all time favorite stories from Chinese culture that her grandmother would tell her. She holds it very close to her. 

Context: 

The informant is a good friend of mine, and the conversation was held organically as she was reminiscing about things she loves about her culture one night over dinner at an Italian restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. 

My thoughts: 

I found this to be such a cute and lovely legend to how the festival came to be. Another one of my friends loves the Mid-Autumn festival. He is from Vietnam though, and while he never mentioned this moon princess story, he also loves the festival and what it signified for him and his friends and family spending time together. I love how this festival brings up such good memories for many of the people I have spoken to and it shows such a wholesome lineage between cultures.