Category Archives: Holidays

Holidays and holiday traditions

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.

Sinter Klaas

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Dutch American
Age: 55
Occupation: Scientist
Residence: San Francisco, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/27/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Dutch

Context:

The informant is a Dutch immigrant to the United States in his fifties. He emigrated from the Netherlands in his thirties and lives in San Francsico. He experienced this holiday tradition every year on December 5h in the town of Lochem, with a population of 10,000 people who would gather in the market square. He told me about the tradition in a face-to-face interview. I am his son and we would practice some aspects of this tradition when I was younger, before celebrating Christmas.

Text:

Sinter Klaas would come every year, early December, he would arrive on a steam ship from Spain, he looked like santa claus, but he was slimmer, not as fat, had a long white beard. He would come and he had these svaarte pieten, black petes. It was usually women who would play them, they were often athletic and do handstands. Svaarte piet would come through the chimney, you would put your shoe out in front of the chimney, put out a carrot for Sinter klaas’ white horse, you would get a present.

There were lots of inconsistencies in the story. He would also go with his horse on the roof to deliver the presents. Where I grew up there was an actual ship that would come in with people dressed up as Sinter Klaas and svaarte piet. Svaarte piet would throw candy at everyone. One was pepernoten, these baked round things with spices, you would pick them from the floor and eat them, they weren’t packaged or anything. Later you had to do these things yourself, part of it was writing poems, teasing poems, you would lay bare someone else’s hurtful or embarrassing details. The one getting the present had to read the poem aloud and the more embarrassing the better. There would be “surprises,” – not the English meaning – which were elaborate built things. My dad built a model train after the train my sister took to school, there was some present inside. It’s not just opening the present but there’s more elaborate things going on. It needed a lot of involvement on the part of the parents. I guess people had more time in those days (laughs).

The whole svaarte piet thing… at first I really thought they were black and the relation to slavery never occurred to me. When you look back at it its kind of insane, its insane that nobody thought anything of it. There was a canal, he really came by boat. We would sing sinter klaas songs. He would come into the class at school and you would sing a lot of different songs for him.

If you were bad, they would put you in a bag, hit you with a roe (a switch, a small broom) and take you to Spain.

I think it comes from Saint Nicolas, who was a saint in Spain. He cut his mantle in half and gave it to poor people.

This was THE event for kids. Everyone in the town did it though, it was a social thing. There was always a bit of a scary aspect of it, Sinter klaas and svaarte piet. If you were not good, you would be taken to Spain! They were kind of scary, there were people dressing up as them who could have been drinking or whatever. We would sing a lot of naughty songs.

Thoughts:

Sinter Klaas is a cherished Dutch holiday. This festival mobilizes so many different modalities (sight, smell, taste, sound) that it is hard to know where to start in terms of analysis. A big standout and controversy in recent years is the character Svaarte Piet. He is a black-faced, big-lipped caricature of a Spanish moor, and acts as the slave of Sinter Klaas, the white patriarch. The Netherlands was a substantial dealer in slaves during the expansion into the new world. This dehumanization happened partly by way of representations of the African as a jester, a helper, obedient, athletic, savage, primitive, and so on. This common representation seems to have seeped into the cherished tradition of Sinter Klaas and has been used as a justification for white people to don blackface and act out a caricature every winter. Interestingly and shockingly, this tradition continues today. It has recently come under flak from anti-racism groups as a representation and perpetuation of Dutch slavery and colonization. Svaarte Piet is largely, as we see in my informant’s experience, a way to normalize racist perceptions of Africans and instill in children a casual attitude of extreme otherization in the homogenous white community in which he grew up. My informant had thought the people in blackface were really black (he had not much experience with real black people) and thought of this whole ceremony as a normal, fun tradition, he reflects that “it’s insane that nobody thought anything of it.”

The festival had an immensely positive impact on the informant as a child. Much more excessive, dramatic, and embodied than Sinter Klaas’ American iteration Santa Claus – people would pilot a boat down the canal on which a tall figure dressed in royal red with a long curling white beard would throw out good wishes to the crowd – this tradition is very intricate and at times seems like the staging of an elaborate play. People write teasing poems to each other, parents set up ‘surprises’, elaborate constructions designed to shock and amaze the children, and actors traipse around the town throwing sweets to the people. Much less private and domestic than the American Santa Claus tradition, this celebration pours out into the streets, into the canals, and engages all generations in a communal, public celebration which works to articulate a notion of who the Dutch people are and how they are situated in relation to the rest of the world. The blatant otherization of the African is an integral part of the ceremony in this process of articulating the boundaries of the self.

Derby Day

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: United States
Date of Performance/Collection: April 12th
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

The informant described to me a tradition at her all-girls, private high school known as Derby Day. It is a day at the very beginning of the year, reserved for just the high school aged girls because the school is for grades 5-12. The high school girls would not go to class in the morning and instead play games and have cheer contests. 

In the afternoon, each grade was required to bring a different product. Freshman always had to bring ice cream. Sophomores had to bring oreos and jell-o. Juniors had to bring chocolate syrup. Seniors had to bring whipped cream. After the morning activities, the student council would “dump all of these things into kiddie pools on the field. When the set-up was complete, the freshman and sophomores had to sit in big circles” said the informant. Then the seniors would dump all of the jell-o, oreos, ice cream, etc. on the freshman and the juniors would do the same to the sophomores. The informant explained it was sort of an affectionate thing, “if you were a freshman and had a senior friend you would just get disgusting but it was out of love”.

After all of the dumping was complete, there was a water slide the informant’s school would rent. This was the only way to get cleaned off but it was an unspoken rule that the seniors could skip anyone in line and the juniors could skip anyone but seniors. So the freshman would wait in line to get cleaned off but never could.

Background:

This occurred at the informant’s all-girls, private, Episcopalian high school in Memphis, Tennessee. It was an ongoing tradition that girls looked forward to every year.

Context:

The informant explained this tradition to me when they were reminiscing about their high school experience.

Thoughts:

This tradition acts as a way for the high school aged girls to feel as though they have really grown up at the start of the year. It is common for students to go through types of hazing as underclassmen and then transition into being the hazers. Being able to dump chocolate syrup on someone’s head is looked at like a rite of passage at this high school. As the informant explained it to me, she held the day in such reverence it clearly is an important memory to her. She included the feelings of being an underclassman and upperclassman, participating in this. This tradition emphasizes the changes to the high school classes, as newfound juniors those students can establish themselves as upperclassmen by getting the opportunity to dump oreos on the heads of their peers. It is a funny, but important way to demonstrate the girls have grown over the past year.

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.

Christmas Chimney

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

Main Piece:

This is the transcription of an interview I had with the informant about her Christmas traditions. 

“So my dad’s grandma, my great-grandma, she made us this chimney. Like out of wood. And we put it on the dining room table on Christmas Eve. My mom is always in charge of it. And she puts tiny gifts like pencils or a piece of candy in the thing, like in the chimney. Then there’s a ribbon that’s attached to each gift that has a name of a family member on it. There’s one for each of us. And then after Christmas Eve Mass we come back and have dinner and stuff and after dinner we get to pull the string with our name. So it’s like the first gift of Christmas”

Background:

The informant comes from a very tight-knit family. She grew up near all her extended family. Her great-grandmother is of Eastern European descent. 

Context:

I was talking to the informant about traditions that make her think of family and this was one of the first she told me.

Thoughts:

The holidays produce a lot of traditions and customs important to families. This “first gift” of Christmas often mirrors what is discussed during Christmas Mass from the gift of Jesus’s birth to the gifts the Wise Men bring to the child. This provides a small tradition the family can do to physically celebrate the holiday in a way that combines the Santa ideas of Christmas as well as the biblical meaning.

Russian Holiday

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Russian Armenian
Age: 27
Occupation: Artist
Residence: Pasadena
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/4/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Russian, Armenian

Масленица

Transliteration: Maslenitsa

Translation: Butter Week

Description: This is a spring equinox pancake holiday. During the festival everyone eats pancakes, burns dolls made of hay (effigies). The burning of the dolls is mostly done in villages. They also jump over a pit of fire. Maslenitsa is a Pagan holiday. The holiday is a way of celebrating the coming of spring and a way to sacrifice to the gods for a fruitful spring/rest of the year.

Background Information: It is a Russian and Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday. It is celebrated the last week before Lent.

Context: The informant told me this holiday during a video call in which I asked her to tell me about a Russian holiday that she knows about.

Thoughts: As a religious holiday I think it is celebrated to prepare for lent and to get ready for the spring. Russia has had a long history of war, government overturnings, famines, etc. I think this holiday was made as a way to ensure a safe and healthy year. As a pagan tradition, I think it is interesting to observe its lasting effects to the present day. It shows that life hasn’t become simpler and that people are still trying to ask for prosperity and peace.

Mary’s birthday celebration

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 76
Occupation: none
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 26, 2020
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s):

Main piece: 

The following was transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer. 

Informant: On the 12th of December, all Hispanics, especially Mexicans pay their promises in virtue of La Virgen de Guadalupe. They go to her church, the basilica in the capital. They bring her flowers, candles and walk from their homes all the way to the church. 

Interviewer: Wait. They walk? How long do they walk? 

Informant: There’s people who walk for days or even a full month. For example, there’s people who travel from Tijuana all the way to the capital by foot. When they get there, they attend mass, give thanks… but they have to arrive on the 12 because that was the day she was born and they sing “Las mananitas” in her honor. 

Interviewer: For how long do they sing? 

Informant: They sing  all night, from the 11th, they start the serenate and mariachis and music artists and chorus… and umm and on the 12 all day they interchange and they keep singing to her and then on the 13 everyone goes back home. 

Background: My grandpa was my informant. He was born and raised in Guadalajara and did not travel to the U.S. until a couple years ago. He has lived in Mexico for about 70 years so he knows of a lot of Mexican traditions. The capital is 30 minutes from his home in Mexico so he participates in the annual tradition. 

Context: This was the same setting as the other tradition he told me about. I had just finished playing basketball and I was taking a break on the patio. I asked my grandpa for some traditions he keeps up with and after telling me about the day of the dead, he told me about this one. Casual setting. 

Thoughts: I found it cool that this a tradition that all Hispanic Catholics perform. So it’s something that unites people from North and South America. It’s a really special and important day where people walk and sing for days to praise Mary and her blessings. It shows people are faithful and grateful and I personally feel we need more of those 2 virtues on a global scale.

The Day of the Dead

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 76
Occupation: None
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/26/2020
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s):

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer. 

Informant: The day of the dead for example. This one is very popular throughout Latin America too. And it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor… everyone celebrates November 1st and 2nd. There are festivals in the streets and everyone buys those skulls that your mom has as decorations. Some make them and paint them. And they’re very colorful. You can paint them any color you want and add a bunch to it so it looks nice. 

Interviewer: Do you make them or buy them? Or how do you celebrate it? 

Informant: We set pictures of them. We prepare their favorite foods and drinks. We get openwork paper and we adorn with sugar skulls and tequila… every family sets at least one bottle. Umm. bread too. Candles and wine and there. And that’s set before the 1st. And it’s there the 1st and 2nd. And on the 3rd day you don’t throw it.

Interviewer: Do you eat it? 

Informant: Yes, it basically means that your dead are sharing their food with you so you can eat. 

Background: My grandpa was my informant. He was born and raised in Guadalajara and did not travel to the U.S. until a couple years ago. He has lived in Mexico for about 70 years so he knows of a lot of Mexican traditions. He has been celebrating this one every year from as far as he can remember and that it’s a special day for him because he is able to feel the presence of his dead. 

Context: This conversation was held on the patio. I was playing basketball and I came to sit down and rest and my grandpa had been watching me and I asked him about a big tradition he does. I’m really close to him so it was easy to ask him for more information about a tradition or festival he celebrates for part of my collection project. He was very happy to help. 

Thoughts: I personally haven’t celebrated it but I know it’s a big tradition across hispanic cultures. Even in my family my grandparents are big on it and my mom to a lesser extent too. They make very good food and drinks and have a very nice and colorful set up these two days. They never talk to the spirits but it’s a way for them to remember their dead and welcome them for a family dinner again. Some people might think it’s spooky but it’s not. The dead are not mourned but actually celebrated. 

Undie Run-UCLA Folk Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Nigerian American
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/27/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Igbo

Context: This is a folk tradition that occurs at UCLA during finals week as a means of blowing off steam, my brother learned this tradition as a freshman and gave his opinions on the tradition and its value.

K: So ya….uh. Undie Run is basically a quarterly tradition at UCLA in which the Wednesday of finals week, where….uh at…I wanna say starting at midnight….ya right at midnight. 

Basically, everybody that’s capable….comes to…um…under the bridge…across from UCLA. 

It’s a certain start point at UCLA that everybody gets to in their underwear and then we run from there up until the top of Janss Steps which is at UCLA and basically…uh.. its kind of a..its a way in which you commemorate finals. 

It’s just a tradition…uh… I don’t know how long we’ve been doing it for.

K: It’s important to us because it’s like…it’s just tradition. 

It’s the student experience. I know that like I remember like..um..some of my older friends like they would have their sashes.

Like you would see seniors with their graduation sashes doing it….you know…its..its just a college experience…a college thing…fundamentally it’s a UCLA college thing.

K: Um..why underwear…you know that’s…actually….you know  I don’t ….

Some people can wear like their pajamas….you know..but typically you wear your boxers, wear like….uh..wear like leggings…you know what I’m sayin…if you’re a dude.

You know people are wearing…you know…they..they determine their spectrum as to what constitutes as underwear. 

Thoughts: After interviewing my older brother about UCLA’s Undie Run tradition, it honestly made me laugh at first because I thought it was ridiculous for students to run while practically naked and not get in trouble. When I was in high school they banned having any kind of senior prank or event because of a previous year so I never had the chance to do anything to commemorate my high school graduation. Hearing my brother describe the Undie Run gave me the nostalgia that he must have felt coming in as a freshman and being introduced to this folk tradition. The Undie Run is a unique tradition because its meaning is subjective to each individual person and its something that continues to live on with both the students and the school. As a freshman, my brother’s experience was less sentimental because he had just arrived at UCLA and was getting used to his environment and its many traditions. However, for the senior friends that he described the meaning was different. The Undie Run for them meant that they were not only commemorating their finals being over but were also celebrating four or so years of hard work as they were about to leave UCLA and this run would be there last. I would never have imagined a large group of people collectively running in their underwear, it sounds so strange, but that seems to be the beauty of folklore in this case. A tradition like the Undie Run is something that I view as strange because, as a student at USC, I’m not apart of the culture. As a sophomore at USC, I understand how events like these can be an important feature of the college experience like my brother emphasized. Now that he is a senior, he was finally able to participate in his last Undie Run as a UCLA Bruin and was able to fully appreciate its importance and commemorate all his hard work.

For another version see: Vassar, Ethan, and Ethan Vassar. “Seriously: Undie Run Cancellation Threatens CSU Admission Rates, Sponsors.” The Rocky Mountain Collegian, 7 May 2019, collegian.com/2019/05/category-opinion-seriously-undie-run-cancelation-threatens-csu-admission-rates-sponsors/.

Advent Traditions

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 61
Occupation: retired
Residence: Atherton
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: The informant is my mother, identified as L.M., who was raised as a Catholic, and grew up with many traditions for each of the Christian holidays, some religious and some not. This is her description of the season of Advent and two of the traditions she followed with her family during her childhood.

Main Piece: I remember the coming of the Advent season each year, which begins on the Sunday closest to the beginning of December, and is viewed by the Catholic Church and many other Christian churches as a time to prepare and reflect on the religious meaning of Christmas. The Advent period includes the four Sundays before Christmas, plus all of the days in between and up to Christmas Day. Our church sermons during this season all focused on readings from the Bible about the preparation for the arrival of Jesus, and we also would sing special hymns during this period. The one I remember in particular is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Catholics, including our family, would fast and not eat meat on Fridays during this period, we used to have a lot of tuna fish sandwiches or fish sticks for dinner on those Fridays, which I wasn’t a fan of. As a child, I remember there being a huge Advent Wreath in our church up by the altar throughout the Advent season. The Advent Wreath was made of various types of evergreen branches, and had four large candles set in its branches, three of them were purple and one was pink. The wreath symbolizes life, and the circular shape of the wreath symbolizes eternity and the everlasting life of the soul. One of the four candles is lit on the first Sunday, and then on every other Sunday during Advent, one more of the candles is lit, so by the fourth Sunday before Christmas, all four are lit. The purple color for three of the candles represents the liturgical color of violet, which signifies a time for prayer and sacrifice, and the pink color for the other candle represents joy, as rose is the liturgical color for joy. The first candle lit is purple and represents hope. The second candle lit is also purple and represents faith. The third candle lit is the pink one which represents joy. And, the last purple candle lit symbolizes peace. We also used to make our own Advent Wreath for our home. My mother would make the wreath out of fresh evergreen branches and wire them into a circular shape, and then place the candles, three purple and one pink, into the wreath. We would keep it on our dinner table all throughout Advent, following the tradition of lighting each new candle on the appropriate Sunday. And, every night of the week, not just Sundays, the one, two, three, or four candles, depending on which week it was, would be lit before dinner and we’d have our dinner meal around the table with our candlelit Advent Wreath. The other Advent tradition I remember is that we would have an Advent calendar every December. This was basically a large free-standing form made out of heavy card stock paper and decorated with some overall Christmas motif, religious or non-religious, with doors numbered one through twenty-five. Every day in December, we would open the numbered door with the proper date, and inside each door there was a holiday scene of some sort, for example, a star, or a decorated Christmas tree, or an ornament, or a shepherd, or an angel, or Santa Claus, or holly, or a gingerbread boy, and on the 25th, we’d open the last door, which always had a traditional religious Nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Now, I still have something similar to an Advent calendar that I bring out every December, but it isn’t religious. It’s a small red table-top cabinet of drawers, and each is numbered 1-25. The number one drawer has a collapsible little artificial Christmas tree that I set up on the kitchen counter, the number two drawer has a garland of tiny red ornaments to string on the tree, and the remaining drawers up to twenty five have a variety of small and whimsical ornaments to hang on the tiny tree- a candy cane, holly and berries, a snowman face, a santa head, a red mitten, a tiny gift, a santa suit, all made from things like beads and felt, bells and tiny white styrofoam balls. I love opening each drawer day by day and decorating the tiny whimsical Christmas tree. It brings me back to all of the childhood memories of anticipating Christmas and the joy and magic of the holiday.”


Analysis: “Advent” is defined as the awaiting of the arrival of a notable person, event, or thing. Originally, advent calendars were created to count down the days until the arrival of Jesus Christ, as Christmas is his day of birth. However, it seems as if the religious importance of both advent calendars and Christmas has been somewhat lost. Christmas is now much more commercialized and seen as a time to eat sweets and receive and give gifts in American culture. Santa Claus is a much more prominent figure during Christmas than Jesus is now.