Hex Chicken

L is 54. He was born in Chicago, Illinois. He was in the Army in his 20s and now works in private personal security. He studied theology in college. He told me this story about his Haitian great grandmother in person.

“My great grandma Hattie, on my dad’s side, um… she used to practice a form of Haitian voodoo like if she disliked someone in the community… they lived in Turle, Arkansas… she would take chickens and drain their blood and bury the chicken head and curse you, like in the yard and if she wanted you to change your behavior she would do this ritual… mind you we ate the chicken after she used it for the ritual. We called it voodoo… we hardly understood what she said because she had a heavy accent and I didn’t spend a whole lotta time with her because there’s not a lot to do in Turle, Arkansas. She came from Haiti in the 1930s or something and married my great grandfather in Arkansas… they were sharecroppers… so yea… if she had an issue with you she would perform her hex.”

Ritual sacrifice is common in Voodoo and other religions. Cooking and eating the sacrificed animal is also a common practice. For more information on Voodoo with a focus on how the religion has been misconstrued and misrepresented, particularly by Western Media, see FERÈRE, GÉRARD A. “HAITIAN VOODOO: ITS TRUE FACE.” Caribbean Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 3/4, 1978, pp. 37–47, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40793401. Accessed 25 Apr. 2022.

Secret Santa, but make it competitive

C is 32, he was born in Visalia, California. He grew up with a foster family in California’s San Joaquin Valley. He told me about his foster family’s take on secret Santa.

“There was a family tradition I had with my foster family… every Thanksgiving we would put names in a hat and we would draw names on Thanksgiving and it’s like secret Santa… and we buy that person a gift… whoever’s name we got… and everyone would try and guess who got who and if they guess the person that drew their name, they could have their gift but if they didn’t they would have to wait until Christmas Eve. It got really competitive (laughs)”

Secret Santa is widely credited in America to a philanthropist named Larry Dean Stewart. Stewart struggled in his younger years, and reportedly was giving help and hope by the generous contributions of strangers at low points in his life. When he became a millionaire in the cable and telephone business, he decided to “pay it forward” by handing out $100 bills and large anonymous cash donations (https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna15751409). Secret Santa, however, is a tradition that goes back much further. One Scandinavian tradition known as Julklapp, involves throwing presents into people’s doorways and running away after knocking (https://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Julklapp). Around the world, other anonymous gift traditions exist around various holidays, like Amigo Secreto or Angelito on Valentine’s Day in Latin Countries (https://blog.willamette.edu/worldnews/2010/02/22/amigo-secreto/).

Loteria

R is 31. His family is from Mexico, he was born in Sanger, California. He was very excited and happy to tell me about how his family played the game Loteria.

“We were big on Loteria, Loteria is like Mexican bingo… we played as a family with beans or rocks or pasta shells… so Loteria is pretty much like, like bingo but with cards… so there’s a deck of cards that has different pictures of things… like la sirena, la musica, el apache, la ranaand the pictures that go with them… stuff like that and pretty much you buy the game and it comes with these preset boards, they’re 5 by 4 or 4 by 4… something like that… and they have some of the different card pictures on them… but we would cut them up and rearrange them to like… make our own luck… so pretty much everybody gets their boards ready and then we shuffle the deck and the middle square on the board is a free play… and you win by… as you draw cards, you put like a bean or pasta shell… my mom liked glass rocks… the shiny ones that people use for like aquariums or flower arrangements… everyone in my family had their own pieces… my tia liked pasta, my other tia used dry pinto beans, my grandma used coins, like dimes, nickels, or quarters because she liked money (laughs) I like rocks, like smooth river rocks I would find at Avocado lake… we would go there swimming in the summer… so you draw cards and if you have the card on your board you put a piece over it and so… basically when you start the game, there’s two pots, there’s a game pot and a jack pot and there’s money in ‘em, quarters, nickels, dimes, you know cuz grandma… so the first to match the four corners wins the jack pot, then if you matched across horizontally or diagonally you would get the smaller game pot. We would play this all the time… bar-b-q’s, holidays… my family got together a lot, like weekly, for family dinners or whatever… everyone calls it Loteria but my family calls it cholupa, after one of the cards… it’s a lady in a canoe wearing like a folklorico dress… I didn’t find out it was called Loteria until like 5 years ago, we always called it cholupa after that card. We all kind of had our own cards that were also like our nicknames… like my tia was la dama because she thought she was fancy and my uncle was el boracho because he liked to drink and I was el apache because my skin is darker.”

Loteria came to Mexico by way of Italy and Spain, for a brief history of Loteria see, https://teresavillegas.com/history-of-la-loteria/ for variations on game play, see http://www.maravillasoftware.com/loteriamexicana.html. The customizations R’s family members added, such as individual game pieces and nicknames associated with the cards show folklore’s role in identity formation and cultural pride passed along in family tradition.

The Devil is Spitting on your Food

T is 20 years old, his parents immigrated from Bangladesh, he was born in Sylmar, California. He told me about this belief about why you should cover your food if you walk away from your plate.

“Whenever you have food out… if you walk away from your food… basically the devil is spitting on your food, so you always need to cover your food. This is a Muslim, Islamic tradition… and you do it whenever you’re eating but also during Ramadan, which is the month of fasting, we break our fast when the sun sets, right… so what we do is we set the table with the food we’re gonna break our fast with… so we do our prayers before we eat while the sun is setting… so we break our fast with a date and some water and then we go pray formally… because we have to pray five times a day… so we say one of the five prayers and we have to cover our food and after we finish with the prayer then we can eat.”

This website explains the hadith, or statement from the prophet, of covering food, https://www.understanding-islam.com/hadith-regarding-covering-food-during-the-night/, stating that covering food is to avoid disease. The link between the devil’s spit and pestilence is straightforward. For general information about spitting and the devil in Islam, see https://www.opindia.com/2021/03/the-significance-of-spitting-in-islam-how-spitting-can-ward-off-satan/

Simnel Cake or Judas doesn’t get a marzipan egg for Easter

S is 54, he lived in England where his mother is from for the first ten years of his life before his family moved to California. He is soft spoken and pauses thoughtfully while speaking. He told me about this Easter tradition of a cake his mother used to bake.

“And then this is something my mom did… I’ve never heard it done anywhere else… for Easter she would bake a cake and make eleven marzipan eggs and put them on top of it… and it represented each of the disciples… except for Judas (laughs). I think it was a white cake… or I think a plain yellow… we always went outside and took an Easter picture with one of us five kids holding the cake.”

When I researched this, I found that this is a traditional cake known as a Simnel Cake. This tradition goes back to medieval times and started out as something more like bread than cake. Simnel comes from the Latin Simila – a fine white flour. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was something more like pudding. It wasn’t until the 19th century that it became recognizable as cake and the marzipan eggs don’t appear until the 20th century. It is described as a fruit cake, but lighter than the traditional Christmas version. S didn’t mention fruit in the one his mom used to make, but the white cake would have been in line with the original use of fine white flour. For more information and a recipe please see https://britishfoodhistory.com/2018/03/19/simnel-cake/