An Orange in your Christmas Stocking

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 tradition of receiving an orange in his Christmas stocking and carrying it on with his family.

“An English tradition I like is that you would always get an orange in your stocking at Christmas time… because oranges were exotic I think… especially during the winter. That was something my mom shared with me and my siblings. And it was just for the kids, so… that made us feel special… I still do it… only it’s a chocolate orange now… Terry’s chocolate orange because I like chocolate! It’s a good feeling from my childhood…it’s a good memory from my childhood… and even though my family is diabetic now, I feel happy giving the chocolate orange now because it reminds us all of happy Christmases.”

According to an article in Smithsonian magazine (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-we-should-bring-back-tradition-christmas-orange-180971101/), the tradition of an orange in Christmas stockings started in the 19th century and may be related to a legend about the real Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra and three gold balls (bags, bars, or coins?) known as “the Miracle of the Dowries.” The orange was an affordable stand in for the gold, yet still a rare treat. In the early 1900s, the citrus industry incorporated the tradition in marketing campaigns featuring a cartoon Santa offering oranges as a healthy alternative to candy. Later, during the Great Depression, oranges took on renewed importance as an exotic and rare treat during hard times. The trajectory of this tradition reveals interesting intersections with the focus of Christmas moving away from a religious focus to a consumer one.

Cahuenga Pass is Haunted

T is 70 years old. He is a retired teacher. He was born in Southern California and raised in Hawaii. He was 7 years old when his family moved there in 1959. He is very animated and speaks very quickly. He told me about the bad vibes he gets at Cahuenga Pass in conversation.

“There was a battle uh… like in the 1800s… something like that, I always have weird vibes in the Cahuenga pass. I think it was the battle of Cahuenga Pass, it changed the leadership of where the valley was going at the time… the end of where like Universal Studios is, that’s the haunted part. A Mexican governor, no one liked him, and a wealthy landowner, no one liked him either… they were fighting over it. Only two people were killed, not the governor or the landowner go figure, but the two that died, they’re the ones that haunt the place. I always got bad energy from the pass. I feel I attract ghosts too easily.”

There were two battles for Cahuenga pass in the 1800s, T’s story refers to the original Battle of Cahuenga Pass, the second was known as the Battle of Providencia (or the Second Battle of Cahuenga Pass) There are stories about the pass being cursed. Apparently, parcels of stolen treasure are buried somewhere along the pass but everyone who’s ever come close to finding it has suddenly and mysteriously died! So maybe it is cursed and haunted. For more information see https://bizarrela.com/2016/11/cahuenga-pass/.  

Madame Pele at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel

T is 70 years old. He is a retired teacher. He was born in Southern California and raised in Hawaii. He was 7 years old when his family moved there in 1959. He is very animated and speaks very quickly. He shared this piece with me in conversation.

“The legend of Pele used to frighten me as a child. She was always seen before a volcanic eruption… someone would see her… she was very regal, tall, long flowing black hair, flaming red dress flowing behind her… she was elegant. She would appear walking somewhere… This was in 1960, what happened was the volcano did erupt and we lived on Kailua at the time, the eruption was on the big island, I forget which volcano it was, but the pumice, that’s when the lava flows on the water, anyway the pumice flows onto the beach… people use it to scrub their face, anyways people said they saw her walking through the wall in the Hawaiian Village hotel. She’s not happy about how the island is going, you know… what’s happened to the native Hawaiians and the Polynesian culture… So I was really scared of her and I used to think I would see her walking through my bedroom but I never did. So if you see her walking around, that means a volcano will erupt pretty soon. They call her the goddess, Madame Pele.”

Pele is part of Hawaiian mythology but interestingly endures in contemporary times through many sightings, sometimes as a hitchhiker, sometimes dressed in white with a white dog, and sometimes as a beautiful young woman dressed in red or as a female figure within lava itself. These contemporary iterations of Pele take the form of ghost story figures. The version T told me coincides with accounts documented on websites such as https://www.hauntedrooms.com/hawaii/haunted-places/haunted-hotels & https://frightfind.com/hilton-hawaiian-village/ and does seem to serve as a cautionary tale or lesson particularly in light of the fact that the sighting happens in a tourist hotel and that Pele is not happy about native land dispossession and the display of Polynesian culture as tourist attraction.

For more information about Pele and contemporary sightings see https://www.academia.edu/189854 & https://www.hawaiimagazine.com/people-cant-stop-seeing-pele-in-the-lava/.

Getting Bruinized in the Fountain

CONTEXT:

L was born and raised in Sun Valley, Idaho. She is 20 years old and moved to Los Angeles to attend school at UCLA; she is now a sophomore. 

The context of this piece was at a little coffee shop at UCLA. I was visiting my best friend for the weekend. I asked her if she had any folklore to share with me and she excitedly told me all about a special ritual that UCLA partakes in every year.

TEXT:

“I mean at UCLA there’s a fountain that you’re supposed to get “bruinized” at where you touch the water once and say some crazy chant and you’re not allowed to touch the water again until after you take your last final. Otherwise you won’t graduate in 4 years…during freshmen orientation you’re supposed to wade in or touch the water. If you touch it again before your last final as a senior it’ll add an extra quarter before you graduate. After you take your last final people usually go and swim in it to celebrate.”

ANALYSIS:

UCLA hired Howard Troller to design a foundation on their campus; he used this as an opportunity to create something that was architecturally different from other fountains that “just squirt water into the air.” He designed an inverted fountain that flows inward into a large bed of rocks (handpicked by Troller himself.) Troller finished the fountain on March 18, 1968 and ever since, the fountain has been the location where UCLA students host one of their biggest traditions. During freshman orientation, freshmen are “initiated” by touching the water. They are then told to not touch the water again until they graduate; if they touch it before, it is said to be a bad omen – it may even add an extra quarter to their academic career.

Tamales with Olives

CONTEXT: 

RR is one of my best friends and roommates. She is a sophomore at USC who enjoys crocheting, writing poetry, and making me laugh. 

TEXT: 

Me: “Ok, so now, tell me the story about the olives.”

R: “(laughs) tamales with olives, Sophia. So every Christmas, it’s a tradition in my family that we make—We have tamales.

That’s like the main course of the meal on Christmas. 

And my grandma spends weeks preparing, like literally hundreds of tamales.”

Me: “What goes in them?”

R: “I’m not allowed to know the recipe because my grandma is still alive. 

When she passes away, it will pass down. 

But yeah, it’s a secret but it’s basic like masa flour. 

And then the corn husk is what it’s wrapped in. 

And then the fillings.”

Me: “Did her mom make them too?”

R: “Yeah. Or well, her mom is Italian but they grew up in Arizona 

in a Mexican community. 

But my grandpa is like Mexican Mexican (from Mexico)

But, anywho

but um, in the middle there’s red chili, and there’s green chili and it’s usually pork,

And they do an assembly line.

and then one person will put the masa in the corn husk, 

and then the other person will put the filling 

and then it’s one person’s job to put a single olive in every little tamale. 

And if you forget it, it’s bad luck 

when you eat it and a tamale that doesn’t have an olive in it. It’s bad luck.”

Me: “What does it mean?” 

R: “Well, it’s Christmas and the time of the new year. 

There’s also traditions where you eat grapes. 

So things shaped like that, like little fruits of the earth are supposed to make you have a fruitful New Year. 

And so that’s what the olives mean.”

Me: “Okay, and if you don’t get one, you’re not gonna have a fruitful year?”

R: “Not necessarily, but it’s better that you get one with one of them.”

ANALYSIS:

Making tamales for Christmas is a major tradition in many Hispanic cultures. Corn was commonly viewed as the “substance of life” because God supposedly made humans from corn. In regards to the olive part, after further investigation, each tamale can be viewed as a symbol for the Holy Virgin. The olive is supposed to represent baby Christ waiting to be born (as he was on Christmas).