Tag Archives: apple

Proverb: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Context: The interviewee, M, is 18 years old and they were born and raised in what is commonly known as the Bay Area in San Francisco, California. M had brought up this common proverb that they heard growing up while we were discussing minor folklore genres because both their parents are doctors in internal medicine, and they joked that they would eat an apple every time they wanted their parents to stop bothering them.

Analysis: The proverb originated in the 1860s in Wales, but it was in a different format: “Eat an apple on going to bed and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” It wasn’t until 1913 that it became the proverb we know today (Davis, 2015). This was because they were advocating for children to eat more apples and healthy foods in general so that they will be in good health and not need to go to the hospital as often. I was also familiar with this saying growing up. I had some health issues when I was younger, and I frequently visited the hospital/emergency room growing up. I had a lot of allergies, one of them being dust, and I used to have asthma as well, so together, they were not a great combination. I was not a big fan of hospitals and doctors, so I would eat apples all the time to try and prevent myself from getting sick or having an allergic reaction and having to go back to the hospital. 

Davis, M. A., Bynum, P. W., & Sirovich, B. E. (2015). Association Between Apple Consumption and Physician Visits: Appealing the Conventional Wisdom That an Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away. JAMA internal medicine, 175(5), 777.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away


M is a student at USC. She told me about a common proverb about doctors that is considered a joke in her family because her parents are doctors.


“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”


This proverb traditionally means that eating apples or being healthy by eating nutritious food will help prevent unwanted doctor’s visits caused by poor health or illness. On the other hand, since my informant’s parents are doctors, she thinks this common proverb is more of a joke because it suggests that she can avoid her parents by eating apples. Avoiding parents is something all teenagers can relate to, and it appears that children of doctors do as well.

Advent Spiral

Content: Advent Spiral
Informant – “The Advent Spiral is a somber ceremony for grades 1-8. It happens in the winter. Fresh pine boughs are laid in a large spiral in the center of a dark room. Paper star mats are spaced out equidistantly along the spiral. In the center of the spiral is a single lit candle. A class enters the room. There might be a harp player in the corner, or it might be silent. One by one, a child enters the spiral. Each child has an apple with a candle stuck in its center. The child walks through the spiral, lights their apple candle from the candle in the center, then places their apple candle on one of the star mats. Then the child sits outside the spiral. Once everyone has gone, the room is full of light.”

Informant – “Walking into the spiral symbolizes walking into the spiral within yourself. Lighting the apple is like lighting the flame within yourself. The apple itself is a symbol of new life. This ritual has is based on the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Celts. They took an ember from their city, from their central sacred hearth of their city temple and transported it carefully to the new land. They took an ember from their holy hearth to whatever land their were colonizing, and then they would light their first sacred hearth with that ember. All the fires were started from that first original coal. That sacred fire is holy, regardless of the religion. It symbolized them carrying their religion forward. It symbolized a unity with the old land, a unity with their culture and religion. That’s similar to the advent spiral. The students place their apples on the stars. Stars represent our connection to the cosmos, an outer world, a spiritual world. It shows that you are giving your light to the whole world. By the end of the advent spiral, the whole room is filled with light. It’s symbolic of what we want the students to do. It’s not Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, whatever. You are a light filled person, and as you grow older share your light so the world becomes a light filled place.”
The informant learned about this ceremony when she started teaching at Waldorf.

The use of pine boughs reminds me of Christmas trees. They are evergreen, a sign of life in the dead of winter.
I couldn’t find any references to Greeks, Romans, or Celts transporting sacred coals on Google. Still, I agree with the informant’s interpretation of the ritual (i.e. it is symbolic of sharing your inner light with the world to make it a brighter place).

For another version and explanation of this festival, see “Winter Spiral and the Meaning of Advent.” www.clws.org/events/winter-spiral-and-the-meaning-of-advent/.

Norwegian Apple Peel

Something I learned from my Norwegian grandmother. She made lots of apple desserts, especially apple dumplings, which required whole peeled apples. We used paring knives to peel the apples, and she would tell us that if we were successful in cutting away the peel in one continuous spiral, and threw it over our left shoulder, the peel would form the first letter of the first name of our future husband. I remember doing this in her kitchen at about age seven (after many unsuccessful tries, it is harder than it sounds to peel an apple in one unbroken spiral). The peel formed a “J” which, as you know, turned out to be correct.

I’ve only tried this a few times. I remember the first one because my grandmother was there and shared the story with me. It was Thanksgiving and we were making apple dumplings together. I loved baking with my Grandma – she is the one who taught me how to cook – and this memory takes me right back to her kitchen. Just FYI, it is not easy to have the perfect peel – it takes concentration and time. Usually when I am baking, I’m in a bit of a hurry and none of the peels come off in one piece. Even when concentrating, only about one in four apples will peel whole. Plus, the peel must be quite thin – if it is too thick, it will break on hitting the floor – a null answer. I remember getting a “J” more than once, which is funny because I’ve been married twice and both times the first name began with “J”. Anyway, only single women do this (otherwise the magic would be negative – as if one did not want to be married) so my last time was more than 28 years ago. At the last Thanksgiving, I shared this tradition with Caroline, my daughter. (And no, I will not disclose her answer!)

I’m a little connected to my Norwegian heritage, mostly through cooking and a few traditions, like real candles on the Christmas tree, opening presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, certain songs, and most definitely all the fairy tales and stories (trolls and dwarves and mountains turning into people or vice versa). I have my great grandfather’s hand carved snuff box – woodworking is a big Norwegian tradition. I’d always wanted to visit Norway and last summer, I went for the first time. I stopped in Bergen for a few days – my grandfather emigrated from that city when he was 3 years old. It is a colorful, gorgeous, fishing town. A wonderful country, felt very much like home.
I think a part of many cultures is the yearning to know who you will spend your life with and marry. I know that as a kid I played games and participated in activities that were supposed to signify who I would marry. For example, as a child I used to play a game with my friends where we would twist the stem of an apple and each full turn around that the apple did would stand for a letter in the alphabet. When the stem finally broke off (usually didnt take too long) whatever letter you were on would be the first letter of the name of your future husband or wife.

California Agricultural Festivals

My informant is originally from Santa Rosa, CA, where she grew up with some small town community ideals and in particular, festivals and annual gatherings.

She noted that there were three festivals that everyone she knew always attended, and that if you didn’t attend, it was questioned why. They were family events, and when one got older they would spend the evenings at the events with their friends.

The first festival was the Gravenstein Apple Festival in Padalum, CA. It usually took place in August, and my informant went every year with her family, just like her father had gone every year when he was younger. There were a variety of arts and crafts and apple oriented foods there at the festival. The biggest event was the pie contest, however. This event was possible because of the abundance of apples in the region, so my informant has told me. It was also used to promote local businesses as they would often donate gift baskets to give away at the event as a means to get exposure for their products. She also remembers other farm-like activities like an animal petting zoo and craft booths.

The second festival was the Sonoma County Fair  (in Santa Rosa Fair grounds).  It was the other event that you went to if you grew up in Santa Rosa. This was the presentation/competition of the animals. Kids could also enter ‘art projects.’ My informant listed cross stitch as an art project specifically. Schools promoted this festival because they passed out entry forms to the students in schools, a component that is different with contemporary folklore, using the school to promote traditional festivals.

The last annual event that my informant said she always attended was a 4th of July potluck picnic held in her court, which all of the residents would block off for the day. It would be a big potluck barbecue. Kids would ride their bikes around the court. They would have games like egg toss and water balloons for kids. When it started to get dark everyone had fireworks and everyone would set them off. The entire event lasted for about 12 hours. She noted that  the people involved with these events had usually lived in the area for a prolonged period of time and there was a real sense of community at all of the festivals.