According to RE, a traditional Chinese celebration for newborn babies is called a Red Egg Party. “The red egg party is to celebrate the one month birthday of a new baby. You rub their head with green onion sticks and a red egg, and throw a celebration with red dyed eggs. Right of passage sort of thing. Belief of good health, intelligence, long life etc.”
RE, is a sophomore at USC and is familiar with Chinese traditions. She is very invested in this culture and knows a lot about it. This was taken from a conversion over text regarding these traditions.
What immediately comes to mind when I think of this is its similarities to a baptism. The purpose of both is a right of passage into a new light and they are both typically done in the first month of a human’s life. One thing I was not able to investigate into is why a red egg and green onions. Though theses are to represent “good health, intelligence, long life etc.”, I was not sure why. This as a right of passage makes a lot of sense. It instills Chinese values into the child one month into their lives and brings them into the culture.
“The story goes that a family… they were getting ready for their first child’s baptism and first birthday. So, the family invited many people to the party and had decided to serve a whole roasted pig. A week prior to the baptism/party, the family had gotten a really fat and big pig. That whole week they fed the pig lots of food in order to get it bigger and more fat. The day before the party and before the pig was to be killed, the family starved the pig. I am not sure why, maybe to cleanse it or something. Well the pig was used to eating lots of food, so it was really hungry that whole day and night. The next morning which was the day of the baptism/party, the father went outside to kill the pig, but the pig was gone. He called his wife out and she then noticed dirty prints on their house floor. The father and mother followed the prints into their child’s crib, they screamed and were horrified to see the pig eating their child. The pig stared at the parents and its eyes were blood red.”
The informant is a 77-year-old Spanish speaking woman, born in Mexico. She first this story as a child and would then tell it to her children and grandchildren. She believes the pig was possessed by the devil, that the pig was evil from the beginning.
This story is a twist on the cruelty we inflict on pigs when we kill them for food. I believe that this story helps people come to terms with why we should kill pigs and eat them. If pigs could they would inflict the same pain to humans. In some ways this idea of the pig eating us makes us feel better about why we eat them.
Main Piece: A New York Baptism is either the first time you get badly splashed by a taxi in NYC or the first time mysterious droplets (which might not be water) from above trickle onto your forehead.
Context: The informant (OC) is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. As stated in the main piece, OC has heard multiple different variations of the joke, both originating from New York City situations. She originally heard the iterations of the joke from her immediate family based in Brooklyn, NY and finds the sayings funny for their grudging celebration of uniquely New Yorker situations as well as their play on the concept of baptism, given that she grew up in a religious family but still remains skeptical of organized religion. She also has personally experienced a New York Baptism and delights in witnessing the bewildering baptisms of others.
Personal thoughts: The New York Baptism joke is essentially a coping mechanism to deal with the poor conditions of an overpopulated and polluted city. Baptisms are generally seen as wonderful ceremonies where you are reborn into the purity of God’s forgiveness and light, so to place such “negative” experiences on par with a baptism seems discordant and ironic. However, the juxtaposition between the uncleanliness of the city and the purity of religious experiences makes us question what the difference really is between a baptism and dirty city water. Who’s to say that whatever splashed onto your forehead isn’t Holy Water? Are our religious ceremonies really that “pure” anyways, or are we just placing arbitrary concepts of dirty and clean onto a world that will always, in some way, be dirty? To come back to my original point, the joke takes the undesirable concepts of mysterious substances and inconsiderate taxi drivers and turns them onto their head. Although New York is crowded and dirty, those conditions are out of any individual New Yorker’s control, so why not embrace them? People will always call New York home with all the love and devotion in the world, which is why mysterious liquids are not seen as something to be disgusted with, but rather cherished like you would cherish an annoying but lovable family member.
“The way a baptism goes can either mean that the child will have good luck in their future or not. This though is specifically entirely in the hands of the padrinos(god parents) so the parents of the child must choose a good fit. The padrinos are said to have to buy the baby’s attire for the day, pay for the holy mass and then contribute in whatever else they want for the baby’s party. The padrinos also have to throw a “bolo”, this is money thrown in behalf of the baby and other kids then get to pick it up. The baby’s luck is measured by how lavish the attire is, and how much money the padrinos throw… they say that if the padrinos are being stingy about the party, then the baby will suffer terrible luck but if the padrinos don’t show any signs of stinginess and are willing to rip a hole in their pockets, then the baby will be very lucky… I don’t really know how this originated, what I do know is that everyone goes by the same rule. I know my mom talks about how this was something that had been happening since years ago back at home in Mexico. I don’t think it’s like something set in stone but I mean, everyone else is doing it so why not. And it also is kind of true. My mother says how I have really good luck because my padrinos gave a lot of money the day of my baptism, and I do feel like I’m pretty lucky, whereas my sister didn’t even have a party and she’s not doing as good as I am. I also did the same for my children and I hope that they choose good padrinos for their kids. I guess this is all a tradition that makes us who we are.”
My informant is a 41 year old Mexican descendant who was born in Mexico but has lived in the USA for the most part of her life. She maintains most of her ties to her Mexican culture while living in the USA so therefore, most of the things she knows has been passed down by her mother and other relatives. She does not necessarily learn her folk tales for different thing via a specific book or other published material, but rather from relatives in her daily life.
This was pretty fascinating to analyze because who knew that a baby’s future can be determined at such a young age. Furthermore, I found interesting that parents are solely responsible for what kind of future their kids will have, based on this tradition. It might be interesting to try and see where this tradition originated from because that way we would be able to see exactly why it is formatted the way it is. Regardless, I don’t think that just because it seems silly, it’s not entirely a myth. It may actually be true, and if so, it should be practiced because who wouldn’t want good luck.
Informant: “At least in the old times, you are having a baby- I mean you had a baby, right? And before the baby is baptized in that period like, nobody is supposed to see that baby because you know like, evil people or evil spirits can kind of be attached and stay with the kid forever. So, like usually if you have the baby on the stroller it would be covered with something. Or just only parents and relatives would be able to look at the baby or play with the baby. But after the baby is baptized it means that the baby is protected.”
I have heard of this superstition before in a pervious class where I researched Russian folklore, though I thought it was interesting that my informant explained that the tradition of covering the baby before it’s baptism is no longer done. The reason why this tradition is no longer done in Russia, except in highly religious families, probably has something to do with the fact that the Soviet Union discouraged the practice of all religions, not just Christianity. The Soviet Union policy on religion comes from Marxism-Leninism ideology which pushes the idea that religion is idealist and bourgeois, which lead the Soviet Union to adopt atheism as the national doctrine of the USSR.
The ritual of not showing the newborn baby to anyone before the baptism to protect the child from evil spirits is also an interesting idea. This is because this shows a blending of Christian and pagan beliefs, which is also known as ‘double belief’. The Christianization of Russia occurred during the mid 10th century, and instead of replacing the Slavic pagan beliefs, the Russian peasants saw this new religion as something to add on to their old religion. Russian superstitions today still feature customs and beliefs that are a mix of the Christian and Slavic pagan beliefs, which can be seen the the Russian baptism ritual.
My informant was born in 1977, Moscow, Soviet Union (now Russia). On completing her undergraduate education in Moscow, she moved to California to earn her graduate degree in theatrical design from Cal State Long Beach. She now works as a faculty member for the USC School for Dramatic Arts. She became a US citizen in 2012.