Tag Archives: birthday

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: Thousand Oaks, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 21, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

Drive Through Birthday Party

--Informant Info--
Nationality: US
Age: 19
Occupation:
Residence: Cupertino
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin

Background: My informant is a friend of mine of Chinese heritage, though he grew up in the United States. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. 

Context: This conversation was recorded on a zoom meeting that we had on a Thursday morning. My informant is a friend of mine, and the conversation occurred in both of our rooms. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. We did not talk about much other than folklore because my informant had a final immediately after our call. The main piece is made up of a transcription of our call. 

Main Piece: Aight so I don’t think there’s like an official name for this but it’s like a it’s like a drive-through birthday party that has happened ever since coronavirus hit. So like one time, one of my friends birthdays was last week so then what happened was he organized it so that he like made a poster in his yard. And so me and a bunch of his friends and a bunch of his family, like pulled up in our cars and like we formed a line and we just like, we like as we drove by his house we would just honk we would like talk. And we would like have posters. We couldn’t do gifts because on the off-chance that we would be spreading coronavirus through the gifts but like some people had like cars that were like topless or like with a sunroof and like people would be standing through the sunroof and yelling and it was his overall a really good time

Thoughts: This is a bit of coronavirus folklore and discussed how coronavirus and the lack of in-person interaction has affected birthday celebrations. I think what is particularly interesting about this is that my informant did not know anything about the origin of the trend even though it has only popped up in the last two months or so. My informant says it is just ubiquitous now, which is fascinating and something that makes this celebration uniquely folklore, as it is ubiquitous without a discernible origin but almost universally adopted.

Seaweed Soup

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 52
Occupation: Jeweler
Residence: La Mirada, Orange County, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 3 April 2020
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Main Piece:

Seaweed Soup is a popular traditional Korean dish.

Original script: 미역국

Phonetic (Roman) script: Miyeok-guk

Translation: Seaweed soup

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

Informant: Out of all the Korean soup dishes, and there are lots and lots of it, miyeok guk (seaweed soup) probably has the most ties with meanings and stuff. It’s most famous for being the soup that people eat for their birthday breakfast. And it’s mostly breakfast, I don’t think people eat this for their birthday lunch of dinner. So a lot of foreigners call miyeok guk the ‘birthday soup’.

Interviewer: Where did that birthday tradition start?

Informant: I’m not sure when or where, but it originates from how miyeok guk is served to women who had just gave birth. It’s like, high inn iron and iodine and stuff, so it’s seen as really good postpartum food. It’s the first thing moms eat after giving birth, so it’s the first thing that babies eat when they’re born too. I think people eat this soup for birthdays because of this, to remember where they start from and remember their mothers.

Interviewer: Is there any other meanings tied to the soup?

Informant: Koreans also avoid this soup the day before or the day of an important exam. Seaweed has this slippery texture and I think it reminds people of like, slipping, falling, failing, all that bad stuff you don’t want reminded of before an exam.

Interviewer: What if there’s an exam on the day of your birthday?

Informant: (laughs) I guess you have no choice then.

Background:

My informant, woman in her 50s, was born and raised in Korea but immigrated to the United States when she was in her 30s. Though she doesn’t recall when or where she acquired this piece of folklore, but she describes it as such a common piece of food knowledge that all Koreans are aware of it from a very early age.

Context:

The conversation was conducted over a phone, while the informant was at the comforts of her own house. The conversation took place in Korean, and was then translated into English by myself.

Thoughts:

Korea has a rich history with its traditional cuisine, and plenty of lore around these food items. Eating a meal on your birthday to remind yourself of your mother’s labor sounded appropriate, as Korean culture is built heavily around Confucianism.

Seaweed Soup on Birthdays -A Korean Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 21
Occupation: Waitress
Residence: Camarillo, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/11/19
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Main Text:

HK: “On somebody’s birthday it is tradition to have seaweed soup”

Collector: “Can it be any kind of seaweed soup?”

HK: “I don’t think it really matters, but there are a lot of traditional recipes for seaweed soup out there”

Context: 

HK moved to the Unites States from South Korea when she was in kindergarten. After being raised in different parts of Asia an coming to the United States HK has acquired many traditions, customs and folk beliefs that have been passed down from her family. The ritualistic act of eating seaweed soup at someone’s birthday is just one example of a ritual that HK told me during my collection helps to keep her culture alive. She said that at least for her family specifically, having rituals and customs like these allow for people living in the Unites States to still connect with their family and homeland in Korea. This connection that HK feels to her culture and family is one reason that she says that she will continue to educate and pass down this seaweed-eating ritual. Another reason that she says that she remembers such a ritual is that it has happened on every one of her birthday’s so that if she evert had a birthday without it, it would not actually feel like a special moment anymore to her.

Analysis:

According to HK when asked why the meal of choice for a birthday is seaweed soup she said that it is related to another ritualistic act what they give to the mother after giving birth because it helps to nourish the body. One obvious interpretation of why it is a Korean tradition to eat seaweed soup at the birth of a child and at a child’s birthday party is the nutritional value of seaweed. Seaweed has high quantities of calcium, magnesium, iron and other important nutrients.  It makes sense for a mother to eat this after brith for this reason because magnesium and iron will aid in a quick recovery of the energy and bloodlust that naturally occurs at birth. The second reason for why this tradition may have occurred in the first place and is still being passed down is the accessibility to seaweed. Most of Korea is bordered by Ocean where seaweed is highly accessible. This accessibility could lead one to believe that seaweed has been eaten as this tradition for centuries because it is cheap and easily accessible to even the common folk. This ease in retrieving and eating the seaweed has led to South Korea pressing about 90 percent of the country’s seaweed crop and to cultivate it they just let it grow on ropes that float near the surface of the water by tethered boeys.

To summarize, in addition to the explanation that HK provided of feeling close to one’s family and culture, there are two other explanations that help understand the reasons that it is traditional to eat seaweed at birth and on somebody’s birthday: The first reason is its obvious nutrient values that help growth and recovery of one’s body and the second reason its Korea’s ease in accessing such a food and its large farming industry that has been built around this access.

 

German Birthday Superstition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: German-American
Age: 20
Occupation: student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: The informant was speaking about a birthday of a friend and how this belief was something she practices.

 

Piece:

Informant: One of the superstitions that like a lot of, I think it’s just German people, but like maybe in general European people, that you can’t say Happy Birthday to someone before it’s their actual birthday. It just like causes bad luck and is like a bad omen.

Collector: So in terms of this birthday thing, did you learn that from your parents?

Informant: Yeah it was just like I think like as a kid like I would say like “Oh, it’s almost your birthday” and stuff like that and they would be like oh don’t you don’t say it, you just don’t say it you just don’t say happy birthday before someone’s birthday, it almost jinxes it like you’re not gonna make it to the next birthday

Collector: Do you put this into practice?

Informant: I never say happy birthday before it’s their birthday, I usually don’t mention it until it’s their birthday.

 

Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent whose parents raised her with German influence. She also travels to Germany often.

Analysis: This superstition deals with luck and life span. The negative connotation of prematurely wishing someone a happy birthday insinuates that because the yearly cycle has not been completed yet, that there is space for the life to be broken or ended overall. It’s interesting because in American culture, just the act of wishing someone a happy birthday is thought of as a kind gesture. But this piece shows that for German culture it is about the timely nature of when it is said. This probably reflects German ideology on being on time and doing things by the book rather then just for completetion.

Birthday Candles Prediction

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/3/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Text:

P: If you blow out the candles, the amount of times you, it takes for you to blow out the candles is how many children you’re going to have

J: Wow

P: Oh wait, that means you’re going to have one child, cause you blew once

 M: Nooo.

J: See I thought you were saying you get what you wish for and M doesn’t want to have kids, so….

P: But yeah that’s why I said that you’d have zero because I thought it started at zero but I guess it starts at one.

M: But the abortion negates it.

Context: The collector is noted by the letter J. Informant P is the one who knows of this custom, and informant M is celebrating her birthday. Informant P learned this belief from her Indian parents.

Analysis: This custom celebrates not only the birth of the person blowing the candles but also their potential fertility and their future as a reproductive being. That said, the idea of blowing out the candle isn’t necessarily inherently sexual, but instead is just a physical way of blowing out the flames. Perhaps the flame is a representation of single life without children and each failed blow is a child that fails to tame the fire of the blower’s sexuality. However, this isn’t meant to be a ritual to bring on the children but is instead a predictive belief. Despite this, I am confused as to how to reconcile with the fact that people have multiple birthdays. Does the number of blows add up from year to year? That seems impossible given that humans don’t tend to have 13 children (assuming that the counting stops once the being is fertile. Or is it an average of all of the blows per birthday? Regardless, the belief itself isn’t concerned with the mathematics of the custom but instead is primarily focused on celebrating birth and fertility.

El Trancazo: a Familial Cake

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student, Actor
Residence: Dallas, Texas
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): spanish

Ingredients/Steps:

– preheat oven to 250 degrees Celsius

– Have two pans ready

– 1 Kilo Butter

– 1 Kilo Granulated Sugar (slowly put into mixer while butter is whipping)

– 1 kilo flour

– Add 8 Eggs into Whipped Butter and Sugar

– 8 Egg yolks go into the same bowl

– Set aside the 8 egg whites which remain

– 2 cups of the original Kilo of flour go into Mixer

– For every cup of flour, add a tablespoon of baking powder through a sifter to the mixer

– 2 Oranges and their shavings

– Add a little bit of vanilla (eyeball it)

– Mix the rest of the flour with the juice from the oranges

– You’ll need 1 cup of warm milk; heat for 1 minute in microwave

– Mix the 8 egg whites from earlier with the milk and water

– put 2 Kilos of the batter into each pan

– Prepare topping while cake is in the oven

– put pot on stove with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk and 5 tablespoons of Cacao (bring to a low boil)

– Soak cake part of cake in Bacardi Rum

– Spread what was on the stove onto the cake and spread apricot jelly as well 🙂

 

A.H. – “I’m the only person who has this recipe written down, it comes from my aunt in San Luis Potosi, and everyone knows about this cake because she always makes it for everyone’s birthday.  It’s literally a concoction of a bunch of stuff; because – her family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and she didn’t want to have to borrow money from her family, or from anyone, so the recipe basically started when she just took scraps from around the kitchen and put it into the cake.  And it’s just a little bit of everything.”

“She calls it El Trancazo, which literally means like, “getting hit,” so it’s kinda just something that’s thrown together.  And the cake is massive.”

How long has she been making this cake for everyone’s birthday?

A.H. – “The first time she made it was for her first grandchild.”

When it’s someone’s birthday, and they’re in her presence, they know it’s coming?

A.H. – “Yes.  I only learned how to make this cake because I happened to be in Mexico at the time of my cousin’s birthday, and the cake was made.  It took like all day.  If you look at photos of different birthdays, the cake is always there.”

When you think of that cake, or the idea behind it, the fact that it is just thrown together, is it a source of pride?  Identity?  Reminders of your aunt?

A.H. – “I know so much about my aunt’s upbringing – and I know that it was really tragic, really sad, like – her life sucked growing up.  So it’s that idea of – or a sense of, how mothers are just idolized.  Put on a pedestal to the nth degree.  I think it reinforces that idea, that she did what she could with what she could.  My lack of resources isn’t gonna stop me from making my grandchild’s birthday any less memorable or special.”

That’s an idea for you to to live by as well then, that never give up attitude.  As well as just, being reminded of the strength of your great aunt, and maybe your own mother.

A.H. – “Yeah.  I guess.  I don’t think that much about the cake specifically, it’s just very telling to think of everything.  It’s a lot more than just a cake.”

 

It’s a lot more than just a cake.  Again, this cake, created by this person’s aunt, is itself a symbol for the strength and resolve of her family members, some of whom grew up during tough times.  It’s easy to see a theme here; many of these submissions bring to light a strong sense of identity – of solidarity with their family.  Attributes of resolve are what create the fondest of opinions in many people, and this cake reminds me of countless other examples of strength in family.  

 

Mince and Tatties

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Scottish
Age: 51
Occupation: Occupational Therapist
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/14/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.

 

Piece:

Subject: Every birthday in our house we always make mince and potatoes, or mince and tatties like we called them when I was a kid.

Interviewer: What does that consist of?

Subject: Well the way we do it is we ground beef, you know, mince beef, and then mashed potatoes and there you go! [Laughs] Sometimes we add vegetables like carrots or peas to go with it which really adds to the flavor.

Interviewer: And why has it become a birthday celebration?

Subject: I’m not sure, I mean we had it all the time growing up, but when we came to America we had it less and it became more of a birthday thing, so that’s just what we do every year now.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that there is no set recipe or form of cooking this dish, it consists in many variations. There are concerns that British people are no longer eating traditional dishes, but mince and tatties remains the exception as it is extremely popular in Scotland. A survey done in 2009 found that it was the most popular Scottish dish, with a third of respondents saying that they eat it once a week.

In 2006 the European Union introduced new regulations on how meat could be processed, threatening the existence of mince and tatties, resulting in the Scottish National Party leader announcing, “They can take our lives but they will never take our freedom to make mince and tatties!”

It seems that it became a popular dish due to its ability to be canned and fed to a large number of school children.

Source:

Lewis, Susan. “Recipes for Reconnection: Older People’s Perspectives on the Mediating Role of Food in Contemporary Urban Society.” ANTHROPOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS 12, 2006.

Birthday Traditions

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 48
Occupation: Stay-at-home Mother
Residence: San Jose, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/20/18
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): French, German, Japanese

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. The tradition of giving special foods or sweets as gifts is interesting because it reflects the family’s emphasis on not valuing material goods over kindness. The tradition of wrapping their birthday presents in comics is also a reflection of the family’s income level and how fiscally conservative they were in order to have enough money to send all of their kids to college.

Main Piece

“When we had birthdays we—my mom we didn’t have a lot of money first of all, so my mom would just get stuff that we could share ‘cus she wanted to teach us that we could share our gifts. So they would give us candy like licorice, cashews, Andes mints, or sometimes a box of sugar cereal—like cookie crunch or something like that—‘cus we usually didn’t get sugar cereal so we would get, like, candy or something like that that we could share and we could keep it in our room, but after dinner we would have to bring it out and share and the birthday person would bring it out and, um, it was always wrapped in the comic section from the Sunday paper which was always colorful ‘cus my mom didn’t want to spend money on wrapping paper that would be ripped off and thrown away [laughs] so it was always wrapped in the comics.”

Quinceanera

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican, American
Age: 20
Occupation: USC Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/18
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

I interviewed my informant, a young lady of Mexican descent, in the study lounge of the band office. Because of her upbringing in Mexican culture, she was able and eager to share a lot of folklore and folk traditions. At the top of her list was her experience with the tradition of Quinceaneras, which she learned from her family members. She watched her older cousins performing the event when she was younger, and she had one herself when she turned fifteen. The following is the information she shared with me during the interview:

 

According to my informant, a Quinceanera is a celebration of a young girl’s fifteenth birthday.

 

In the past, they were to show the village/town that this person is now ready to be wed/ now ready to meet suiters. Now it’s more of a celebration of coming into womanhood, and presenting her as such to family and friends

 

Girls wear bridal-like dresses. In modern Quinceaneras, girls wear colors that match the theme color of their party. My informant informed me that she wore a white dress because that was the main color of her party.

 

Quinceaneras also have a Court. The court is made up of seven couple with one main escort to dance with the Quinceanera [here the word is being used to describe the girl herself rather than the entire celebration].

 

At her party, when she enters the room, a waltz is performed with her court. And then she dances with the father/male figures in her family. Her father performs changing of the shoe, which is usually changing a ballet flat to a heal.

 

This is followed by the presentation of the doll. There is a doll that looks like the Quinceanera. She has to present it to a younger female figure (a cousin, or sister). My informant gave her doll to her younger sister at her Quinceanera.

 

My informant also told me that a more recent Quinceanera tradition is the surprise dance. The girl being celebrated will choreograph a modern dance of some sort to entertain guests.

 

It is also expected that the Quinceanera greet every guest and thank them for coming to their party.

 

My information added that Quinceaneras are traditionally for catholic people. There is usually a mass beforehand where they honor the Virgin Mary because she’s the pinnacle of womanhood.

 

I asked my informant for the context of a Quinceanera. She admitted that most of what she shared is based on the American tradition. In the Mexican culture, the whole town would be invited, not just family and friends. The party is usually held anywhere people fit: a ranch, in a dance hall, etc. The entire party also functions as a display of wealth for the family.

 

Analysis

I have ever experienced a Quinceanera party, but I have a great idea of what it’s like based on my informants description. She obviously is well informed about the complexities of the tradition, and was able to explain it to me in a way that was easy to document. I feel that if I ever go to a Quinceanera in the future, I will be knowledgeable of what is happening and why it’s significant.

 

For more information on Quinceaneras (including who celebrates it, and rituals that are part of it), go to https://www.quinceanera-boutique.com/quinceaneratradition.htm