Tag Archives: blessing

Blessing the Rice

Background information: My mom is a second-generation Filipino-American, meaning she was born here in the US. Her parents immigrated from the Philippines when they were both relatively young, and my mom’s family grew up with a lot of relatives in San Francisco, CA. 

Mom: I don’t know if this is something you and the boys have noticed all the time, but I try to use the rice spoon to bless the rice before we eat every time. I draw a cross on rice with the spoon. I think this is just something all Filipino families do.

Me: Where did you learn to do this from? 

Mom: I learned it from my mom, so your grandma, and it just became like a practice to bless the rice before eating. Probably like…I still do it because of the connection to grandma, so there’s nostalgia there, and of course the gesture of like actual blessing. It’s like a comforting thing. I don’t always remember to do it, but I try to do it more now and I tell your brothers to do it when we eat too. 

My family did not raise me to be very religious, but my mom does always remind me to pray and have faith in a higher power, and to stay connected to my loved ones who have passed away. For my mom, I think that her relationship to religion, and religious practices like this, are mostly connected to her upbringing and relationship to her own parents. This small custom that has become an everyday practice for my mom shows how folklore and traditions that are passed down through constant performance in childhood can have such strong emotional roots for the person practicing them many years later. 

Pidyon Haben

Main piece: The first born son who would have died in the Passover story. If you read the Haggadah on Passover, there’s a tenth plague. The tenth plague is when the angel of death comes down and kills the firstborn male child of all the Egyptians, but spares the firstborn male child of the Jewish slaves. And I don’t know how it got converted to buying back that child as a tradition, but the tradition is you redeem the firstborn son at birth. You give ten silver dollars to a Kohen. Kohanim children don’t have to have a pidyon haben. What my grandfather used to do, because my grandfather was a Kohen at a lot of simchas like that, is they would give him the money and he would give it back to them for the child as a gift. There’s a prayer, it’s a month after the bris. A separate ceremony. They usually have a little party. There’s a blessing, the Kohen gives the baby a blessing. It’s all symbolic, you know, not just like, an exchange of goods. Nobody’s buying or selling the child. 

Background: My informant is an eighty-eight year old Jewish man from Baltimore, Maryland, and a Kohen. He has watched his grandfather and father be the Kohen in the pidyon haben ceremony, and has been the Kohen for one himself. 

Context: A pidyon haben is a Jewish ceremony where ten silver dollars is given to a Kohen in exchange for their newborn son in order to remember/commemorate the work of the Angel of Death in the Passover story, where she killed all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, but spared the ones of the Jews, whose doors were marked with lamb’s blood (this is also where the practice of putting mezuzahs on doors in Jewish homes originated). The Kohens are one of the twelve tribes of Israel who historically took on the position of high priests, as they are said to be descendants of Aaron. Kohanim in modern Jewish settings today still perform blessings over the congregation. Tribal identity within the Jewish faith is established through the patrilineal line – my informant’s grandfather and father were both Kohens, so my informant is as well. Simcha is a yiddish term meaning party or celebration, often referred to in religious celebrations, such as weddings or Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. A bris is a Jewish male circumcision ceremony that occurs when the child is eight days old (female children have baby naming ceremonies, where similar prayers and blessings are performed, but no circumcision takes place).

Analysis: When there is a newborn child, historically there is concern that the child will not live very long, and there is pressure from the religious community to indoctrinate the baby into its ranks so that it can be protected both spiritually and by the congregation (this is the purpose of a bris). However, in the talmudic tradition, there remains a threat against first born sons, regardless of age, by the Angel of Death. Although Jewish people still protect themselves with a variant of the lamb’s blood they put on the door during the Passover story (mezuzahs), there is still a lingering want to protect the first born son from spiritual threats, such as the Angel of Death. The number of silver pieces, ten, represent the fact that the Angel of Death was the tenth plague (and also the number ten is important in Judaism, because that is the number of commandments there are and also the number of Jewish persons required to pray – a minyan). Silver in Judaism is a metal that represents both moral innocence and holiness. Since the firstborn is just a baby, the parents offer silver as a representation of proof of their innocence (even if the money is given back). Additionally, a Kohen is a holy figure, so offerings of silver in return for blessings for the longevity and health of the child’s life is a suitable exchange. A pidyon haben also occurs a month after the bris (which happens when the child is eight days old), so by that time it is likely the child will live past infancy. 

Giving Monetary Gifts that End in One

NA is describing an Indian custom around the amount of money you should give a gift. 

NA: There is also like when you give gifts, you don’t give like 50 or 100. You give like 51 or 101. It can be any hundred amount, but it can’t be like a ten is has to end in one. 

C: Is it related to luck or anything like that?

NA: I guess it’s so like that, Indian people see it as, when I give you 100 it’s like a hundred full stop. When you do 101 it is like money will keep coming to you. 

Context

NA is a 20 year old USC business student who comes from a Sindhi Hindu family from India. She grew up in southern California as an active Hindu going to temple and fasting on Mondays and active in her Hindu tradition. She is also my roommate and I asked her about folklore she had related to her Indian background.  This information was taken from a casual interview conducted with NA over Facetime. 

Analysis

One explanation for addition of the $1 is that it represents the continuation of wealth. It also makes the gift more meaningful by showing the recipient that not only are they providing money but also a blessing of the sort for you to be more successful in the future. Thus, making a gift that may seem somewhat impersonal more meaningful. I also found a tradition of giving a single Rupee coin when a larger monetary amount is not given. Thus, showing an aversion to the finality and absence the number zero represents. In contrast to the potential form growth represented through the number one. Additionally, even though zero comes before one, one is the number we start counting with. As a result, the giving of a Rupee coin is often giving on occasions that represent new beginnings, such as a wedding 

Indian Holiday of Karva Chauth

NA: Ok so there is this holiday called Karva Chauth and you have to fast for your husband’s long life all day until you see the moon and then you have to do this weird thing and nobody knows why you do this but like you take a flour sifter and you hold it up to the moon at the end of the day before you break your fast. Nobody knows why the hell you do this, but you have to hold it up to the moon. When you do that, you do it at night, and once you do that you can break the fast.

Interviewer: Okay, and who participates in this?

NA: So it’s is only women and it can be like women that are married, like I can do it for my future husband like I don’t even have to know him. It is just for the long life of my husband. My grandma did it, so my maternal grandma stopped doing it after her husband passed away and my other grandma when her husband passed away she did it for my dad, so she did it for her son. It’s just women and then some men will do it for my long life so I’ll fast with them, um but otherwise men don’t have to do it. They really don’t have to show up until the end of the night when you do that flour sifting thing.

Context

NA is a 20 year old USC buisness student whose family India. She grew up in southern California, but is very conencted with her Sindhi culture. She is also my roommate and I asked her about any folklore she had relating to her Indian background. This information was gathered from an informal interview conducted over Facetime. For further context related to this story she is a single woman who has never been married. 

Thoughts

This holiday emphasizes the importance of the woman’s role as a wife and mother in Indian culture. Although it is not unique to Indian culture, it shows the importance of the role of women while men do not have the same obligation as a husband to bless their wives in the same way. It also shows the power of rituals. NA and her family perform the ritual because they believe in its power. However, that does not mean they know exactly why the particulars of the rituals are there. Thus, showing the level of trust in what has been passed down through the generations and how that can be effective without knowing why. 

Additionally, this ritual shows the connection between femininity and the moon that is seen in many cultures around the world. It seems as though women are using their connection with the moon to bless their husbands, demonstrating the power of that connection. Fasting also is a common symbol of religious observance in the Hindu faith with many religious holidays involving a fast, and many Hindu’s fasting on particular days of the week to show reverence towards the corresponding god. 

Superstition -punching bread before it bakes

Context: My informant (M) told me growing up she had to punch the bread her mother made or else it wouldn’t be good bread, or they would have bad luck-she wasn’t sure which, maybe both. Now, as an adult, she never makes bread alone because she needs someone to punch it before it bakes. 

Main Text: M: When you make bread you have to let it rise twice, once right after you mix it and then right before it bakes after you shape it. In between the first and second rise, you knead the bread, and someone else has to punch the bread, or else it won’t be good. But it has to be someone else, not the person who is making the bread. 

Analysis: I had never heard of this superstition before she told me about it. It seems to me like someone has to give your bread their blessing and approval before. However, this could have started as a way for a mother to entertain her child by letting her punch bread, and it turned into a tradition and then a superstition.