Tag Archives: coins

New Year’s Eve Four Things

Background: The informant is a 75 year old female. She grew up in Illinois, attending both high school and college in the state. After she married her husband in 1963, she gained some new tradition from her mother-in-law, who had some German descent.

Context:  When catching up over dinner, the informant started talking about her New Year’s traditions, because someone at the table over had been served herring.

Text: 

MC: “I learned my New Year’s Tradition from my mother-in-law and I have now been doing it for around 50 years. It has four parts that you place out on your windowsill: Eating herring, which I believe is from Germany or Scandinavia, and the silver skin represents coins and prosperity; the silver coins which is money in your pocket; the pieces of bread which is good that you will have over the coming year; and sweeping out the front door which is sweeping out all the bad omens and bad lucks that happened over the year.

Analysis:

Informant: She didn’t do the tradition in her childhood but it has since become integral to who she is and remains extremely important for how it reminds her of her grandmother.

Analysis: The informant adopting the tradition at an older age represents that folklore comes and goes depending on the social context. In a sense, the informant taking up a new tradition upon getting married symbolizes how she has been “adopted” into a new family and is taking on their traditions. The informant has kept up with the tradition for over 50 years, symbolizing how strong even an adopted tradition can become. That is the nature of traditions, it should be allowed to be shared and taken up by whoever will respect it. The informant respects every element of the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Coin cake.

N is a 55-year-old female Canadian immigrant originally from Vancouver, Canada. N is a retired social worker currently living in Phoenix, Arizona.

While visiting my home state of Phoenix, Arizona, I visited N’s home, as she is my neighbor. During the visit, I asked N if she had any folklore she would be willing to share with me, and she offered me the following piece of folklore.

N: I’m talking about a tradition we had in Canada growing up, so we’re talking about the mid-sixties, uh, through the mid-seventies through approximately the age of ten, so. Um.. what we experienced growing up is that um.. When celebrating birthdays it was very common for various denominations of coins to be baked into birthday cake. And the idea was I guess for the.. child is it was a little bit of an extra gift, and surprise. But of course all of the other kids would be getting a piece of the cake as well, and so there was this fun little challenge as to who would be getting, uh, the higher coin, uh, it seems silly now seems how were just talking about coins. But at the time, um, we just thought it was a fun thing, and, I don’t think anyone thought about the potential of choking, but that is something that was very common and I have since learned that that was a tradition from Europe and possibly actually originating from Greece. Just a sign of good luck and, um, good blessings for the coming year. Uh, if I recall correctly I don’t believe I remember any adults having birthdays with these special cakes, but it was super common and it was really a fun thing that kinda went away unfortunately when we got older. I would love to actually… why don’t we uh, in my next birthday cake that I bake, uh, I should impose this uh, tradition to be new.

Reflection: I can relate to N’s story to a certain degree, as my elementary school used to hold annual Marti Gras celebrations in which they would bake cakes with items hidden in them. Except for coins, however, the cakes would each have a small plastic baby inside. Just as in M’s account, whoever found the special item inside the cake would receive good luck. With this in mind, it is interesting to consider how the American and Canadian traditions differ, in that the American Marti Gras cakes I am familiar with contain objects of perceived value while M’s Canadian birthday cakes contain items of actual value. As a result, the American cake tradition appears to be centered on an intangible sense of accomplishment (luck) while the Canadian cake tradition appears to be centered around monetary gain. This makes sense in relation to N’s assertion that coin cakes were exclusive to children’s birthday cakes, as children are probably more willing to discover a prize in their cake that they can actually use rather than an abstract concept like luck.

Eidee – Persian New Year

Description of Informant

PK (79) is a small, frail woman with dyed blonde hair and piercing eyes. PK was born and raised in Abadan, Iran in an “Oil Company Family.” OCFs were families whose primary income came from the large British oil company in Iran. They were well compensated and taken care of, living in western-style homes in protected communities. Many OCFs were secular or subscribed to a western religion in favor of Islam. PK immigrated to England in 1976 before coming to America (California) in 1978.

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Context of Interview

The informant, PK, is cooking a traditional Persian stew (khoresh) while describing the custom to the collector, BK, her grandson. Text spoken in Farsi is translated and italicized.

Interview

PK: Everybody goes to “Eideedani” [visiting people on new year’s day]. But older people… sit at home. The younger people go to see older people. When I went, for instance, to see my parents… if my house was separate, first I have to go to their house, collect my “idee [gift for the new year], then they would come to my house. Even among friends, whoever is older waits at home, and all your friends— now those days there was no such thing as phones— *coughs* they’d get up and see each other. If they were home, they were, if they weren’t, then no big deal. You’d just go again later. 

PK: Then, that same day at home, the father *coughs* — for the kids—  would put paper money inside a Qur’an… inside the Qur’an they’d put money. It was not a gift like that. To be fair I don’t know about these days. Anyway, they’d put money in the Qur’an, and when the new year began, among the members of the household, the father would take money out from the Qur’an and— depending on your age— he’d give you some money. Whether it was 5 dollars [Note: PK mistakenly uses USD, as opposed to Toman], for example, or for the older ones 10 dollars— that was a lot of money! With one penny you could buy a whole bunch, where I was. Today 1 USD is 24,000 Rial. 24,000! So their money doesn’t have any value at all. Okay?

PK: Then, for instance, they’d give out 5 dollars, 10 dollars… as the years would go by and people got older and things changed, this money became 100 dollars. If you had married and gotten older, they’d give you some coins, you know? It was this way. With the times, some things have changed. Then, everyone would go “Eideedani.” The young ones would visit the old ones. You know? These days it’s the same except people call.

BK: Is “Eidee” always money?

PK: In Iran they’d give money. When we got older, they’d give us gold coins. For instance, when we were younger— you know the families… it depends on their income. Perhaps they’d give you a quarter “Pahlavi” [Note: a Pahlavi is a coin administered under the Pahlavi monarchy.], perhaps it will be half coin, perhaps it will be a whole coin. You know, like one cent, ten cents, five cents, like that

BK: And this money— you’d spend it? Or save it?

PK: Spend it! We’d go have fun with it. We’d go out and buy things. When we were kids we’d go have fun with it.

BK: You know what’s different? I always received “Eidee” as a 2-dollar bill. And we’d never spend it! I’ve collected them through the years, but I’ve never felt like they could be spent. Would you spend the gold coins too?

PK: No, the gold coins? That’s… money, you know? That’s, umm… it depends later on. We’d get ahold of these coins— today you can’t even buy them! I put a whole bunch aside for you. The best ones I gave to your mother [for her wedding]. Big round good ones. Like gold coins of coronation… the king… when they put the crown on his head. I have ones from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth too but it’s silver. I kept it for you. 

BK: Ah, when they’re coronated, they mint coins for the occasion.

PK: Yes. The silver were from England. But the gold were from Iran. *coughs* But they’d give gold, you know? And people would keep the gold. And women, imagine when they’d have too much gold, imagine you have a whole bunch of… umm quarter coins, you go to the goldsmith and have it made into a bracelet. Or a necklace, for instance, something that is larger. And I’d keep the rest.

BK: So if it was paper money or normal, day-to-day currency you’d spend it. But if it was gold you kept it.

Collector’s Reflection

The term Eideedani is a combination of two words: Eidee and deedani. Eidee, which we have established as meaning “a gift for/on Persian New Year” is derived from the name of the holiday: Eid, or Aid. Deedan, which literally means “looking,” is the Farsi term for visiting others. As PK mentioned, with the advent of technology, and the increasing size of the Iranian diaspora, physically visiting people for holidays/new year is practiced less. Instead, you make a phone call or send an email/text message. It is still essential that the young reach out to the old first. Not doing so, especially to a parent or grandparent, is a black mark on one’s reputation.

Many of the customs associated with Persian New Year predate Islam’s prevalence in the formerly Zoroastrian country, Eidee among them. Islamic influences have changed the gifting process, as in PK’s experience money is placed in a Qur’an prior to being distributed. This blesses the currency. The bills are not randomly placed in the text, but bookmark specific passages of the gifter’s choice, which they read when distributing the Eidee. A similar religiously-motivated change is the replacement of wine with vinegar on the haft seen: a table decorated with symbolic objects for Persian New Year.
In my personal experience, Eidee has continued to be purely money; no toys or sweets. The money is American currency rather than Iranian, and my family no longer shares gold for the occasion. However, people still hold on to their ages-old Eidee gold for long-term value. As PK mentioned, the value of Iranian Rial is nothing now, but she received her fair share of gold coins, and only one is still worth its weight.