Tag Archives: color

The color white in India

In my culture, white has never been a good color. You wear white to funerals, wrap the dead in white and you usually don’t wear white to any festivities because of its connotations to death.

PK is an undergraduate student in India. She told me about the cultural significance of the color white when we both coincidentally found ourselves with matching white outfits.

Noting the cultural significance of the color white was interesting because of its contrasting meanings in western cultures. In western cultures, the color white is usually associated with chastity, purity and is worn by brides on their wedding days. To encounter a different cultural significant of a color and its association to entirely opposite events only shows the fluidity of associating meaning to abstract concepts (in this case, color).

English riddle

Main piece: 

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

Informant: A red guy lives in a red house 

Interviewer: A red guy lives in a red house. Ok. 

Informant: A blue guy lives in a blue house.

Interviewer: Blue guy in blue house.

Informant: yes, uhhh a green guy lives in a green house. 

Interviewer: Ok. 

Informant: Who lives in the White House. 

Interviewer: I know it’s not a white guy right? 

Informant: Oh my god. I thought you would get this one. 

Interviewer: What is it?

Informant: The president. The president lives in the white house. 

Background:  My sister was born in LA and she goes to school in Downey. She first heard this riddle about 5 years ago and says it whenever she’s saying any jokes. She tells this joke specifically to see if people fall for it and say “white guy”. 

Context: The setting was in my room during the day. I asked her if she knew of any other joke or riddle and threw this one at me. After failing to find the joke in the first one (the pinecone and pineapple one), she was disappointed I failed at this one too. 

Thoughts: I think I’m not a riddle or joke person. The answer can be right in front of me and I won’t be able to detect it. I can also deduce I’m not a very good listener. It seems like I take things literally and think logically. I followed the pattern of a color person living in the same color house but that’s not it. One has to think outside the box and look at the bigger picture.

Wear red in the year of fate

Main piece:

In Chinese lunar calender, there is the twelve-year cycle represented by twelve animals as zodiac. When it is the same zodiac as the year you are born, you are supposed to wear red. No matter it is underwear, socks, or any clothes, you should always have a piece of red on your body. It would bless you a smooth year of fate.

Background information:

2020 is the year of mouse, which is my mother’s zodiac. One day we are changing cloth in the room, I saw her wearing a red underwear which is not her style. So I asked her about it and she told me this custom of wearing red in the year of fate. She also said she heard it from her parents and apprantly it is a wide spread agreement in Chinese society. She said I also wore red when I was 12 but I don’t remember.


This piece was collected quickly through a daily talk with my mother when we are in the middle of doing something else.


Chinese people have a positive belief of the color red. It represents good luck and can protect us from bad things. I think there may not be any scientific proof behind this color belief today, but there might be some relation in the past. For example, maybe red helps people to discover each other in dangerous situation. Or maybe red makes people feel warm. Anyway, I am always glad to see my mom wear something colorful.

Holi – Hindu Festival

“So Holi is a Hindu festival, traditionally a religious festival, that kind of symbolizes the beginning of spring and the end of winter. It’s kind of like a fun festival where people kind of get together and meet people and have fun. It usually involves wearing white clothing and throwing vibrant, colored power at each other; there is usually a lot of music and street food involved as well.  However, in recent years, more people who aren’t Hindu have been participating, and it’s become more of a cultural thing that a lot of people celebrate rather than just a strictly religious Hindu celebration. This is kind of due to the fact that we throw colored powder at each other, and people see that as a lot of fun. So a lot more people have gotten involved, especially in the United States and other western countries, where they kind of do a similar thing where they throw colors at each other like Color Runs and such. So Holi has kind of moved to the rest of the world instead of just sticking in one culture.”

Context: The informant is an Indian American student. The informant was describing the spring festival Holi to her roommates following USC’s plan to have a Holi celebration on campus in order to explain exactly what it was. The roommates had heard of the holiday, but wanted to know about why the holiday was celebrated. As shown in the text, SV sees the festival as an easily transmutable tradition that can participated in by anyone, regardless of their culture, religion, or status.

Analysis: The spread of religious festivals and occasions to various regions of the world that may not know that religious backstory is reminiscent of a more secular shift by the ritual. The shift of the Holi festival to other areas of the world demonstrates the universal appeal of the customs associated with the festival. This is demonstrated by the adoption of throwing colored powder in the Color Run, a secular, non-Hindu activity. Having a particular aspect of a festival to be so widely loved allows many people to participate and increase awareness of respective holiday. This is evidenced in the fact that often the parts of each culture that members of other cultures will remember are associated with festivals or holidays. For example, when we think of American holidays, we think of Thanksgiving–which is quite appealing food-wise. This holiday is usually one that is inclusive, and many families will invite others to come and eat with them.

While some would think that this could be seen as cultural appropriation, this goes against the spirit of Holi. In India, where there is a strict socioeconomic hierarchy, Holi is one of the few days of the year where everybody, regardless of religion or caste can go into the streets and celebrate spring. It is an amazing festival that brings everyone together. Therefore, allowing other people–either non-Hindu or not Indians–to participate in Holi, demonstrates the openness of the festival.

The Luck of Red – Chinese Superstition

“So there is a kind of tradition in China, that for example, I was born in the Year of Rabbit, so when it is the Year of Rabbit again, I need to wear red underwears again for the entire year to ensure luck and happiness.”

Context: The informant, YT, is a student at USC originally from Shanghai, China, and is one of my roommates. We were discussing weird superstitions involving luck that our families abide by, and she brought up these superstitions that involve the color red. According the the informant, red is very influential in Chinese culture, and is largely associated with China on a global scale. YT, though not very superstitious, is still impacted by the widespread folk belief, and ends up abiding by this superstitions partially.

Analysis: Color is an incredibly important component of many cultures around the world. Specific colors can be seen as lucky, unlucky, beautiful, or cursed; the way that a culture sees these colors greatly impacts the superstitions of that nation. For China, red holds several meanings. First off, red was seen as bringing good fortune and luck, which is showcased in the initial red underwear superstition. Another component of this superstition is its reliance on the importance of Chinese zodiac. Chinese zodiac is assigned to each person based on the year that the individual was born in, in a 12 year cycle. It is also believed that when the year of your Chinese zodiac returns, that year will be an unlucky one; therefore, this superstition is an attempt to counteract this unluckiness. Masking the unlucky year with an article of clothing is there was of restoring joy and luck into the world.

It is also important to comment on the importance and proliferation of superstitions even in the modern era. Most of the Chinese superstitions have persisted in the culture for many years, so it could be thought that the folk beliefs would slowly die off as time went on, but such is not the case. YT is not superstitious, however, she continue to follow the folk beliefs because of the influence of those superstitions. For many members of the younger generation, they follow the folk beliefs because they think “what is the worst that could happen?” and that any potential luck that they obtained would be beneficial. Due to this mindset, young members of the Chinese culture continue to abide by this folk belief.