Tag Archives: competition

Christmas Eve Gift

Context: Informant has a sister, both have been celebrating the holiday Christmas since they were children together. The two sisters now live in separate states, but continue their Christmas traditions. Christmas Eve is the day before Christmas day, Christmas day is when presents from family, friends, and Santa are typically opened. Santa is a Christmas figure for children, who leaves presents on the night of Christmas Eve for the children to open on Christmas morning. Informant has passed down their Christmas traditions to their own children and family.

Tradition: “We would have this game, that on Christmas Eve, whoever said “Christmas Eve Gift” to the other person first, got to open the first present on Christmas Eve. We, my parents and us, we open the presents from friends and extended family on Christmas Eve, and we would open Santa’s presents and family presents on actual Christmas. So, if you wanted to open the first present at all ever, then you needed to win the game. So, we would get up really early and wake up everyone else by telling them Christmas Eve gift. We weren’t as crazy about it as my kids are now. They’re out here writing stuff on walls, and sleeping on the couch, and staying up till 12. We weren’t that, uh, we weren’t quite that dedicated. Me and my sister still play together too. Although, she lives an hour ahead of me, so she pretty much always wins. She just sends a text message.”

Background Information: Informant was born into a Christian family, and has been a Christian basically all their lives, and as such they have celebrated Christmas every year of their lives. The holiday holds a lot of meaning to them, and passing down their Christmas traditions to their children is very important to them. They have many other traditions associated with the holiday, such as specific foods, movies, activities, music, ect.. Christmas is definitely the biggest holiday of the year for them, and they were happy when talking about their traditions.

Thoughts: I think this is a wholesome tradition which unites family and gets everyone excited for the holiday. Furthermore, since the parents have to set up the gifts from ‘Santa’ while the children sleep, the tradition might have started as a way to tire the kids out the night before. Whether or not this is the humble origin story, the tradition has grown from there, and become a much bigger tradition. I think it makes sense that children would embrace it and lean into the competitive side of the tradition. It’s also a way to unite the family, and obviously it works, seeing as informant still practices the tradition with their sister despite living in different states. Family both physically present and not are able tp connect through this tradition.

Number Games and Familial Ties

“A game that my family has given meaning is we play a number guessing game, especially on road trips and it started out as a joke by my dad because my sister and I would always ask for things to do or things to play.  But it’s evolved into something that we unironically choose to do because we’ve given it such meaning. To me, it, it, it symbolizes … it’s hard to describe, it symbolizes, like, the nature of friendly competition and always loving to challenge each other to silly little things. It’s really a simple and rather stupid game.  You give them a range and you give them a certain number of tries to guess the number, and you tell them ‘higher or lower’ to see if they can guess the number.  and while it may seem like it’s sort of just luck, we’ve gotten to the point where we can make more informed guesses based on who came up with the number because we know each other so well. and then that way it also just symbolizes our connection…”

Background: The informant is a 19 year-old college student who went on road trips often with his family growing up.  The game shared with me was created by his father when he was 9 and has become a staple part of their traveling as a family in the years since.

Context: I was told about this game in USC’s Annenberg Hall during a quick interview.

It’s interesting how simple games can become a symbol of a family’s close connections to each other.  Shared activities like the number game can become a small group of people’s defining characteristic, and the informant was enthusiastic about how they could guess the patterns that each player used in the game as an indicator of how well they knew each other.



Informant: So like a German tradition is you hide like a pickle––or, the parents hide a pickle––like, in the Christmas tree… And then like all the kids have to find it in the tree. And like, whoever wins––like in the olden days, they used to get like an orange. Or they might get an ornament. But that was in like the 1800s. 


Informant: Um… But so my grandma was like, “That’s gross.” So my uncle was like, “We have to do it!” And so then they got a pickle ornament instead. So they hide the ornament in the tree, and a lot of people do that now instead of getting like a real pickle.  And we like don’t give an orange cause that’s like… Boring. So it’s more like… You get like a little extra sweet or something, but it’s more like bragging rights… And I know that my German family does it too, but I don’t know if we’ve like Americanized it at all though. 

Interviewer: Did you like it as a kid?

Informant: Yeeeeah! You know, what’s a little competition on Christmas? It spices things up! Cause it’s like, “Who’s gonna win?” So it was always me and my cousin, ‘cause my sister and my little cousins were like babies. But then they started hiding it like lower down. Like that was annoying ‘cause then the little ones had a better chance of winning. 


The informant expressed that the pickle tradition has been modernized, with her family replacing an orange with a sweet, and a real pickle with a pickle ornament. The tradition has undergone variation over time. However, the fun it brings to the children remains the same, allowing the tradition to continue. Engaging in a tradition will always be a contemporary activity; traditions happen and are upheld in the present moment. The informant’s family is engaging in the tradition in the modern day, and so adjusts it to modern sensibilities. Tradition does not replicate the past, it just connects us to the past.

Conkers – English Children’s Game

Description of Informant

NV (75) is a retired school teacher born in Abadan, Iran. She went to boarding school in England from 1956-1963, moving to American for college afterward. She always remembers her arrival in the states, as it was the day before Kennedy was assassinated. Currently, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

Context of Interview

The informant, NV, sits on a loveseat, feet planted on a brightly colored Persian rug. She is opposite the collector, BK, her grandson.


BK: What are some childhood games from your time in either England or Iran?

NV: I know something called Conker. It’s these things that grow out of the trees and we would take it and put a nail in it and tie a string on it. We’d have to borrow the hammer. And then we would have a battle with it and hit it [our Conkers] and try to break them— that you know have it hanging and you go whack! Hit it, and see how many hits would take to break that— like a fruit. It was a hard fruit that grew. You don’t eat it. It’s just something like this *makes a ball with her fist* called Conker, or something. That was in England.

NV: Boys and girls played it. So it wasn’t just for the boys, the girls played it too. It was fun because sometimes it would hit your face or fly all over the place. A lot of the time the nail would fall off and you’d have to start all over making another one.

BK: Were there winners and losers?

NV: Sure! Your Conker would hit the other person’s Conker, to see who’s broke first. And when you won you’d be so excited and crying with laughter, “I got it, I got it!” and all that nonsense.

Collector’s Reflection

The nut used in Conkers is the seed of the horse chestnut tree, native to the UK. Thus, the game was prevalent only in Great Britain and Ireland, as the tree was not common elsewhere in the world. The nickname for these seeds is actually derived from the game, not the other way around. Conkers comes from a dialect term for “knock out,” though there are several possible origins for the name.

There are many rules and scoring procedures for Conkers which vary from region to region, school to school. However, the informant was not able to recall any complicated scoring mechanism. This may be due to memory loss, but it is just as possible that her school played a more rudimentary version of Conkers.


For more information on Conkers, including rules and variations, please see:

“All About Conkers”. worldconkerchampionships.com. Ashton Conker Club. Retrieved 24 April 2021.

LINK: https://web.archive.org/web/20161025235221/http://www.worldconkerchampionships.com/html/conkers_about.html

Italian Tongue Twisters

Description of Informant

AG (18) is an Italian-American dual citizen and high school student from Berkeley, CA. At home, she speaks primarily Italian, and spends her summers in Italy.


Original Text (1): Sopra la panca la capra campa, sotto la panca la capra crepa.

Transliteration: On top of the bench, the sheep/goat is singing, under the bench, the sheep/goat is dying.

Original Text (2): Apelle, figlio di Apollo, fece una palla di pelle di pollo. Tutti i pesci vennero 

a galla, per vedere la palla di pelle di pollo fatta da Apelle figlio di Apollo.

Transliteration: Apelle, son of Apollo, makes/fetches a ball of chicken meat. All of the fish came to the surface to see the ball of chicken meat that Apelle, son of Apollo, made.

Original Text (3): Trentatré Trentini entrano a Trentino, tutti e trentatré trotterellando

Transliteration: Thirty-three people from Trento enter the region of Trentino, all thirty-three of them trotting.

Context of Use

Italian tongue twisters are used for sport/entertainment among peers, often during social gatherings. Peers challenge each other to see who can speak the phrases fastest, without mistakes.

Context of Interview

The informant, AG, sits in the kitchen with her father and the collector, BK, her step-brother. Text spoken in Italian is italicized, but not translated.


AG: *speaking quickly* Sopra la panca la capra campa, sotto la panca la capra crepa!

BK: *laughing* What on earth is that?

AG: *laughing* You know how here we have “how much wood could a woodstuff stuff”—  no wait, what is it— “how much… wood could a woodchuck chuck! If a woodchuck could chuck wood.” Or like “how much stuff could a stuffy stuff if a stuffy could stuff stuff,” right?

BK: Sure, “Sally sells seashells down by the seashore.”

AG: Yes, exactly! Uh, we have one of those in italian, and it’s… *enunciating* Sopra la— oh we have two! I’m think of two right now. Oh we have three! Trentatré… okay. Ok, so first one is *enunciating* Sopra la panca la capra campa,  which means on top of the bench, the sheep, or the goat, is singing. Sotto la panca la capra crepa, under the bench— it’s crepa the same word from the wolf [phrase] [See _________]— the goat is dying… or dies.

AG: And then we have, uhh, oh yeah! *AG claps and speaks to the rhythm* Apelle, figlio di Apollo, fece una palla di pelle di pollo. Tutti i pesci vennero a galla, per vedere la palla di pelle di pollo fatta da Apelle figlio di Apollo. *laughing* It’s Apelle, son of Apollo, fece, made or got, palla di pelle, a ball of… chicken meat? All the fish went to the surface to see this ball of chicken meat that Apelle, son of Apollo, made.

BK: So the tongue twisters, much like those in English, don’t make a lot of sense. When do you use these tongue twisters?

AG: I think just at parties to see who can do them fastest.

BK: So they become competitive?

AG: Sometimes, yeah. Especially the capra one because that’s really hard.

BK: How widely known are these tongue twisters?

AG: Everyone knows them. Even the trentatré… Trentini tutti trentatré trotterellando

*At this point, AG‘s father EG (52) interjects to correct her*

EG: Entrarono a Trentino

AG: What is it? I forget.

EG: Trentatré Trentini entrano a Trentino, tutti e trentatré trotterellando.

AG: Trentatré, so 33, Trentini… What is Trentini?

EG: People from Trento, where I used to live. Entrano

AG: Entrano… entrarono? Or is it entrano.

EG: I don’t know.

AG: Entrano Trentino… what’s Trentino?

EG: It’s the region that Trento’s in.

AG: Oh entro Trentino… OHH!! Tutti e trentatré trotterellando.

EG: All 33 trotting.

AG: So how do you say the full thing in English?

EG: 33 Trentini, like people from Trento, enter Trentino, which is the region around Trento, all 33 trotting.

BK: That’s almost a tongue twister in English! So when/where do you learn these?

AG: From cousins, peers, usually from cousins and among young people.

Collector’s Reflection

The culture of tongue twisters in Italian society is similar to that among Americans, particularly American school children. Nonsensical, yet difficult to articulate phrases are developed informally and shared orally by peers. These tongue twisters are used for entertainment in groups, where at least two participants will challenge each other to recite them as quickly as possible. More often than not, this will result in sputtering and laughter, as participants fail to cleanly recite the twisters. Rules or structured games associated with tongue twisters are uncommon (e.g. points system, prizes, etc.), though they may be implemented.

Another function of tongue twisters not mentioned by the informant is the improvement of pronunciation. Those learning a new language may be encouraged to practice tongue twisters to improve their command over said language’s phonetic composition, and overall fluency. Given the already quickly-spoken nature of the Italian language, tongue twisters may serve new language learners well.