Tag Archives: custom

Hold Your Breath!

‘When I was younger my parents and older siblings taught me the superstition that whenever we had to drive across a bridge, it was necessary to hold your breath or else the bridge would collapse underneath us. I still do it now, even though I know the bridge obviously won’t collapse, but what if it does because I wasn’t holding my breath?!’ – NZ

This superstition has had a grasp on NZ as long as he can remember; a hold so tight, he refuses to not hold his breath if he has to drive across a bridge. He also shares this superstition and ritual with his friends, also forcing them to partake in it. NZ can’t remember a single time he did not hold his breath going over a bridge, “the ritual has practically taken over my life” he emphasizes. He also grew up in New York, a state with many bridges, thus this tradition was fully engrained in him from a young age driving around with his family. NZ also plans to continue to share this superstition with friends, and one day “trick” his own future kids into holding the same ‘bridge-crossing’ ritual.

My first impression was that my own father actually taught me the same superstition; a superstition I have not met many other people to have! Superstitions in folklore have long existed and take hold to prevent misfortune and bad luck among communities. While this superstition did not have a community wide affect, it is a familial folk belief that has been passed down to yet another generation, as NZ’s parents learned it from their parents and shared it with each other when they first met. This superstition is a classic example of oral tradition, and also folk beliefs in supernatural forces. For example, there must be some supernatural force to make a bridge collapse, so holding your breath will prevent it, much like knocking on wood to un-jinx something.


The ‘Joota Chupai’ ritual is a playful custom at Indian weddings where the bride’s female relatives, often sisters and cousins, spiritedly steal and secrete the groom’s shoes. This lighthearted heist is enacted during the ceremony when the groom is required to be barefoot, setting the stage for a spirited negotiation for their return.


Recounting the jovial antics from his brother’s wedding last year, my friend narrated the high-spirited ‘Joota Chupai’ episode. As tradition dictates, the bride’s kin seized the opportunity to hide the groom’s shoes, demanding a sizable ransom for their safe return. The situation escalated into a humorous turn of events at sundown when the need for a picturesque sunset photo session led the furious bride to intervene, overturning the ritual’s usual outcome and the groom’s shoes were returned without the customary financial exchange.


The ‘Joota Chupai’ ritual transcends the mere act of playful mischief; it is emblematic of the cultural fabric that interweaves familial bonds, societal expectations, and the negotiations between tradition and modernity. This practice, underscored by Deirdre Evans-Pritchard’s analysis of authenticity in cultural expressions, suggests a complex interplay between established customs and the evolving dynamics of contemporary weddings. While the ritual typically concludes with the groom acquiescing to the monetary demands, this narrative reveals an intriguing deviation. The bride’s insistence on retrieving the shoes to capture the perfect wedding moment underscores the adaptability of cultural traditions in the face of practical circumstances. It demonstrates a shift from the ritual’s traditional financial objective to prioritizing the aesthetic and emotional value of the wedding experience. This incident not only reflects the fluidity of cultural practices but also highlights how individual agency can redefine traditional roles and expectations. The negotiation process inherent in the ‘Joota Chupai’ serves not just as entertainment but as a microcosm of the give-and-take present in familial relationships, where cultural rituals are subject to reinterpretation in response to immediate personal and collective priorities.

USC marching band flute section’s chant/ditty


“So, we do this before any performance. It’s in a band again, in the flute section. I don’t know who taught us this. And I don’t remember being taught this. It’s something that I had experienced since freshmen year, and we teach it to our incoming freshmen as seniors.”

“This chant that we do, I think it’s for good luck. Or just to let out some steam or nerves before a big performance. But it goes like ‘stop, don’t talk to me, loser lame don’t wanna be. Oh, like totally, all you wanna be is me, stay fresh!’ And then you put your hands in the middle and you throw them up at the stay fresh part.”
“And we scream it as loud as humanly possible whenever we do it. And I have to know idea where it comes from.”


My informant is a performer at USC’s marching band. She is in the flute section.


This is an example of a hype-up song or chant before a game or performance. Like sports games, musical performance requires the players to come up with a way of encouragement. This is typical in a team environment before an important performance. The chant or the hype-up song helps the player build up confidence, and confirm solidarity.

The chant is rhythmic. So it’s easy to remember, learn and perform. It’s similar to the special handshakes, that once one learns it, it almost becomes mechanical in performing it with one’s in-group members.

I had a similar experience before. When I played in my high school soccer team, my team would do something similar to cheer each other up before the game. And I remember that different teams had different slogans to yell before the game. The volume of it is also very important. It almost serves as a scale for courage and determination. I think this is more typical in the sports arena because there is competition.

Don’t Whistle in the Theater


HB is an American woman who has had 30 years of experience working in the theater industry, specifically in tech, props and production management.


HB goes on to describe why whistling in the theater is taboo:

“The first stage hands were sailors because theater requires a lot of rigging, there’s pulleys and ropes and things that have to go up and down. And the way sailors would communicate on old sailing ships was by whistling, they had some kind of code…. So in the theater when they would call cues, they would do so by whistling. So it’s bad luck to whistle in the theater because you might accidentally tell someone to drop a sandbag on your head!”

Even though stage hands now have headsets and other forms of communication and other ways to rig a stage, it is still considered to be taboo and bad luck to whistle in a theater


The fact that this is still practiced in modern times showcases thespians’ devotion to history, traditions and the past. The nature of theatrical shows is normally in tribute to past events, whether it be the writing of shows that are set in the past or the reproduction of plays that were written in the past. It makes sense that a common theme in the theatrical environment is to preserve old ways and traditions since it is a behavior that aligns with their goal to relive the past. 

Another taboo action in theater, that HB compared whistling too, is saying the name of a certain play inside of a theater, which is now nicknamed the Scottish Play. The real name of the play was the last name of some characters that killed many for power and were haunted by their actions. Saying this would result in someone dying in the theater. Some would joke around with this and take it more light-heartedly while some were very serious and even perform a curse reversing ritual of sorts if the name of the play was said.

Both of these taboo actions are centered around the power of the past and death or bodily harm. These actions were probably made taboo to emphasize the lesson of respecting old ways and the power of the past.

Shaving Head after Father’s Death

Background provided by MN: MN is an individual who grew up in the Maharashtra state of India, where they learned 4 languages including Sanskrit. They recently moved to America for further education. This is a practice of MN’s specific culture, Hindu Brahman.

Context: As we talked about certain funeral proceedings, MN shared this information about the mourning period. This piece was collected in the early morning at the university as we were conversing about different cultural practices.

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information): 

MN: “And also …like  if your father dies, the eldest son … who’s a boy … they cut their hair. Not completely … no actually … completely. If the mother dies, it’s the second son. 

Me: “What if you don’t have a second son?”

MN: “ mmmm … if you have a second son.” 

Me: “So let’s say you only have one son.”

MN: “The eldest son can choose to. They have a choice. It’s not compulsory, if you’re religious then you do it. Like … when my grandfather passed away, my uncle did it. It’s all a choice.” 

Analysis: This particular Hindu ritual is very interesting because it seems like a very spiritual and religious tradition. MN emphasizes two important aspects of this tradition: choice and religion. The son is not obligated to complete this ritual but is given a choice to perform it. In addition, the son can choose to perform this ritual based on his religious beliefs. The completion of this particular ritual is dependent on the son. Sons are not forced to complete this tradition, which emphasizes how it changes 

Another interesting aspect of this traditional ritual is the birth order of the performer. The eldest son is often seen as a great authority figure while the second eldest is perceived as a lower authority figure. This is telling of a patriarchal society that places higher importance on male heirs and their duties. The eldest son is seen as an authority figure, which is similar to how fathers are considered to be head of the household. After the father dies, the eldest son can choose to shave his head to commemorate his late father. Correspondingly, the second son can also shave his head to honor the death of his mother. The second son can be considered to be the support for the first son, much like mothers support their husbands. This ritual is only a portion of the funeral rituals that are performed by grieving loved ones, which reflects Indian values of family and tradition.