Tag Archives: custom

Armenian Superstition About Newborn Babies

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Russian Armenian
Age: 27
Occupation: Artist
Residence: Pasadena
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/4/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Russian, Armenian

Explanation: Armenians have some superstitious custom not to show or introduce a newborn baby to friends, neighbors, or extended families for the first 40 days. It is believed that this is done for the safety and medical precaution for the baby, but it can also be done to protect the baby from the evil eye/ evil spirits.

Background Information: Widely popular Armenian custom for newborn babies. Almost every Armenian follows this precaution when they have a baby.

Context: The informant told me about this custom during a video call in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian tradition/custom that she knows about.

Thoughts: As an Armenian myself, I have observed this custom being practiced in my own family when a member has had a baby. I think it is done to make sure that the baby is safe and healthy. Im sure it was done in the past because of the high infant mortality rate in the Armenian villages due to disease and malnutrition. This has translated to modern day even though, the chances of disease and malnurtrition in babies is much lower than before. I think the health of babies is so crucial for Armenians because of how important it is for them to continue on the Armenian culture/ heritage due to the Turkish attempt at genocide against Armenians in the early 20th century.

Armenian Tradition on Saint Sarkis Day

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Armenian
Age: 51
Occupation: Dental Hygienist
Residence: Glendale
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Armenian, Russian

Explanation: Saint Sarkis day is celebrated on January 11th every year. St. Sarkis is believed to be the warrior patron of love and youth. There is a tradition where it is believed that an Armenian girl who is single should eat a homemade extremely salty cookie on St. Sarkis day. The saltiness of the cookie will make them very thirsty but they should not drink water so that when they go to sleep thirsty they will have a dream where a man will bring them water. In the dream, the guy who gives her a glass of water will be her future husband.

Background Information: Armenian tradition practiced on St. Sarkis day by young Armenian girls who want to see who their husbands will be.

Context: The informant told me about this proverb during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian tradition that she knows about.

Thoughts: I believe that as the patron saint of love and youth, a good way to celebrate St. Sarkis Day is to incorporate love and youth into the holiday. I think this tradition also shows the importance and pressure that is put on Armenian women to be marriage minded. It could have roots in misogyny as there is no salty cookie for males to eat and see their future wives. I believe that this is done because women have always been expected to be submissive, strive for marriage and children, and to put other aspirations to the side. I think that this idea has changed a lot in the Armenian community, but traditions like these give a glimpse into what society was like a long time ago.

Honi Ihu/ Honi Honi (Hawaii Custom)

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Native Hawaiian
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: KS was born and raised in Hawaii. She’s a really close friend of mine and is a senior at USC, studying psychology . I went over to her place one day and I asked her about some customs in her culture. She told me about honi ihu/ honi honi while she cooked dinner. 

YM: So what is a big custom you and your family have ? 

KS: Theres honi ihu/ honi honi which is just a hug and kiss on the cheek..both people at same time…that comes from the old belief of sharing the ha or breath of life

YM: Can you tell me about the breath of life in your culture?

KS: When I was young my auntys side of the family would always say honi honi and then proceed to do the mutual kiss on the cheek..honi means kiss

KS:I learned in school that this comes from the older tradition of touching noses and taking a deep breath when you meet people..this is called sharing the ha/ha which means breath

YM: What does it mean to you?

KS: To me when you greet someone with a honi honi it just expresses a genuine sense of both love and respect.

KS: I use it for family and close friends from there. It is a gesture that was taught to me by my mom, aunty and grandma..Hawaiian side.. that also makes me feel closer to them and other people from Hawaii 

KS:Since this is not how you greet people in American culture…it is a sort of bonding activity?…like I usually want to greet people with a hug because that is just how I was raised…. the whole handshake concept was very strange to me at first

YM: Awww that is so beautiful, thank you for sharing 

Analysis: I thought this was a beautiful custom. From what KS told me this custom was updated throughout the years, going from a touching nose to greet to mutually kissing both cheeks with a hug. The custom is practiced this way because the purpose of the customs is to share the breath of life. This belief and custom is similar to the eskimo kiss called kunik and the Maori greeting called the hongi where people actually touch noses to greet each other. It’s interesting how this culture decided to adapt or change up their greeting throughout the years. Either way kissing both cheeks and hugging is definitely a more intimate way to greet one another compared to American culture where a handshake is sufficient to greet someone. It seems this custom serves to create a bonding experience and well as promote more unification within the culture.  *****

For another version of this custom, please see pg 407 of Marriage Customs of the World: An Encyclopedia of Dating Customs and Wedding Traditions, 2nd Edition [2 volumes]: Volume 1, Edition 2, by George P. Monger

Greek Life Homecoming

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 21
Occupation: student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 28
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

“Okay, so, in USC Greek life there’s this thing called homecoming. Which is a tradition that goes back as long as anyone can remember. it coincides with the homecoming football game that is always at USC. A frat will ask a sorority to go with them to homecoming, and if the sorority says yes, then they do a week of activities together. They have something together every night– so it could be movie Monday, tequila and tacos on Tuesday, wine Wednesday, and it goes on until tailgating on Saturday.

It’s a big deal because it says a lot about what fraternities and sororities like each other at the time, and it’s probably the most high school thing in greek life. Sororities say no sometimes, and fraternities have elaborate ways to ask them in order to woo them. It causes tension and heirarchies. Last year, a frat asked a sorority with letters written in the sky by a plane, and the sorority said no.”

Context and Background: My informant is my brother, who was heavily involved with USC Greek life. He was in a fraternity and participated a lot in it socially, but he also played a major role in its governance first in his own frat then in the InterFraternity Council. He enjoyed it, but was always quick to point out the flaws in the Greek life system and its superficial tendencies. He told this to me as we sat together on the couch.

Thoughts:

Like its name, this tradition is very similar to high school promposals. I have seen it first hand, and I agree that it is quite elaborate.

Tao Po– Filipino Superstition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 23
Occupation: Student
Residence: Long Beach
Date of Performance/Collection: April 27 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Tagalog

Piece:

Informant: I heard another one, I don’t know if this, like, is a Tagalog thing, but like, um, if you have someone come into your house, and you say, oh, um, you knock on the door and you say, like, tao po, like, oh, I’m a person. So, like, like–

Informant’s mother: Tao Po, Tao Po

Informant: Yeah, cuz it’s like, the whole thing is like, you’re not supposed to let spirits in, so it’s like, “Hey, I’m a person, let me in!” 

Informant’s mother: Yeah, that’s right, so y’know, normally you just knock or doorbell, right, so when you’re entering a house, you will knock and you will say tao po.

Collector: To make sure you’re not letting in a spirit? 

Informant’s mother: Yeah, yeah.

Context: The informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Filipino-American young woman. Though she does not herself speak Tagalog, she can understand much of it. Her mother, a Filipino immigrant who has lived in Southern California for roughly 40 years, also joined the conversation. 

Analysis: This belief assumes that there are other entities wandering about knocking on doors, which makes it necessary to declare your personhood at the front door. Once I did some online research, I found that this is now used as a general greeting, and seems to have left behind its supernatural origin. I believe it speaks volumes about the number of superstitious folk beliefs that still permeate everyday living, despite the Philippines now being primarily Catholic or Muslim. When I asked other Filipino friends about this, many reported back that it was mostly a Tagalog thing, and that Ilocano people generally did not say it.

Predicting Children- A Korean wedding ritual

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 21
Occupation: Waitress
Residence: Camarillo, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/11/19
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Main Text:

Collector: ” You mentioned the clothing of the bride and groom that is traditional to Korean Weddings, but are there any acts that the bride and groom perform at most weddings that you have been to?”

HK: “I do remember one actually. So after the wedding ceremony, the bride has a white cloth that they have to drape and carry around their arms and someone else would have to carry the bottom of it because they are really long. Usually the groom’s parents will toss little ball-like objects into the air towards the bride and however many the bride can catch with this cloth determines how many kids she will have.”

Collector: “Does the cloth have a specific color like the clothes did?”

HK: ” I think the cloth can be any color but usually I have seen it as a white cloth.”

Context:

After I asked HK whether or not there were specific acts performed at Korean weddings she listed out many traditional pieces ranging from the color of the clothes the bride and groom are supposed to wear all the way to this piece about predicting how many children the new married couple will now have has been to family weddings in Korea as well as in the United States and and observed these wedding rituals in practice. When asked about her interpretation about why Korean weddings contain this act she said that children and family are a large part in Korean culture and that once a couple gets married it is expected that they jumpstart the process to conceiving children, so the act of predicting how many children they will have is a sort of precursor to this. I also asked her why she remembers this ‘performance’ specifically and if she would do it at her wedding to which she responded, ” I remember it because I thought that it was a really cute thing to do for a new family and I like to think I would do it at my wedding too because it is a fun part of my culture.”

Analysis:

The ritual that HK is describing is a ritual that is used in many Korean weddings to present day and the “ball-like” objects that the bride is catching are dates (대추), also called jujubes. While the weddings HK described in particular use the dates as a way of predicting the number of children that the couple is going to have this ritualistic act can also be interpreted in another way that is very similar to her explanation. The dates that the bride catches also symbolize the fertility of the bride and her ability to bear many children. As HK explained, children and family are very important to Korean culture so it makes sense to have such an act in the wedding.

Another explanation for this act is that it could figuratively symbolize the “deflowering” of the bride.  Proof of this symbolic deflowerment is that balls are being tossed into a cloth which is supposed to represent fertility or one’s womb and since the cloth is white , it is also supposed to represent purity and virginity. To many cultures, marriage is not necessarily about love but instead building a home together as well as procreating. This being said, the symbolic deflowering of the bride represents this belief that marriage is all about the next generation and establishing a place for your children in society. I think that this wedding tradition continues in traditional Korean Weddings because it is does, as I mentioned before, serve as a nice precursor for the family that is to be built by the newly married couple, which Korean culture places a heavy influence on.

Naval Academy Wedding Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: US
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: Annapolis
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/20/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

Informant: When a newly-married couple is walking out of the chapel for the first time they walk through two columns of Midshipmen holding their sabre’s up high. The lines are made up of members of the wedding party and officers in attendance. It’s four on each side of the two rows. The first two will lower their swords making like a gate. The married has to kiss in order for the each row to raise their swords and let them pass. When the couple gets to the last two Midshipmen with their swords lowered they kiss one more time. When they pass the last two one of the last two will slap the sword against the butt of the civilian spouse and say “Welcome to the Navy!”

 

Background: The informant is my brother. He is a senior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He first learned of this tradition through first-hand experience at the wedding of one of his closest friends at the academy. This interview was recorded over the phone. I asked the informant if he could recall any specific military traditions he has witnessed through informal mediums.

Context: The sabre is given to Midshipmen when they reach first class rank (the college equivalent of a senior). It is a point of pride amongst first class officers and is treated with the utmost care. The sabre arch is done right after the wedding ceremony finishes as the bride and groom leave the chapel. It is a highly-respected tradition and is always performed with punctuality.

Analysis: For most military members, the job can quickly become your life. Although the informant is a student, I have witnessed his transition into a full-fledged officer within the short span of four years. He holds the values and culture in the highest regard, much like his peers. In his words, “When you join the Navy you are making a lifelong commitment”. Well, some would also consider marriage to be a lifelong commitment. As I have experienced first-hand, the spouses of servicemen and women become an equal part of the military community they married into. As such, the tradition of the sabre arch is symbolic of that relationship. The spouse of the officer is committing to joining the military community around them. In return, through the sabre arch, the military community is grants the spouse acceptance. The cry, “Welcome to the Navy”, is confirmation of that acceptance.

The Jewish Slap

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 54
Occupation: Retired
Residence: Rutherford, California
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

“It’s a Jewish tradition for mothers to slap their daughters after their first period. I don’t actually know the source of this tradition. Maybe it’s to warn the daughter of the pain of womanhood. I also heard from someone that the slap is supposed to bring blood to the daughter’s cheek, but I don’t know what that means. I never slapped my daughter, and my friend yelled at me because I didn’t. She slapped both of her daughters when they got their periods.”

Context: The informant is a Jewish woman with one daughter. Both of her parents are Jewish. She was raised in a Conservative Jewish household and raised her children in a Reform Jewish household.

Interpretation: The most reasonable conclusion seems to be that the slap is a symbol of the pains of womanhood. It could also be used to shame young girls out of sexual activity by immediately punishing them for being capable of reproduction. It also connects Jewish females both to their mothers through the slap and to other Jewish women through the shared experience.

 

Long Island High School Band Customs

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Washington, District of Colombia
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): none

A – “There are a couple things we always did, every day we had class, once we got to class back in high school.  There’s this thing at Schreiber [our High School] where, every musician with their instrument ready would blow out some really poor-sounding tone, and then there would be a response from the other side of the room.  It didn’t really matter who responded, so sometimes there was more than one, but, you know, as long as there was a response.  And yeah, just a really poor tone coming from any instrument.  So this would happen every class, so twice a week, before our teacher/conductor got there, we were all getting ready.  This is kinda just our way of maintaining our individuality from the other students at school, I think we were all rather proud of being in the band.”

How were you Introduced to this tradition?

A – “So the first time I got into the band my sophomore year, I noticed people doing it, but no one actually said anything about it.  It took me a couple weeks before I realized that it was, like, an actual thing that we always did.  Taking part in that was kinda like a rite of passage, once you did it, you were a real member of the band.”

A – “I definitely won’t forget that we did that, I think just because it brings me back to my time in the band, where I had a lot of fun and spent time with people I liked.”

 

I was actually in the band with A, and I got there a year before he did.  So it was fun for me, who had gone through the same sort of vetting process with this one tone call and response, to watch him as he learned of it’s existence, and soon became proficient in it.  I definitely agree with his idea that this was a sort of rite-of-passage situation; I’d also add that it was almost a weird way of hazing new members, getting them to think that we sound awful, getting them to wonder why they’re even there if that’s the case.  Then we start playing.

Snow Day Ritual

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 26
Occupation: Student
Residence: St. Joseph, Michigan, United States
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/13/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Description

“You would hear there was a snow coming, a big storm, and in order to secure the snow day, you would do the pre-snow day ritual. What you would do is wear your pajamas backwards, then flush three ice cubes down the toilet. While the ice cubes were being flushed you would chant ‘I love snow days.’ The ice needed to be gone, your pants needed to be backwards, and then you had to do it until the ice cubes were gone. If it worked, you were a genius, and if it didn’t work, you were pretty stupid.”

Context

The informant reported that in Michigan, where they are from, snow days are incredibly important to school culture. This ritual would be used when the informant was in school, usually in the winter, to attempt to secure a snow day, which involved shutting down school for a day due to inclimate weather.

Analysis

A lot of students have been heard of doing this — I had similar snow day rituals that the students believed, often well into high school. I find this sort of thing very cool because where does it come from? At what point, after the invention of the modern school day began, did something like this start, and how did it become customary for students? My own personal idea is that it comes from other rituals to ward off evil, but is a children’s bastardization of that idea, creating their own.