Tag Archives: Family tradition

Splitting the Pole

Background:

Refusal to “split the pole” is a belief held by the informant that two people should never walk in two separate directions around a pole or an object obstructing their path. The informant adopted this belief from his father.

Context:

This belief was related to me by the informant after walking with him down a sidewalk in Los Angeles. We saw a light post ahead of us, and as I began to walk around the left side of it as the informant walked right, he shouted in a frenzy, “never split the pole!” After looking at him in confusion, he told me what “splitting the pole” meant.

Main Piece:

Me: What are you yelling about? What is splitting the pole?

PF: When you’re walking with someone down a sidewalk and there’s something like a light post or a traffic sign in your way, you have to walk around it the same way. If you walk in different directions, you split the pole, and you have to say, “bread and butter.”

Me: Bread and butter? What does that do?

PF: I don’t know man, it’s just what you have to say. My dad doesn’t split the pole neither. No one in my family does.

Me: Where does “splitting the pole” come from?

PF: No idea. It’s just something I’ve been doing since I was a kid. If you do split the pole and don’t say, “bread and butter,” you get bad luck.

Me: Like walking under a ladder?

PF: Yea, but way worse (laughs). When my dad and I are going somewhere, even if there’s a massive crowd, we’ll wait for people to pass and stuff just to make sure we don’t split the pole.

Thoughts:

Neither myself or anyone I’ve asked has ever heard of “splitting the pole”, so its origins remain unclear. It seems to be just one of those superstitions that a select number of people have heard and adopted. There is something to be said about the metaphysical gravity some allot to customs and beliefs despite having no rationale or origin to validate the belief. There is no utilitarian value in refusing to split the pole, yet the informant was driven to yelling in public after realizing we were about do so. Just like walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror, it is a superstition that some adopt despite not aligning themselves with the culture or community it comes from. Despite not being part of the culture or community it comes from, people still act in accordance with the belief out of the potential threat that violating this belief will endanger them.

Ooh Ah Up the Rah

Background: “Celtic Symphony” is a song performed by the Irish band, The Wolfe Tones. The song is sung at gatherings of Irish people. The line “Oh Ah up the Ra” is emphasized and belted out. The phrase is a declaration of support for the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Context: I witnessed my Irish friend’s family perform this song while at his house for Thanksgiving last fall. While singing songs after dinner, this song came on and all of his Irish family members sang it together, most of them quite drunk. My friend explained that it was one of the songs Irish people always sing together. “Oh Ah up the Ra” is basically a “big ‘eff you’ to the British,” he told me.

Main Piece:

Here we go again,
We’re on the road again,
We’re on the road again,
We’re on our way to Paradise,
We love the jungilty,
That’s where the lion sleeps, (yeeeaaaaahhhh)
For in those evil eyes,
They have no place in Paradise.

graffiti on the walls just as the sun was going down,
I seen graffitti on the walls( Of the CELTS, Of the CELTS),
Graffitti on the walls that says we’re Magic, We’re Magic,
Graffiti on the walls…….Graffiti on the walls……..
And it said…………..
Ooh ah up the Ra, say ooh ah up the Ra (x6).

Thoughts:

I felt quite a lot of jealousy while watching and certainly hearing my friend’s family sing this song together. Even the youngest of my friend’s cousins, at ages seven and eight, were singing at the top of their lungs as everyone paraded around the room. It is clearly a song sung with immense patriotism and pride. However, the reference to the IRA must infuse the song with a certain vigor, as nearly all of my friend’s family was still in Ireland during the British occupation and have lost friends and loved ones in the conflict. There is a juxtaposition between the hearty and jubilant performance of this song and the horrors and pain upon which the song is founded. While many nations sing songs in unison out of love for country and shared experience, it seems that the Irish certainly have the most fun doing it and doing it the loudest.

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.

Christmas Pickle

Content: 

C: It’s really pretty straightforward. Um, so ever since your mom was little, we put this pickle ornament on the Christmas tree. Just like a ceramic little pickle. But, um, you put it on and, and whoever finds it first wins a present. 

Me: Where did you get your pickle ornament?

C: Um… I think mine right now is from The Christmas Mouse.

Me: What’s the prize for the winner?

C: Anything. Candy or money or something like that. 

Background: C was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, where she resides today. Her family claims German heritage. The Christmas Mouse is a local holiday decor store. 

Context: This story was told to me in-person by my grandmother, C. 

Analysis: The Christmas Pickle has always been a big deal for my family. I grew up with two sisters, and we often got competitive in the days after Thanksgiving when the tree was being decorated. When we spend Christmas at my mom’s, there isn’t a prize for finding the pickle. I remember us having prizes when we were younger, but she stopped as we became teenagers. Now, finding the pickle is purely for bragging rights. When we go to my grandmother’s for the holiday, however, she still takes the hunt very seriously. The prize nowadays is often a gift card or mug- things that are more appealing to adults than candy and toys. 

Doctor Mouse, Tooth Fairy

BACKGROUND: MS is the interviewer’s friend.


TRANSCRIPT:
MS: “In my family, instead of the Tooth Fairy we had ‘Dr. Mouse.’ I don’t think it’s done in just my family. I believe it has its origins in Mexico since it was on that side of the family, but I’m not sure if it was specific to a region or whatever. It’s functionally identical to the Tooth Fairy except I remember doing teeth in shoes rather than under pillows, so that the mouse MD could get to it.”


ANALYSIS: This is a regional custom, one that takes a common tradition of adolescence and remixes it. The shoes are a nice touch in adding to the realism of the ritual’s fantasy, as that’s the only way the mouse can access the teeth.