Tag Archives: Family tradition

A Friend’s Family Tradition: Christmas Pajamas


Informant K is a 20 year old USC student majoring in Narrative Studies. She is from the Seattle area in Washington state. K was born in Boston, MA, moved to San Francisco, CA, and then to Seattle at age 3. Her extended family is from parts of Canada and, though her immediate family is not religious, K’s grandmother is Christian. K is a sophomore and has been living in LA for 2 years.

We exchanged folklore as a group during a designated time in our discussion section. We went around in a circle, and this was one of my friend’s stories.


K: “Mine is also a Christmas tradition. I don’t know if this started with, like, earlier back or if this was a ‘my parents’ kind of introduction or invention but we do Christmas pajamas. So every year on Christmas – on Christmas Eve – we get to open one present. And that is our Christmas pajamas. And it always starts with my mom being like ‘Go look under the tree!’ like ‘Go look for your pajamas!’ And so they’re usually not – I mean sometimes they’re set out? When we were younger it was more like we got to root through the presents under the tree and find our Christmas pajamas and the tag always says, like, ‘Happy Christmas Eve! Love Mom and Dad.’ And then we open them and they usually have a fun little pattern on them, like sometimes they’re candy canes. The ones I got last year were a little less christmassy it was more just animals in a Wintery forest. And my sister and I – we used to get like strictly matching ones, now we get more like coordinating ones. I think as we’ve gotten older, my mom was like, ‘Okay, I’ll give them a little bit more… like I’ll tailor this a little bit more to their personal styles.’ And then we have to go upstairs and we have to try them on and we do like a little mini fashion show for our parents and she’s like ‘Oh, yeah! Those look nice!’ And then we take a picture, usually in front of the tree and you have to go to bed wearing your Christmas pajamas. I don’t think that’s a hard and fast rule but, like, I would never take off my Christmas pajamas ‘cause that would feel like an insult to my parents, and also it just makes it fun and festive.”

A friend, also in the circle: “Is Christmas pajamas just you and your sister or do all of your… do your parents also get…?”

K: “I don’t think my parents get pajamas. I don’t remember if they did at one point but from what I can remember now it’s just me and my sister.”


What K is explaining is a clear tradition – something contemporary that is done each year. I find it intriguing to discuss costumes or outfits as tradition, because wearing them is inherently a kind of performance. K also mentions ‘showing off’ the pajamas to her mother in smaller ‘fashion show’ performances. Her tradition is observable and fits the general description of one, yet it’s debatable in its references to the past or source material, as K doesn’t actually know the origin. It’s also worth noting that K takes this tradition very seriously – she wouldn’t dream of changing out of the pajamas. As far as I can tell, K’s tradition seems rooted in Americana. Matching pajama sets date back to the age of the nuclear family, so it’s fitting that this is a sibling tradition for the informant. Wearing matching clothes for holidays specifically is common, but I would argue that doing so for a Westernized version of Christmas is a way of creating tradition for an originally religious holiday when the participant isn’t actively religious. It’s a conspicuous example of that which is popular in an immigration-heavy society like the United States. To create a tradition is to strengthen identity, because those who participate in tradition are then considered part of an in-group.

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.

Fox Day

‘Both of my parents went to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida and every year they have a fox day. It is an annual tradition and festival that was started decades ago by the president of the University. So each year on a day in spring that was “too pretty to have class”, the president would put a fox statue on the lawn in front of campus and all the students on campus would get free buses to the beach. Since my parents went there, every year on fox day, when I was younger I would skip school and we would always go and take a picture in front of the fox and have a fox day celebration of going out to enjoy the weather.” – PH

PH’s parents would celebrate fox day every year in college, and continue to do so even when PH was a baby. He has countless baby photos of him with the fox statue, showing him grow up on the nicest spring days of the year. The biggest role this has had in PH’s life is that it has allowed him to hold a huge connection with his mom, and is something he will never forget. This ritual also feels like a superstition to him… Every spring day if the weather is beautiful out it could be fox day. It encourages him to take in the new weather and get excited for what’s to come.

Statue on Rollins’ Campus put out to symbolize Fox Day each year

Fox Day is a celebration and ritual that has been passed down through generations, obviously leaving a mark on many who celebrate, as PH always wonders on beautiful days if Rollins College is having their Fox Day. The annual ritual enforces a sense of tradition and significance for a community that is shared and celebrated throughout Winter Park, Florida, just as folklore intends. Additionally, the fox statue works as a symbolic figure, as it represents the tradition and allows the community to recognize what day it is! Also, in much a folklore, a strong motif is that of a fox, holding symbolic significance, and in this scenario, this fox signifies the beginning of beautiful weather and prompting the community to go enjoy their day outside. Fox Day embodies many folkloristic behaviors and contributes to a sense of community and tradition.

Christmas Raviolis


“At Christmas, we make homemade raviolis. When I was growing up, my grandmother [made homemade raviolis] most of the time, and then when you kids were younger, Nonni (the informant’s mother) did it a number of years, and now we do it.”

Minor Genre: 

Holiday Ritual; Food Traditions


“My dad has a funny story about the first time he had dinner with my mom’s Italian family. In the Italian meals, they would serve raviolis almost as an appetizer. My dad filled up on the raviolis and then there were still like four more courses of dinner to come.

“I never made [the raviolis], I just ate them. My grandmother made them and I didn’t really pitch in as a kid. It wasn’t until Nonni started making them with you kids that I helped. We would have raviolis throughout the year but really the ritual of making them was saved for Christmas.”


I have memories of making raviolis with my grandmother, Nonni, every Christmas growing up. It was a process that involved the whole family: we first made the pasta dough using an old recipe from the informant’s grandmother (my great-grandmother); then we rolled out the pasta into thin strips using a pasta-roller attachment to the kitchen table; then we used ravioli dishes to place the dough, add in the filling, and press the food into ravioli shapes.

Ravioli originated in Italy and is a type of pasta dish containing filling typically composed of meat or cheese. Nonni’s side of the family immigrated from Italy from the regions of Tuscany and Campania. Although the filling of our family’s ravioli is likely an Americanized version of the Italian original, we reference an old hand-written recipe for the pasta that could reasonably be believed to have been brought over by Nonni’s Italian ancestors.

The ritual of making raviolis each Christmas is a way to honor our family’s Italian heritage while simultaneously engaging in a community-building activity that will ultimately be enjoyed by every member of the family at dinner.

Turkey Wishbone

A common practice at my informant’s house revolves around the beloved American holiday, Thanksgiving. Every year after a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner has been eaten, members of the family are left with the discarded remnants of their meal including a specific bone left in the turkey. This bone is not considered to be garbage like the rest of the remains, however it can actually be considered one of the most important items on the table. Two people hold either end of the wishbone and pull on it trying to break it. While they are tugging, both people make a wish which they keep to themselves. Once the turkey wishbone is broken, the person who is left holding the bigger side is declared the winner and their wish is the one which is granted.

The tradition of breaking the wishbone after Thanksgiving dinner offers many insights into cultural beliefs, rituals, and communal practices within American families. This ritual holds significance far beyond its base function. It serves as a means of fostering social bonds and reinforcing familial traditions, as members of the family come together to participate in this shared activity. By pulling on opposite ends of the bone and making secret wishes, participants engage in a form of sympathetic magic, believing that their desires will be fulfilled if they emerge victorious. The power of the wishbone to bring luck or grant wishes reflects a broader cultural fascination with luck, fortune, and the supernatural. The tradition of breaking the wishbone also illustrates the adaptive nature of folklore, as it has been passed down through generations and adapted to fit contemporary contexts. The wishbone ritual continues to be practiced and valued within modern American households, demonstrating its enduring relevance and cultural significance. This offers a fascinating glimpse into the cultural beliefs, social dynamics, and communal practices within American families.