Tag Archives: folk practice

Knocking on Wood

Main Content:

M= Me, I= Informant

M: So you said you grew up with a lot of fairy folklore?

I:  Yeah, um, you know like the knock on wood, that’s the most common one.

M: so what’s… what’s the background behind that? What happens if you don’t knock on wood? You know, why is it knock on wood?

I: Well knock on wood, uh you do it when you say something like that might not happen. Like uh  let’s so you want to get a good grade on a test and you are like “I.. I’m pretty confident, like, I’m gonna ace this test,” then you knock on wood. *knocks on wood* Sorry I shouldn’t have done it. *both laugh* You knock on wood because fairies live in the wood

M: Uh-huh (In agreement)

I: And if they hear you saying something that you want to happen, they’re gonna make it not happen.

M: Ohhhhhh, okay. That’s cool.

I: ‘Cause like fairies used to live in trees and stuff, so you would like, so it would… it would be like outside kinda stuff. 

M: Yeah

I: But since we don’t see trees *laughs* a lot anymore. It’s just become any wood. 

Context: Her parents passed this folk practice to her by simply doing it around her and when she asked why, they told her it so that the fairies don’t stop good things from happening. She was very little when she first learned this so she did believe in this initially. But even though she continued the practice as she grew up, she did not continue truly believing that the fairies were responsible.

Analysis: Given how prevalent fairies are in Scottish and Irish, it makes sense how her parents would pass down this practice to her. This is quite a common practice in the US and even if people don’t fully believe in it, they may do it in order to ‘not risk it’ or even to comfort others fears who do believe in it. This is common with many superstitions as while there may not be scientific evidence to support a superstitions, people still ‘believe’ in them or ‘don’t want to risk it’ because we learn beliefs from those around us. This practice is also consistent with other/earlier portrayals of fairies as they are often portrayed as mischievous creatures in lore and not the sweet and fragile creatures that has been popularized by the media, particularly by Disney.

Modern Practices of The Winter Solstice

Informant: I researched it and made it our own, and it changes constantly every year, but that’s to be expected. I’ve always done solstice when we were out here (America) because we were otherwise going back to England for Christmas and we didn’t want to go schlepping (moving) all the presents back, so we starting celebrating this.

Interviewer: So what is it that you do for the solstice?

Informant: I go out in the late afternoon and I pick Bay Leaves, Oak Leaves, and Ivy Leaves and I wash them and then I put them out to dry in the last rays of the sun. Traditionally I’m making pork and prunes on that day, so I put that on to cook. It is the first night we light the yule log. I build a fire in the fire pit, using what remains of last year’s log. We start around the fire making wishes with the leaves I left out to dry and throwing them into the fire. When we come in to eat, we eat take a light from the fire and light a candle then carry that light to the table where we’re eating. You are bringing light into the darkness. My husband also made me a yule log table decoration with fire candles in it for the five of us in the family.

Interviewer: You mentioned wishes with leaves, what kind of wishes do you make?

Informant: I can show you, I have it written down.

[Informant returns with a red book]

Informant: This is where I record all the big events that happen to my family every solstice. Here’s the wish list.

[Written information on a standard white piece of paper]

These leaves have been washed clean and dried in the last rays of the sun. Splash them with whatever you’re drinking and drop them into the fire with a wish. This is a time of giving so your wishes should not be for yourself but for the good of others.

IVY
For friendship, fidelity, and affection

OAK
For luck, also strength, endurance and vigor

BAY LAUREL
For health and Protection
This is also a time for letting go, making amends or saying farewell.

PAPER
Write your regrets and resentments on a slip of paper and toss them into the fire.

Full Out and Mark

Informant: I’m not sure where it came from but in all hip hop dance classes I’ve ever taken we refer to a “mark” as a run through of choreo that isn’t as full energy, something you use to remember new steps or different aspects of the choreography you want to focus on. A “full out” run is one that is full energy, full facial performance, full movements. That is a run that is going to be most close to what you’d see on stage as if we were performing right in that moment.

Context: The informant is a dancer on an international US dance team called V-Mo. She has been in dance clubs ever since high school. As a dancer who has attended various dance classes, she gets to experience all the nuances that come with the classes.

Thoughts: From what I’ve heard, practice and the actual performance are two very different things. This slang is very similar to athletes who practice as if they were in a game. The two types of run throughs show how dancers are precise with their leaning and are smart when it comes to the conservation of energy, especially since dancing is physically demanding just like any other sport. 

Tapping Fingers While Receiving Tea

Background Info/Context:

My friends and I were out to dinner at a Korean Chinese-Style restaurant to get some noodles, and the waitress brought us a pot of tea. I started pouring into my friends’ cups, and I noticed that my Chinese friend was tapping her index finger and middle finger together on the table as I was pouring. So I asked her what she was doing, figuring that she was feeling restless or wanting to test the stickiness of the table. She surprisingly said, “You’ve never seen someone do this?” And when my other friend and I both shook our heads “no,” she told us why she did that. This is a practice that her uncle taught her to do when she was young.

 

Piece:

Friend: “Today in Chinese restaurants, when anyone pours tea for you, you have to use your two fingers and like tap the table next to your cup.”

 

Me: “As you’re pouring?”

 

Friend: “As the person’s pouring for you. You have to say “Thank you” to them by tapping your fingers like this *right index and middle finger and held out and touching, as they lightly tap the area next to her cup.* You could also knock your two fingers on the table.

 

Me: “So you do this if an older person if pouring for you?”

 

Friend: “No, I think if anyone does it for you. It’s just a way of saying “Thank you,” cuz you say “Thank you” to everyone. So the reasoning behind that is that like way back, in one of the dynasties, I don’t remember which one, but the king would have to like go out of the palace to like do stuff right. He can’t just stay in his home forever. So whenever he goes out, and he doesn’t want to be recognized, but let’s say he has lunch at a restaurant outside. Um, when he doesn’t want to be recognized, and no one’s allowed to bow to him, cuz it would just give it away. So instead of bowing to him, if anyone sees him and recognizes him, they would just like do this *taps two fingers on the table.* Or like subtle. So like kneeling right? So instead of bowing you kneel to the emperor. So they do this instead, to make it subtler. So now it’s like if anyone, it’s just a sign of respect.”


Thoughts:
I really enjoyed this piece of folklore that my friend shared, because I had no idea that this was a common practice. I have never seen any of my friends tap their fingers or knuckles on the table, probably because it’s more of a traditional Chinese thing to do, rather than just verbally stating “Thank you.” I interpret this act to reiterate Chinese culture of respect for elders.

Finland Lunch Cookout Setup

The following is a recorded observation centering on a local guide’s preparation of a lunch area/cooking of said lunch while on a weeklong dog sledding excursion in the northern Finnish wilderness, an area known as Lapland.

 

To provide context, in the late winter months of Lapland, the snow can reach depths of up to five feet, unable to melt and having compiled for many months before. It is not uncommon anywhere in this area that one can take a single step off of a packed, stable path and immediately sink waist deep into the snow.

 

After anchoring our dog sleds and unboxing containers of food, the guide took four sizable branches from a nearby shrub and sharpened a single end of each branch to a point with his knife.

 

These four branches were left to the side as the guide then stepped into the deep snow and began to dig an eating area with his hands. This proceeded for the better part of twenty minutes. When finished, the hole was about eight feet across and four feet deep. Considerably flat on the bottom as to allow for a fire, the sloped sides of the hole allowed for comfortable seating at a safe distance from any burning wood.

 

Firewood kindling was then gathered from the adjacent birch forest from whatever available wood could be found. Primary logs, previously cut at the cabin we had left that morning, were then assembled into a square, three-tiered stack. Using the kindling to help foster the ignition of the larger logs, the guide sparked the blunt metallic end of his knife against a flint and subsequently lit the fire.

 

The two of us then took the sharpened sticks and skewered sausages onto the pointed ends, roasting them over the fire until ready to eat.

 

After the course of eating, the heat of the fire had allowed the wood to sink considerably into the snow, allowing any remaining burning logs to be covered with ease with only a kick of snow.

 

What stood out in this entire situation to me is the inherent making use of one’s surroundings for the sake of providing supplemental comforts alongside necessary functions, such as eating. While it would have been easy enough to simply start the fire on the tightly packed dog sled path, the seating would not be nearly as comfortable as a padded slope against which to lean, made possible by digging the hole. It is also important to note that following 20-30km of captaining a dog sled team over rough terrain make any such indulgences worthwhile expenditures of energy. The cooking of the sausages goes the same way in terms of making use of one’s environment, turning a simple tree branch into a useful tool without which roasting a sausage would not be practically possible. The rooting in practicality and makings of any available comfort reflected to me an overall Lappish spirit of a similar nature.