Tag Archives: Folk Tradition

Coin cake.

N is a 55-year-old female Canadian immigrant originally from Vancouver, Canada. N is a retired social worker currently living in Phoenix, Arizona.

While visiting my home state of Phoenix, Arizona, I visited N’s home, as she is my neighbor. During the visit, I asked N if she had any folklore she would be willing to share with me, and she offered me the following piece of folklore.

N: I’m talking about a tradition we had in Canada growing up, so we’re talking about the mid-sixties, uh, through the mid-seventies through approximately the age of ten, so. Um.. what we experienced growing up is that um.. When celebrating birthdays it was very common for various denominations of coins to be baked into birthday cake. And the idea was I guess for the.. child is it was a little bit of an extra gift, and surprise. But of course all of the other kids would be getting a piece of the cake as well, and so there was this fun little challenge as to who would be getting, uh, the higher coin, uh, it seems silly now seems how were just talking about coins. But at the time, um, we just thought it was a fun thing, and, I don’t think anyone thought about the potential of choking, but that is something that was very common and I have since learned that that was a tradition from Europe and possibly actually originating from Greece. Just a sign of good luck and, um, good blessings for the coming year. Uh, if I recall correctly I don’t believe I remember any adults having birthdays with these special cakes, but it was super common and it was really a fun thing that kinda went away unfortunately when we got older. I would love to actually… why don’t we uh, in my next birthday cake that I bake, uh, I should impose this uh, tradition to be new.

Reflection: I can relate to N’s story to a certain degree, as my elementary school used to hold annual Marti Gras celebrations in which they would bake cakes with items hidden in them. Except for coins, however, the cakes would each have a small plastic baby inside. Just as in M’s account, whoever found the special item inside the cake would receive good luck. With this in mind, it is interesting to consider how the American and Canadian traditions differ, in that the American Marti Gras cakes I am familiar with contain objects of perceived value while M’s Canadian birthday cakes contain items of actual value. As a result, the American cake tradition appears to be centered on an intangible sense of accomplishment (luck) while the Canadian cake tradition appears to be centered around monetary gain. This makes sense in relation to N’s assertion that coin cakes were exclusive to children’s birthday cakes, as children are probably more willing to discover a prize in their cake that they can actually use rather than an abstract concept like luck.

Spicy Uno

BACKGROUND: JM is the interviewer’s friend. Spicy Uno is a variation on the popular Uno card game, one that we’ve played many times as friends, and a game that can get quite heated at times.

JM: “Here are our rules:
Play a 4, no talking. Whoever talks has to draw 1 card for each word they say.Play a 6, all hands need to go in the middle of the table. Last hand draws 3.Person who plays 0 chooses 2 people to swap hands (can include themselves).+2 cards and +4 cards can stack, but not on each other.You can ask for help and can help someone, but you can’t show them the card before.You can skip to yourself by playing an exact match of what’s on top of the pile.If you have UNO and someone else calls UNO for you, draw 6.
There’s the famous moment when we were playing, someone drew 4, and then someone knocked on the door. You went ‘it’s all good, we’re taking a break, we don’t need to be quiet anymore. The game is paused, the game is paused.’ Watching you draw 22 cards was maybe the greatest time I’ve ever played the game.”

ANALYSIS: The Spicy Uno variation of the Uno card game is a popular one among Millenials and Gen Z, one that qualifies as folklore since there are no exact rules and no known origin — everyone plays it slightly differently. It’s a modern folk tradition, one that can forge friendships and break them apart in the same round. For another version of Spicy Uno, see:

“How to Play Spicy Uno.” Crazy Little Projects, 30 Jul. 2020, https://crazylittleprojects.com/how-to-play-spicy-uno/.


Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my co-worker/informant (MK).

HS: So can you tell me about Yaldā?

MK: So it’s the beginning of the winter. So in the winter, nights are going to be longer and days are going to be shorter. They say the night is longer by one minute, so in that one minute, Persians celebrate it like crazy. They get fruits, they get pomegranate, they gather together. Lots of craziness. But you basically stay up all night to enjoy the night getting one minute longer.

HS: So is it more of a family celebration or is it celebrated in a group setting with the surrounding community?

MK: You can celebrate with the surrounding community, but it’s more of a family-oriented tradition. If you look at the history of the tradition, it was often celebrated by families but times are changing so I’ve celebrated with friends, more distant relatives, anybody, really. Grand meals and amazing food are also a kind of foundation for the tradition.


My informant is a coworker from my job. She has the same role as me and so we spend a lot of time talking in-between customers. She immigrated to the United States from Tehran, the capital of Iran, when she was 16 years old and has a lot of family here that she enjoys continuing her traditions with. She has enjoyed telling me a lot about her culture and traditions in our time working together.


So we were just talking in-between customers when I became a little curious. I work in an area that has a large Persian population, and according to my coworker, the concentration of Persians in this area is second only to Los Angeles. So back in March about a week before Persian New Year, I noticed that a lot of her Persian clientele were coming in to buy new one-dollar, five-dollar, and ten-dollar bills. I was curious about why this was happening, and so I asked my coworker about it. After discussing the Persian New Year, we discussed other important traditions that she celebrates, such as Yaldā.

Thoughts: Similar to the traditions involved in the Persian New Year, I found it interesting that a lot of Persian traditions are derived from a completely unique religion/tradition that I had never heard of before. Yaldā night is another tradition that has its roots in Zoroastrianism. According to the sources that I read, Yaldā night was actually considered to be an unlucky day, as it was believed that this was the night that the presence of evil spirits was at its peak, which would make sense from a historical lense because evil spirits were associated with darkness and Yaldā night was the longest night of the year. To avoid the inauspiciousness of this night, families were given the recommendation to stay up all night and keep each other company. What I find most interesting is how similar the origins of Yaldā are to the origins of the western tradition of Halloween. Despite strikingly similar origin stories, these two days evolved in completely separate ways.

For an exploration into the rich culinary traditions of Yaldā, see:

“Iranian American Chef Discusses Role Of Food In Yalda Day Celebrations.(Broadcast Transcript).” Weekend Edition Sunday, National Public Radio, Inc. (NPR), 2020.

Opening Day Cannon

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my friend/informant (DS).

HS: So for opening day, your yacht club fires off a blank cannon shot?

DS: Yessir

HS: And is this tradition particular to your club?

DS: Not really. A vast majority of clubs do it. It’s basically signaling that the club is open for the year. What is interesting, though, is that, because we’re in southern California where there’s good weather, our club is open all year. So our opening and closing day kind of happen at the same time if that makes sense. It’s nothing like that on the east coast. There, water freezes over and they have to bring their boats in and all of that. So for clubs on the east coast, the tradition makes a lot more sense. Because we don’t have to do any of that in southern California, opening and closing days are just symbolic and give everyone an opportunity to be together and have a good time.


My informant is a friend that I went to high school and now college with. His family is part of a yacht club and he has been sailing since he was young. He is involved with his club and has been a sailing instructor there before.


We were out with a few other people on a Duffy when we docked at my informant’s yacht club so that some people could use the restroom. While we were waiting, I asked some questions about the club out of curiosity.


I am not a member of a yacht club, so it was cool to learn and be exposed to some traditions that I had not experienced before. I find it interesting that opening and closing day at most clubs in southern California are symbolic. It made me realize how lucky I am to live in a place where there’s good weather and there’s no need to prepare for the winter in any way. The fact that a blank cannon round is used to signal opening day leads me to think that the tradition is hundreds of years old, harking back to a time were ships were fitted with cannons as they crossed the treacherous Atlantic from Europe. It’s crazy to think that no matter how much we progress as a society in terms of technology, we still find comfort in the unique traditions of our ancestors.

Christmas Present Map

Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my mother/informant (SW).

HS: When I was young, you would make a map of our home with presents marked as x’s scattered throughout the house. Where did you get this tradition from?

SW: From what I can remember, my mom would make Christmas maps for us when we were kids. Particularly for my brother, because he was always super adventurous. My mom may have gotten it from her family, but I’m not 100% sure. Anyways, I remember the first time I did it for you so well. You totally lit up and got super excited, and so I would make a map of our house every year and hide presents in obscure places. At first, I would hide the presents in pretty easy-to-find places, but as you got older I had to get a lot more creative so that you wouldn’t find them in 30 seconds.


My informant is my mother. She was raised in Huntington Beach, California, but she moved to Kansas with her family when she was 16 because a majority of her family was living there and in Missouri. She always dreamed of coming back to California and took the first opportunity she could get to come back. She now lives in Dana Point.


I was sitting at dinner with my parents and was talking to my mom about how she had gotten the idea to make a Christmas present map.


I have always been curious about this tradition within my family, particularly because I often wonder whether it is unique to us or not. If there is one thing that I have learned from taking ANTH 333, it is that a lot of traditions that people think are unique to them are in fact not and in some cases actually very widespread.