The informant is a male in his 50s. He was born to two Greek parents in New York. He was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church. He lived in the Bronx for most of his youth before moving to the suburbs in Connecticut. He has worked as a journalist for most of his life, a job in which he spent a good deal of time in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent. He now lives in Southern California as a software developer. He is divorced with three children.
Following are two New Years customs from the Greek community the informant lived in as a child.
When growing up, there was a tradition in the informant’s family and the Greek community at large that the adults would always gamble on New Years eve. All the families would gather, as New Years is a family occasion, and the adults would bet on cards while the kids played. The believe was the gambling for money would bring luck for the coming year; it was an auspicious practice to handle money at the very threshold of the New Year.
Analysis: The handling of money at the beginning of the year probably owed some of its origin to ideas of sympathetic magic. The act of handling and interacting with a lot of money as the New Year begins is an enactment of the what the people wish to happen for the rest of the year; they hope that for the upcoming year they will have a lot of contact with money, and thus be prosperous. Gambling at New Years is a type of ritual, although most of the people participating probably think of it as a good luck ceremony. That the ritual magic implications of the gambling are more important than the more straightforward attempts to win money are supported by the fact that it is a whole family affair, including children.
It was tradition in the informant’s family and the Greek community at large to throw a piece of iron into the house on New Years. Iron horseshoes are usually used, as they are the most common piece of iron around the house. The informant does not remember exactly why this was done, but he remembers learning that it should be done through the stories the old Greek women would tell him. They would explain their cultures traditions to the children, telling them stories and legends. They were the main transmitters of tradition in that social network.
Analysis: In the Greek community that the informant grew up in, the stories were transmitted by the female elders. The informant says that it is through the stories of these women that the young in the community learn who they are. These women are the active bearers in the community. It is their place in the social construction of the Greek society, rather than personality or personal preference, that determines who are active bearers of lore and who are passive. The childrens’ roles are as passive bearers. But this position switches with age, although not sex. The position of those who tell stories is regulated in the Greek community.
In order to gather lottery numbers to play the Ohio Lottery Jeff spends the entire day keeping an eye out for any numbers that seem to stick out to him. The method he uses to determine which numbers are worth recording is very difficult to explain. Jeff says that he gets a certain feeling in his gut that lets him know that the number is significant and should be recorded. One caveat to his method is that he must spend all day gathering the numbers. If he were to record all of his numbers at one time he says that they would not work. Only lazy people do that. Anybody can spot a bunch of numbers and write them down, but he believes that a true professional will take his time andlet the numbers come to him.
The numbers are gathered from a variety of sources including, but not limited to: license plates, sports scores, fortune cookies, dates, number of letter in a name, ages, number of items or objects in a certain place. When I asked Jeff if he had ever actually won using his method he informed me that he has never won but he has been so close he could taste it. This method of picking out numbers was taught to Jeff by his mother. I asked him if she had ever won using the method and he said, If she did he definitely didnt share.
I asked him if he actually believed in the potency of his method and he said that he was not sure but that it felt more effective than just guessing. I think that the method Jeff uses is fairly common. I have worked with people who use similar methods for picking lottery numbers. I once informed a friend that I received a fortune cookie that contained two fortunes and she told me to play the numbers on it because it was a sign of good luck to have two fortunes in one cookie. I played the numbers in the California lottery and did not match a single number.
Many people seem to utilize different methods of picking numbers, but whatever the method they always stick to it. The thought is that eventually they will win. Jeff told me that if he uses his method long enough it will eventually pay off. The money he plans to win will cover the cost of all the tickets he has bought in the past and there will be plenty left over to spend on other things, such as more tickets. I agree with what Jeff said about his method being more useful than simple guessing. The psychological benefit of believing that one has properly read the signs and discovered the correct numbers makes one feel more positive than just plain old guessing. It adds a sort of supernatural element to choosing lottery numbers.
The game Flips is played with any kind of coin. Typically it is played with quarters. The matches usually take place during lunchtime and matches are quick so that the winner can go buy snacks with his winnings and still have time to eat them. To play the game you and your opponent must have identical coins. If you have a quarter your opponent must also have a quarter, for example. One person flips their coin. The other person has to flip their coin and get it to land on the same side as the coin that their opponent previously flipped. If I flip a quarter and it comes up heads then you have to flip your quarter and have it come up heads to win. If the opponent matches the side the coin lands on then he gets both quarters. If they do not match the person that flipped first gets both quarters. If you match it you win. If you dont match it you lose.
Ira says that this game was first introduced to him during his freshman year of high school. It was very easy for him to learn and he played it almost every day. It was a good way for him to make snack money. He told me that his strategy was to play with quarters first and if he started losing he would switch to smaller currency, such as nickels or dimes, until he became profitable again, at which point he would switch back to quarters.
Part of the appeal of this game came from the fact that it was not expensive to play and when you lose it is only pocket change that you are losing. This game was convenient for high school kids since most of them did not make much money at the time. They were able to accumulate change from simply looking around there houses or saving up change from small purchases. Ira told me that he thought the game was a great way to kill time during the lunch break. It was a fun way to spend time with friends and meet new people at very little expense.
I think the game is a good way to create and strengthen friendships but as a consequence it seems that it could eventually lead to a gambling habit. Ira told me he played every day. It might not have affected him, but I think gambling daily can contribute significantly to a future gambling habit.