Tag Archives: gift giving

Christmas Chimney

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: United States
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20th
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

This is the transcription of an interview I had with the informant about her Christmas traditions. 

“So my dad’s grandma, my great-grandma, she made us this chimney. Like out of wood. And we put it on the dining room table on Christmas Eve. My mom is always in charge of it. And she puts tiny gifts like pencils or a piece of candy in the thing, like in the chimney. Then there’s a ribbon that’s attached to each gift that has a name of a family member on it. There’s one for each of us. And then after Christmas Eve Mass we come back and have dinner and stuff and after dinner we get to pull the string with our name. So it’s like the first gift of Christmas”


The informant comes from a very tight-knit family. She grew up near all her extended family. Her great-grandmother is of Eastern European descent. 


I was talking to the informant about traditions that make her think of family and this was one of the first she told me.


The holidays produce a lot of traditions and customs important to families. This “first gift” of Christmas often mirrors what is discussed during Christmas Mass from the gift of Jesus’s birth to the gifts the Wise Men bring to the child. This provides a small tradition the family can do to physically celebrate the holiday in a way that combines the Santa ideas of Christmas as well as the biblical meaning.

Giving Monetary Gifts that End in One

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian American
Age: 20
Occupation: USC business student
Residence: Southern California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi

NA is describing an Indian custom around the amount of money you should give a gift. 

NA: There is also like when you give gifts, you don’t give like 50 or 100. You give like 51 or 101. It can be any hundred amount, but it can’t be like a ten is has to end in one. 

C: Is it related to luck or anything like that?

NA: I guess it’s so like that, Indian people see it as, when I give you 100 it’s like a hundred full stop. When you do 101 it is like money will keep coming to you. 


NA is a 20 year old USC business student who comes from a Sindhi Hindu family from India. She grew up in southern California as an active Hindu going to temple and fasting on Mondays and active in her Hindu tradition. She is also my roommate and I asked her about folklore she had related to her Indian background.  This information was taken from a casual interview conducted with NA over Facetime. 


One explanation for addition of the $1 is that it represents the continuation of wealth. It also makes the gift more meaningful by showing the recipient that not only are they providing money but also a blessing of the sort for you to be more successful in the future. Thus, making a gift that may seem somewhat impersonal more meaningful. I also found a tradition of giving a single Rupee coin when a larger monetary amount is not given. Thus, showing an aversion to the finality and absence the number zero represents. In contrast to the potential form growth represented through the number one. Additionally, even though zero comes before one, one is the number we start counting with. As a result, the giving of a Rupee coin is often giving on occasions that represent new beginnings, such as a wedding 

Gag Gifts Before Theater Productions

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Manhattan Beach, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):


This piece is about traditions before the first production and the last production at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, California. It mainly focuses on gag gifts, but touches on the last show’s medley tradition as well.

Main Piece:

“B: Another thing we would do in theater, for the first performance we would do everyone would exchange gag gifts and you didn’t know who it was. The first couple of years we would try to do it with everyone, but it got really confusing because it was just so many people. And no one in the pit knew who was in the cast or tech because we just didn’t spend as much time with them and so then we just did it in the pit that was nicer because we knew everybody. And it’s always stuff like… like I got a bag of rice one year. And then the last year I actually got my boyfriend, and he hates snakes so I got him a ton of fake snakes and put them on his drum set. And then he hates tomatoes and beans so I bought like five cans of tomatoes and beans. And then on the last performance, you’re suppose to reveal yourself and give like a real gift.

C: You give a gift every performance?

B: No just the first one and the last one. Because we had like seven performances. And for the last performance, like the last piece, we would meld it and make a bunch of cuts in the music and make it one big piece. After everyone gets their claps, like at the end of the show, then everyone from the cast will come down and surround the pit. And then we will all be playing. And we make the cuts so it basically goes through every big song in the performance. And it’s cool because the cast is right there and singing into the pit.”


The informant is a 19 year old girl who attended Mira Costa High School for all four years and was extensively involved in the theater productions at her school as a musician in the orchestra. She has played music since she was young. She first learned of this tradition freshman year after her first performance with the theater club.


This reminds me of the game White Elephant that is often played at Christmas time, but mixed with Secret Santa. In White Elephant, you are suppose to get bad gifts so that when people open up the gifts they want to steal to get better gifts. However, the element of Secret Santa comes into play with the idea that there is only one person who has you to give gifts to. In both Secret Santa and White Elephant, and this theater tradition, I think the main purpose of the gift is to show a sense of care – even with the humor involved. When the informant talked about getting her boyfriend, it seemed that the gag gifts were funnier to both involved because they knew a lot about each other. These types of games can be played with close friends or family or in larger groups as well.

Folk Belief on Gifting Purses

--Informant Info--
Age: 34
Occupation: Retail Shop Owner/ Manager
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 6, 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): French

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Jupiter, but grew up in Chicago. My dad was born in Indiana or Illinois, somewhere in the Mid-West. My mom is from Singapore.


One time, I lost my purse at the mall and my mom was really mad at me. I don’t think I’ve ever lost my purse after that. But there were a couple of different scenarios that could have resulted in her telling me this, I don’t quite remember.

My mom told me once… you know what I think maybe I was giving her a purse, or I was giving a purse to someone else, or maybe she was giving a purse to someone and yeah, she made me put a coin in it. She said it’s bad luck to give anyone a purse or a wallet without some sort of money in it.

Piece Background Information:

I definitely think about it when I gift or hand down purses, but I don’t always practice it. I do practice it with my mom though by usually just putting a penny in the purse.


Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s retail shop in Echo Park, Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

This idea that giving a coin or some form of monetary fortune with the gift of a purse falls under contagious magic in a sense, as the object that was once in contact with the gift-giver has the ability to influence the gift-giver and the receiver bad fortune. This folk belief is shared across many different cultures, and can be supported by the fact that my Hawaiian half-sister also shared this with me too, lending itself to Dundes’ definition of folklore that it must show multiplicity and variation. Variations include similar accounts with giving knives or scissors as gifts. I find it particularly interesting that while the informant, who is a retail shop owner and manager, claims that she always has the thought when gifting or handing down a purse that she must put a coin in it, but only truly practices it with her mother, who instilled this belief within her. This could perhaps be reflective of the fact that her occupation and the world we live in today sees clothing and accessory items as disposable.

Japanese New Years Day

--Informant Info--
Nationality: japanese-american
Age: 23
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/27/16
Primary Language: Japanese
Other Language(s): English

Information about the Informant: The informant is a 23 year old USC student named Eddie Roche. Eddie is a business major and is half Japanese half American. His father is from Chicago while his mother is from Japan. Growing up, Eddie lived in both Japan and China so he was immersed to numerous holiday traditions that both countries practiced. He has lots of family in Japan so he spent all of his holidays with family and learned about his culture.

Informant: “After the oosoji on New Year’s Eve where everyone in Japan cleans everything, the day of New Years is equally as important. This day is all about giving and sharing good fortune. Pretty much everyone just gives everyone money throughout the whole day. Lots of the young kids receive money from the parents, relatives, and friends as a sign of good fortune for the rest of the year. In order to receive money you have to be under 22 years old. The tradition is called Otoshidama and the closer you are to 22 years old the more money you receive. Typically really going kids don’t get much money but its more about the idea of giving money to the kids as opposed to the exact amount they get. Another tradition on New Year’s Day is that most people, religious or not, travel to the temples in order to give money to the temples and receive good fortune. At the temple we walk around through these pillars and then throw money into a basket. Also, there is a tradition where you shake a brown box with a small hole on it and a bunch of sticks in it. You shake the box until a stick comes out and once the stick comes out you make the number on the stick to a corresponding piece of paper. Whatever the paper says determines your fortune for the new year. It can range from saying you will have really good luck to having very bad luck for the whole year.”

Analysis: Although he is Japanese, my informant wasn’t necessarily the most fond of these traditions. He enjoys them but he doesn’t really believe what they say. This is mostly because he is not full Japanese and did these traditions with his family more just because he had to than anything else. Japanese culture is very fond of fortune telling and it makes sense that these traditions are so heavily practiced on New Years Day, a day that is seen as a blank slate from what happened in the previous year.

La Befana

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Italian
Age: 50s
Occupation: Retired Teacher
Residence: Excelsior, Minnesota
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/26/2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Italian

Informant: “So in Italy, there’s two things, so there’s La Befana, which is ‘The Witch’, kind of, I don’t remember exactly what it translates to, but it’s whatever the witch is. And then there’s Babbo Natale, and what that means is father Christmas. And so in northern Italy, this is kind of funny, in northern Italy the word Babbo, it’s kind of like saying daddy, but in the south part of Italy, it doesn’t mean daddy, it means like an idiot [laughs]. But that’s like saying ‘dad’ in northern Italy. So Babbo Natale, maybe that’s in the south now too, but mostly it was in the north, you know. And in the south, mostly they had La Befana. So the story was that on January 6th, which was the Epiphany, and they sort of matched it up so the kids in Sicily, they would get presents not from Babbo Natale, and they got presents not on Christmas day, but on January 6th which was when the three kings brought their gifts to Jesus. So La Befana would go around and she would give presents. So the story was that when the three Kings were going to Jerusalem to find the newborn baby Jesus, they stopped at La Befana’s house in order to ask for directions. When they left, they asked her to join them, but she said that she couldn’t because she had too much housework to do, but once they left she immediately knew she made the wrong decision, so she grabbed a bunch of small treats and went out looking for them, but she couldn’t find them, so she gave treats to every child she came across in hopes that one of them was the baby Jesus. So every year on the eve of the Epiphany, she goes out in search of Christ, and gives treats to all of the good children that she comes across. Though when [my sisters and I] were growing up, our parents wanted us to be American, so we didn’t have La Befana, we had Santa Claus [laughs].

Informant is a retired math teacher, and a mother of three. Her parents moved to the United States for the Italian island of Sicily, and she was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles. She still keeps in touch with her Sicilian relatives, and will periodically visit them.

Collector Analysis: This is an interesting variant on the Santa Claus story, or rather the ‘mysterious Christmas gift giver’ narrative. It almost seems like it has aspects of an urban legend scary story, as it almost seems like La Befana is ‘cursed to wander the Earth every year on the anniversary of [some event] because of the mistake she made’ which, in any other context, would seem exactly like the ending to some scary campfire story. However, she does it for benevolent reasons, so it’s all ok. It’s also curious to see how the informant’s parents tried to suppress her practicing of this particular bit of folklore in order to “Americanize” her and her siblings. It is also strange how an entity with as non malevolent of intentions as giving gifts to good children is given a name with such a negative connotation as ‘The Witch’.

Diwali and the Ramayan

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: New Delhi, India
Date of Performance/Collection: April 29, 2013
Primary Language: Hindi (urdu)
Other Language(s): English

Pallavi, my friend and suitemate, is a freshman international student at USC studying Business and Accounting. She is from an Indian middle class family in New Delhi, with working parents who have separated. Although she is technically Punjabi, she does not speak that language and instead speaks Hindi. Her family is also Hindu but they are not strict practitioners of the religion, although they still follow and perform and take part in major festivals

Here, she discusses the traditions she observes around the festival of Diwali (a festival of lights), which she identifies as somewhat of a Christmas equivalent in her culture that takes place around early November (this year it will be November 3, 2013). However, she particularly emphasizes and relates the mythological background of the festival, a story that is firmly rooted in the Hindu epic of the Ramayana, or the “Ramayan” as she says (the added “-a” anglicizing the title).


The Ramayan:

“Diwali, the story behind it…it comes from a mythological story which is that Lord Ram came back from 13 years of vanwas [in Sanskrit, van means “forest,” and was means “to live,” so “living in the forest”], from exile, and he was exiled to the forest, basically. When he comes back from exile, that’s the day that Diwali happens. Because he was actually the heir to the throne. There were four brothers, but they were all brothers from different mothers, and the king was the same. And Ram was the eldest son, so he automatically got the throne, or he was supposed to get the throne, but one of the wives of the king – her name was Kaikeyi – so what Kaikeyi did… The king had three wives and four sons, Ram was the son of the eldest wife, or the first wife, and he was the eldest son also automatically. And then he had two more wives, and I think the middle wife was Kaikeyi. And she was not a bad person, but there was this whole drama going on with her handmaid or lady in waiting. So that woman was very shrewd and she wanted Kaikeyi to be the top wife. So she kind of poisoned Kaikeyi’s mind, and Kaikeyi was relatively gullible so she was swayed, and she convinced the king to send Ram to the forest for vanwas. And it was 13 years of vanwas. And he said okay. So Ram was “summoned” to the forest, but because Ram was the most loved by all his brothers, the second brother, the second eldest, who was Lakshman, was like “because my bhaiyabhaiya is brother, and bhaiya is usually elder brother – so, because my bhaiya is going to the forest, I cannot let him go alone, so I’m going to go with him.” So even though he was married, he left his wife back, and he went with Ram and his wife (Ram’s wife Sita). So all three of them went to the forest, even though Lakshman was not exactly told to go to the forest, he still went. And so Kaikeyi’s son got the throne; but because he also loved Ram and he was very upset with his mother for staging all this, he never actually sat on the throne, in fact, before Ram left, he asked for Ram’s sandals and he always kept his sandals on the throne instead. And even though he was, in effect, he used to help his father – because his father sort of retired after that – so he would still run the kingdom but he never sat on the throne because he’s like “I’m just guarding it for my brother, when he comes back.” ”


Celebration of Diwali:

“And when Ram actually came back, that is when Diwali is celebrated, because it’s like light coming back, that’s why it’s the festival of lights. There are a lot of crackers [firecrackers] and it’s difficult to breathe nowadays. Lot of smoke. The beautiful part is there’s all these really beautiful diyas – lamps, like terra cotta pots, in which you put some oil and a wick that gets lit [they look almost like clay petals that hold oil and are adorned with designs] – there are like really pretty ones. In elementary school, we’d have diya decoration competitions and stuff. Different designs. I like this part more. Even though when you’re kids, you like the crackers and stuff more, as you grow older… this [the diyas] part is very– Because people’s houses look beautiful…. They make rangolis in front of their house because it’s a positive…

[Showing me images of rangoli via Google Images] They’re made up of…this one seems petals…but rangoli usually is made up of colors, ground up colors, you take color and you sprinkle it [into designs]. It goes right in front of your main door. And everyone has that. These are getting more modern so people have, like, the “tattoo” kind of things, so they’ll get a whole rangoli thing but they’ll “tattoo” it so if people walk over it, it doesn’t spoil, but that’s [pointing to a an image of one made with the colored powder] the traditional thing. Lakshmi is worshipped also. Lakshmi is the goddess of money…fortune, money…and that [pointing out another image of rangoli featuring a goddess figure] is a rangoli of her. She’s related to amavasya – the new moon. The new moon day in October – Diwali is based off the new moon, that’s why it’s not a fixed date. During the new moon, Lakshmi’s destroyer form is active. And you worship her.

It’s basically like purification of sorts, because Lakshmi is the goddess of money and fortune, but on this particular day you worship to her destroyer form. So all the gods…they all can take ‘forms,’ so like, for example, Lord Shiva, he’s “the Destroyer,” but he has many roles. He’s the Destroyer, but when Maa Kali, who’s considered to be the most ruthless, or the most angry goddess of all, when she gets mad or when she’s angered, Lord Shiva, he goes under her – this is also, like, a myth, or an understanding – whenever she gets mad, she, like, goes crazy and then Lord Shiva goes under her and lays down underneath her while she’s standing or whatever, getting angry or whatever. And he takes all of her negative energy; otherwise, if she goes very crazy, she’ll destroy the world. Because Kali is, again, a form of Shiva – there’s like a lot of forms going on, and derivatives going on.

But then Lakshmi…it’s just another reason for worshipping… It’s sort of like, because when Ram comes back, Diwali is celebrated.”


Gift exchange:

“Diwali is sort of like Christmas, people will exchange a lot of gifts, we’ll make sure to go to… so like my father’s not close to his brother at all, but Diwali was like the only time when his brother would come greet us, and get some sweets, and things like that. Fruits are a very big thing…you give fruit, and traditional sweets and stuff. Gifts not so much, but sweets and fruits. Dried fruit…. But Dusshera, all this doesn’t happen, it’s this smaller festival in a way.”


This Hindu festival, celebrated on the cusp of winter, certainly exhibits features similar to those in other cultures celebrated around the same time, as Pallavi, my informant, cites with her observation that this festival resembles Christmas. It, in a way, acts to herald the coming of winter, and the emphasis on light – Diwali being the Festival of Lights – is sort of a means of fortifying themselves against and lighting up the darkness.

Tradition: Drill team

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American-black, African-American
Age: 45
Occupation: Pharmicist
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 21, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): none

My informant was a member of the Drill team. During half-time at every football game the drills teams from both school would meet in (?). The teams would exchange gifts like school buttons and candy. According to the informant it was a nice tradition that allowed her to meet people from other schools.

The relationship between competing drill teams is kind of interesting. In the other example the informant gave my they are competing against each other. In this instance they are friendly and exchanging gifts.

This an interesting tradition because it contrasts with the spirit stick tradition that this informant also gave me. In that scenario the teams were competing against each other. In those incidence they are exchanging gifts. Still this is the first time I’ve heard of opposing sport’s teams exchanging gifts. It probably has something to do with the way the drill team is structured. According to the other example she gave me different drill teams would go to camp together. As far as I know other sport’s teams don’t do that. Either this tradition was created to promoted a friendly relationship between both groups because they see each other alot. Or it grew out the positive interactions the drill teams have with each other.

White Elephant – Christmas Game

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Taiwanese
Age: 43
Occupation: President of an electronics company
Residence: Newport Beach, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: December, 23, 2011
Primary Language: Chinese
Other Language(s): English, Taiwanese

-Each person has to bring in one present that is worth $20
-Once a present has been taken three times, the present can no longer be taken.

1) Everybody picks a number out of the hat. That number determines the order for gift picking
2) The first person picks a present from the gift pile and opens it.
3) When it is the second person’s turn, he or she can pick to open another present from the gift pile or pick the gift that the first person opened.
-If person #2 takes the gift from the first person, the first person has to open another present from the gift pile.
4) After that, each subsequent person has the choice of either choosing to open another present from the gift pile or taking one of the opened presents from the previous people.
-If a person’s opened gift is take, then that person then also has the choice between opening another gift or taking another person’s gift.
5) The game ends when the last gift is opened.

My informant told me that White Elephant is a Christmas tradition at her household.  She adopted this tradition after she attended a Christmas party seven years ago at a friend’s house.  She liked the game so much that she decided to incorporate it into her Christmas celebration.  Every Christmas, my informant hosts a Christmas dinner for her entire extended family.  This game was quickly accepted by everyone and has now become a yearly tradition in her household.

I believe that this game must have started as a way for people to save money on buying gifts.  My informant told me that after adopting the tradition, all of the family members have stopped buying gifts for every single relative.  Instead, they have all just focused on finding that one gift for the white elephant game.  At the same time, my informant believes that the game is a great way to bring people together as it is very fun to see what gifts are taken and the reactions of those who gets their gifts taken.

Currently, NBC has ordered a new game show based on this game that will be hosted by Howie Mandel.

Hibberd, James. “NBC Orders New Howie Mandel Game Show: ‘White Elephant'” EW.com. 17 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/04/17/howie-mandel-white-elephant-nbc/>.

Proverb/Superstition – Korean

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean-American
Age: 17
Occupation: Student
Residence: Glendora, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: May 2007
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Don’t give shoes as a gift, or else the person will leave you.

Jaywon first heard this phrase from her mother, who has always told her not to give shoes as a gift.  She says that giving shoes to somebody will cause them to walk away from you.  She also says that the giving of shoes is like giving them feet to leave.

This proverb has turned into a superstition, which is why it is listed as both.  Though it originates as a proverb, it is also a superstition.  It has become wrong to give somebody shoes or else it will cause the bad luck of them leaving you.  The stereotype is that Korean women are known to be submissive and the Korean men are known to be controlling.  It is understandable that the Korean women do not want their husbands to leave them, especially if they are dutiful to their husbands.  Thus, a mother tells her daughter to never have her husband leave her.  This action can be avoided by never giving shoes as a present.

This proverb originated as Korean, but being a second-generation Korean-American, Jaywon retold it in English.  It is a proverb because it expresses a truth and is popularly said and repeated in the Korean culture.  Proverbs are a part of folklore because they are widely known across a particular culture and spread from generation to generation.  A mother teaching her daughter about being subservient through proverbs is a very common way for proverbs to be passed down.  The practicality and ease of the proverb makes it very easy to keep in the culture.  Also, the use of proverbs is a way to teach younger generations about the culture and the way that one is supposed to act.  The Korean culture is very traditional and follows these proverbs as rules.  The Koreans, like many other cultures, have their own proverbs and superstitions of how to avoid bad luck. Simple tasks such as avoiding shoes as gifts are easy ways to ensure good luck and a prosperous life.