Tag Archives: gift giving

Estonian Housewarming Gift

Context: The folklore was collected on a scheduled Zoom meeting in which I interviewed two native Estonians who immigrated to the United States and are close friends.

Background: The informant is a 51 year-old Estonian immigrant who lives in Los Angeles. She continues to participate in Estonian traditions and is a part of the “Estonian House” which is an Estonian community that resides in LA.

Main Piece:

Informant: “When you go to visit that person in their new home you’re always bring salt and bread, always. You always bring salt and bread, its called soolaleiba pidu (salt bread party) that’s like house warming party. You bring salt and bread only when going to someone’s house for the first time, a new house.”

Collector: “Do you eat the salt with the bread or…?”

Informant: “No, no, no. You just bring it. You can either just take, like regular, like you know, this kosher salt from the shelf or nice salt mill or whatever, but in old times, people they bake like special bread where in the middle there is little hole where you put the salt. You know it’s like such a tradition. But otherwise, yeah, you just take any like salt, because you know, in a house you always need salt and bread. It came like from the old times like, you know, they believed that then the hunger will never come to the House and you can make flavorful food. Because, if you have salt, then you have flavor for food. The bread represents plentiful food for the future. Especially, like, my grandma lived in the Leningrad Seige, so, you know, they lived in hunger for three years so I remember it wasn’t accepted that we wasted food, it was like such a treasure.”

Interpretation: This tradition is a housewarming tradition in Estonia where you are essentially blessing the new house with plentiful food and resources for the future through a gift of bread and salt. The bread is what represents the food itself, and the salt is a representative of utility. It can be used to make the food more flavorful or for cleaning purposes, or even medical purposes. In my interpretation this is a way of giving new home owners good luck for the future, and food seems to be a high concern for Estonians. This is likely because Estonia does have harsh climate during winter, so it makes sense that bread would be the first thing that you use to bless a new home. Furthermore, Estonian culture reflects simplicity as opposed to opulence and grandeur. Bread and salt are simple and effective housewarming gifts that fit right into the themes of Estonian culture and tradition, you will rarely see over-the-top, glamorous gifts being given between Estonians. This has its roots in Estonia’s history of slavery, persecution, and communism.

Broken Ceramic, Broken Hearts

Context

This was an incident that occurred during my cousin’s wedding that caused quite a bit of argument within the family. ‘Jie’ refers to my older sister. The interview is with my mother as I get her to recount the incident.

———————————————————————————————

Performance

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me, (M), and my mother, the interviewee (I).

M: Do you remember the time you got really upset at jie about the gift she tried to give Dixie?

I: Yes that was really bad.

M: Can you tell me about the gift and why you were so upset?

I: She tried to give Dixie a pair of ceramic cups that she had made as a wedding gift. But! One of the cups had a crack in it. I told her to either remake it or don’t give it at all. Because it’s bad luck in Chinese tradition to give something that is broken on her wedding. And you know Dixie, she is superstitious, and you cannot do that during a wedding.

M: What ended up happening to the gift?

I: Your jie still insisted on giving it so I had to hide it during the wedding itself and not give it to Dixie. You cannot do things like that, especially at a Wedding.

———————————————————————————————

Analysis

I remember very clearly this being a huge moment of contention between my mother and sister. My sister had put in days of work in order to create something homemade and special for our favorite cousin on her wedding day, and my mother seeing the broken ceramic cup and refusing to let my sister gift it on the wedding day. I think this shows how superstition across generations can change and how it can create moments of tension. While my sister was not a superstitious person, my mother was and she knew that my cousin was as well and thus could not allow such a gift to be given. It was also a reflection of the family and my mother felt that it would’ve reflected badly on her if she had allowed such a gift to be giving by her own daughter. The superstition comes from Chinese beliefs where everything must be seen as auspicious. From the color red that must be present everywhere on the wedding day, to the multitudes of rituals of tea pouring that must be done in the correct order.

Christmas Chimney

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”

Background:

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. 

Context:

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

Thoughts:

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

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. 

Context

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. 

Analysis

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

Abstract:

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.”

Context:

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.

Analysis:

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.