Tag Archives: gift

Chinese Changzhou Combs

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “There’s this special brush, or comb I guess is more accurate, that girls get when they graduate high school, or any sort of graduation beyond that, although I think is mostly for high school. But the comb is supposed to be meaningful and it’s made out of this special wood, and you’re not supposed to like, get any water on it.

Me: “Do you ever use it?”

Informant: “I do. And yeah, the wood’s supposed to be good for hair and you can stroke your hair with it however many times and it makes it healthier, I think.

Me: “Who gave it to you?”

Informant: “My mom’s cousin. She said she got one from her mom, and it’s all about womanhood and all that blah blah blah.”

Me: “Who typically gives the comb?”

Informant: “Family, relatives, mothers usually I guess.”

Me: “Do you think you’ll get one when you graduate college too?”

Informant: “Oh, no.”


It’s interesting that the comb is given to girls at graduation, and my informant stressed the fact that this is an upper education graduation gift. Yet at the same time, she mentioned how it was relevant to womanhood, and indeed it can seem like an appropriate gift to a girl who is transitioning into becoming a woman. Traditionally, I would have assumed that this process would be celebrated earlier, but since it is education-based, this custom would evidently be a more modern one, even if the item itself is older.

My informant also remarked that it’s typically a high school graduation gift, indicating again that it is part of the shift from living with one’s parents and being a girl to living elsewhere in the world and becoming an adult.

My informant didn’t know the name of the special wood used, but her gift is presumably aChangzhoucomb, which can be made out of mahogany, jujube wood, heather, and boxwood.Changzhoucombs have been in production for over 2000 years and have been traditionally used only by royalty, making them a popular and valuable award or present to anyone who may deserve it. Additionally, though the combs can be good for the hair, they seem to be mostly decorative in purpose. They are hand-painted and can often be very intricate, emphasizing the importance of beauty in a young woman.

I’m not sure how popular throughout Chinese culture it may be to give these combs as graduation presents, but no doubt they will be in use for a long, long time, bestowed as various gifts for any occasions.

Bottglia piccola, vino buono.

The informant related an Italian proverb learned while spending time in Italy.

Bottglia piccola, vino buono.

It means “small bottle, good wine.” The less literal translation is that good things come in small packages.
The informant said that it is used either when someone is insecure about their height or when someone has given a small gift.

The fact that this is a regional oicotype of a very common phrase in english is interesting. Did the phrase originate in Italy and travel to the states, or did they develop independently? Perhaps it is just a common sentiment and every culture has a way of saying it.

Folk Belief – Hawaii

Do not buy shoes for your boyfriend/girlfriend as a present.

My grandma, Kum Soon Youn, first heard this superstition when she was dating a boy in high school.  She was trying to find a present to buy for him when she came upon a pair of shoes.  As she was standing in line to purchase the shoes, her mother stopped her and warned her against buying them.  According to Korean superstition, if a person buys his/her girlfriend/boyfriend a pair of shoes, she/ he will run away from them.  They will wear the shoes that they received and escape from their partners.  Therefore, giving shoes to the person would not only be encouraging the receivers but also providing them with the means to run away.

When my grandma heard this superstition, it reminded her of the Chinese custom to bind women’s feet in the older days.  The elders would bend the feet of girls at a young age to keep them small and petite.  It is often thought that this method was used to confine women and to prevent them from running away from home.  The superstition reminded my grandmother of this tradition because of the idea that men tried to prevent women from running away by binding their feet.  She believes that this superstition is based upon the same idea.  It seems to be targeted at women, indicating that they should not be given shoes or that they will run away.  She therefore thinks that the phrase does not pertain to both men and women but rather serves as a warning to the men not to provide their wives or girlfriends with any means by which they can run away.

When I heard the superstition, I had a different response than my grandma did.  I did not think that it was oppressive to women but rather thought it served as a reminder to both genders that people aren’t always faithful.  It seemed to claim that, when provided with the means to run away, or escape from a relationship, people will run away.  It remarks at people’s fear of commitment and their desire to seek quick and easy pleasure rather than to make an effort to create a long lasting relationship.  Therefore the proverb appears to serve the purpose of reminding those in relationships that their significant other may not always be faithful.



If you get an elephant as a gift and its trunk is down you can’t accept it.

Jasmine learned this superstition from her mother when she was a little girl, when she was probably 10 years old. She remembers her mother telling her to never accept an elephant with his trunk down when her mother received a porcelain elephant as a gift. Jasmine was unsure of the meaning behind this superstition she sated, “All I know is that you are not supposed to accept elephants with their trunk down cuz its bad luck.” (See also Field Guide to Luck: How to Use and Interpret Charms, Signs, and Superstitions.)

I was able to find the historic meaning behind this superstition in which Jasmine was unsure about. According to the article Lucky Elephant by Catherine Yronwode, this belief originates from the “lucky elephant” which is a charm used for wishing good luck. The belief of an elephant being a symbol of good luck derived from the Hindu religion of India. The origination of this good luck symbol came from the god Ganesha (the god of luck, protection, and religious devotion) who was the elephant-headed son of Siva (the creator and destroyer of the universe) and the goddess Parvati (the mountain goddess). An elephant as a good luck symbol didn’t reach America until the 19th century when many elephant charms were imported to the United States from India. Yronwode’s believes the “trunk up” belief has no apparent origin in Africa, India, or South East Asia where elephants are native, but is widespread in the USA, and many Asian and African amulet and statuary makers now produce trunk-up elephant statues for American buyers. It may have originated in the west-British and Irish belief that a lucky horseshoe must face upward or “the luck will run out.”

The diffusion of Hindu belief has been embraced by other cultures. This reflects the importance of how diffusion of ideas overtime can determine how folklore is perceived in later years and the incredible capability for one piece of folklore to branch off into various forms over time. It’s amazing to see how the belief in Ganesha went from being a religious practice to becoming manifested in a good luck charm that is now sold in stores across America.  This also shows how globalization has had an impact on the diffusion of folklore amongst different ethnic groups.


Yablon, Alys R. Field Guide to Luck: How to Use and Interpret Charms, Signs, and Superstitions. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2008. pp 73-74.

Yronwode, Catherine. “The Lucky Elephant.” The Luck “W” Amulet Archive. 25 Apr. 2008 <http://www.luckymojo.com/elephant.html>.