Tag Archives: good fortune

Fortune Keeping


A is a Pre-med biology major at USC, currently a freshman. A is a Vietnamese American who grew up in Vancouver, Washington a short drive from Portland, Oregon. 


A: Okay, so I’ve learned this at a very young age, but my family has told me that fortunes come true. Like, the fortune in the fortune cookies. I keep the slip of paper in my pocket like, as a way to make it come true. Keeping it with me helps make sure the fortune will come true, but if I don’t want this fortune to come true, I won’t keep it. 

Me: Do you ever lose them?

A: I keep them for as long as I think I need the fortune. Like, if I think it came true, then I’ll throw it away. 


The fortune tellers A is talking about are finely printed words, usually in a vague phrase or arrangement, that come from restaurant complementary cookies. As fortune telling is a way of predicting or controlling the future, I think what A experiences reading a fortune teller is something along the lines of superstition and homeopathic magic. Fortune tellers are usually signs, a specific message from the universe or time or fate telling you something important will happen. A believes this sign and wants this future to be his, so fortune tellers encourage some change in behavior to bring about that important thing. To bring fortune into reality, it is important for A to keep evidence of the future (the fortune paper) with him, as if to constantly be summoning it into his reality. Through this “like produces like,” A believes the paper in his possession (representing good fortune) will eventually produce what is predicted on the paper (actual good fortune). For A, he associates the paper with telling the future and keeps the fortune with him to invite the future to happen. He chooses to indulge in a sense of control or a kind of understanding over the world, where there is usually something wholly unpredictable. 

Ritual: New Year’s Polka Dots


The informant claimed that a lot of rituals they remember performing take place around the New Year. “One would be wearing polka dots or, as my mom calls it, bola bola. Because circles represent coins– so like wealth and good fortune in the New Year. She encourages literally everyone in my family to wear polka dots. There was one year where we all found Hawaiian shirts that had polka dots and so that was a little theme for the New Year. It was so cute.”


“Financially, it’s always been a little hope that my mom has– like a little bit of faith. Like ‘Maybe the New Year will be better for us financially.’ It’s a thing my mom does. She’s a very superstitious person, so she always has hope in the New Year. She always tries to bring the family together, so that hope can be spread to her family. And she can be surrounded by a similar hope as well.”

“My mom,” they spoke fondly. “It started being more prominent in middle school for me. That’s like the earliest I can remember. I she she kind of, like leans on these kinds of traditions when she feels like she needs it most. With doing a simple thing like wearing polka dots– I think around middle school was when we started facing a lot of financial issues very prominently. My mom is a woman in faith, so she finds comfort in so many different things.

“[My mom] definitely uses it as like a comfort method for sure. Not really like a defense mechanism, but a ways to kind of like cope with certain things. Giving her that sense of nostalgia that I’m pretty sure she felt with her family growing up.”


Polka dots or bola bola are a popular pattern that’s believed to bring wealth and prosperity. This is similar to other beliefs that link prosperity to a particular color, but the complexity of a patterned fabric may be what warrants this belief. With the arrival of a New Year, it’s a common held belief that there will be changes made to one’s life whether it be fate or their own control. Wearing the polka dot pattern on the transition into a new year may be a way to “perform the part” that the participant wishes for themself to be. It’s almost like pretending to be what you’re not, and from then on, transforming into what was done for pretend.

Lithuanian Proverb: “A small fly fell into a cup with drink inside”


Original script: “Įkrito maža musytė į puodelį su gėrimu — netikėta laimė, arba gausit pinigų.”

Transliteration: “A small fly fell into a cup with drink inside — unbelievable luck, or you will get money.”

Free translation: “A blessing in disguise,” or “Every cloud has a silver lining.”


IZ is a 20 year-old college student from Lisle, Illinois, living in Los Angeles, California. Both her parents’ families immigrated to the United States during World War II and remain connected to their Lithuanian roots through strong immigrant communities in the US.

IZ learned this proverb from her teachers at Maironis Lithuanian School in LeMont, Illinois, which she attended on Saturdays as a kid. It was intended to communicate that something perceived as bad or unlucky could end up being good. She gave the example of being paired up with someone you don’t like for a project. The teacher would use this proverb to remind you that, for example, you could end up becoming friends with that person.


It immediately stood out to me that this proverb contains a narrative sequence of events — the action of a fly falling into a cup and spoiling one’s drink. This stands out from the American equivalents of the proverb, which refer to an object having a double identity or redeeming quality, rather than an action.

It is also, arguably, a more relatable experience. Everyone has lamented having to throw out their drink when a bug falls into it. The American proverbial equivalents, however, refer to abstract or distant experiences — blessings and clouds.

I noted that IZ learning this proverb in an educational setting could suggest a more institutional dissemination of this cultural knowledge rather than in a folk context. However, it wasn’t part of a lesson but shared organically from teacher to student. It would be interesting to further study how the folklore of minority cultures in the United States may be institutionalized in cultural schools in attempts to preserve it among immigrant communities.

Egg Day (立春)

(above image is taken from the informant’s Instagram with their consent. It was posted February 4, 2018)

Note: The tradition was performed by the 18 year old informant (notated I), while the further explanation was supplied by her mother (notated M).

Performance: This tradition was performed on February 4, 2022 by the 18 year old informant. Further information was collected over a phone call March 4, 2022.

Transcript of the informant explaining the performance:

[Note: the informant didn’t really explain the tradition in detail because it was something I already knew about. In essence it’s the balancing of eggs on the 4th or 5th day of Chinese New Year, however the informant does it every February 4th for convenience. Further detail can be found in the transcript from my conversation with the informant’s mother.]

I: um like, and I only like, we never like did it every year until a couple years ago, but like it was a long time ago since we were still living in that old house, um it’s like a fun good luck thing, and I get to do a fun thing for Chinese New Year that I understand and don’t have to speak Chinese for it AND I get to, it’s always been like a fun thing to include other people on. Because, like, I post on Instagram and half the people are like oh my god it’s f***ing egg day and the other half are like what is happening, what is egg day, why is everybody in on this?

And then, y’know, when I came here [Australia], two people were like what the f*** are you doing? and I was like balancing eggs do you want to balance eggs? and they were like kind of. So, I don’t know, it’s also something you can use to connect with people. And be like “this is a fun culture thing.” I don’t know, I just enjoy it. It’s a fun way to connect with my culture. But like, in a very, un-serious way.

And it’s not like a *super important cultural practice*, y’know? So, it really is like anybody can do it.

Transcript of the informant’s mother explaining additional information about the tradition:

Me: What is the name of the tradition, and what’s its origin?

M: Origin, Chinese. The name is call 立春 (Lìchūn)

M: Spring time (春Chūn) is in the middle. Li (Lì立) is like you stand straight. that’s called li.


M: I don’t think this is from like, from China. I think China people don’t do that though I don’t know why. This is more like Taiwan people do that, Hong Kong, of course Malaysia, right. Singapore. I don’t know, I kind of shocked when I asked my neighbor, she’s from Shanghai. She said she never did it. Maybe is not from China, I don’t know, but Hainam, the Hainamese do that.

What is the origin or meaning behind this tradition?

W: So we do that on…the the the meaning behind doing this is just to start, it means that the new, the spring day is coming. Is a new day, so for a new year, so that’s why Chinese doing it on the Lunar calendar New Year, um usually count it like fifth days, fourth or 5th days after the Chinese New Year, count it, start from the first day. And, lichun leans that in the old time, all the farmer right? So when it’s time to plant, that is when they do this, is called lichun. Lichun is just to like, to tell that it’s time to plant and that it’s spring time. 

so this standing the eggs thing is just a…they believe the Earth is tilted on that particular day, that is straight. straight down like this that means it balance on both sides right. And somehow, I don’t know when it started, that they tested it… you can actually balance, because egg is the only thing that is not, you know, that is impossible to stand an egg. but on that day, actually they tried it, it worked, so it’s proof that the Earth is actually really straight and with the strong gravity. So we do that, then of course why they say do that is because to bring good luck in, into your house, prosperities. so that’s why Chinese do that during Chinese New Year, and then during Chinese New Year you want to bring good luck, you want to bring money into your house, so doing that means that, so you stand an egg, means that if it happens, if you’re successfully, you can do it, means that you have good luck. Then you let it stand in your house. I always let it stand for 15 days because Chinese New Year is 15 days so-

I: It means I have great luck. 

M: So Chinese New year is always 15 days, right? And so a lot of celebration going on the 7 day, the 15 days, it depends on what you origin from. So like you’re Hawkin you do it differently, if you are Hainamese you do it differently, so all of it if you are different province you have different belief. 

Personal Thoughts:

This tradition is particularly fascinating to me, because it displays an awareness that the Earth is not perfectly upright. While this tradition fulfills typical traits of many Chinese New Year traditions – an association with good fortune, it also differs greatly by balancing eggs. While the informant’s mother said that they balance eggs on this particular day because eggs are not perfectly round (and are difficult to balance), I also wonder if it’s because eggs are supposed to be a potential reflection of the world balancing on this particular day. Many ideas of world eggs are discussed in Venetia Newall’s Easter Eggs. While none of them particularly match Egg Day, they share an idea of an egg as something greater than just an egg.

Additional Notes:
For additional discussions of Eggs and their significance to folklore, go to:
Newall, Venetia. “Easter Eggs.” In The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 80, No. 315. (Jan. – Mar., 1967), pp. 3-32.

Folk Belief: It’s Good Luck to Kill a Scotsman

Main Piece: 

Informant: “There’s a law in England that in York on Sunday, you’re allowed to kill a Scotsman with a bow and arrow. So- I mean, this was put in place in the 1700s when England was at war with Scotland and it was never repealed, so it still exists. So, apparently, some people think that if you do this— Of course, there are like law kinda hierarchies, so the murder law I think also applies. I mean, it’s apparently supposed to give you luck if you do kill a Scotsman. I mean, I’ve never tried it but…”

Collector: “Is there any like traditions or things that people do on a Sunday to celebrate this law? Besides killing Scotsmen.”

Informant: “Well, you know, I don’t know. I heard, you know, a thing once. This might be one guy. I heard people like treat the Scotsperson as an animal and they left, you know, a bowl of haggis outside as bait. And they would wait in the bushes. I mean, this is England, so…”

Collector: “Do the Scotsmen like this?”

Informant: “I don’t think so. I don’t think they go to York on a Sunday.”


My informant had not personally partaken in any of the rituals surrounding this law. From the way he presented it, it was up to individual interpretation how to personally engage with this law, hence the singular person hiding in the bushes. No set rituals necessarily exist in any official or widely known capacity. My informant said he understands it as the good luck associated with the killing is what is well known. He also made it clear that these efforts were obviously facetious and the repetition of “it’s good luck to kill a Scotsman in York on Sunday with a bow and arrow” is something of a running joke.


There are direct ties between this piece of folklore and intercultural tensions. At the time of the laws establishment, there was an active war between England and Scotland. However, in the modern United Kingdoms, there is a different sort of tension. The Scottish Independence Movement is largely championed by Scots and largely blocked by British government. As such, while the two cultures are within the same nation, there is a tension between the Scots’ desire to leave and the relative power that the British have. I think it’s possible that this folklore is a piece of malevolent humor shared between the Brits. It serves primarily to denigrate the Scots as a group but is obviously facetious enough not to be too egregious for public.