Tag Archives: life cycle

Rocks on Gravestones

Context:

The subject is from Israel, and is a freshman at USC. Throughout my time of knowing him he has shared many jokes and proverbs that are specific to his home country. For this reason, I decided to interview him for the database.

 

Piece:

Subject: Something else, which I’m not sure is tied just to Jews or not, is we put rocks on gravestones. So instead of flowers, or chocolates, I don’t know, we put rocks there, like a pebble or a bigger one.

Interviewer: That’s really interesting, do you know why?

Subject: I think it’s just a symbol of strength and firmness, and that’s what we want our relationship with the person to be remembered as.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that this is quite a common practice, although different cultures have different explanations as to why they carry it out. For thousands of years, people would place rocks on tombs in order to stop scavengers, or keep evil spirits out of the world. In addition, it would also be to stop the deceased from rising up.

In Jewish cultures, placing a stone or a pebble is customary, as a form of respect for the deceased, and to let them know that you have visited.

Mince and Tatties

Context:

I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.

 

Piece:

Subject: Every birthday in our house we always make mince and potatoes, or mince and tatties like we called them when I was a kid.

Interviewer: What does that consist of?

Subject: Well the way we do it is we ground beef, you know, mince beef, and then mashed potatoes and there you go! [Laughs] Sometimes we add vegetables like carrots or peas to go with it which really adds to the flavor.

Interviewer: And why has it become a birthday celebration?

Subject: I’m not sure, I mean we had it all the time growing up, but when we came to America we had it less and it became more of a birthday thing, so that’s just what we do every year now.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that there is no set recipe or form of cooking this dish, it consists in many variations. There are concerns that British people are no longer eating traditional dishes, but mince and tatties remains the exception as it is extremely popular in Scotland. A survey done in 2009 found that it was the most popular Scottish dish, with a third of respondents saying that they eat it once a week.

In 2006 the European Union introduced new regulations on how meat could be processed, threatening the existence of mince and tatties, resulting in the Scottish National Party leader announcing, “They can take our lives but they will never take our freedom to make mince and tatties!”

It seems that it became a popular dish due to its ability to be canned and fed to a large number of school children.

Source:

Lewis, Susan. “Recipes for Reconnection: Older People’s Perspectives on the Mediating Role of Food in Contemporary Urban Society.” ANTHROPOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS 12, 2006.

Persian Wedding Custom

Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well. She has lots of extended family in the area that she grew up in, so her family often has family events that she attends, including bar and bat mitzvahs as well as weddings.

Context: Lauren was telling me about a pre-wedding party that she recently attended for her first cousin. I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below.

“So there’s two names for this wedding tradition. Goleh baleh* or shironim khanom**. Goleh means flower and baleh means yes. Shironim means sweet. It’s a party it’s one of the first parties that happens when a couple gets engaged. It’s thrown by the bride’s family. At this party there’s a table full of sweets, sterling silver, flowers and a crystal that’s called leelac. That chrystal is supposed to be very expensive. It’s basically bringing in the sweetness of course of a marriage and the combining of two families and it’s usually a very big party. It’s the first time the couple is there together. I learned this tradition from  my family because last April my cousin Natalie got exchanged and her parents threw a shironim khanom. I just remember the entire party there was just fresh pastries, crepes, flowers… people send hundreds of flowers. My aunt’s house, everywhere there was flowers it was just beautiful. Everywhere there were silver plates…just gorgeous. Since I’m so close to her I didn’t really get to enjoy the food because I was dancing the whole night. One thing that we do that I really love that we do at most of the parties is we get fresh flowers and there’s a song that is sung and during that song, during the chorus everyone throws the flowers up at the bride and the groom, and the bride and groom are supposed to kiss at that time. It was my first time really seeing all that happen and it was really pretty and magical. I don’t know the song of the song… I know the melody but I’m gonna botch the words. The flowers are normally light colored flowers, typically white roses. Always light colors, never a dark color. White or light pink. At my cousin’s shironim, there was some jewelry given to her like close family came early and jeweled her up I guess? She wore no jewelry at the beginning and before the party started each of the grandmas gave her a piece of jewelry and then her parent, and then the grooms side of the family. They put the jewelry on her and then she wears it for the party and the rest of the night. Usually it’s not during the party, it’s before, just for close family and friends because… I don’t know my dad doesn’t really like it, it’s not very humble. Usually it’s just close family and friends. She wears the jewelry for the rest of the night though. Jewelry is given to the bride and the groom, usually the parents of the bride and groom, the grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and if there’s even more jewelry then cousins, first cousins. No specific type of jewelry, usually just anything. Persians have this thing where you give married people emeralds, and older women will wear emeralds to the party if they are close to the bride. My mom wore emeralds to this party and the wedding, like emerald necklaces, earrings, rings. The groom’s mom wore emeralds. Something that has emeralds in it- once you’re married you’re given a lot of emeralds for some reason.”

 

*goleh baleh

How it’s pronounced: goh-leh bah-leh

**shironim khanom

How it’s pronounced: sheer-oo-neem khah-nohm

The Great Norwegian Graduation Rager

“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day  that you celebrate Independence Day  and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like,  not a lot, but  maybe one out  of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”

 

The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.

This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.

What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.

Sitting Shiva

The informant is a 20-year old Jewish student attending USC. She was born in Venezuela but has lived in Miami since she was eight years old. She is majoring in Engineering. The information she shared with me is about Jewish funeral custom.

 

Informant: “Everyone goes to the funeral home or the synagogue, or wherever the funeral is taking place. There is a service; the Rabbi says some prayers in Hebrew and in English and some kind words about the deceased. Then usually some family members will speak about the person who has passed.”

 

Interviewer: “What kind of stuff do they say?”

 

Informant: “Well it varies. Sometimes they will talk about the person’s accomplishments, sometimes they will tell funny stories about the person, or their fondest memories with them. I was at a funeral about a month ago where one of the deceased’s grandchildren read a portion of a school project she had written about her grandma when she was a kid. She had interviewed her grandma for the project. It was really cool.”

 

Interviewer: “That sounds really cool. What happens next?”

 

Informant: “Well, everyone goes outside where the burial takes place. I don’t know if it is Jewish tradition everywhere, but at least at the weddings I’ve been to, there are shovels around the burial site, and everyone who wants to can shovel some earth onto the grave. It’s really beautiful. Then there is a shiva.

 

Interviewer: “What’s the shiva?”

 

Informant: “The shiva is when everyone—the family and friends of the deceased’s family—goes to someone close to the person who has passed’s house. There is lots of food and drink (usually non-alcoholic though) and people eat and talk. It’s a big gathering as a sort of celebration of the person’s life and as a way to comfort the family.”

 

Thoughts:

Often rituals surrounding death double as celebrations of life and a reason for social gathering. Death is a rite of passage and like other rite of passage rituals, it is a rite of transition, mainly for the family and friends of the deceased. The shivas I’ve been to aren’t typically sad events. The funeral itself is generally a somber, teary-eyed event, but shivas I’ve attended often involve a lot of conversing and even a good-deal of joke-telling.