Tag Archives: luck

Vietnamese Tradition: Lunar New Year Outfits


Informant G is a 20 year old Cinema and Media Studies major from The Inland Empire in Southern California. Her family is primarily Vietnamese and Cambodian, and G lived in Vietnam for periods of time as a child. She is a junior at USC.


Please excuse any grammar issues, these are direct text message quotes. G sent me a photo of herself and her older sister wearing áo dài. She said the following:

“During Lunar New Year (Tết in Vietnamese) most people wear áo dài which is the traditional Vietnamese dress/costume/outfit. Although, it’s not exclusively worn during Lunar New Years, most people buy new áo dàis or wear their best one as a way to start the new year off well.”

When I asked about further significance in the type of áo dài, she replied

“they more symbolize the significance of an event, like people can wear it in their casual life but the fancier an áo dài the more formal/significant an event is”

“the color is also very important (not as much any more) but during Tet a lot of people wear red áo dài because it represents luck and prosperity”


There are a number of significant details in this anecdotal description. For one thing, G clearly indicates an association with life cycle. There is a purpose in the kind of áo dài worn as one enters the new year. She mentions that people might “buy new áo dàis” – perhaps as a physical representation of newness – or wear their best one as a way of instating luck. G explained that áo dài is a Vietnamese garment that can be worn casually, but a fancier one is considered more formal and correlates with the event for which it’s worn. G also mentions that the color red has some significance. I find this interesting because, though Vietnam is considered a Southeast Asian country, imperialism brought bits of Chinese culture into Vietnamese culture, and the East Asian significance of the color red has been part of Vietnamese tradition, too. Traditions done for the purpose of bringing luck into the new year are incredibly common (ie: Latin Americans eating 12 grapes or bringing a suitcase around the block) – they are meant to induce prosperity, and multiple aspects of wearing fancy, or sometimes red áo dài reflect that folkloric commonality.

Sudani Tradition: On Weddings


G is a 20 years old Animation and Digital Arts major from Birmingham, UK. Members of his family immigrated to Birmingham from Sudan. He is a junior at USC and has been living in the area for 3 years.


Please excuse any grammar issues, these are direct text message quotes. 

G: “at a Sudani wedding the bride and the groom spit milk at each other that is presented by the matriarch of both families”

Interviewer: “by any chance do you know background on that?”

G: “for the life of me i can’t remember why but i do know that whoever spits first is the person who is supposedly ‘in charge in the relationship’ […] and it’s for like commitment to one another ”


G’s anecdote references something we’ve discussed a number of times in class – wedding traditions. To me, the significance here draws clearly on a number of common themes in folklore. For one thing, milk is white – associated with purity like many things at a wedding. What’s more, its role in nature and the human life cycle associate it with health and growth. Sudan is patriarchal in its gender roles, so I feel that this meaning is emphasized by the fact that it is the matriarch (mother figure) of each family that gives the bride or groom the milk. This is an apparent reference again to life cycle and growing out of youth. Like G said, spitting it first shows commitment and authority, though the internet mentions prosperity as well. In general, it seems this tradition is one done for luck at a major life moment, a frequent folkloric concept.

Food and Clothing Traditions for Chinese Lunar New Year

Informant Details

  1. Gender: Female
  2. Occupation: Student
  3. Nationality: Chinese-American

Folklore Genre: Holiday Rituals and Superstitions, Calendar Year

  1. Text

The informant explained some traditions and superstitions associated with the Chinese Lunar New Year. During the Lunar New Year, it is traditional to place oranges around different rooms in your house for good luck and prosperity. On New Year’s Eve, you eat a vegetarian diet so that you don’t bring bad energy from hurting other forms of life going into the new year. On New Year’s Day, there is a big feast with a lot of specific lucky dishes. It is best to eat as a family because this brings good fortune and togetherness, but it isn’t considered bad luck if you are eating alone. During this feast, you have to eat some of each dish to ensure you are lucky in all parts of your life. Noodles are eaten to represent longevity. It is bad luck to cut these noodles because this implies that you will shorten your life. Chicken is eaten to ‘fly’ into a year of good fortune, fish is eaten for prosperity and good luck, and green vegetables are eaten for financial wealth and good fortune. Similarly, you are meant to wear colors that represent certain aspects of your life. Wearing red brings good luck, wearing green brings wealth, wearing gold brings success, and wearing yellow brings good health. You can wear more than one color to cover all these areas of life. It is considered very bad luck to wear black on New Year’s Day because this color represents death. The superstition is that if you wear black, you or someone in your life will die. 

2. Context

These traditions and superstitions are done during the Lunar New Year, which usually occurs around the end of January. The informant learned these rituals from her mother and grandmother. Her mother is Chinese-American and her grandmother is Chinese.

3. Analysis

Cultural values are reflected in the specific areas of life represented through the dishes and colors. Many of the traditions are meant to bring financial prosperity. This suggests that striving for wealth is viewed as admirable in this culture and wealth is viewed positively. Health and longevity are also highly prioritized. This suggests that growing old is seen as a blessing in this culture. Additionally, togetherness is valued, which indicates that family relationships are a priority. Overall, these rituals focus on bringing blessings into the new year, instead of reflecting on the past year, which suggests that this culture has a future-oriented viewpoint. These rituals also connect to the idea of homeopathic magic because you are meant to eat and wear things that symbolize the future you want. 

The Dragon Boat and Zongzi Festival

‘Growing up in China, my family and I always celebrated the Dragon Boat and Zongzi Festival. Basically we would go into town and watch dragon boat races, which involved teams rowing decorated boats to music, while eating sticky rice dumplings which are called zongzi. This is a really big souther Chinese tradition with lots of festivities, praying, and it’s all about good luck. The festival celebrates Qu Yuan who was a prime minister in China centuries and centuries ago. I remember every year we would go to the river and dump the zongzi in to feed Qu yuan as a superstition. We also would hang a type of plant on our door called Chinese Mugwort to avoid mosquitos and bad luck as this is the hottest time of year.” – AS

AS grew up celebrating this holiday with her family each year as long as she can remember. It always signified a very fun time of year for her, even though it was the hottest days ever! AS emphasized that the biggest role it had, and still has, in her life, was not the history of the festival, but rather how delicious the zongzi is. While she no longer celebrates it, as she has moved to the US, she still makes and eats zongzi often, even for breakfast. Additionally, during the summer in the US, she hangs a fake plant on her door, that looks similar to Chinese Mugwort, to commemorate the Dragon Boat festival and keep her tradition as best she can in a new environment.

Zongzi: sticky rice dumplings
Chinese Mugwort hung on a door

The Dragon Boat Festival is a very important festival in the region of China AS grew up in, as it highlights the cultural significance of Qu Yuan, and the traditions that grew because of it. The festival also incorporates multiple superstitions, as much folklore does, as many of the rituals they perform are to avoid bad luck and bring in success for themselves and their family during the hottest time of year. Additionally, the dragon boat races are a tradition of Chinese folklore and mythology, as they correspond to a legend that dragon boats were used to save Qu Yuan from drowning in the river, hence throwing in dumplings to feed him. Also, the zongzi are a form of folk food, as they are many times offered as a tribute and also to ward off any evil spirits and bad luck. Many prayers and traditions are also important to this festival. With the huge celebrations the Dragon Boat festival brings, the Chinese culture and heritage of this southern region of China is shared and spread to all. AS, who recently had a baby, also shares these traditions of zongzi and mugwort with him when they days get hot! There is rich folklore characteristics all throughout this festival that allow the culture and traditions to continue.

Eating twelve grapes on New Year’s


Eating twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve

Minor Genre:

Holiday Celebration; Folk Magic


“On the most recent New Year’s Eve, I was at a New Year’s Eve party when someone told me that you’re supposed to eat twelve grapes right after the clock strikes midnight as a new relationship thing. I decided to do it but I accidentally ate the grapes before midnight, so when the clock struck twelve, I ate another twelve grapes. I ended up getting into a love triangle afterward and now I’m superstitious that it was because of the grapes. I had never heard of or practiced this ritual before hearing about it at the party.”


I have heard different variations of this tradition of eating twelve grapes on New Year’s. The tradition is of Spanish origin, and the most popular version seems to be to eat twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve to bring about twelve months of good luck. Other variations include eating the grapes while sitting under the table and eating twelve grapes in order to find a new relationship in the upcoming year. 

This ritual is an example of contagious magic; the grapes are believed to possess a fortuitous quality that is then transferred to a person upon their consumption of the fruit. While I do not necessarily believe in the magical effects of consuming grapes on New Year’s, I do think that it would make sense for a person to trace back to their success in a new year to such an action. Particularly in the informant’s situation, where being in a love triangle is a fairly rare occurrence, it makes sense from a psychological standpoint that they would blame this situation on the mistake they made in the New Year’s Eve grape ritual.