Tag Archives: luck

Brooms and marriage in Haiti.

M is a 45-year-old Haitian immigrant originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. M is currently a body-builder based in Phoenix, Arizona.

M offered me this piece of folklore during a phone conversation. I Informed M that I was in the process of collecting folklore, and asked her if she remembered any superstitions her family in Haiti may have had.

M: When I was growing up, the adults.. from Haiti had a saying that if anyone sweeps under your feet, with a broom.. you will never get married.

Reflection: Though M did not provide me with many background details about this fascinating bit of Haitian folk belief/superstition, I can at least try to interpret its meaning based on historical context. I have heard that in post-colonial and post-slavery nations like Haiti, there is a common marriage tradition in which the bride and groom each jump over a broom during their wedding as a good luck ritual. Assuming that the broom’s association with luck and marriage remains consistent across Haitian folklore, it may be fair to interpret the sweeping broom in M’s account as the antithesis of jumping over a broom, as doing so literally ”sweeps away“ the luck of getting married from underneath an unlucky soul’s feet.

Coin cake.

N is a 55-year-old female Canadian immigrant originally from Vancouver, Canada. N is a retired social worker currently living in Phoenix, Arizona.

While visiting my home state of Phoenix, Arizona, I visited N’s home, as she is my neighbor. During the visit, I asked N if she had any folklore she would be willing to share with me, and she offered me the following piece of folklore.

N: I’m talking about a tradition we had in Canada growing up, so we’re talking about the mid-sixties, uh, through the mid-seventies through approximately the age of ten, so. Um.. what we experienced growing up is that um.. When celebrating birthdays it was very common for various denominations of coins to be baked into birthday cake. And the idea was I guess for the.. child is it was a little bit of an extra gift, and surprise. But of course all of the other kids would be getting a piece of the cake as well, and so there was this fun little challenge as to who would be getting, uh, the higher coin, uh, it seems silly now seems how were just talking about coins. But at the time, um, we just thought it was a fun thing, and, I don’t think anyone thought about the potential of choking, but that is something that was very common and I have since learned that that was a tradition from Europe and possibly actually originating from Greece. Just a sign of good luck and, um, good blessings for the coming year. Uh, if I recall correctly I don’t believe I remember any adults having birthdays with these special cakes, but it was super common and it was really a fun thing that kinda went away unfortunately when we got older. I would love to actually… why don’t we uh, in my next birthday cake that I bake, uh, I should impose this uh, tradition to be new.

Reflection: I can relate to N’s story to a certain degree, as my elementary school used to hold annual Marti Gras celebrations in which they would bake cakes with items hidden in them. Except for coins, however, the cakes would each have a small plastic baby inside. Just as in M’s account, whoever found the special item inside the cake would receive good luck. With this in mind, it is interesting to consider how the American and Canadian traditions differ, in that the American Marti Gras cakes I am familiar with contain objects of perceived value while M’s Canadian birthday cakes contain items of actual value. As a result, the American cake tradition appears to be centered on an intangible sense of accomplishment (luck) while the Canadian cake tradition appears to be centered around monetary gain. This makes sense in relation to N’s assertion that coin cakes were exclusive to children’s birthday cakes, as children are probably more willing to discover a prize in their cake that they can actually use rather than an abstract concept like luck.

“Bread and butter.”

G is a 50-year-old Caucasian female originally from Phoenix, Arizona. G is a retired school teacher.

G offered this piece of folklore during a phone conversation. I asked G if she had any folklore she would be willing to share with me, and she offered me this superstition she remembered from her childhood.

G: One funny thing growing up was um, if you’re walking with somebody and you split a pole, you would say “bread and butter.”

Reflection: I have not heard of this superstition before, but it reminds me of other phrase based superstitions like saying ”knock on wood” or ”rabbit rabbit” to negate bad luck or engender good luck, respectively. Assuming that saying ”bread and butter” is also luck related, perhaps the phrase nullifies any potential bad luck associated with being forced to separate by an obstacle. The wording of the superstition also appears to nod to the idea that bread and butter are most ideally eaten as a pair (toast), rather than being eaten as separate ingredients. In the same way, people are implied to be better suited together rather than apart by the superstition.

FengShui: Where to Bury a Body

Chinese (Simplified): 风水
Chinese (Traditional): 風水
Romanization/Pingyin: fēngshuǐ
Literal Translation: wind water
Free Translation: “Chinese geomancy” (Wikipedia), essentially harmonizing with the natural world


Informant: My grandparents talk a lot of stuff. They also, they also told me a lot of my great father where bury, his location, how good it is, that kind of stuff. I- at that time I was quite young I don’t quite understand. He uh my grandparents basically looking everywhere to find a a a place to bury to bury my great great parent father. He he obviously he not expert, but he got somebody who claim to be expert. They found location in some mountain point in a certain direction, it’s just well, I mean, whatever you want to saying say it makes sense, they believe.

Informant: I mean, when people bury need to find a optimal location and direction. Well supposedly we find a good location and direction, we you you you can benefit your your offspring and all this stuff. That’s what they… claim. That’s fengshui.

Informant: That’s why I mean everything. House, location, direction inside the house furniture how to put it… is all fengshui.


Q: How did you learn about FengShui?

Informant: I mean, the thing is I, I didn’t get as much knowledge as I should because when I, when the high school already away from my parents grandparents. […] Yeah, but, even then they aren’t experts. They always found somebody pointing a certain thing to them.

Q: Did a lot of people believe in FengShui?

Informant: Well… more and more now. I think the, in China, when Cultural Revolution came, they kinda destroyed a lot of those believes. But like, people in HongKong, Taiwan, they believe a lot more than mainland China. But in mainland China now, they have more and more people believe. Especially uh in my side of the area, those people.

Q: As in like in the country side or in your province?

Informant: Well in the province, but well I think now more and more people believe. In the whole China. Because they they, I mean, this is traditional culture so. So even though Cultural Revolution interrupt for a period of time, they those things coming back. Yeah, they have all kind of stuff, but as I say I don’t do a lot of study for this kind of stuff. 

Q: Do you know when it originated? Like what Dynasty? 

Informant: I’m not quite sure, I, I obviously I mean, follow the tradition I don’t know when it started. I’m not quite sure.

Q: How did the Cultural Revolution affect FengShui?

Informant: Well cultural revolution, Chairman Mao basically want to break all of the traditions, right. This this fengshui is tradition, I mean they they go through all this Well basically Chairman Mao break everything that is tradition. basically want a brand new culture, everything brand new. So it last for 10 years, obviously affect uhhh some people. I mean when I came to U.S., I found out a lot Taiwanese family, HongKong family, a lot more tradition. I mean they you go to their house, or even I work for a restaurant they always have some food put aside to to try to what you call, to feed your ancestors that kind of stuff. But in my time, in China, Cultural Revolution those things stopped. So we haven’t practiced for until a little bit later on, when Chairman Mao died, Cultural Revolution end. So maybe another 10 years people slowly slowly bring back the practice.

Personal Thoughts:

China is incredibly, incredibly old. While people in England can trace back their family line centuries, people in China can trace back family lines even further. I think the meticulousness in choosing a burial place for passed family members is in part because of this massive traceable family history. In addition, Confucianism – one of the main philosophies in China that has existed for a long, long time – also places a heavy emphasis on family and the obligation of each member of a family. Confucianism also emphasizes the duty of young people to respect their elders, which is reflected by younger people finding a perfect place for their elders to rest. What I find particularly interesting about this though is the intersection between family dynamics and harmony with the natural world.

Additional Notes:

For a similar discussion of the oppression of culture under Communism and Post-Communist revival, read:
Valk, Ulo. 2006. Ghostly Possession and Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore. Journal of Folklore Research 43: 31-51

Ubos Biyaya

Original Script: “Ubos-ubos biyaya, bukas nakatunganga”

Transliteration: oo-boss oo-boss bee-yah-yah, boo-kas nah-kah-too-nga-nga

Literal Translation: Finish finish gift, tomorrow staring

Smooth Translation: Finish your gifts too quickly, tomorrow you’ll be staring emptily.

Background: This proverb was often told to the informant, who was raised to be careful and wise about how she distributed eating her special treats on the rare occasions that she received them.  If she was finishing her “carefully doled out goodies” too quickly, she would be cautioned being so hasty with finishing up her blessings.

Context: This proverb was shared to me through a Facebook Messenger call later in the day with an informant who had previously spoken to me at our weekly Sunday luncheons.

This proverb says a lot about the informant’s family values, especially in regard to special gifts and abundance.  While this proverb was mostly used when the informant was a child and it was usually in reference to inconsequential things such as candy or food, it is indicative of deeper values that ran in her family.  In using this proverb, children learn to value more extended gratification and taking their blessings in small “bites” instead of ravenously expending all that they have.  Because if they do, they will simply have nothing to do later on but stare emptily when they could have had more of the blessing then if they had been more prudent about going through what they had.