Tag Archives: meal

Superstition: Die Schlusskartoffel

Main Piece: 

“Here’s another quirky story and I don’t know where it came from. I knew this really old man near the Czech Republic. And I would have dinner with this person periodically and, of course, the food is really heavy, so you’ve got pork, and boiled potatoes, and things like that. And after the entire meal, he would always eat one last potato. And he called that his Schlusskartoffel. Which, translated- which in German meant ‘ending potato.’ And apparently- in his family, clan, or whatever you want to call it -they did that because that last potato signaled to your digestive system that you were done eating. ”


My informant grew up in America before departing to Germany for several years. This happened relatively soon after college, so he was a newcomer to European culture. Clearly, this wasn’t a well-proliferated superstition, but rather something my informant heard repeatedly from one source. Reportedly, this source had a broader clan that had taught them the practice. My informant interpreted it as some kind of compulsory ceremonial “cap-off” to the meal.


What’s interesting about this example is that it’s so specific to Germanic foods. Heavy meals full of pork, sausages, and potatoes give rise to a need to finish ceremonially, as the meals are a greater effort and have a more profound effect than just some bread and vegetables. It’s possible that this was developed as a technique to control eating when the possibility of weight gain was so high. Another possibility is that it’s meant to celebrate the completion of a meal and the hardiness of the meal itself by marking the occasion with a specially named potato.

Setting an extra plate during Christmas

Content and Context:
Informant -“I remember my mother did this several times. At the Christmas meal, my mother would set an extra seat and an extra place setting. Now the tradition is in case someone shows up, but I always associated it with the people who weren’t with us. That’s how I like to think of it.”

JK – “The people who aren’t with us. Does that mean people who have died or people who just aren’t there?”

Informant – “Either way. When I say prayers at home now, I always add that I ask god to take care of those who aren’t with us. That means your dead grandparents and those who are away.”

JK – “Did the Christmas tradition lead to this added prayer?”

Informant – “Maybe the thought did. Not consciously. It just seemed to me that our meals couldn’t possible be complete without recognizing the absence of those who couldn’t possibly be there.”

It’s interesting that the informant did not carry the tradition forward, but rather his interpretation of the ritual. While his mother wanted to be prepared for unexpected guests, the informant wanted a reminder of guests that weren’t coming.

Chinese New Year

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions he shared with his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, which I think underscores the great importance of Chinese New Year for him; the fact that he travels to convene with his family while not being intimately close with them shows how much the tradition matters to him. The subject gave me a general overview of the traditions associated with Chines New Year but did not elaborate on specific details.

Main Piece

“For Chinese New Year’s it’s a huge deal for our family so we’ll have a meal together, but, like, it’s supposed to be a time where everyone goes home, so I try and do that as well. And, um, there’s a lot of Chinese cultural traditions associated with that: like the types of meals you’ll cook, how you eat them and like getting money from elders.”

Christmas in Kentucky

Informant Bio: Informant is my mother.  She was born in West Virginia and spent her childhood moving around the country, eventually settling in Massachusetts.  She was exposed to many different traditions as she moved around the country as a child and still carries some with her to this day.


Context: I was interviewing my mother about traditions, stories and rituals she remembers from her childhood.


Item: “Our family was spread out across the US and Christmas was the one time that everybody went back home to be together, back in the Kentucky hills.  As a child I loved being with my many cousins.  It was a fantastic time.  We generally stayed with my paternal grandparents.    My grandmother woke up early Christmas morning and started preparations for the large Christmas breakfast.  Always consisting of biscuits, gravy, fried potatoes, eggs, sausage, fried apples and for the kids, my favorite – hot molasses and peanut butter sopped up with a biscuit!  After breakfast, the children opened presents.  Then my grandmother began the Christmas dinner.  They had a huge table; yet, the kids ate in the kitchen.  Actually, you were allowed to eat at the grown up table after you turned 13.  It was sad for me, when my older cousins left the kitchen table!  Dinner was incredibly good.  My grandmother and mom were terrific cooks.  After dinner in the afternoon, the kids got to play with the toys.  Then we began visiting other families in the community”.


Analysis: The Christmas breakfast was the first moment that all of the family members got to be together for; it was a celebration of the family being back together again.  The informant remembered the food the most vividly, maybe because the meals proved to be the most memorable times (when everyone was gathered around tables seated next to each other).


The fact that the children had to sit at a separate table until they were thirteen shows how, in the U.S., society truly separates childhood from adulthood.  With different schools, laws, and expectations, children do not get to have the privilege of a full life experience until they are old enough.  Thirteen years old seems a little young for the transition when compared to the voting age of 18, drinking age of 21 and other “marking” periods that occur much later in ones life, but, thirteen does represent a time in which most people have at least begun to hit puberty (and thus moved on from being a true child).


Christmas seemed to be a period of time that was sacrosanct.  Nobody missed it and it was a time when everyone came together.  The children were the ones who exchanged gifts while the adults merely treasured it as a time to be around their loved ones and catch up.  Despite the religious nature of the holiday, Church/religion does not seem to play a significant role in the informant’s celebration.

Family dinner prayer

My informant comes from a Christian household, and she told me about the prayers she and her family said before meals together:

“So what it is, is we have a family prayer that we say before every meal, but specifically dinner, when we’re all eating together. Um, and it’s something I learned from my parents because they both growing up as kids had their own family prayers that they said before meals, so when they were raising my brother and I, they came up with their own for our family. So my mom typed it up and cut it out with these fancy scissors so it looks nice, and she put it in a frame and hung it up right by our dinner table. So, whenever we sit down to have dinner, we always say it before we eat. And we say, ‘God is great, God is good, and we thank God for our food. Amen.’ And that’s something that when we get together with our other relatives—with our extended family—it’s something that they now say as well, because it’s been a tradition for our family so it carries over. And they have their own prayers that they say that we all say now too, so we have like, three small prayers that we go through as a huge family before we eat.”

Christianity was very important to my informant when she was growing up. She went to church every Sunday, and she says religion was extremely influential on her worldview and morality. Since coming to college, she actually stopped going to church. She is part of a Christian youth group on campus, but she says that her religiosity has waned since high school. Even so, when she returns home from college for vacations, she and her family still recite this prayer before every meal they eat together. She appreciates that they have this tradition. It not only reminds her of her Christian foundation, but also of the closeness of her family. This short prayer is a way for my informant’s family to give thanks for what they have and reflect on what they see as God’s impact on their lives. It also commemorates the beginning of a special time: family dinner. Because of all these reasons, this simple tradition has great significance for my informant. One thing that intrigued me about my informant’s account is that she says it’s a prayer that her parents thought up together before spreading it to their children and other relatives, as well as whoever joins them for dinner. Yet despite my informant’s assuredness that this prayer is entirely her parent’s creation, I remember hearing something very similar to it before. One of my good friends used to say a prayer much like this one before she ate with her family. My informant’s parents might have gotten the idea for their prayer from other similar variants, and then made it their own by writing it down and spreading it to their own family. The development of this prayer is one that reminds me of the way other folklore spreads: it is learned from one or more sources, and then spread in a slightly new way.