Nationality: White American
Occupation: Media relations specialist
Residence: San Francisco, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/23/20
Primary Language: English
I received this tradition and superstition from my
mother, who grew up in a white suburban household in Colorado during the late
20th century. She learned it from her father, an English professor,
who read it in a student paper about superstitions. When I was younger, she
used to practice this little act of magic, but she does not do it anymore.
If the first words you say in the month are “rabbit,
rabbit, rabbit,” you will have good luck for the whole month.
Rabbits symbolize good luck in various cultures. I have seen rabbit foot keychains, which are intended to endow their owners with good luck. The word comes in threes, another example of the primacy of the number three in American folk belief. This piece of folklore was transmitted through the written word and stuck in my own family. To attach a special incantation to the beginning of each month gives the start of the month some special significance. It helps to mark off the months as distinct from one another, each as an opportunity for a new beginning, a renewal of luck. Rabbits are also associated with procreation and fertility, so their evocation at the beginning of each monthly cycle could signify renewal, new birth, and fecundity. This incantation is a way to be ‘reborn’ each month, as if to say: “no matter how difficult or painful last month was for me, here’s a chance to start one anew.” This little act of superstition can help people to maintain their faith in the future and retain a spirit of hope and growth going into each new month.
Occupation: Director of Residential Services at local health center
Residence: Claremont, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish
“As kids, my mom would make gnocchi once a month. It was always on the 29th of the month. They were always homemade and extremely labor intensive, so it would take her all day to make them. She had this custom that everyone would sit down that the table, and she would put a dollar under each plate. It was supposed to bring good luck with money, and it could only be done on the 29th of the month, but I have no idea why.”
Background Information and Context:
Unable to explain why the tradition exists, she called her mom to ask. While the phone was ringing, she theorized that it could be a family tradition from their Italian roots. The informant came to America when she was young, but generations of her originally Italian family lived in Argentina. When her mother picked up, she received the simple explanation that it was just something that her mom did, her grandmother did, and in Argentina they still do it. A cursory Google search revealed that the tradition of making Gnocchi on the 29th occurred because people were paid on the 1st of each month and potatoes and flour were all they had to cook with by the end of the month.
Some of our most valued traditions are ones whose origins are unknown to us. Especially when the tradition is introduced as a child, it can become ingrained into our lives for the simple fact that it is fun and brings fond memories. Food is especially good at doing this. As shown by the informant’s mother’s simple explanation, it is not necessary to have or to be able to share a full explanation of a tradition in order to engage in it and share it with others. This tradition is interesting because it shows the multiculturalism of Argentina by incorporating a traditionally Italian food into a monthly Argentine ritual.
For another example of Argentine gnocchi, see “The Story Behind Gnocchi Day in Argentina” on Food Republic.
Nationality: African American
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/1/16
Primary Language: English
The Main Piece
Growing up Nile became accustomed to having the tradition of monthly debates with her neighboring community. Around four to five families would meet at one house, but “honestly, everyone was invited to come join and debate. Even children!” They would have debates on religion, world problems, anything making the news. Although some topics could be considered explicit they still allowed children to sit in because the parent’s felt it was necessary for them to be informed on what was going on in the world, despite how graphic or cruel it could be. Nile also added that they usually do not go into too much detail with explicit topics until later, when the children have gotten bored and leave the room to do other things. Everyone is able to contribute their own ideas and opinions, these debates would often go until two or three in the morning.
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. She enjoys having these monthly debates because it allowed her to keep updated on what is going on in the world. It also pushed everyone to look into certain topics more because if one was asked their opinion on a certain topic, but did not have anything to contribute they would feel embarrassed. She participated in this tradition since she was six years old. It started because whenever her family would throw parties. Many times families would spend the night and they wanted to be entertained. The Jones’ clever way of keeping their guests awake and interested would be opening up these debates. Thereby, it became a tradition in which many were involved in. Her grandmother was the first one to suggest it and it has been continued ever since.
Nile told me about this tradition as we were eating dinner together one night. I asked her about any stories she had of home and she remembered having wild debates with her family members back home in Georgia. She says that compared to home, life at USC is not as hectic.
Hearing about Nile’s monthly debates warmed my heart. It made me wish that my family had more parties and celebrations, gathering together others from our community. I often felt disconnected from our other neighbors because my brother and I would always be indoors. Having these types of debates would have allowed us or any family to open up to a larger group. However, it made me wonder if these types of debates ever caused problems between the debaters, if their pride ever got in the way of their friendship and good sportsmanship. When I asked Nile this, she simply replied that “everyone knows to keep their cool.” Overall I think this tradition is great and hope to be able to implement it in my family in the future.