Tag Archives: new years

Japanese New Years Traditions

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Japanese/Brazilian
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: USA, Oregon
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/12/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Japanese

Informant: The only other thing I can think about is some Japanese traditions. It’s very different over there than it has been in Oregon.


Interviewer: Yeah sure, which traditions are you talking about.


Informant: I mean, there’s New Years, Birthdays, School.


Interviewer: I think New Years would be good, I see it represented a lot in Japanese media so it’d be nice to have a personal account.


Informant: Ok. It’s similar to America in that there are a lot of fireworks to celebrate at New Years, but before New Years there are a couple of things we do different. Pretty much the entire city cleans up right before New Years, you know, to make sure it is a blank slate, a clean start very literally. Kids usually get money from their parents and sometimes grandparents, my parents would only give me money after I was done cleaning my room and part of the living room.


Interviewer: Interesting. Back home we also get money sometimes, but it’s usually during Christmas.


Informant: The other noteworthy thing off the top of my head is that basically everyone goes to the shrine on New Years Day.. Like, on January 1st. Usually we all go together, the shrine is always really ******* packed. But we stop by and ask for a good start to the New Year. Other than that… We also do New Years Resolutions, but you write them down and display them somewhere in the house. In my house we did little slips of paper that we stuck in a tree branch in the garden.



I’d seen several of these traditions in anime, but I always wondered what happened in real life Japan. I’m pleased that most of the portrayals were accurate, and it’s also interesting to draw some comparisons with my experiences during New Years. Catholic families in Mexico also go pray on Jan 1st to receive a good beginning of the Year, however, the tradition is to go to a mass that happens at 12 am!


Jumping Fire: Persian New Year

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American/Iranian
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: Calabasas, California
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

The Folklore:

K: Would you like me to tell you about a Persian New Year tradition?

E: Yes, please do.

K: Every Persian New Year everyone  jumps over a burning fire. A contained fire of course.

E: Does everyone participate?

K: Older people and young children don’t. But those who aren’t sick and are able bodied all do it.

E: That is so interesting. Do you know where this tradition originated?

K: Early Persians practiced Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest belief systems, and they viewed fire as extremely holy. They began to hop the fire as a cleanse. The fire would wash away all bad luck, evil eyes, and sicknesses by leaving them in the year that was ending.

E: When did you first hear about this tradition?

K: My fathers first told me about this tradition during Persian new year when I was very young. Ever since then I’ve participated every year.

E: What does it mean to you? What sort of value does it hold with you?

A: It means a lot because it’s the main event during Persian New Year’s. This is one of the largest family celebrations of year where extended family and nuclear family are all together. Everyone experiences this together by leaving our non-positive energy in the past.


My informant is a long time friend of mine who is from Dominican and Iranian descent. Every year I’ve known him I’ve seen the annual videos of him and his family members jumping over the fire without having inquired. I reached out to him over the phone and this was what he told me.


Although strange I see this practice as deeply as symbolic. Zoroastrianism was one of the first belief systems and the fact that God has for us conceived so long ago are still prevalent today reflects how truly special it is as both for the Apple ones on sale to leave behind’s transgressions from the past year as well as enter the new year with family.


Origin of Chinese New Year Fireworks

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22nd, 2019
Primary Language: Chinese
Other Language(s): English


M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.


This is a Chinese tradition that M’s family would participate in during the Lunar New Year in Beijing. Because he was close with all his family, he and his younger sister would often have to do these traditions twice a year, once with their mother’s side of the family and again with their father’s side. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“Lunar New Years is a big deal in China, so my grandmother… my grandmother on my mother’s side… has three daughters, and each other my cousins all come back for Lunar New Years, so we are all pretty close. So… traditions, right? Lots of people know that China does fireworks during the Lunar New Year celebration, but like here and Japan people get together to watch the fireworks that are like set up by some organizations. Uh, in Beijing, people set up their own fireworks, and everyone in the city participates, so it sounds like the city is in the middle of a war. Millions of fireworks go off from like midnight until like five in the morning and you won’t be able to sleep. So, the folklore behind firing off fireworks is that in Chinese stories about Paganism, there is a monster that is called Nian, which has the same sound as the word year. Nian, year, New Year, you know? So like this monster goes around eating people and stuff and the people don’t know what to do. They decided that they are going to launch explosive fire-powder into the sky to scare it off. It worked, and now that is why we call a year a year, because it is named after Nian the monster. Now, it has become less about that and more people do fireworks because they are fun, but my mother would always tell us that before we could go out and light them. We had to know that there was a reason to like play with explosives.”


I like that his parents would make sure that the kids knew why a tradition exists before allowing them to participate in them. I think that it is interesting that they place a lot of importance on the folklore behind this tradition, while in the United States, the average parent does not explain why we celebrate the fourth of July. Kids learn about it in school, but that almost takes away from the tradition because it is taught institutionally, rather than organically. I was most intrigued to learn that the word year in Mandarin is pronounced the same as the creature in the story. It shows just how much society takes from folklore.

Fruits of the New Year

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Northridge, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 17, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Tagalog

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Okay so, when I was at your house, you have grapes? over the…

CS: Mhm

ZM: What are those about?

CS: So um, it’s like a, I think it’s an Asian thing, it might just be a Filipino thing, but it’s like um…At the beginning of every year, fruits are like symbols of like Mother Mary and her bearing the fruit of Jesus. So, it’s sort of to bring good luck. So, you always have like before the new year comes in, in every, like, living space, you have to have a bowl of twelve fruits. So, in the kitchen, in the living room, you have to have a big bowl of twelve fruits. Twelve different fruits.

ZM: Why twelve?

CS: Each month of the year.

ZM: Okay.

CS: And then above each entry into a room you have to do twelve grapes to symbolize like the same thing. So like, it’s supposed to bring you like good wealth and good luck into the new year and it’s like a symbol of Mother Mary and like how she was blessed because she was gifted with like the fruit of the womb of Jesus or whatever.

ZM: That’s cool.

CS: Yeah. So my mom always has to go out and buy like twelve different fruits. It’s a struggle.

ZM: Yeah, how do you get twelve different fruits.

CS: We have grapefruits in the backyard, lemons in the backyard. Sometimes if she can’t find more, she cheats and she gets avocados. (laughs) It’s always like melons, like she’ll get a watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a honeydew. And then like, apples, peaches, and then the ones in our backyard, and then like, if she’s really tryin’ it she’ll like get a lime and a lemon.

ZM: Do you leave the fruit up all year?

CS: Yes! And it gets DIsgusting. Absolutely gross. Like one time, the grapes started falling on the one over, like going outside to the patio thing, like, the atrium, back there. We have one over there, and I was like “The grapes are falling. Like, you need to fix it.” My mom grabbed saran wrap, and then she like (laughs) she like made a saran wrap bag and then pinned it there and then when I was taking them down towards like… You usually change everything towards like, Thanksgiving/Christmas. So you don’t do it like right before the new year. You like start preparing for the new year around like, after Thanksgiving, like before Christmas. As we were changing them, I took down the bag and it’s like MOLDY, cause like usually they’re just out in the air. So it’s like, they just turn into raisins, but like this one had a bag because she was keeping all of the ones that fell and it was literally wet and moldy and it was like green and white mold, and I almost vomited, and I was like “This needs to never happen again.” Yeah you keep it the WHOLE year. If it falls down you HAVE to keep it up there somehow.


Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed fruit hanging from the doorways. A few days later I asked her about them and this conversation was recorded then.


Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.


Analysis:I thought this was a very interesting tradition. I have heard of fruit being a sign of fertility, but mostly in spring, but this tradition takes place around the new year.



Coins and the New Year

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Northridge, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April, 17, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Tagolog

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: You guys had like, coins, like gold coins, over by the like pictures? I don’t know

CS: Mhm. I know what you’re talking about. So, it’s another New Year’s thing. Um, when you’re, so, coins are just symbols of like wealth, like the sound that they make like the clink like the, you know what I’m talking about? Like the shhh

ZM: Yeah

CS: So, when it’s New Year’s, like normal people New Year’s, and Chinese New Year actually, ‘cause we celebrate that too, you have to have, well first you have to be wearing like dots, like polka dots because of the circles. It symbolizes coins. And then, when, you know how people like jump and they like blow stuff in like the countdown? A lot, like every Filipino literally has just like, either like cups of coins, or like bags of coins and they shake it while they, while the New Year’s coming in. So, they shake it while the new year’s coming in so it makes the noise and that’s like another symbol of like bringing wealth into the new year.

ZM: And you just keep them around? Like, the whole year?

CS: Well those are just normal coins. And then the gold coins that my mom has laying around are just like… fancy ones. The gold coins are for the Chinese New Year because like you know how, well I don’t know if you’re around like Asian people but like, we get like red envelopes with money in it?

ZM: I vaguely, like that sounds vaguely familiar.

CS: So, I have one, wait I have one… (Brings out small red Hello Kitty envelope) We get like red envelopes that have money in it and you’re not supposed to spend the money technically for like the whole year because it’s like good luck.

ZM: Wait so when ARE you allowed to spend it?

CS: After the new year. So, this one, you can open it though, I think this one’s shaped in a heart. (the cash was folded into a heart shape)


CS: They don’t always do this they just, it’s just some people decide to get fancy with it. So, it (the coins) kind of goes along with the red envelope. So, you give red envelopes with money for luck and then the gold coins are sort of the same symbolism of like keeping wealth throughout the year. I just realized Asian people really like their money. Cause everything we do is about keeping their wealth.


Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed gold coins laying around on various coffee tables and such. A few days later I asked her about them and this conversation was recorded then.


Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.


Analysis: The red envelope tradition wasn’t completely unknown to me, but I had never heard of people shaking containers of coins at the turn of the new year. I also thought it was very interesting that CS celebrates both the Western New Year as well as Chinese New Year even though she is not Chinese. Like she said towards the end, most of the traditions were about money which can be seen in the rich lifestyle practiced in a Western New Year’s celebration. Party goers get dressed up and drink champagne like the upper class.


Chinese New Year

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese-American
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Oakland, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Cantonese and Mandarin

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

ZM: What do you do for Chinese New Year?

HH: Umm… In terms of when I’m here in college or when I’m back home?

ZM: When you’re at home.

HH: When I’m home um my parents would clean the house, like um frantically because we need to be clean for the new year and we also can’t wash our hair on the first day of New Year’s too because if you wash your hair, you’re washing your luck. Yeah. Very interesting. Um, it’s nothing really special, it’s just being with your family, um… The whole day you um… Do you know what Yum ta is?

ZM: No.

HH: Like going out for morning tea, like with dim sum…

ZM: I’ve never heard of that. I don’t, I don’t know.

HH: Okay um so uh we do yum ta, which is like going to um a local, um a nearby restaurant around our house and inviting all of our relatives and…

ZM: Is that New Year’s day?

HH: New Year’s day yeah. Um, and all of our relatives will come and we exchange um red envelopes with money inside and um its umm… If you’re married you give, you give a red envelope to the kids so…As long as I’m not married I can still receive them.

ZM: But you don’t give any?

HH: I don’t give any until I’m married. Yeah it’s a perk. (laughs) Uhhh yeah and then um on the day, or like… Chinese New Year goes for like a few days like up to fifteen days. It depends on how long you want to celebrate it. Umm, like the first few days um either relatives and friends come to your house or you can go to their house and you bring gifts like oranges or like crackers or whatever to uh to bring to their house and you get to exchange gifts, and you guys talk and drink tea and all of that.

ZM: Do the oranges have any significance? Like why oranges or…?

HH: Umm… I feel like they do, but I don’t know (laughs) Uh that’s pretty much what we do. And um we eat chicken. It’s for a reason, but I don’t know why also. But, chicken is like a good kind of meat like… Um you always want um, like for dinner you always, for like the first few days, my brother’s in-laws and us we all eat together as a big family. Like a sign of um, a union. Um, so we have like up to ten dishes for like not even ten people. Like, um it’s very lavish dinner with like chicken, umm duck, fish, all kind of veggies, noodles, noodles really important as a sign of longetivity in life. So, yeah.


Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.

Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.


Analysis: I thought it was interesting that you only begin giving red envelopes when you are married. Even if you are an adult and you are not married, you do not have to give the envelopes, you only receive them. But, if they’re married and they don’t have kids to give envelopes to they exchange red envelopes between husband and wife. While marriage and adulthood would’ve previously been equivalent, in today’s society they can be very separate, and this changes the tradition a little bit.


12 Grapes on New Years

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican, American
Age: 20
Occupation: USC Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/24/18
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

I interviewed my informant, Brianna, in the study lounge of the band office. When I prompted her for her knowledge of folklore/folk tradition/folk beliefs, she was reminded of her family’s New Years tradition.


Brianna: “We eat twelve grapes each — one for every month of the year. And when you eat each grape you make a wish. Oh, and you eat your grapes at midnight. It brings good luck for the year.”


Me: “And how do you know this tradition?”


Brianna: “I learned it from my grandmother. She passed the tradition down.”


Me: “And what does it mean to you?”


Brianna: “It’s just a nice superstition. Start of the year with something fresh.”



Like my informant shared, this is a good example of a superstition or folk belief. It is also similar to a few other New Years traditions of eating special dishes with family members. My informant did not share why grapes were particularly magical, so it’s plausible that her family does this ritual out of tradition to feel a family connection.  



--Informant Info--
Nationality: Armenian, Spanish, American
Age: 19
Occupation: USC Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/18
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

I interviewed my informant, Vanessa, in the band office lounge. As I prompted her to think of the folklore/folk traditions/folk beliefs she knew, she was reminded of a New Year’s celebration in her family:


Vanessa: “We have this rice pudding we eat on New Year. It’s called ‘anoushabour.’”


Me: “What is anoushabour? What’s in it?”


Vanessa: “It’s, like, a rice pudding with shredded almonds… and grapes and walnuts. And you put cinnamon on top so it spells out the year.”


Me: “You said it’s eaten on New Year?”


Vanessa: “Yes. It’s eaten at midnight. Everyone gets a bowl and eats together. And it’s bad luck to eat it after the week of New Year.”


Me: “Is this tradition accompanied by any other rituals?”


Vanessa: “Well, we give kisses — like on the cheek — right at midnight before eating the pudding.”


Me: “What does it mean to you? What’s the significance of this tradition?”


Vanessa: “It’s, like — you are gathering with family, and celebrating another year that you are blessed with. It gives good luck for the year.”


My informant also told me that her great grandmother taught her the tradition, and that her grandmother carries on the tradition today. The eating of the anoushabour happens in someone’s home where the family has been invited to celebrate.


The eating of the anoushabour is similar to many other New Year’s traditions that are meant to bring good luck and unite the family in good health. I am also aware of other families (of varying heritage) that eat special dishes on New Year because it brings good luck. It’s a fun tradition that carries on Armenian folk belief.


Venezuelan New Year’s

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Venezuelan American
Age: 18
Occupation: student
Residence: usc
Date of Performance/Collection: april 17, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

What is being performed?
TV: There are actually a lot of folk traditions that go along with New Year’s for Venezuelans
AA: Okay, like what?
TV: Well, for one, you’re supposed to wear yellow underwear on New Year’s for good luck.
AA: Does it bring you good luck for the day, forever, or is it just for the year?
TV: It’s for the year, but I don’t know why. I guess it could be cause yellow is a happy color.
There’s also the tradition of running around the block with a suitcase after dinner. It means that
you will travel during the year and everyone I know does it except for me.
AA: Do you believe in that?
TA: I think running around with a suitcase makes you want to travel and maybe that makes you
more likely to book a flight and actually go. But I don’t know how magical it truly is.
Why do they know or like this piece? where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to
AA: What do you get from this tradition?
TV: I don’t usually partake in it but my family takes it pretty seriously. I guess I see it more as a
symbolic way of hoping for a good year than a magic trick.
AA: Who did you learn it from?
TV: I learned it from my parents and other relatives that wanted to share what color their
underwear was, haha. The suitcase one I just saw happen when I was a kid and still see
happen every New Year’s.

Context of the performance- where do you perform it? History?
AA: When is this performed?
TV: It’s only performed on New Year’s Eve in Venezuelan culture.
AA: And are you going to perform this with your children?
TV: I think I will.

I think these are very interesting traditions and have never heard of them. I think of yellow as a
bright color and could see why it could be connected to luck and good fortune. I think what’s
most interesting is that it is associated with New Year’s. As my informant noted, it seems that
there are a lot of folk traditions that revolve around New Year’s and New Year’s Eve. I definitely
want to try running with my suitcase. It seems a little funny but it means well.

Christmas Predictions

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/26 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

The source of this folklore describes a tradition her family does every year: writing down predictions for the next year at Christmas. It’s something the source’s mom did with her own mother as a child and passed down.

We write down predictions on a piece of paper at Christmas. We don’t read them until the next year. And usually you forget what you wrote. One year we all predicted if we’d be living in the same house in a year. I predicted we would and my brother predicted we wouldn’t. He was right.

Are they are predictions about the whole family or are some of them personal?

Some are personal. You write personal ones on one side of the paper and on the other side it’s usually a question we all ask each other and try to guess–like about the house.

Do you share the personal ones with the other people?

Umm… I don’t. You don’t have to. My mom definitely doesn’t either. Actually we all keep the personal ones to ourselves.

What’s the feeling you have when reading them?

I usually think my handwriting looks really weird. Like how much it’s hanged in a year. [laughs] I guess that’s not a feeling.

Well… sometimes things turn out better than you predicted or something really good happens that you would have never predicted, and you’re happy.

But sometimes things don’t go as well… you know… What’s the feeling? That’s hard to answer…

Of course. But it’s not an insignificant thing?

No, no. Right it feels very significant. Yeah for sure. It’s always felt very significant to me.