Background: The informant always wears red underwear when she knows she is entering a situation where danger could occur. She believes that the color red has protective powers and is ultra superstitious about wearing it, especially when flying. She is a very spiritual woman, but also particular about what type of folk beliefs she acquires. She does her research before hopping on a trend or swearing by a specific belief. This underwear belief, while sparked by Madona, has become a pillar in her travel experience.
Context: “I first started wearing red underwear when Madonna became an expert in Kabbalah. She was very famous at the time and I thought it was quite ridiculous that she decided to suddenly become Jewish, I suppose, and pick the sect that she did. Remember those little red bracelets? I wish that I had had a company at that point manufacturing those because they were hot in the 90s. They taught me. Red protects you. Red protects your soul from being attacked by malicious characters. As a 20-year-old girl, I never liked to fly. I always felt so vulnerable so far up in the sky with people I didn’t even know in control of my life. The pilot, the flight attendants. I thought to myself if I wear red and red underwear I’ll be protected. Red really isn’t my color, so I felt that underwear was the way to go. I didn’t have to match it with anything, just make sure I owned some undies to throw on before any flight”.
Thoughts: This is a custom and belief that has been passed along to me, as her daughter. I also think that red is a guarding force and I feel the ritual is associated with my mom and that in itself provides a sense of safety. I love following in my mom’s footsteps with her beliefs because I trust her, so this custom is just another way for me to feel that she is by my side in perilous circumstances. I know that she is very particular about her folk beliefs and practices, so her opinion is highly valued. Her superstitions are worthwhile.
MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American
from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and much of
her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this story from her in a video
conference call from our respective homes. Her aunt taught her this and said
it’s a Venezuelan tradition.
MV: You’re supposed to eat thirteen grapes in the last
ten seconds of the new year. And if you do it, then that’s good luck. Also if
you wear red underwear.
JS: Why grapes?
MV: I don’t know, that one’s just a weird challenge.
Ritual transitional ceremonies such as new year
celebrations often involve superstition and folk belief, as ways of marking a
transition from one period to another. In other iterations of this practice,
you eat twelve grapes, one for each month of the year. The element of skill and
difficulty make this tradition a fun and competitive ritual. The tradition can
be traced back to Spain, where the bourgeoise adopted it from the French, who ate
grapes and drank champagne on the new year. The tradition was picked up by
members of other classes who ate the grapes likely to make fun of the upper
class. The fact that one is scarfing these grapes at a high speed can be seen
as a mocking gesture towards the elite, who would daintily eat the grapes with
their champagne, a way to mimic and critique the ways in which they cover up
their pernicious and consumptive practices of economic exploitation with a mask
of civility and decadence.
As for the red underwear, red symbolizes lust, luck,
and life in many cultures. Being a Spanish tradition, the use of red resonates
with the colors of the nation. The choice of garment suggests sexual overtones
in this bit of folk superstition, with the new year as a time for new
beginnings, creation, and sexual proliferation. The belief also, for the
duration of the new years celebration, allows undergarments to be a topic of
conversation, allowing for a less sexually repressed and euphemistic
celebration, with the topic coming up more apparently to the surface.