Tag Archives: red

Red Ribbon Against Evil Eye

Main piece: A red ribbon to ward off the evil eye. It can be a little ribbon pinned on the outside, or on the undergarments, and especially if there are people in the room that you’re going into that may not like you or be jealous of you, and you have to have a red ribbon. Not all the time.

I don’t know all of it, but the evil eye is against negativity. There are people who don’t wish you well, not you specifically. Just like there are people who want everything wonderful to happen for you and with you. But there are people who don’t. They say they have the evil eye. And people wear a red ribbon to ward off the evil eye. You pin the red ribbon on your heart, underneath. Not showing. It makes you live. The evil eye can’t hit me where I live, my heart. The idea is that if you’re going to be around people that you know are not on your side, and will try and wish bad things for you, you ward off those spirits by wearing a red ribbon, bounces right off. 

Background: My informant is a seventy-nine year old Jewish woman living in Baltimore, Maryland. She is also my grandmother. She describes herself as a follower of “bubbe-meises” (Yiddish), translated to “grandmother’s fables”, or a more serious version of old wive’s tales that are often accompanied by superstitions. 

Context: Her husband (who does not believe in the red ribbon superstition, nor most other ones) immediately brought up the red ribbon when I asked my informant about the superstitions she follows. My informant believes the red ribbon to be an incredibly held belief, and does not remember where she heard it from, but doesn’t believe it to be an exclusively Jewish superstition. 

Analysis: The evil eye is an interesting variation of the Jungian collective unconsciousness; the idea that there are people out there who simply wish you badly, and this subconscious/unspoken malediction could potentially cause real harm. This superstition revolves around the folk object of the red ribbon, and its placement. While my informant was not sure why the ribbon had to be red, or the significance of it, red as a color representing good luck/good fortune has been true in many different cultures/religions, such as China and Hinduism. The red ribbon working as a talisman represents a barrier between any potential harm and the soul of its wearer, which is emphasized by my informant’s placement of the ribbon (she has worn it both over and under her clothes) next to her heart, which serves as an example of James Frazer’s sympathetic magic. The ribbon serves as a piece of contact/contagious magic, which relies on “an action or an element that was once touched by or connected to the designated target of a
magical act” (115).

When asked about this placement, she tapped her heart and said “that’s where I live”, which indicates that it is less physical/bodily harm to be wary of, and that the soul is what is spiritually affected by the evil eye. My informant also emphasized that she does not wear the ribbon all the time (like she never wears it at home or when she visits family), but only when she believes she is going to be entering a situation where people could potentially cause harm unto her. The talisman then acts as a way to safeguard her from the “other”, people outside her social group or identity that could potentially not wish her well, either because of her personally, or the identity group she represents (she does wear the evil eye when she is with new people for the first time, or in crowds). As this is a Jewish custom, and Jews are a minority that have often been persecuted against, it makes sense that people would want a way to feel safe and protected against “evil eyes” in a discreet, non-showy way that establishes their religious or ethnic identity to potential ne’er-do-wells. This practice has also been associated with Kabbalah, and also exists in the variant of a red wool string tied around one’s wrist.

Dundes, Alan, and James George Frazer. “The Principles of Sympathetic Magic.” Essay. In International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, 109–18. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.


Main Piece: Red underwear

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.

Chinese Red Eggs

Piece
H: Because the infant death rate was so high, people used to celebrate the baby’s birth after one month, so one month is actually their birthday. If they can, there is a big party and everyone gets red eggs. Ah-ma’s family was too poor to have a big party, but they give red eggs to the neighbors instead.
J: Why red eggs?
H: They’re a symbol of good luck and fortune. Also chicken eggs and chicken are a special treat in Taiwan. So the eggs are chicken eggs and red is for good things. [pause] You give them to people for other birthdays too, particularly for older people. Grandparents. Parents. Like 50 or 60. You give them red eggs too. You make red rice cakes stuffed with red bean. Anything with red bean paste. Mold it and make it the shape of, umm, the word doesn’t come out, a, a turtle! The rice cake in the shape of a turtle to symbolize long life. And if the person is older than you, you bow to them. When it’s their birthday, you bow to them.

Context
The informant learned this traditon from their mother who was born in Taiwan where this was a practice in their village and aided in throwing the red egg party for their neice.
This story was shared upon request by the collector when asking about various cultural traditions.

My Thoughts
I vaguely remember a red egg party for one of my first cousins. We dressed in red, fancy clothes and brought gifts. We ate red eggs and many other delicious foods and treats. Everything was red from the paper banners to the tablecloths to the food.
While red being a good color in Chinese culture is nothing new to me, I was surprised to hear at least some of the reasoning behind the eggs. In America, chicken is pretty cheap and easily available. Yet, for the informant, having chicken or chicken eggs was special and for celebratory occasions only.

Japanese New Year Feast

Piece
Every year, the informant cooks a Japanese New Year Feast for their family. It is an all-day affair where hundreds of guests, friends and family, can come and go to eat lunch and/or dinner and socialize with those present. The informant makes the following traditional dishes:
Ozoni (rice cake in vegetable soup) is the first thing eaten on New Year’s day and wishes good health and prosperity to the family
Gomame (dried sardines) to bless attendees with health
Kombu Maki (rolled kelp) to bring happiness and joy
Kuri Kinton (sweet potato or lima bean paste with chestnuts) to bring wealth
Renkon (lotus root) as a symbol for the wheel of life
Daikon (white raddish), carrots, and other root vegetables to promote deep family roots
Ise ebi (lobster) for the festive red color and to symbolize old age and longevity; note: the lobster must be served whole and cannot be broken lest the spine of the old ones break
Context
The informant learned to cook and serve these dishes from their mother and has trained their daughter in how to give the feast. To the informant, The New Year is the most important holiday of the year as it is when the entire extended family comes together. Food preparations begin weeks before the event and there are leftovers for days after as a result of the concern that the table could run out of food.
My Thoughts
Some of the foods look similar to an object such as the lotus root looking like a wheel or the lobster’s spine curving like the spine of an older person while others symbolize good things for their cost or how the word for the food sounds similar to the word for whatever it symbolizes. The feast was a time to celebrate and welcome the New Year and do things that would hopefully ensure prosperity. It was a time where social barriers could be crossed and family meant everything. The extensive amount of time taken to prepare the foods probably shows the care that the family and friends have for one another and the desire to serve each other. The pursuit of good fortune in the food symbolism is an acknowledgement of the lack of control that they have over many aspects of their lives, particularly for the peasants who depended so much on the rulers of their areas.

Wearing Red for Lunar New Year

Background: My informant is a friend of mine of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese heritage. His parents are both from Taiwan and are mixed between Chinese, indigenous Taiwanese, and Japanese. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. 

Context: This conversation was recorded on a zoom meeting that we had on a Wednesday afternoon. My informant is a friend of mine, and the conversation occurred in both of our rooms. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. During the call and in between our discussions of different folklore items, we talked socially about how we were acclimating. Thus, this conversation was more casual than the rest of my interviews. The main piece is made up of a transcription of our call.

Main Piece:

Chinese New Year. Right, everyone wants to be a red because red’s a lucky color. 

And I don’t know what the exact rationale behind it is but like apparently for certain years like it’s even more important for whatever Zodiac animal it is for that year.

To wear red because they need luck that you’re more than others. Others for some reason. So the way that my family took that was that they for Chinese New Year we buy each other gifts of red underwear, so that we would always read throughout the year. Yeah, even to this day. People still talking about the red, red underwear, both on both sides of the family both my white relatives and my Asian relatives.

Me: White relatives too?!

Yeah they’re definitely… they’re gung ho about it.

Me: OK but definitely they’re not wearing red every day of the year right?

Yeah its just more times than not.

Thoughts: I found this a particularly entertaining variation of a classical Chinese tradition of wearing red. This tradition was modified for my informant’s family so that they could wear red without showing it outwardly, and do it throughout the year rather than just one period during the lunar new year. I thought it was also really interesting that my informant’s white relatives performed and enjoyed this folklore as well. This shows that this folk practice is more tradition than heritage.