Tag Archives: Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Christmas Pickle

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: March 27, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

“So what it is, is like, every Christmas on Christmas Eve, um, my family, like, after we go to Christmas Mass (unintelligible) my family does it personally, I don’t know if it has to be like after mass, but like, that’s just what we do. ‘Cause we always go to the midnight mass too, so we come back like super early in the morning. And, I think the reason we do that, honestly, is because my mom has been, like, has been Santa growing up, so she hasn’t gone to Christmas Mass. So, like, I think that’s probably why it happens. Um…so family, whole thing there. But, um, what happens is, like, all of the kids like go upstairs, and it’s like me and my…my brothers. Um, so we all go upstairs, and while we’re up there, my mom, like, and dad like hide this green pickle ornament – in the tree, is what it used to be. Um, and, so it’s like, it’s hard to find, right? ‘Cause you have all the other ornaments there, and it’s, like, deep in this, like, green tree and it’s, like, reflective, so you just, like, you’re going around this tree for like…a while trying to find it. Um, and so…yeah, so like, after they end up hiding it, um, there…the (unintelligible) and stuff, they like run down, they tell us to come down. And, um, whoever finds the pickle first gets the first gift of Christmas. Um, and then there’s kind of a competition ‘cause there’s three kids, and so, like, we all want this, like, gift. Um, so it’s pretty much what I was – I think it’s like – I think it’s a German tradition. From what I, like I’ve heard it’s supposed to symbolize, like, the first gift of Christmas.”

This tradition was described by a classmate after class ended.

Burying St. Anthony in my Backyard

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 35
Occupation: Food Vendor
Residence: New York, NY
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/12/17
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 35

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 12, 2017 (telephonically)


Ethan is a 35 year old man, born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who is employed as food vendor at a local food market. He is a College Graduate iand majored in Business Administration. He is 4th generation American


Interviewer: Good Morning. You mentioned that as a child you remember a family ritual. Would you mind sharing it with me?


Informant: Of course, I would be happy to.  So anytime anybody would move into a new house it was my grandmother on my Dad’s side, the Catholic side of the family, not the Jewish side, um there is a patron saint I believe St. Anthony which is the Saint of lost things or something like that. And she would give us a little doll; and we would bury it in our backyard and that way if we lost anything we would just pray to Saint Anthony then that object would be found. And I am not sure about the origins but I know that I buried that St. Anthony in my backyard


Interviewer:  Did you ever find anything that you lost?


Informant: “I once misplaced my favorite batting glove and could not find it.  And ah a few weeks later my grandmother was visiting and she took out of her purse the glove. She asked if it belonged to me. She told me that she took it by mistake when she was bundling her clothes.


Interviewer:  Did you attribute this to St. Anthony?


Informant: Well I remember being so excited, I think I must have been 10 at the time or 9 cause I was in the 4th grade, when I received the glove from her and I said to her that I guess St. Anthony found it and um all I can remember having the greatest smile I ever saw from her


Interviewer: What does it mean to you?


Informant: Um not much other than it was a nice little touch that it is a nice little tradition that my grandmother passed down that I was happy to continue forward. While I doubt it worked, this tradition makes me think about my grandma.




Thoughts about the Piece:

Anyone who has lost something has “prayed” to find it but Catholics pray to a specific individual for help. For the text of the prayer see: http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=150  Other stories of St Anthony novena anecdotes can be read here: http://www.holysouls.com/stanthony.html







Jumping the Broom at Weddings

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Vacaville, California / Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 15, 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: The informant is Briana, a nineteen-year-old freshman at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Vacaville, California, in the Bay Area, and has lived there for her entire life, until she moved to Los Angeles for college. She is of African descent.

Context of the performance: This performance was done while we were sitting on the grass outside of our dorm building on USC’s campus- Arts and Humanities at Parkside.

Original Script:

Informant: So, at weddings, African Americans have a tradition of the newlywed spouses jumping over a broom after they say their vows. Basically, someone brings a broom up to the altar so that when the spouses are leaving, they have to jump over it to exit the ceremony area, whether it’s a church or not. It’s supposed to represent sweeping your past behind you, whether that was any issues you had dating or just your past as single people.Your lives as single people are behind you, and you enter into your relationship as a married couple and your new, shared life together.

Interviewer: Who taught you about this ritual?

Informant: My grandmother told me this when I was in middle school.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: I think it’s cool because it’s a tradition that’s been done for a long time. Also, my mom and dad did it, and so I want to do it. I would keep the broom, personally, and I would show my kids. It would be really sentimental for them to see it.

Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed hearing about this ritual because I, personally, have never been to a wedding. However, I do know that my family does not follow this tradition, so it was quite interesting to learn about. At first, I was confused as to why the couple would step over a broom, but, with Briana’s explanation, the ritual totally makes sense. It is also interesting that she knew the reasoning behind this piece of folklore because many people who observe or participate in folklore do not know about its true message.

Wearing white after labor day

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: NJ
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant is a student at the Penn State University who grew up in upper NJ.

She told me about a certain rule in the fashion world which requires people to refrain from wearing white after Labor Day:


“So the rule is, you can’t wear white after Labor Day… until Memorial Day when you can again.” she says.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because… that’s just the rule.” she tells me. “That’s what my mom told me and we do it,  and everybody else I know does it too.”


She couldn’t tell me why, other than that it’s just something people do. I’m not really sure I have a great guess either.

After some research I learned that in the early 1900s, wealthy socialites would create secret “fashion rules” to tell new and old money apart. Eventually it just trickled down to the masses in 1950.

Interesting that despite the information widely available, these traditions continue.


“Picigin”-Croatian Water Sport

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Croatian, American
Age: 80
Occupation: Mechanical engineer
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: February 6, 2016
Primary Language: Croatian
Other Language(s):

Informant FV is my grandfather who was born and raised in Split, Croatia. Picigin is a Croatian water sport that my grandfather played as a young boy and continues to play. It is a traditional ball game that is played in very shallow waters on the beaches of Croatia:


“Cold splash”

What kind of sport is Picigin?

FV: “Picigin is a typical water sport on the very shallow water up to 6 inches maximum. Usually 5 men get together in a circle formation. The goal is to keep the small ball up in the air and out of the water for as long as possible. Back in the day, people used to peel off the skin of tennis balls and use them in the game. In this game, the players never catch the ball. They only let the ball bounce off of the palm of their hand. You have to run and dive to save the ball from hitting the water. The longer you keep the ball up in the air, the more points you get.”

Is Picigin a competitive sport?

FV: “It can definitely get competitive depending who you are playing with, but typically it’s meant to be a fun and relaxing activity played on the beach.”

Where did Picigin originate?

FV: “Picigin originated on the beach of Bačvice in Split, Croatia back in the 1920’s. It was originally a sport played by only males, but over recent years, women have become part of the game.”

Do other regions of Croatia play Picigin?

FV: “Since Picigin was born on Bačvice Beach in Split, it is tradition to play it on the beach where it was discovered, but people do play this sport on other beaches as well but it must be only on flat, sandy beaches like Bačvice. It cannot be played on rocky or pebbled beaches because you cannot dive or fall into the water to save the ball. You can seriously injure yourself by not playing on a sandy beach.”

What is the typical garment worn during Picigin?

FV: “Well, men wear either swim shorts or ‘mudantine,’ which is what we call a speedo. For women, they wear their ‘kostim,’ which is their regular swimsuits.

What context or time of year is this sport played?

FV: “Picigin is played year round on Bačvice. It is very popular to play it during the hot summer months, but also during the winter season. You will see more people playing it during summer time because the water is warm and it’s vacation time.”

What does Picigin mean to you?

FV: “Picigin is one of my favorite sports to play. I grew up playing it with my friends every summer in Split on Bačvice. It is a sport that was discovered in my hometown so it holds a special place in my heart and it’s an extremely fun sport that anyone can learn to play.”


Picigin is a fun sporting activity that brings true uniqueness to the city of Split. As a large part of Split’s heritage, it has been recognized as a monument and is protected under UNESCO. The game has grown to be very popular over the years that there is an annual World Championship competition that is held on Bačvice beach every June. People from all over the world come to participate in the competition. The game has grown popular in other countries in recent years. The World Championship is a great way to bring other cultures together to share in this experience through a fun sport. Whether it is winter or summer, rain or shine, you can be sure that there are dedicated players playing an exciting game of picigin on Bačvice Beach.




Lazy Grace

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Japanese-American
Age: 53
Occupation: Higher-education administrator
Residence: Pasadena, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/17/16
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Japanese

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM was raised in a Christian household, where her family said “grace” before dinner every night:

“I have four siblings and we always ate dinner together with our parents. We’d sit around this big round table and every night, we would take turns saying grace before eating…we were supposed to come up with something original, like something that had to do with the day or different events going on in our lives, but usually my siblings just defaulted to ‘God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” I always tried to have an interesting one, but I think everyone else just wanted to eat.”

I asked KH if she still says grace in her family, or if she and her siblings carried their religious traditions on in their new nuclear families:

“Ultimately I was unsuccessful in getting my kids to go to church. My husband grew up in a Catholic family and now wants nothing to do with the church, and I couldn’t get my kids to show much interest either. I don’t think anyone else in my family still goes to church…except my parents. They’ve been going to the same church since they met.”

My analysis:

Religion is one of those things that can either define a family, or be irreconcilable when two families come together. In KH’s case, religion’s importance started to waver amongst her and her siblings, despite the traditions of their parents. The “grace” prayer in her family shows one generation trying to pass on their beliefs through a ritual, and the next generation participating half-heartedly, or just to please authority. Eventually as they started their own families, her siblings decided the tradition wasn’t particularly important to them, and refrained from instilling it in their own family. More broadly it seems to symbolize the diminishing importance of their religion, and maybe a certain progressive movement amongst families to not force it on their children.

Cheerleading Sleepover

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/2016
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Background: A.S. is a 22-year-old student at USC studying Occupational Therapy. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, and both of her parents are professors at USC. She was a founding member of the cheerleading team of her high school, and the experience of being on this team helped to define her high school experience in general.


Main piece: I went to a really small high school, so we never had a football team, just a basketball team. My sophomore year of high school, a few girls (including myself) founded a cheerleading squad. At first, we weren’t very good. Our coach was a competitive cheerleader her whole life, though, so she began to increase the amount and intensity of practices and we eventually got pretty good after two years. Our second year, we went to state competitions and at this point I was our captain. Making it to competition was a huge deal because we were finally earning some credit in the cheer world. In preparation, my coach encouraged me to do something to get our squad excited and ready. So I decided to host a cheer sleepover the weekend before our competition, a sort of sisterhood-like night to bond. It became a tradition for my high school that every weekend prior to a competition (the squad goes to multiple competitions now), the cheer squad has a sleepover at the captain’s house. I only got to do it twice while in high school, but it’s nice to hear that it’s still tradition! The new captains send me & my old coach a photo each time it happens.


Performance Context: This sleepover ritual would be performed over the weekend before a competition.


My Thoughts: This sleepover ritual is a way for people to feel that they belong to a group, and that others are looking out for them. It is a way for the cheerleading team to have a shared experience and even have team bonding.

Through the Eyes of a Dog

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Panamanian
Age: 45
Occupation: Medievalist, Professor
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23, 2016
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

The informant is a 45 year old Panamanian woman, LF. She has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies and she is particularly interested in the way that animals play into folklore and literature throughout history. LF recounts a folk belief she learned as a child regarding the magical properties of dogs:

“It is believed that during the night, when dogs perceive something that humans cannot hear or see- you can see the dog’s reaction. They perk up, and they move their ears, and sometimes they bark or they howl. It is believed that when this happens at nighttime, it is because they can see supernatural stuff that humans cannot. It could really be, like, a mouse or a cat moving somewhere and they are reacting to that, and we don’t see it because we can’t see as well in the dark as they can. But some people believe that this means that they can see spirits, or devils, or that kind of entity that lurks in the night unseen.

It is said that if it’s nighttime and the dogs are howling, and you go up to the dog and you take the secretions of the dog’s eye- the ones that form in the corner of the eyes, just like humans- if you take these secretions and rub them in your own eyes, and you look in the direction the dog is howling at, you can see the spirits too. And you can see whether it is a devil or a spirit- you can see it because the secretions briefly give you the powers of the dog.”

You have to be in the right place at the right time. Then you have to go through this nasty ritual (laughs). And then you get to see.”

Why do you know, or like this piece?

“I really like this one because it’s like a superpower- you get to do something that only animals can do with their senses that are better than human senses. So you get to see something that humans can’t normally see.”

Who did you learn it from? And have you ever known anyone who has done this?

“I think I learned it from my cousins. We were teenagers. They were trying to gross me out, because it’s kind of a gross process!

I have never known anyone who has done it or seen anything. My cousins hadn’t tried it. I personally wouldn’t do it because I don’t want to get an eye infection! But it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s someone out there who had the courage to do it and deal with the consequences of seeing a demon- and getting pink eye, probably.”

So I know that one academic area of interest for you is the role of animals and the way they fit into medieval society, culture, and literature. Have you ever heard of anything like this at all in any other society?

“Animals in medieval folklore are usually used in fable-like discourse. Like if you were talking about a king who was too ambitious, in the tale you would reppresent him with a lion who was too ambitious who was deceived by other animals. They usually appear in fables- less so in rituals or magical beliefs.

In late medieval folklore though, there are stories of dogs who have magical properties. There was a trick witches might use to deceive people. They would have a dog who was crying or fussing, and the witches would say she was a maiden who did something wrong, so they turned her into a dog- when really it would just be a dog who was fed a pepper or something like that in order to trick people. And the witch would then try and sell the person who asked about the dog a potion so that they would be protected from being turned into dogs themselves. Essentially, people tell themselves all kinds of stories to explain animal behavior that we humans can’t understand.”


My thoughts: I agree with informant when she says that folk beliefs like these arise from the desire to explain animal behavior that may seem unusual ot incomprehensible to us. Because dogs have such fine-tuned senses, they may seem to react to things that “aren’t there”. I enjoyed the connection with medieval folklore that the informant brought up because it shows that humans from many different times and cultures have wondered about this themselves and come up with explanations for it through folk belief.

Freshman-Senior Brawl

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angelas
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/22/16
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):


Freshman-Senior brawl: at the end of each year, the senior boys and freshman boys gather in the schools old gym (this tradition is unknown by the school’s faculty) to have an unofficial freshman-senior brawl to celebrate the moving up of freshman to sophomores and the graduation of seniors moving on from the school. “I do this to you so you can do this to freshman some day.” The idea is that freshmen are hated for being new, young, and naïve and this is the last chance for them to be bullied before they are no longer freshmen. The seniors sort of intentionally go easy on the freshman because they’re 18, whereas the freshmen are 14.

Information & Context:

My informant for this piece is a student at the University of Southern California who graduated from the boarding school (Cate) from which this tradition originates. His knowledge of the tradition dates back between 3 and 11 years ago, though it is reasonable that it has existed for longer.


It is curious to me that a ceremony of physical violence can be viewed as a positive thing. My informant explained to me that it was seen as a right of passage—after which, both parties move up in the world. I would point out that both parties would move up, regardless of the ceremony, but it is important to note that this is how the community reacts to such a passage. It becomes a “you get bullied now so you get the right to bully later” type of scenario.

Splitting the Pole

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20, 2016
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

JN is a 19 year old neuroscience major. She’s from Chicago originally, but she moved to California for college. In the following conversation, we talked about a small ritual that is very special to her and the importance of maintaining friendships:
“So this is a superstition that I have been practicing pretty religiously, I guess.
So I have this weird superstition that if you’re walking with a friend and you come across a pole in the way- and doesn’t matter if you’re holding hands- you are not allowed to go on either side of the pole. So for example, one person can’t go to the right side of the pole and one person can’t go to the left of the pole. Basically, you can’t let yourself get separated from the other person, or else that means that your friendship will grow apart. If that does happen, then the only way you can keep from damaging your friendship is to shake hands after. A lot of my friends don’t realize that, and I kind of freak out and make them shake hands with me! They don’t understand why I do it, but it’s just because I don’t want our relationship to grow apart and I want to stay friends with them.”

Who did you learn this from?
“I can’t remember. I think I learned it from a friend and thought it was really good, that it was something that I should definitely be doing. So I started immediately. I can’t even remember who taught me but it’s something I’ve done for sure since the start of college. I don’t think I learned it before that.”

Why is this ritual so important to you? What does it mean to you?

It is important to me because, even though it seems stupid sometimes, I don’t want to grow apart from my friends so I’d rather be safe than sorry!


My thoughts: In this folk belief, there is a connection drawn between physical distancing and emotional distancing. The splitting around the pole and the handshake after  is reminiscent of the concept of “homeopathic magic” proposed by James George Frazer- that a physical action that resembles another will end up causing it. It’s also noted by the informant that sometimes other people don’t accept/are confused by her belief – perhaps this shows that “superstition” now has a negative connotation and less people are willing to admit that they believe in them.