Tag Archives: rural

German Easter Fire Tradition

Context:

AH grew up in Westergellersen, a small village in northern Germany and attended these Easter fires throughout her childhood.

Main Piece:

“Leute in vor allem ländlichen Gegenden sammeln Holzmaterial und Buschwerk und türmen es möglichst hoch auf. Es soll weithin sichtbar sein. Es entsteht ein Wettstreit um das höchste Feuer. Am Karsamstag wird es angezündet. Das Dorf versammelt sich dann um das Feuer, es gibt Bier, Glühwein und Würstchen.”

Translation:

People from all the surrounding rural areas gather wooden material and shrubbery and pile it as high as possible. It should be able to be seen from far and wide. There is a contest for the highest fire. On Karsamstag (Holy Saturday, the day before Easter) it is lit. The village gathers around the fire, there’s beer, mulled wine, and sausages.

Analysis:

This part of the Easter festival celebration in northern Germany seems very useful for promoting unity and connection within a town. Because the villages compete for the tallest fire, the one that can be seen from the farthest distance away, this creates an in-group out-group boundary. Also, since gathering the materials for the highest bonfire takes time and work, the townspeople must work together, as they wouldn’t be able to achieve this highest fire on their own. Then, on the evening before Easter, when the fire is lit, this festival ritual turns into a communal gathering place for the village people. Beer, mulled wine, and sausages are all extremely common foods in northern Germany, and are generally associated with any festivals and gatherings, or seen as something like ‘fair food.’

The working mule who ate too much

Background: The informant was born and raised in Western North Carolina. He has lived in North Carolina his whole life. He wanted to share some Western North Carolina stories. He explained that this is just a silly joke story that “you’d be setting around and talking to folks maybe after game of golf or tennis, you might even be out hunting, having a coke or something and talking and people would throw out things like [this]. Just Western Carolina country humor.”

“A fellow had a mule that was a great worker but he ate too much.  Giving this some thought, the fellow figured the mule was dumb as a rock, so he decided to just cut back on his hay to see what happened.  So he cut the portion in half and mule didn’t seem to notice. Being pleased himself, for the next several weeks he kept reducing the amount of hay.  Finally, just when he got the mule where he could work without eating, the durn fool died.”

This basically just means if it ain’t broke don’t fix it or why try to mess with something good?

Context of the performance: This was explained to me over FaceTime.

While the informant described it as just a silly joke tale, he supposed it had the above meaning. It could also mean that you shouldn’t cut corners, you should do everything fully. The extended metaphor reflects a local attitude and reflects the relationship between culture and folklore, especially as this idea is expressed in a vernacular and metaphor largely exclusive to the region, perhaps demonstrating the historic-geographic method of looking at folklore.

The Wedding Singers

Main Body:

Informant: So singing at weddings was big. And I’ll describe this from my memory because I haven’t seen it anywhere else. But I remember, you’d be on the groom’s side. So everyone is sitting on the floor. Typically this would be in the courtyard of … some kind of thing like if there are a few houses it would be in the courtyard in the middle. But then, houses were usually one story high. And on the roof of the house, there would be all these girls sitting all around, on the edge of the roof. They’d be sitting in a row and they’d be singing. So whenever a particular part of the wedding ritual took place, they’d be singing a song that was relevant or appropriate. What they’d also do is, typically, they’d be picking on the groom’s family. 

Interviewer: So these are all women from the bride’s family?

Informant: Yup. And I don’t think there was any restriction on whether or not they could be married or unmarried or anything. While the ceremony is going on, they don’t wait for pauses or anything, they are just continually singing over the ceremony. And they weren’t faint or anything. I mean, they weren’t overpowering but you could very clearly hear them. 

And this is the funny part, I remember one time I was looking up. And their songs, you know, sometimes they would have pathos in them because it was a sad thing because, typically, the bride would not return home after being married off. So they would, the singers would pick on the groom’s family. Like “Oh look at his mustache” or “Oh he’s bald,” or something like that. So I looked up, I was a little kid, to see what all the singing was about. And I remember my older brother telling me, very sternly, “You’re not supposed to look up.” So you can’t acknowledge them. But at the same time, it was very clear that people would feel deprived if there wasn’t that singing.

Background:

The informant is my father who was born and raised in northern India in the state of Punjab and immigrated to America over 20 years ago. He was raised for a time in a rural village setting which is where much of our family comes from and this tradition is one he noticed being practiced in those rural, village weddings. This did not happen in his own wedding.

Context:

I am back home due to shelter-in-place. One night when my family was sitting in the study I asked my father if he had any folklore samples I could add to the archive. This was one of the ones he shared with me.

Analysis:

I think I understand where this tradition comes from. India is, by and large, an incredibly patriarchal society. Brides are married off, largely expected to stay home. Even now I see it during dinner settings there is an unspoken expectation that the women clean and bring the food to the table while the men sit and wait. So with the wedding being a somewhat sad affair for the bride’s family, losing their sister/daughter/niece to another family, this tradition is sort of a way of rebelling against that. Disrupting the ceremony, making fun of the groom’s family, ultimately all in vain as the bride will be married and leave. But it’s the bride’s family’s way of expressing their love for the bride and acting out to show, in a roundabout way, that they will miss her.

La Bête: A French Monster Legend

Context: CW, with a mug of hot tea sits, on my couch after an afternoon of doing homework and recounts stories from their childhood. CW is a USC Game Design Student who loves the macabre, and the morbid.
———————————————————————————————————————
CW: So I know one French story… that I don’t remember what town specifically

CW: But there was a town, and a beast that kept eating people’s sheep and…

CW: I think also sometimes people, and they just called it the beast.

Interviewer(MW): What was that in French?

CW: La Bête

MW: Cool

CW: I’m pretty sure a farmer girl went and found it and killed it and now it’s an attraction in the town.

MW: I actually think I’ve heard a version of this before

CW: So a lot of people are like “oh, I saw the beast”

MW: Yeah, I think this is where the Tarrasque comes from in D&D

CW: Interesting…

MW: Were there any visual qualities that the Beast had that you know about

CW: It was like…a really big wolf but like real big

MW: Where did you hear this story originally?

CW: My middle school French class

MW: Why do you like this story?

CW: Cause monster stories are cool, and monsters are spooky, and also feminism.

———————————————————————————————————————

Analysis:

This story conveys an obvious historical anxiety, rural communities were searching for an explanation for their missing sheep, it suggests that communities are looking externally for problems assuming the supernatural rather than suspecting other members of their communities, or regular actual wolves. It speaks to the desire to know why something has gone wrong, and when that problem is found to be seemingly unsolvable, help comes from somewhere unexpected. When the beast is slain by the farm girl, who would likely have been seen as weak in the conditions a story like this emerged in. This story teaches fear, but likewise empowers rural French communities, if now as a tourist attraction a way to share their culture and turn a profit from it. It likewise empowers non-men, given that the hero of the story, someone who conquers a beast known to eat people, is a woman. This version of the story presents this conquest as a slaying as well which situates this unexpected hero as physically powerful as well, providing agency to a group that’s often denied that.

Goin’ Cattin’

This was told to me after I asked about the informant’s shirt. The shirt had some slang that I was unfamiliar with. The informant is from rural Eastern Oregon.

“Um, so basically, my slang is “Cattin’” like “Cat-ting” like cats and felines because we have a lot of cats around the house, they’re all outside, and we and my sister are bored, we’ll be like “hey, wanna go cattin’?” which means we go outside and find all the cats and pet them and have fun with them. And then, that’s cattin’. My sister made me a t-shirt for Christmas one year”

Analysis:

Although a very niche reference, the whole family and the informant’s wide range of friends have taken on this piece of slang and are able to reference it when relating to the informant. This shows how slang can move very easily between groups – now he uses it in college as well which means it has reach an even larger audience than just in rural Oregon – all the way in southern California.