Tag Archives: social gatherings

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

--Informant Info--
Nationality: British European
Age: 58
Occupation: Storyboard Artist
Residence: Sherman Oaks, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 5, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Interviewer: So how did it get started in your home town?

Informant: My parents started off just making a couple of gallons with a couple of friends, I’m not sure exactly who they picked it up from. And I think they may have done that in the house before the Bury. Or right around that time, anyway. Probably around 60 years ago (2020). There have been more Elderflower Festivals than my parents have been present for.  There was one in 1967? My parents went on sabbatical to America and their friends broke in and made Elderflower anyway. There was another one when they sailed one of their boats down to the south of France and my brother and me hosted it on our own. I’m pretty sure my brother has been at every Elderflower Festival.

Interviewer: Does it only happen one time a year?

Informant: It has to take place when the flowers are in bloom, usually in the first or second week of June. It cannot be delayed, the flowers do not stay out for very long. It is an event driven entirely by natural forces and the need for alcohol.

Interviewer: What typically goes into the festival preparation wise?

Informant: Well the deal is something around 40 guests are invited and they’re asked to pick Elderflowers so when they arrive they can deliver their flowers. We spread the tarpaulin on the backyard and lay the flowers on it to dry and be shredded. And in return for their labor, the guests are fed a huge buffet lunch. There are a number of elements of that lunch that are obligatory. Coronation Chicken, Roast Beef, Deviled Eggs, Roast Turkey, Potato Salad, and Garlic Bread and there’s always a rice of some sort. There’s a late morning snack of sausages done on a barbecue because we have a late lunch, because we don’t have lunch until we reach a quota of flowers. After lunch, the afternoon is devoted to games, ‘gassing’ (talking), and drinking wine. Because my parents were teachers a lot of the guests were faculty or students. It’s just a thing a lot of Cambridge educators do.

Interviewer: Is there a recipe then that one has to follow to make Elderflower wine?

Informant: There is a certain amount of citrus fruit that needs to be peeled and squeezed and that is combined with boiling water poured through the flowers in a muslin shiv. With a large amount of sugar to feed the yeasts. My father used to be the viter but now my brother does it. Fermentations takes place in large Demi-johns and it takes about 3 months to the point where the wine can be decanted and bottled. Elderflower wine has an unusual ‘nose’ which takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant.

Background: This festival takes place either the first of second week of June, it is a time sensitive celebration that must occur during that time or not at all. Luckily it is also during the summer break for most British educators, so it is an excuse to see each other outside of work and get drunk together.

Context: My informant and I were discussing whether or not there would be an Elderflower Festival this year due to the Corona Virus. This would be the first time since it’s conception that the Elderflower Festival would not be held, but my informant believed it would be for the best since a majority of attendees are rather old and would be at risk.

My Thoughts: I’ve attended the Elderflower Festivals before and they are a riot! There’s a lot a family and friends who attend and at the end, people are gifted a bottle of last year’s batch. The festival has grown over the time I have attended from just 30 people to closer to 60 or 70. People keep bringing friends to come celebrate, which means a lot more time is put into prepping the meals and getting a supply of flowers to shred.

While not directly a festival celebrating life cycles, the festival is based entirely on the production of turning blooming flowers into wine, so there may be some form of symbolism there.

Gathering 40 Days After Death

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Pakistani
Age: 73
Occupation: Homemaker
Residence: Bahadur Khan, Attock, Pakistan
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/23/2020
Primary Language: Panjabi
Other Language(s): Urdu

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my paternal grandmother. She told this during a conversation over the phone.

Background: This information was about a customary ritual that people participate in widely throughout Pakistan, at least in the Punjab province. It is called چالیسواں which translates into ‘fortieth’.

Main piece: 

Informant: Forty days after a funeral, the women of the deceased’s family sacrifice an animal and cook food. They then invite relatives and neighbors over to their house, giving them the food and getting together to pray for the deceased and make supplication on their behalf.

Me: Why is it specifically after a period of forty days?

Informant: The mourning period after a death lasts for forty days. This ritual takes place after the mourning period has concluded. 

Me: What is the purpose or goal of such a ritual?

Informant: The purpose of this gathering is to pray for the deceased, so that their sins will be forgiven and their good deeds will be increased.

Analysis: Although the forty day period of mourning is an Islamic religious commandment, this particular ritual after that period is over is not a religious ritual but a cultural one, although it is often followed religiously and one who doesn’t participate in it is often considered to be doing something wrong. Also, it is interesting to note that the Eastern Orthodox religion also holds a traditional memorial service forty days after death, as well as a Shia festival called Arba’een, marking forty days after Ashura commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Drinking Mate

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Argentine-American
Age: 44
Occupation: Director of Residential Services at local health center
Residence: Claremont, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 21, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

“Everybody drinks mate. As long as I can remember, since I was a kid, my mom and her friends used to drink mate. I think it’s made out of coconut or something. Everybody drinks it out of these cups made out of wood that basically look like coconuts. They put tea leaves in it, and drink out of a strange straw made of metal. The straw lets the liquid through without letting the tea leaves through. Basically, whoever is serving the mate has a bowl of yerva, which is the herbs, and they put it in the mate, and once you have all the tea in, you pour in hot water and sugar. The person serving drinks first because it’s usually very bitter but gets sweeter. You pass it around, adding more sugar and hot water, and everybody gets the mate out of the same container and straw.”

Background Information and Context:

According to the informant, her parents drank mate every morning and throughout the day, and her cousin drinks it by himself by the river, but the particular ritual she described is meant for a social gathering. She’s not sure if any of this is symbolic. “People will share with complete strangers. It’s really strange,” she remarked, “My cousin will be down at the beach and meet some strangers, and they’ll drink mate together.” In Argentina, kids drink it too, but with warm milk and lots of sugar. She remembers drinking it as a kid all the time, and remarked that shMare was sad that she didn’t make it for her kids when they were little.

Collector’s Notes:

Traditions reveal a lot about social relations within a culture. Based on this tradition of sharing mate, one can see that hospitality – moreover a deference for one’s guests – is an important aspect of Argentine culture and that being friendly and welcoming, even to strangers, is expected. The first time I came to the informant’s house, I was so confused by the extent to which she’d welcomed me into her home and wanted me to make myself comfortable because it was such a different experience from my own more conservative Vietnamese upbringing. A good way to see the differences between these two cultures would be to compare this mate tradition to what I’d consider a typical Vietnamese social interaction, like greeting each elder individually and bowing, a representation of the strong sense of hierarchy in Vietnamese social groups.