Tag Archives: taboo

Christmas Music Car Ritual

C: “My Grandma started this ritual because she was a very big fan of the Thanksgiving holiday and a very firm believer that like, Christmas season doesn’t start until Thanksgiving passes. Um, and so she started this thing in the car that you are not allowed to listen to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving. Um, and then it’s like- it was believed it was bad luck, like it’s not proper, like, um, I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s like we’re not celebrating the holidays in the proper way. And if someone requests it it’s like- like I have personally before been like ‘should we listen to Christmas music’ and been like shunned by my brothers being like ‘No! Grandma says we do not listen to Christmas music in the car until after Thanksgiving, like Grandma does not allow that.’ So it is like a holiday ritual now that we follow.”

Interviewer: “And was it like a big deal when you could listen to Christmas music again?”

C: “Mhm! Especially when it would be with my Grandma, because she would have in her car this, like, plastic container that was at least a foot long that had all of the CDs of Christmas albums, like, stacked. So like, it was when that got transferred from her garage into the car after Thanksgiving, that was the signal of ‘okay, now it’s time’ and then it like- it was like finally, we can ask and we don’t have to be afraid of her being like, ‘no, it’s not Thanksgiving yet.’”

Interviewer: “Would that be something, like, an act that you witnessed, or would it be like a fun surprise?”

C: “No, we would see her do it, because we practically lived with her for most of my childhood, so we would see her from the garage get- like, we knew where it was in the garage- get it and put it in. And then it was a thing of like, we can each grab one of the CDs and pick the ones we wanted, and then she would put them in and then take the next one out and be like ‘what’s the next song to have on?’ So it was like an actual little ritual thing.”

C is a current student at the University of Southern California and grew up in Palm Desert, California. She explained that the ritual always occurred the day after Thanksgiving. When asked if anyone had ever broken the rule about no Christmas music in the car before Thanksgiving, C laughed nervously and admitted that she is a massive fan of Christmas music and sometimes listens to it in her AirPods during the summer, but that she “will NOT tell anyone” in her family, as they would still react poorly. Her pre-Thanksgiving Christmas music listening is restricted to her AirPods, however; she described one instance in which she began to listen to Christmas music in the car with her boyfriend before Thanksgiving, but felt “too guilty” and had to turn it off. Despite her love of Christmas music, C believes she will continue the tradition and ritual with her future family.

This ritual seems to be a very calendric/seasonally-based ritual enforced, as C mentioned, to ensure the ‘proper’ and time-appropriate celebration of the seasons. I have noticed that the United States, especially in commercial settings, tends to begin preparing for Christmas well in advance of the holiday, often de-emphasizing Thanksgiving celebrations by barely squeezing it in between Christmas and Halloween. By establishing listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving as a forbidden practice, C’s grandmother is able to keep the lines between different seasons and celebrations distinct and honor each in their own time. In doing so, she also created a ritual that, from C’s description, served as a fun and fondly-remembered marker of the beginning of the Christmas season for her and her grandchildren.

The Number Four

四   死
Sì   Sǐ
Four Death 
The usage of these two words together is considered bad luck, additionally one should not use the number four during celebration if possible.

So I’m Chinese, so the number four sounds like death, Sì, and the number four, Sǐwáng, the two words sound very similar, so it’s a little taboo for the number four to appear during celebrations. For example, if I were hypothetically to get married, I would probably not pick the fourth, I wouldn’t give, I don’t know, four dollars to anyone on a celebration (laughs), you know, just avoid the number. [Will someone actively use four if they want to wish ill intent on someone, or no?] No, but my mom avoids it. She’ll just tell me not to, so if it comes up that I accidentally use it she’ll just be like “ha, ha don’t do that, boo” (laughs) [So was your mom where you first heard it?] Yeah. It doesn’t really play a role in my everyday life, it’s more so something I take into consideration if I’m trying to celebrate my heritage specifically. So that’s only something I would like keep in mind if, say, my friends and I want to go out for dinner for, say, Chinese new year, and they sit us at the number four (the number four table) it might not be very lucky. If I were to be a little nit-picky and I was in the mood to fight, (laughs) I could tell the waitress I don’t want to sit here. [Laughs] [Do you feel actively not using it will bring people good luck, or is it just preventing bad luck?] It’s preventing bad luck, and it’s not something I think about very much, it’s more of a fun way to connect to my culture but I know people who take it seriously. My parents (laughs) being the people.

-Interview with Informant

The informant’s parents are both Chinese, but the informant was born in San Fransisco, and although they live in Hong Kong, they intend to live in the states after college. Although their parents both strongly believe that the number four can bring bad luck and they were raised not to use the two words together and that four was bad luck, the informant does not hold those same beliefs. This most likely is a result of their international schooling and their everyday life requiring English instead of Cantonese. The words four and death are very different in English, so the superstitious association doesn’t exist in English. The four leaf clover is considered good luck in Ireland, England and the United States. Additionally in the United States one of the most important holidays, Independence Day, is celebrated on the Fourth of July. People often believe what their peers believe, and the informants peers are mostly US students who don’t place any stock in four being bad luck. Not only does the word association not exist in English, there are multiple instances in which the number four brings good luck or is associated with joy or celebration. With the informant pays respect to their heritage and the beliefs of their parents, they much more closely resemble their American peers when it comes to this superstition.

ETA Superstition

Nationality: Burmese

Primary Language: Burmese

Other Language(s): English, Chinese

Age: 19

Occupation: Student

Residence: Los Angeles, CA

Performance Date: 02/17/2024

A.N is 19 years old, and is currently a USC student who’s originally from Yangon, Myanmar. She is my current suite mate and has been a friend since middle school, since we are from the same hometown and school. I asked her if she has heard of or is familiar with any tabooistic vocabulary within our culture. 

“One superstition that I remember my mom saying is that we aren’t allowed to say the specific estimated time of arrival, or else we won’t get there on the time mentioned. I first heard that when I was a pre-teen and my family was on a road trip to Ngwe Saung. I asked my mom when we were arriving and she said that she wasn’t allowed to say. She did end up telling me that we can say a more vague description of the ETA, like “evening” but not something as specific as 5 p.m. I remember it clearly because as a kid, I believed it too. Eventually it became a superstition that I try to keep in mind whenever I am answering the same question if someone else were to ask me that.”

As a Burmese person, I can’t say I’ve heard of this tabooistic vocabulary or superstition but I don’t deny its possibility since we have a lot of other superstitions that are just as trivial and non-sensical. A.N states that she is not clear with what the reasoning behind this superstition is but I personally think that it might just be her mom not wanting to give an answer to her child who could start to complain or become impatient. On the other hand, it could be related to our culture of avoiding stating something important, in the chance we might ‘jinx’ ourself. It is our way of holding on to the hope that the outcome, in this situation the ETA, is something that we want it to be.

The Big D


Residents of Dallas refer to it as “the Big D.”


The informant lived in Dallas for 17 years, and grew up knowing this nickname for her hometown.


Preliminary research points towards this nickname originating from the song with the same name, “Big D” from the 1956 musical The Most Happy Fella. The name popularized when Bing Crosby recorded the song, and stuck when a columnist at Dallas Morning News titled his column “Big D.” Since then, residents of Dallas have continued to call their city “the Big D” without necessarily knowing the origin of the nickname.

The longevity of the nickname may be more due to its function as a double entendre than the timelessness origins. Though the nickname remains the same, the meaning behind it changes, so that new generations believe their hometown nickname is unironically an epithet for genitalia.

The Pig Man

Text: “I actually got told this story while I was in the cabin–this was Cabin 2. The story is before it was Cabin 2, the place was a pig pen. Some guy came to the island and he killed one of the pigs, and he like carved out the pig’s head and made a mask-like thing, and like lived on the island and killed people on the low. It sounds pretty fried, but I lived in the cabin probably when I was like 10 years old, and I was told the story in a very scary way and I was sitting in my little bet like ‘dude, fuck, like this is crazy.’ In the moment this stuff is very scary. When you’re at this camp, you don’t really have your phone, so when the counselors tell this stuff that they’ve told a million times, they tell it very well and there’s no other authority to check the story against.”

Context: My informant, NR, told me this story while we sat together and played NHL while listening to house music and eating frozen yogurt. This was a pretty ideal storytelling setting. He first heard this story as a middle-school-aged camper at a sleepaway summer camp in New Hampshire, and was scared by it at the time. He interpreted the legend as the crux of a practical joke that counselors enjoyed playing on campers. 

Analysis: I believe NR’s legend bears elements of practical joking in that it is leveraged by an ingroup, the counselors, to display the ignorance of the outgroup, the campers. The legend’s employment of elements that could potentially exist add credibility to the horror factor and play upon the ignorance of youth to frighten children. NR also emphasized the credibility of the storytellers, emphasizing that he defaulted to believing their account because he lacked a method to investigate other possibilities without his phone. The Pig Man’s employment of the mask also creates a fear factor, as anyone wearing the head of a dead pig would appear frightening, certainly in American culture where people are far removed from the slaughter of animals and death of animals in general. This legend can tell us about summer camp culture, in which authority is valued as well as respect for the surrounding land, which is often unsupervised and can be dangerous for a wandering child. In that spirit, the legend also plays a cautionary role, encouraging campers to stay vigilant in nature–the closer a camper is to being alone in nature, the more the camper will think of the Pig Man and desire a return to safety. I additionally believe that the death aspect of the legend taps into the childhood interest in death as a taboo topic.