Tag Archives: threshold

Itchy Palms – Ukrainian Superstition

“My grandmother tells me that if you have itchy palms, that means that someone will be at the door soon and you will need to shake their hand.”

Context: The informant, TH, is a second-generation Ukrainian-American. She lives with her Ukrainian immigrant grandparents, and tell my friends and I various slightly absurd and random superstitions that her grandmother reminds her of. For TH, she does not actually believe in this superstition, but regardless she still brings it up if she sees me itching my palms.

Analysis: This superstition contains many of the qualities that folk belief and superstitions contain. While most superstitions are somewhat confusing and irrational to people outside that culture, it is rooted in certain traditions and beliefs of the culture. In Ukrainian culture, the doorway and the threshold holds a special power; thus there are various superstitions involving doors. For example, you are not allowed to sit on a doorstep because the ashes of the family’s ancestors would be buried under the doorstep. While the informant did not actually know this backstory, there is some importance that is held for doorways in Ukrainian culture which is evidenced by this superstition.

On a side note, it is also interesting to see another sign superstition that involves itchy palms–the one that is more widely known in the U.S. is that itchy palms means that you receive some money soon. This is an interesting dichotomy, and shows the difference between the two cultures. For Americans, we look favorably upon money and see it as something we all want, while in Ukraine, itchy palms is sometime equated with having to shake hands with someone. This could be indicative of the power that the threshold holds, and also the Ukrainian value of hospitality and generosity. Many Ukrainian festivals and traditions are open to people of all cultures and faiths, and always feed their guests well.

Threshold – Superstition

Informant: I also refuse to step on the thresholds of houses, which is an Asian culture thing,, which is weird.

Person: Because it will break your mom’s back.

MG: No, that’s exactly what I was told. It’s a really weird thing because I am not Asian, but I was told that by one of my Asian friends when I was a kid. She was like “oh we can’t step on the threshold” and I was like okay. And then her grandmother, I asked her I was lke “why can’t we step on the threshold, like, grandma lady?” And she was like, “oh because it’s gonna break, like, Mrs. Woo’s back.” And I was like, “Sweet.” And to this day I still don’t do it, and my parents really don’t like it.

DH: They don’t like that you don’t do it?

MG: Well, they just, like, they just, they like—I avoid it to, like, a point where they’re like this is annoying. Like, we’ll all be walking into the house at the same time, and I like have to step over it, and sometimes it takes me longer, I like cause a bit of a jam, and they’re like, why.

Collector: Wait, how do you mean the threshold?

MG: You know when you like open a door, and there’s like, that, slightly higher piece of wood that keeps the door from like just like sliding in and out? That’s a threshold. So you can’t step on it because it’s like “don’t step on the crack, you’ll break your mom’s back.” The same type of thing, but with the threshold of your door.


Informant is a junior at the University of Southern California. She is studying communications here. She is from Boston, Massachusetts. She spent a while in the southern part of Spain, and speaks fluent Spanish. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house one day. We were sitting together with some of my other informants. Much of what she told me was learned from her own experiences.


This is interesting because it combines a proverb type of saying with a practice this informant learned from a Chinese friend of hers. It’s interesting to see how older traditions and superstitions travel around through ages and places to become a common saying that kids use. When I was a child, I knew the saying about breaking your mother’s back, but I was not aware that this applied to any type of threshold. This also almost has a connection to vampire myths and how they need to be invited in before crossing the threshold of a home. She takes longer to get into houses because of this limitation.


For an example of this, https://books.google.com/books?id=5mU5dN3mDeIC&pg=PA65&lpg=PA65&dq=chinese+stepping+over+threshold+to+a+house&source=bl&ots=YaQVvHlkSb&sig=nTaz_Omz-JYjPrbqe4KgxA4LGrA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjYm6iP27DMAhUilYMKHR7LAyAQ6AEIOTAG#v=onepage&q=chinese%20stepping%20over%20threshold%20to%20a%20house&f=false

This book has a section on etiquette and it says to never sit in the threshold, similar to the informant not stepping onto it.

Ritual: Water

Main Piece: “One ritual that my family partakes in is when we go on long trips or vacations. So basically when you leave the home for an extended period of time, someone will throw a cup of water while you’re walking away from your house, so, to the back of your feet kind of”

Background: This is a ritual for the informant and her family. The informant was born in the U.S. and her parents were born and raised in Afghanistan. The family has been in the United States for about 30 years but still practices many pieces of Afghan folklore. The informant thinks this particular ritual uses water as a symbol of purity for leaving a place with “good and clean intentions”. She notes that this ritual takes place at the doorway.

Performance Context: The informant and I had lunch together and sat at a table across from each other.

My Thoughts: This Afghan ritual uses the symbols of water and the threshold of the doorway. Besides the notions of water as a symbol of purity, I understand the threshold of the doorway as significant as an entry and exit point. It is interesting that the informant and her family continue to practice this ritual, even in the U.S. The informant mentioned how rarely her family takes vacations and trips. I wonder if her family may have a reluctance to go to new places, as the informant noted earlier that their immigration and assimilation to the U.S. was somewhat troubling and disturbing to their culutral beliefs and traditions. I also intepret the ritual as a combination of valuing the past and looking forward to the present. The U.S. is known to have a forward looking mentality, while countries of the Middle East hold the past in high regard.

Adopted Japanese Custom

M is a 20-year-old black woman. She is currently double majoring in NGO’s and Social Change and Communications at the University of Southern California. M grew up in Boston, MA but currently resides in Los Angeles, CA. M primarily speaks English, but she is also fluent in Spanish.

M: I actually adopt everyone else’s superstitions. Like if someone’s like oh, like… Well there’s actually one.

Me: Ok.

M: So I went to a, like the Natural History Museum in Peabody which is outside of Boston which has like a remodeled traditional Japanese house from like the 1940’s, um, and when you walk through it like the guy always tells you not to step on the threshold because it like brings demons into the house, um, and for for whatever reason I’ve, it’s not that I believe in demons, but I also now refuse to step on thresholds of homes and it really irritates my family because when we are all coming home from the grocery store and we have to get into the house quickly I must step over (the threshold) and they’re like ‘can you not suck?’ But it’s only, it’s like the threshold of like the main door of the house, is like especially bad, but then also the threshold of any door is bad, but that’s also why like most, like sometimes in the old Japanese homes at least there were thresholds like built in to the doorways so like when we have doors now, there’s like, it’s just the floor, but in the traditional Japanese home there’s like a threshold, so like a bump under each door, and basically it’s similar to like “don’t step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”

Me:  So do you do that too then?

M: God no. That would be so hard. But it’s like the same thing, like you bring demons into your mother’s home and it’s bad, like demons are bad. But yeah, I don’t do it (step on thresholds) now.

It’s interesting how something learned during an educational endeavor, and something seemingly irrelevant to the informants life turned into a daily practice for her. Even though she is not connected to the culture that the custom hails from, nor does she believe in the superstition, that stepping on a threshold of a door would allow demons to enter someone’s house,  she adopted the practice anyway. Customs migrate so easily now, especially in the United States which is so culturally diverse as well as with the travel that people do. These practices travel so fast that some people who observe such customs do not even know the reasons and the history for why such traditions exist.