Tag Archives: time

The 12 Grapes of New Years

Background: The informant is a 19 year old girl who is currently a college student in Chicago, Illinois. She was also born and raised in the city.  One winter break in high school, the informant did a study abroad program in Spain, where she was able to stay for 4 weeks and immerse herself in the culture

Context: The context was over a phone call, the informant was asked if had any New Year’s traditions, and she shared one she saw while overseas.

Text:

IT: In Spain, when New Years comes around, when the clock is clicking at the last 12 seconds, people will eat 12 grapes to represent the last year. If they eat all the grapes – which is a bit of a choking hazard – it’s considered good luck.

Me: Is it considered bad luck if you don’t finish?

IT: Hm, I don’t think it’s considered bad luck. I believe it’s like, you won’t have as much good luck as someone who did finish all the grapes. I was surprised when I saw them doing it because I’ve never seen it before. It was really interesting. Eating a certain amount of fruit is popular in a lot of places. It reminds me of Persephone eating 7 pomegranate seeds, symbolizing seven months of time.

Analysis: 

Informant: She was very excited to learn about a new culture, and it was interesting and impactful enough to her that she wished to share it. It seemingly stuck out more in her head than her own traditions.

Mine: Grapes are a unique fruit to choose and why they could be considered lucky is interesting. It could be because grapes bring in a large amount of money from the wine industry, hence, they become associated with wealth and good luck. It could be that given their shape, they somewhat represent a circle which could be time and the continuity of the year restarting. The comparison to Greek mythology is a great parallel, understanding that basic ideas and symbols can transcend the bounds of one society and into another. It doesn’t matter truly what the fruit is but eating the fruit symbolizes the same thing, it’s the concept that is the same.

Wishing on 11:11

Main Piece:

What is this ritual?

“When it’s the minute [11:11], I close my eyes and make a wish. I try and repeat is as many times as I can until the minutes is over. It usually involves crossing my fingers because I’ve been told that it makes it better.” 

When and how did you learn this?

“I’m sure in elementary school, it was one of the few luck superstitions I was taught. I heard in passing, like no one teaches you ‘sit down and do this.’” 

Background/Context:

My informant is my roommate. She went to public elementary school in Los Angeles. I noticed her pointing out the time 11:11 am, so I asked her to explain it to me. We were standing in our kitchen looking at the digital clock on our oven. 

Thoughts:

Wish-making rituals are very common (wishing on a star, making a wish on an eyelash, etc.) but what’s so interesting about this ritual is that it’s origin can be dated, and a terminus post quem can be established. The time 11:11 only looks special on digital clocks because it’s four 1s in a row. It doesn’t look or feel special on an analog clock. Therefore, this ritual must have been established after the invention and popularization of digital clocks. 

Penny for a Clock

Piece
“You cannot give time”
Context
In Chinese culture, you cannot give someone a clock, watch, or any other time-keeping device as it is seen as giving the person time or highlighting how much time they have left on earth. It is especially insulting if given to someone older than you. So instead of giving someone a clock or other time-keeping device, you sell it to them. The person you are “gifting” the clock to will then give you a penny (or the lowest form of currency of that region) so that they are instead purchasing it from you.
My Thoughts
Death is terrifying for most people and thus their culture will reflect that fear of the uncertainty. This practice shows the desire to ignore the passing time, or at least not acknowledge that there time may be coming to close. It also showcases a level of respect shown to ones elders in Asian culture that is not seen in American culture.
Scholar Annamma Joy writes about this in Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties where on page 250, she reports on a field study where a participant said, “I did buy a clock for a friend, but in Chinese culture clocks are never given as gifts because they are associated with death. But before I gave the gift, I asked her for a small amount of money, so that it appeared as if she had bought it for herself.”
Joy, Annamma. “Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties.” Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 28, no. 2, 2001, pp. 239–256. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/322900. Accessed 1 May 2020.

11:11 wish

Context: 

This piece was collected in a casual interview setting on the informant’s living room couch . My informant (CH) was born in Pasadena, CA, but grew up in a very French household, learning English as her second language. All of her education has been in American schools, but she learned how to read and write French thanks to after school lessons her mom gave her and her older sister. She is currently a Sophomore in high school and enjoys horseback riding, 

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant (CH) and interviewer.

Interviewer: When can you make a wish?

CH: When the time is exactly at 11:11 you can make a wish and it is supposed to come true if you don’t tell anyone but you have to say it, say it at 11:11 exactly for it to come true. 

Interviewer: Where did you learn this from?

CH: My sister. She’s obsessed with it, she does it all the time. She learned it from our older sister I think. 

Interviewer: And where did her older sister learn it from?

CH: Umm *laughs* I would guess, guess from school, from a friend from school or something like that.

Thoughts: 

I absolutely believe in my 11:11 wishes, they are very important to me. I learned about them from my older sister who had heard of 11:11 wishes at school. When I was applying for college as a senior back in high school, my 11:11 wishes meant the world to me, and many other people at school also used them to wish to get accepted into their dream school. While some people did it a little as a joke, and others made fun of the rest of us for believing in these wishes, during a time of great stress they brought a bit of relief to our class. I believe this a rather new belief, from what I have heard on the internet and among friends, and that it dates back to digital watches. However, as it is folklore, I do not know this folkbelief’s origin. 

Gift of Time Taboo

Barbara is a Chinese-American who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. Her parents are from Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States, before giving birth to her in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles. She recently received her Master’s in Clinical Psychology and is currently working at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles. Her hobbies are baking, exploring hipster cafes or restaurants, and reading thriller novels.

Original Script

Ok, and you don’t want to give your significant other a watch or a clock or anything that tells time ‘cause it kind of means that you’re telling them it’s time for them to go, like they’re gonna to either leave you or they’re gonna die or something.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant first heard of this superstition from a friend she was eating with in high school. They were discussing what to give to a friend for her birthday, and the topic of a watch as a potential present came up in the conversation.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

This ancient Chinese superstition has endured time because of its meaning and its sound. The phrase for “giving a clock” is 送钟 (sòng zhōng), which sounds like “song jong.” The pronunciation is similar to that of the phrase for “attending a funeral ritual,” which is 送终 (song zhōng). Besides the sound, clocks and watches also represent running out of time. Thus, the Chinese have always generally considered shoes as taboo gifts.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I have never considered watches or any other objects that tell time as gifts that imply death or abandonment. When I heard about this Chinese superstition I was surprised, because I have both given and received watches as presents. I find this superstition somewhat funny, because the source of this belief is based on sounds and metaphors. I have also never had any near-death experiences or had the person leave me after giving me the present.