Tag Archives: tradition

Mourning All Day and Night

Background: The informant is a 59 year old woman. She was born in Pampanga, Philippines and moved to Los Angeles when she was 29-years-old. The informant still frequently speaks to her family and occasionally visits her family in the Philippines. The informant grew up as Catholic in the Philippines, converting to evangelical Christianity during her time in Los Angeles. She was exposed to the tradition when living in the Philippines. 

Context: The context was that, when hearing that a family friend’s father died, the informant was reminded of her own father’s passing and brought it up.


EM: “When someone died, just like my father, and every places that we go, the vigil happens inside, in house, not like here, that they, they don’t bring the dead in the house”

Me: “You mentioned something about a vigil, what’s a vigil?”

“Vigil. Let’s say in, here [America], when someone died they don’t bring it [the body] home, they take it to the mortuary right?”

Me: “Right, so in the Philippines they take that person into the house?”

“Into the house. And there’s a vigil there, and uh, it depends how long, some three days, some one week, um, and then after that because let’s say if they have family that is not in the Philippines, they wait for their loved ones to come back because they want before they bury them. And then the vigil is every night and a lot of people, they don’t sleep, people don’t sleep, they said that they have to be awake for like 24 hours.

Me: “Does it last more than 24 hours. Like, is it multiple days?”

“Multiple days, no one sleeps there because, you know, um, they have to be awake. That’s watching it, you know?”

Me: “Do people take turns or is, they just stay there the entire time?”

“When the family wants to sleep, someone has to be awake, just there, sitting, kind of like that. I don’t know how you call it”

Me: “But it’s like the vigil like thing that you guy do”

“It’s like, yeah, the vigil, because there are, you call it viewing right? So here there’s like one or two days viewing only on a certain time right?”

“By viewing you mean like when people like to go and see the body, like, in a mortuary, right?”

Me: Yes

“Yes, yes, yes, so in the Philippines viewing and vigil is like together so people can come 

and view, and then after that stay there and like–

Me: “And like, pray right?”

“Yeah, and pray, there’s food all day all night and to keep the people awake and like that”

Me: “What types are foods would you say are served there. Would it be like caffei–”

“COFFEE!! Caffeine! Lot’s of coffee. Caffeine, biscuits, cookies, and um”

Me: “Sugar?”

“And uh, how’d you call it? You know the black seeds, pumpkin seeds, that’s so famous? That people can eat all night. Like uh, something, you see, you know, or chips, nuts, like that”

Me: “So, just like fun foods?”

“Yeah, and then after that, offer lunch and dinner, especially dinner or lunch or any food. You know like fiesta kind of like that, oh, like to feed the people that comes in.”

Me: “But, it’s not like a party right it’s still like mourning”

“No and, the people that come gives donation, you know?”


Informant: The excitement about the tradition is clear in how her tone became excited. She clearly felt it was a very important tradition to maintain.

Mine: As discussed by the informant, the traditions right after someone has died is much different in America than in the Philippines. Typically, the person in America is brought to a mortuary and is seen at a wake, and then the funeral. In the Philippines, the death of a family member is both a family and friend gathering. Notably is having to stay awake for 24 hours a day. There are beliefs that if the resting place is not always guarded, then an evil spirit will infiltrate the body of the dead. In this way, the entire community is protecting the dead from the evil spirits. Given the high number of Catholics in the Philippines, it’s surprising they do not follow the same funeral traditions, but it may come down to differences in the folk belief. For example, a difference in the belief of the prevalence of spirits in the human world. In terms of the foods offered, they all provided the sugar in order to stay awake for the entire time. There doesn’t seem to be a deeper meaning, but it still contributes to the entire gathering by ensuring that a vital tradition of staying awake still takes place.

Unwrapping Tamales For Christmas

Background: The informant is a 52 year old man. He was born in Tulare, California. He grew up with his four siblings and two parents, moving from location to location across California. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California. 

Context: The context as that when the informant was eating tamales, he was reminded of Christmas.


MD: “Well typically, uh, mexican families, they make, uh, tamales for Christmas, and, you know, it’s kind of like a seasonal food, and that’s considered traditional to make tamales for Christmas, and uh, the big joke about tamales and mexicans is that the reason why mexicans make tamales is so they can have something to unwrap for christmas. And so uh, I used to help my mom make ‘em, and we would kind of like interchange, like, you know, sometimes I would like, layout the leaves and spread the masa, which is like corn dough, on them, or other times she would do that, and she would allow me to put the meat inside of it. It’s like a meat sauce, and uh, she didn’t like me putting the meat with the sauce in the tamale because I would typically put too much and, uh, she’d kind of strive for balance between the masa and the meat, the problem though too is like when you steam them, if you, if you put too much meat inside them, they kind of overflow, and they, they break apart the tamale, you know? It is what it is.” 


Informant: He is very humorous and recalls both the joke and the tamales in good fun. He reminisces about his time with his mother and looks to it as a great bonding moment between the two of them each year.

Mine: First, the joke’s context is that Mexicans are considered poor in America and will not have the money to buy presents for their family. While on the surface, the joke seems like a laughable jab, it speaks to a much deeper social context, about how Mexican families are treated in the greater societal context of the US. Typically, they do not have higher paying jobs or may be supporting a larger family and much more. However, the joke is prevalent in Mexican communities in order to make light of their hardships. It shows how humor is consistently used to make a situation seem better and it’s a source of hope. Second, making tamales on Christmas is very widespread in Mexican culture. Given how the informant would always complete the task with his mother, it provided a way for the two of them to connect through their culture of making food. 

Palestinian Tradition When Moving Into A House 

Background: The informant is one of my good friends. They have been born and raised in America, but one of their parents is an immigrant from Palestine, while another has roots in Iraq. 

Main Content:

ME: So do you mind telling me about what your family does when you move into a new house. 

DS: So yeah, during the construction of, or when we just move into an existing house, my mom’s side of the family always has this tradition of putting a bible and a cross within the walls of the house. Usually that Bible or Cross is blessed by a priest on my mom’s side, and she is Greek Orthodox, or it is blessed once it is in the wall. In all of the houses that we have ever lived in we have had both the cross and the Bible in the walls. In the one that we are currently in, we have it right by the front door. 

ME: That’s really interesting, do you know where your mom learned this from, or why she started doing it? 

DS: She got it from her home village of Ramallah, which is in Palestine, right outside of Jerusalem. 

ME: Do you know if this is something commonly done in Ramallah or Palestine, or is it just something that your mom’s family does? 

DS: So I know that my mom’s whole family does it, and I know my grandparent’s house has it. I assume that it is a tradition because the village that my grandma and grandpa came from was very small and closely knit, and we basically know everyone who has come over from there, that like live near us and around us. I’m pretty sure that they do it too, but I definitely know that my mom’s family does it for sure. 

ME: Do you know what purpose it is supposed to serve? Is it to protect the family and house or is more to keep away bad stuff? Or is it more general, kinda like good luck?

DS: I think it is mostly good luck, but I think a big part of it, my mom is always going on about, you know, having Jesus watch us and making sure that we are okay. So I think that it is another way to keep the house as a holy place. So like we always kinda have the eyes of the Lord looking at us and keeping us safe. Its kind of a safety thing, but its less about keeping bad things out, and more oriented towards keeping the eyes of the Lord on us and making sure that we are okay. 


This interview took place at my house. 


I think that this tradition is really interesting because after doing a little bit of research I could not find any other examples of people doing this. I always assumed that it was commonplace, because I grew up with a lot of Palestinians, and I remember seeing a Bible in the framing of the walls during the construction of the informant’s current home. So, this might be a tradition that is truly unique, and it is entirely possible that Christians from Ramallah, or those who have emigrated from there, are the originators of this tradition. I also think that this is a way for them to make their home in Michigan seem culturally similar to the home that their mother grew up in, in Ramallah.

Pomegranate for New Years

Main Piece:

Informant: We crack a pomegranate on New Year’s Eve, or like as soon as it like midnight again, I don’t know why, like if I asked my mom she’d be like like this just something we have to do. I’m like, okay, cool. Yeah, like I’d guess pomegranates are a symbol of life and like a new beginning kind of which is why you crack it like, you know, at midnight for the new year. But no, she takes it very seriously too. So like, for example, this past New-New Years. It was just me my mom, my sister. My dad was at work and yeah, so we watched the ball drop in Times Square. And then my mom had a pomegranate ready, like a full one, like you don’t touch it at all. And what you do is you go to your front porch or like the entrance to your house or like, wherever you want something that’s like, again, like an entry. I feel like in Turkey that that’s a lot of important like entrances of like, you know, you start something new, so you want to do it at an entrance of your life or something like symbolizes, you know, like when you walk into your home, it’s not something new. It’s a new year. So anyways, we go to our front porch and you’ve just like hold the, the pomegranate the full thing in your hand and you just drop it and you have to have a crack if it doesn’t crack, you know, you just keep going. And then and then it’s like okay, yay. Like now the new year has officially begun. So for her it didn’t it doesn’t start till then and then you you know, clean up the shells. And as many of the seeds that didn’t touch that like the seeds that are still in the pomegranate. Obviously, you throw the ones that touch the ground out and then you eat the seeds.

Relationship to the piece:

“If we don’t do it, then it doesn’t feel like the start of a new year. It doesn’t feel like the past is behind us. Like something it just kind of like commemorates a new beginning and if we don’t do it, it’s like we’re still in the old year. Kind of thing.”


The informant is one of my friends, a 20 year old Turkish American theatre major at the University of Southern California. I was told this as we were hanging out in her room after I asked her about some of the traditions she grew up with. 


I’d never heard of this tradition, but I feel like a lot of traditions surrounding the new year have to do with inviting in what you want for the New Year, but for my informant, this tradition is about welcoming in the New Year. Breaking the pomegranate is like breaking open the new year and then you have to ingest what’s been broken, you’re literally taking in the New Year. I also think it’s interesting how, for many children of immigrants we follow traditions because our parents tell us to, rather than doing it because we know exactly what it means. We just know that certain holidays don’t feel right if we don’t follow these traditions. 

Cherry Festival

Main Piece:

Well in Traverse City during the summer is the Cherry Festival. Oh, my sister was the cherry princess! And I remember that cuz I was like in preschool and basically for that the parents the dads make a float. So all the cherry princesses they which is one from every school, and there are 25 schools or something. And so all the two princesses someone from a first graders have a girl and a guy Tirpitz is for prints, and the cherry princesses and princes from each school make a float, and our float was Herbie. There’s like a theme of the float, which was like Disney or something. And we did Herbie, do you remember that like the racecar? So I vividly remember like we took a car, we painted a car, like a dumpster car, and it was on a float. And then on the cherry festival parade all of the floats go through. And then they vote on like a Cherry Queen and the queen is like in high school or older. She like takes pictures with all the princesses. That’s a big deal and Cherry Festival, well there’s like a fair and there’s events that happen every every day and it’s like a very big thing a lot of fugdies, a lot of people would call fudgies people from like South Michigan who to Traverse City for the cherry festival. It’s a big deal. But none of the people who live in Traverse City actually like the festival because they make the grass dirty, without it the grass is like fluorescent green. 


My informant is one of my roommates, a 20-year-old dance major at USC. She’s from Michigan and this performance took place in our kitchen as she was cooking. 


My informant grew up with this festival and her sister was a cherry princess one year. She loves cherries and says it’s the only fruit that tastes better in Michigan than in California. 


I thought it was fascinating how much my informant talked up this festival and her families involvement, only to reveal at the very end that the people who live there don’t actually like the festival, that it’s much more for the people in Michigan who live outside of Traverse city than for the actual residents. So while this festival is a part of Michigan culture, it’s a yearly annoyance for the actual residents of the city.