Tag Archives: virginia

The Christmas Pickle: A Christmas Tradition

Original Text:

INFORMANT: “We do it at my own house, like the one that I live at, and then we also do it at my grandparent’s house. At my grandparent’s house, it’s a little bit more of a tradition because we all go there on Christmas day to celebrate. Before everyone arrives, only my dad hides the Christmas pickle in the tree.”

COLLECTOR: “Is it a real pickle?”

INFORMANT: No, it’s an ornament. But its the same ornament we have had forever. Its glass and shiny so it fits in with all the other ornaments. But, before everyone gets there, my grandfather hides it in the tree somewhere and he’s very good at it. And he never tells anyone where it is. And then we all get there on Christmas day, and when we are doing our presents after dinner on Christmas day, he usually announces that the pickle is in the tree and that there will be a prize for the first person to find it. There’s no time limit, but people start looking right away. Sometimes we can find it really fast, and sometimes we can’t. And then usually its my aunt who finds it, but last year I found it and it was a cash prize and snacks. Like 25 bucks. It’s fun, I don’t know.” 

Context: The informant is 19 years old and studies Theater at USC. Her and her family are of mixed European descent, and they have lived in Salem, Virginia for decades. The informant is not religious, but her family is Christian.  She learned the Christmas pickle tradition from her grandparents. She enjoys this tradition because “hiding the pickle and searching for it is childish, but it’s accepted and it gives you the opportunity to have young innocent fun”. She hates that “as you grow up, being a child becomes less and less acceptable”, but the tradition of the pickle is “a way to keep the holiday spirit alive”.

Analysis: The Christmas pickle tradition is rumored to original from Germany, but that theory has been disproven. Although Christmas is a secular holiday for many, the informants family is Christian, and having a fun tradition like the Christmas pickle is a way to bring the family closer together on this holy day. The fact that it takes place in her grandparents house allows for the different generations in the informants family to connect. In the rural town of Salem, Virginia, there isn’t a large mall with a Santa or a Christmas parade in the city to go to every year. Families are more inclined to make special traditions at home to keep the magic alive. The patriarch of the family, the informants grandfather, always has the privilege of hiding the pickle. The practice of searching for a magical object for a prize like the Christmas pickle mirrors other Christian holiday traditions like Easter eggs. 

Schoolyard Coin Trick

Text: “One trick I did consistently throughout my childhood, it was like the only magic trick that I ever knew how to do, it was learning how to pull a coin out of your mouth. So what you would do is you would put your arms behind your back, and pretend to put the coin behind your back and then you put like a finger in your mouth and then flick and a coin was supposed to come out. But, the trick of it, like how you actually do it is its not coming from your mouth, but it’s coming from your sleeve.”

Context: K is a twenty year old student who grew up in Virginia and currently attends USC. She learned how to do this trick from a friend on the playground when she switched schools.

Analysis: The more popular version of the above trick is to pull a coin out of someone’s ear, and it’s done through a similar trick of the eye or deception. Hiding the coin and moving it outside of the person witnessing the trick’s view. However, pulling a coin out of one’s mouth also has an allegorical relation. Recorded in the Bible In Matthew 17:24-27, the coin in the fish’s mouth is one of Jesus’ miracles. When the tax collector comes to Peter the apostle, Peter turns to Jesus and asks if he does not pay taxes. Jesus replies and explains why he does not, but instructs Paul to go fishing and tells him he will find a coin in the mouth of the first fish he catches to use for his taxes. In the 2008 United States census 76% of Virginians (K’s home state) identified as Christian, so perhaps there’s a relation between children hearing Biblical stories and trying to imitate them.

South of the Mason-Dixon


The Mason-Dixon Line is a demarcation line along on the East Coast that separates four states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Maryland.


I’ve been hearing this phrase used since I was kid, and adopted it into my own vernacular early on.

Main Piece:

The speaker will make a statement, usually in reference to the superiority or inferiority of a person, place, or thing, and then end by saying “… south of the Mason-Dixon.”


“She’s the prettiest girl south of the Mason-Dixon.

“My grandma makes the best pork chops south of the Mason-Dixon.”

“He’s gotta be the biggest dude south of the Mason-Dixon.”


As a born and raised Virginian, I heard this phrase flung around time after time. The understanding of this phrase is confined to communities living around the Mason-Dixon line itself, as most people not from that region of the United States are unaware of what the Mason-Dixon line is. The phrase is hyperbolic, used to exaggerate and emphasize the statement one is trying to make. Viewing the phrase from an emic perspective, I can say that it is often employed in a comedic manner, often to make disparaging remarks about someone, such as “That has to be the ugliest shirt south of the Mason-Dixon.” The phrase’s meaning and hyperbolic nature is known to all in these regions, so one’s opinion or joke can easily be inserted into the phrase to augment their meaning. Much of the South also has a spiritual connection to the land. Their identities are tethered to the physical nature and landmarks of their home. This may be due to residual sentimentality over the Civil War and the lives lost on the battlefields in the South. Nevertheless, there are a multitude of phrases and bits of lingo in the South that pertain to landmarks and the features of the land that Southerners inhabit. While the Mason-Dixon itself isn’t necessarily in the South, the use of this phrase intrinsically identifies one as belonging to the South.

Ghost wake-up call


LS:  It’s really kind of short, but I mean like, so of course I grew up hearing about this ghost in my grandmother’s house. But what’s weird to me looking back now is like that wasn’t scary as a kid, like, you know, like I’d go visit their house, but I wasn’t like, I’d heard all these stories that I was not scared. And so like, my family like always would talk about those ghosts, but they would just laugh about it. And um, he wasn’t like as active, I guess by the time that I was, you know, there. Um, but I remember them talking about it and I remember my mom kind of like every now and then like just kind of saying to the ghost, like, “okay, get out here.” Like, you know, like talking to him I guess, but um, we stayed there and it was all four of us there, my parents, my sister, and I for like a long weekend or something, something was happening, I guess. I don’t remember. Um, but um, the back bedroom at the end of the hall had a big like king sized bed, I guess in it. And she stored a lot of things or whatever in there. And that’s where my sister and I would sleep when we were visiting. And I remember, one of my grandparents had been given like a walking cane with, um, like a squeaking horn, um, as like a gag gift when one of them turned 40. And so I, you know, I’d always noticed it because it had this big, like red horn on it. Um, and I remember I was asleep and I was just woken up out of the middle of the dead sleep. And it was like, it was like that moment of like what, it just woke me up. Like, you know, because you know, you didn’t like wake up and be like, oh, I have to pee or something. Like, it was just like, why am I awake? And it was because I had heard that horn go off. And so I’m like sitting there and there’s nothing between me and it. And so I was like, there is no way, like I didn’t touch that. Like nobody else in the house is awake. And so I was like, that must have been the ghost, like, you know? Right. And so then I don’t even remember if I mentioned it to them the next day or what, but it was just kind of later, like I, yeah, the ghost, like when, you know, it was like very clear like, oh, that happened. It wasn’t like I was dreaming it. 

Background: LS is the daughter of D in the linked story. This story takes place in the 1990s. 

Context: This story was told to me over a phone call. Analysis: In ghost lore, a ghost that can interact with the physical world like L describes is often known as a poltergeist. However, the connotation of a poltergeist tends to be more malicious than a ghost, particularly in pop culture like the movie Poltergeist. However, they do often haunt a specific person, while this one appeared to attach to any young people in the house.

Bunny Man Bridge.

K is a 63-year-old Caucasian male originally from Fairfax, Virginia. K is a retired highway patrolman and current polygraph examiner in Phoenix, Arizona.

K performed this folklore while I visited him at his workplace with the intent to collect folklore from police officers. In his office, I asked K if he had any folklore he would be willing to share with me.

K: Well I’m going to tell about you a.. Story that comes out of Fairfax county Virginia where I’m from. Where I actually patrolled as a patrolman. Uh, years ago. Funny thing is, I didn’t learn about this story until I came out to Arizona, uh, twenty five hundred miles from where the story originated from. And I heard about it because it showed up on a documentary on TV about haunted places that uh, would be pretty scary to visit. Uh, and this haunted place in Fairfax Country Virginia is called Bunny Man Bridge. And its actually a railroad bridge, uh, near uh, a place called Clifton Virginia, which is a little tiny sleepy town that is down in a.. quiet area of Fairfax county. And uh, this sleepy little town has this legend of Bunny Man Bridge which is this railroad bridge, and when you go under the bridge it’s cement on the sides but it’s barely wide enough for a car to fit through going one direction, and on the opposite side of the bridge is a dead end road so theres nowhere to go when you go underneath the Bunny Man Bridge but uh, its really quite dark there. There isn’t any street lights, theres uh, lots of trees around, I mean even in a full moon its pretty pretty dark down there around Bunny Man Bridge. I’m familiar with it because, as a patrolman, because its uh, apparently a haunted location a lot of uh, the younger high school uh groups like to go down there and party on the uh, side that there’s no escape from. Uh, in other words, side that’s on where the dead end is at. But, what I learned about Bunny Man Bridge is that this place called Clifton.. uh.. years ago like in the early, like very early 1900s, there was a uh, insane asylum in Clifton. And, I dont know exactly how many prisoners that this insane asylum had housed, but, uh. When.. Fairfax country began to grow up and get larger, they moved this insane asylum to another place called Lorton which is probably, I’m guessing, about, a twenty minute drive away from Clifton and Lorton is far more build up in fact there’s a uh, prison there now from the District of Columbia in Lorton, but uh, the decision was made to transport all the, uh, people in this insane Asylum from Clifton down to Lorton, so they loaded ‘em all on a bus, and started driving away to, uh, Lorton. Well, unfortunately as, uh, the legend has it, the bus ran off the side of the road and crashed and uh all the prisoners, the maniacs escaped and ran into the woods and, the uh, authorities came out and worked really hard trying to round up all these people and they ultimately, uh, were able to round em all up with the exception of two people. Um, and they kept searching the woods searching the woods and they kept finding all these bunny carcasses in the woods. Um, so they expected that these two escapees were actually uh surviving on bunny meat and this went on for a while and they never were able to actually track down these two. But the legend has it that after they searched the entire area for days and days they came to a time where uh they found one of these escapees, hanging from Bunny Man Bridge. And uh, the other one was nowhere to be found and the assumption was that.. uh, apparently they had a dispute or a fight over who was gonna get.. the, the, the bunny leg or the bunny breast or whatever. And uh.. the other one hung his companion from Bunny Man Bridge. And uh, now the legend is if you go to Bunny Man Bridge on uh.. like Halloween or something, uh you can see uh.. this uh, this deceased prisoner hanging from the bridge on Halloween. They never found uh the other escaped individual… Uh, but, periodically they say you can also see bunny carcasses hanging from, Bun-from Bunny Man Bridge. Uh, so they, they believe notwithstanding all of that, that even though this is a hundred and ten years later. Uh, he’s still out there. Uh, uh, eating bunnies and hanging em’ from the bridge on Halloween along with his deceased companion.

Reflection: Despite never visiting Bunny Man Bridge himself, K was extremely knowledgeable about the subject, as evidenced by the length and detail of his performance of the urban legend. The vague version of the Bunny man I am familiar with is of an axe-wielding lunatic wearing a bunny suit, so I was surprised to hear that neither of these two appearance traits were mentioned in K’s telling. The popularity of both the “Bunny Man” and the “Hook Man” urban legends in the American South suggests that the region has a preference for escaped convict stories. Considering the American South has the largest collective prison population in the U.S., it is not hard to make a prediction why this may be the case.