Tag Archives: winter

Užgavėnės

Main Text

GD: “Užgavėnės is a Lithuanian holiday, um, that’s translated to ‘The Before Lent.’ So, it takes place, um, right before the Lenten season, the weekend right before that, and what it is culturally is, um. It’s a festival in which we scare away the winter pretty much, and welcome the spring. Um, it’s been compared to, like, Mardi Gras and you’ll see as I talk more about it you’ll be able to connect that a little bit more, but um. The entire festival is just Lithuanian people getting together, making really scary masks and decorating them and going really big with these costumes and these like huge masks that they’ll wear, um, to scare away the winter. There is a structure that we construct that is usually a representation of winter, like taking place in like the form of a man or something or like a stick figure, uh, just this really large totem that we burn ultimately to just say ‘To the end with winter, here comes spring.’ And in the same light there is a little staged playing of a man and another man dueling pretty much, and one guy represents winter with the other guy represents the spring, and always the spring will overcome that and win against the winter.”

Background

GD is a 19 year old Lithuanian-American second year student at USC studying Theatre and Classics. Her mother was born in Lithuania and moved to a Lithuanian community in New Jersey, where GD attended Lithuanian school and church. GD describes Užgavėnės as her favorite holiday growing up, attending it not only in America but also in Lithuania. She remembers waking up before dawn in order to peel potatoes in order to make pancakes specifically for the festival. GD believes Užgavėnės to be so important not only to her but also to her culture because it was one of the few pagan holidays that survived Christianization in Lithuania.

Context

GD describes Užgavėnės as one of the more important holidays in the Lithuanian calendar with it originally being celebrated on the last day of winter before Christianization. It has been hastily Christianized and is now celebrated on the weekend immediately preceding Lent, but the traditions and meaning of the festival remain. GD describes Užgavėnės as being full of food like bagels and pancakes, and performers playing music as people dance.

Interviewer Analysis

Many traditional folk festivals and celebrations have been slightly changed in order to fit into the rising wave of Christianity, even Christmas retains many aspects of its original pagan traditions. It is unfortunate however that many of the traditions were lost in these re-skinnings, so it is nice to see that Užgavėnės, according to GD, was able to keep so many of its traditions. Festivals celebrating the end of winter and the coming of a sweeter season are a very common phenomenon especially in northern countries that experience harsher winters like Lithuania.

Baba Marta

Main Text

CS: “So the next one I was thinking of was the tradition of Baba Marta, which is like the first day of spring for Bulgarians. It’s like the first of March and you hang up these white and red like crochet, or like knitted things, like yarn and they sometimes look like people, sometimes they’re just abstract shapes. I don’t really remember what the shape is. But people always wish each other ‘Chestita Baba Marta’ or like happy first day of spring and Baba Marta is like baba of spring. I guess somewhat similar to the Baba Yaga story, there’s this grandma who is the incarnation of spring and shes just like a joyous type I guess.”

Background

CS is a 21 year old Bulgarian American from California and is a third year student studying Computer Science: Games at USC. CS describes the Baba Marta holiday like Christmas, you do not remember your first one but it is an ever-present time in your life. CS loved Baba Marta as a holiday because he could look forward to seeing his family and having an excuse to eat. His father, aunt, and grandmother all celebrate it with him every year.

Context

Baba Marta is a spring time festival celebrated in Bulgaria on March 1st. Confusingly it is also the name of a physical embodiment of springtime that comes to people as a joyous old woman.

Interviewer Analysis

Festivals celebrating the end of winter and the coming of a sweeter season are a very common phenomenon especially in eastern European countries with Slavic influences, even though Bulgaria’s geographical placement further south in Europe means that its winters would not have been as harsh as say countries like Lithuania. Lithuania’s Užgavėnės festival however is a very similar celebration, in that it celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of a more fertile season.

Ukrainian – Reuse Of Food Storage Containers

Informant’s Background:

My informant, AK, is a undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. He is a first-generation immigrant, and the child of Ukrainian and Russian parents.

Context:

I am a close friend of AK. I asked him if he had any folklore he could share and this was what he gave me.

Performance:

AK: “I guess like you can make a story out of this, but essentially, like, my whole life, when I try and get food from my parents or my grandma or my grandpa and like I come over as a guest or something and they want to cook me food or something they like put it-like every Russian… uhm, and Ukrainian like puts this, like does this, so say like I want some food that you made or I’m offering you some food that I made, like (*laughs*) I don’t give it to you in Tupperware. I give it to you, like I give you some Russian soup in some like old yoghurt container that like I bought, that literally had my yoghurt in it and like now I’m using it as a container to put other food in it and store other food in it. Obviously like its washed, uhm, before like any other different new food is put in it, but it’ll be like a yoghurt container but what will actually be inside will actually be some like, uhm, leek soup or something. And that’s like pretty typical like classic Russian stuff that you’ll get. More so with older generations, I don’t think like anyone who’s Russian or Ukrainian now would do that.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

AK: “I think the reason why is that there was just a time, in Russia, where you had to be really resourceful, uhm, and that’s because of World War 2, and like, I don’t know, just when there was winter and stuff and you kind of have to bunker down and just use what you have, and like no one was really rich in Russia uhm back then, there was a lot less rich people, and a lot more poor people that were like struggling and stuff. So a lot of people were resourceful, and I think that just like became embedded into like their-their DNA and their way of life. And so it just bleeds through in this small little funny way.”

Thoughts:

I think AK explained this quite well. This example demonstrates how people adapt their way of lives to the times that they grew up in, and to the situations that surround them. In this case, this resourcefulness is likely no longer necessary in the case of AK’s relatives, due to better living conditions, and the lack of a harsh winter to diminish resources, yet the traditional way of life the person grew up with is still performed, even if it will not carry on to AK’s way of life.

Sinter Klaas

Context:

The informant is a Dutch immigrant to the United States in his fifties. He emigrated from the Netherlands in his thirties and lives in San Francsico. He experienced this holiday tradition every year on December 5h in the town of Lochem, with a population of 10,000 people who would gather in the market square. He told me about the tradition in a face-to-face interview. I am his son and we would practice some aspects of this tradition when I was younger, before celebrating Christmas.

Text:

Sinter Klaas would come every year, early December, he would arrive on a steam ship from Spain, he looked like santa claus, but he was slimmer, not as fat, had a long white beard. He would come and he had these svaarte pieten, black petes. It was usually women who would play them, they were often athletic and do handstands. Svaarte piet would come through the chimney, you would put your shoe out in front of the chimney, put out a carrot for Sinter klaas’ white horse, you would get a present.

There were lots of inconsistencies in the story. He would also go with his horse on the roof to deliver the presents. Where I grew up there was an actual ship that would come in with people dressed up as Sinter Klaas and svaarte piet. Svaarte piet would throw candy at everyone. One was pepernoten, these baked round things with spices, you would pick them from the floor and eat them, they weren’t packaged or anything. Later you had to do these things yourself, part of it was writing poems, teasing poems, you would lay bare someone else’s hurtful or embarrassing details. The one getting the present had to read the poem aloud and the more embarrassing the better. There would be “surprises,” – not the English meaning – which were elaborate built things. My dad built a model train after the train my sister took to school, there was some present inside. It’s not just opening the present but there’s more elaborate things going on. It needed a lot of involvement on the part of the parents. I guess people had more time in those days (laughs).

The whole svaarte piet thing… at first I really thought they were black and the relation to slavery never occurred to me. When you look back at it its kind of insane, its insane that nobody thought anything of it. There was a canal, he really came by boat. We would sing sinter klaas songs. He would come into the class at school and you would sing a lot of different songs for him.

If you were bad, they would put you in a bag, hit you with a roe (a switch, a small broom) and take you to Spain.

I think it comes from Saint Nicolas, who was a saint in Spain. He cut his mantle in half and gave it to poor people.

This was THE event for kids. Everyone in the town did it though, it was a social thing. There was always a bit of a scary aspect of it, Sinter klaas and svaarte piet. If you were not good, you would be taken to Spain! They were kind of scary, there were people dressing up as them who could have been drinking or whatever. We would sing a lot of naughty songs.

Thoughts:

Sinter Klaas is a cherished Dutch holiday. This festival mobilizes so many different modalities (sight, smell, taste, sound) that it is hard to know where to start in terms of analysis. A big standout and controversy in recent years is the character Svaarte Piet. He is a black-faced, big-lipped caricature of a Spanish moor, and acts as the slave of Sinter Klaas, the white patriarch. The Netherlands was a substantial dealer in slaves during the expansion into the new world. This dehumanization happened partly by way of representations of the African as a jester, a helper, obedient, athletic, savage, primitive, and so on. This common representation seems to have seeped into the cherished tradition of Sinter Klaas and has been used as a justification for white people to don blackface and act out a caricature every winter. Interestingly and shockingly, this tradition continues today. It has recently come under flak from anti-racism groups as a representation and perpetuation of Dutch slavery and colonization. Svaarte Piet is largely, as we see in my informant’s experience, a way to normalize racist perceptions of Africans and instill in children a casual attitude of extreme otherization in the homogenous white community in which he grew up. My informant had thought the people in blackface were really black (he had not much experience with real black people) and thought of this whole ceremony as a normal, fun tradition, he reflects that “it’s insane that nobody thought anything of it.”

The festival had an immensely positive impact on the informant as a child. Much more excessive, dramatic, and embodied than Sinter Klaas’ American iteration Santa Claus – people would pilot a boat down the canal on which a tall figure dressed in royal red with a long curling white beard would throw out good wishes to the crowd – this tradition is very intricate and at times seems like the staging of an elaborate play. People write teasing poems to each other, parents set up ‘surprises’, elaborate constructions designed to shock and amaze the children, and actors traipse around the town throwing sweets to the people. Much less private and domestic than the American Santa Claus tradition, this celebration pours out into the streets, into the canals, and engages all generations in a communal, public celebration which works to articulate a notion of who the Dutch people are and how they are situated in relation to the rest of the world. The blatant otherization of the African is an integral part of the ceremony in this process of articulating the boundaries of the self.

Pondy

Main Piece:

The informant: “I’d always play pondy in the winter, I never played hockey though”

Background:

The informant grew up in a small, midwestern town on the Great Lakes where winters were always below freezing and lakes were of easy access. The informant’s high school also had a very competitive hockey team. Hockey was ingrained into the town as something all kids would play for at least a year, according to the informant.

Context:

The informant was telling me about her hobbies she had when she was younger.  I thought she played hockey, but the prior quote is how she corrected me.

Thoughts:

This demonstrates a piece of folk speech that has been created to differentiate one activity. Outdoor hockey is exclusively known as pondy while indoor, rink hockey is just hockey. From context clues, this word is easy enough to understand which lends itself to being used by young kids out playing games. Pondy also implies a sort of casual play to the game instead of competitive hockey. It is interesting to see the same sport be defined by its location through a colloquial expression.