Semana Santa in Sevilla, Spain

S is 17 years old, and lived in Sevilla, Spain for four years. I had a conversation with him about Semana Santa, a week-long religious procession that’s celebrated in the Andalucían province of Spain. During Semana Santa, antique wooden sculptures are carried throughout the city, each float representing a part of the biblical journey of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. 

“Semana Santa is like a holy week in Spain, where they do a big parade, and it’s very, very exciting, because they close off all the streets and everybody lines up to catch snacks and sunflower seeds. It’s a very magical time because everything smells like incense and they got funky outfits on and they’re just being holy and stuff. So it was a very 10-out-of-10 week. Many of the processioners wore a white robe with a colored pointed hat. They also had people dressed up as priests and stuff. Well, there were actual priests too. And there were nuns, and then people carrying big crosses and lanterns and doohickeys. They also had a big band playing and marching along. And on the floats they had very religious statues like the Virgin Mary and Jesus.”

This account of someone’s experience at a Semana Santa (“Holy Week”) reveals some of the ways that religious holidays can stagnate between a celebration of faith and a celebration of culture. For this person, Semana Santa was an opportunity to have fun and absorb the culture of the city, while for other Catholic practitioners, Semana Santa can be intrinsic to their religious identity. There’s a bit of magic and allure to the procession itself—antique wooden statues that tell the story of Jesus’ death, which is a very somber event in the Christian diaspora. All of the decorations and Spanish details bring a unity to the city, inviting groups together to enjoy a procession that’s both symbolic of national pride and religious holiday. 

Elf on the Shelf: An American Christmas Tradition

S is 17 years old, and was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. I had a conversation with him about Elf on the Shelf, a popular toy that’s celebrated in North American Christmas celebrations. 

“Elf on the Shelf was like a little toy elf which my parents would move around the house every night in the month of December. They would say, “oh this is Santa’s little henchman and he’s going to spy on you and tell Santa if you’re good or not.” And so we would always talk to the elf and ask him, like, hey, can you give me a break for Christmas? And yeah, we thought he was real. And the rule was that you couldn’t touch him. Because if you touched the elf—which ours was named Perry—if you touched Perry, he would die, and lose all of his magic and be stranded. So one time, he was in the stocking and I knocked him over and he landed on me. And me and my siblings all started crying, because we thought Perry lost his magic. My brother and sister got really, really mad at me.”

I think it’s interesting that with such a widespread holiday as Christmas, we often see a merging between commercialization and folklore, with families buying into trends that ride the cultural wave of what’s popular in the market. Because before Elf on the Shelf, many families in the 20th century celebrated Christmas in a similar way with elves that parents would prop up around the house. It was only when a company published Elf on the Shelf and brought the tradition into a modern social sphere that the ritual skyrocketed into popularity. Now, kids recognize Elf on the Shelf as a practice that upholds Christmas magic—boldening their belief in Santa Clause and in the holiday itself. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the design of the Elf on the Shelf doll closely resembles the Christmas claymation films released in the United States in the 1960s. I believe that this decision to model off of those films may have allowed Elf on the Shelf to feed into our nostalgia for American media, which in turn made parents gravitate towards the toy as a gift for their children.

Feria de Abril in Sevilla, Spain

W is 17 years old, and lived in Sevilla, Spain for four years during his youth. I had a conversation with him about the Feria de Abril, a festival that happens in April once every year in Sevilla, Spain. 

“I just remember there being a huge, massive, lot that they would save for the entire year. And we’d always drive past and be like, that’s where Feria is gonna be. But the city would save it there and it was just empty and barren. But come April, thousands of tents are set up. And, you know, there’s the orange sand, which is very iconic. And the casetas, where every family would have a tent to sit down, relax—you know, maybe there’s someone dancing flamenco, drinking Cruzcampo. And outside the casetas, there would be festival food like popcorn and cotton candy. It was just a very fun atmosphere. I remember my sister would prepare for Feria by taking flamenco lessons. And everyone was kind of dressed up. But yeah, the dudes would wear church clothes, which was kind of surprising because it’s hot. It’s really hot. And then the women would wear flamenco dresses, which are kind of like dresses that are tight around most of the body and then belt out at the bottom, with ruffles on their shoulders, wrists, and the bottom of the skirt. And you know, normally the dresses are red, green—a lot of the basic colors with polka dots on them a lot of times.”

The Feria de Abril is a Spring festival celebrated after Holy Week, around the Spring Equinox. The festival operates in a cyclical calendar, where the festivities symbolize new beginnings as we move into Spring. It’s worth noting that Feria began in the 1800s as a fairground for farmers to trade their livestock, which supports the idea that the fair follows a seasonal cycle where farmers could prioritize their planting schedule. Furthermore, in its early beginnings, Feria brought in Spanish Romani celebrations with the invention of the Sevillana dance, cementing the fair as a cultural mecca of tradition and folklore.

Punching roof of car when running a yellow light for good luck

Okay, so whenever I drive and I’m hitting a yellow light like I’m going across the intersection and the light turn yellow, I hit the top, the roof of my car, just for like a symbol of good luck. I originally learned it from one of my friends from the Midwest and I think it’s like, I think it’s more of like a Midwestern thing, but I kind of adopted it as my own and we like all punch the roof of our cars for good luck just to hope like we don’t get caught and we like pass the signal. No cops catch us, but yeah.

Context: The informant is from San Diego, but learned this good luck ritual from friends who are from Texas and Kansas.

Analysis: The punching of the roof is to ensure that the driver does not get into an accident or that anything bad happens to them while they are running the yellow light. Since running a yellow light is not actually illegal, choosing to speed up instead of slowing down is deliberate, and the punching of the roof could be to reverse any karma coming from violating the yellow light.

Korean Birthday Soup

Let’s see. Okay, so there’s a Korean tradition. It’s called seimitsu. But In Korean it’s called miyeok guk. And my mom makes it for me every single birthday. I think I’ve had it on every single one of my birthdays and like so have all my siblings, like my dad has had the soup on like all of his birthdays too. And it’s a, it’s like a tradition and it’s like a symbol of good luck. And also it’s like a way of like honoring like your mom for like giving birth to you because like seaweed has a lot of like health benefits. And it’s like really good for like, um, I don’t know what it’s like, necessarily good for, but it’s like good for like, bearing children, that kind of stuff. So like, it’s just like a way to honor your parents and like a symbol of good luck because it’s like a tradition that you have every single year.

Context: The informant and their mother are Korean, and this birthday soup is a traditional Korean dish.

Analysis: The connection between the health benefits of the seaweed and the honoring of the mother makes sense, because seaweed has a lot of minerals and vitamins, and antioxidant properties. In this way, the soup is definitely connected to the importance of family and honoring your parents, as well as being a birthday tradition.