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Turning Over New Leaf

Sunday, January 12, 2014

We Always Do It That Way

befana


As an archetypal literary critic, I generally view literature in a manner a little different than many university professors. When I read a work of fiction, I look for commonalities of human activity that transcend time.

Human beings act in accordance with their species. We would not expect a person to climb a tree like a cat or run with the speed of a cheetah. We pretty much know what would happen if we attempted to steal a cub from a lioness or wrestle a mountain gorilla. But as human beings, we are not expected to act like animals. That is not our make-up. This does not mean we don’t act in certain ways that can be expected of us.

For example, humans face challenges in life. They encounter a coming-of-age at some point. They have invitations to adventure, which they either pass up or accept. If we read by spotting the archetypal patterns or molds that are common to all of us, we can derive more from fiction than we might by simply trying to understand a plot.

In any event, I am really excited this semester about a new course I am teaching. The course focuses on folklore, rituals, and traditions in human cultures. Students get to examine their own lives by tracing patterns in their relationships and in the cultures they enjoy.

I pose the following questions: Do you have any special traditions that have been part of your life since birth?  Are there rituals you and your family adhere to, perhaps not even knowing why? Are many of your personal beliefs based on folklore, even though you might not realize it?

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24 comments:

  1. Gotta think on that. I'll get back to you if I come up with something.

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    1. Thanks. It does take a little thought. Sometimes, little things like when we eat dinner are not cognizant choices, but ritualistic ceremonies from childhood.

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  2. I would take this class! How exciting indeed. 1. Yes we have special traditions. One very important one is handed down beginning from my mother's childhood, and has now reached my grandchildren as well. 2. Rituals, yes, and I believe we mostly know why we follow them. 3, Based on folklore, oh heavens yes!

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    1. Exactly! It is extremely interesting to discover how much we have inherited that is not genetic.

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  3. I had a most interesting conversation in my early 20s, not too long after college graduation, with an art therapist. She offered an interpretation something along these lines: if you take the major Greek gods (or goddesses depending on your gender) you'll find they align with Jungian (did I say that correctly?) psychology archetypes of human nature. By examining the mythology one could identify which archetypes made sense or which ones you related to, and learn about yourself and your behavior patterns. Interesting idea.
    rituals and beliefs:
    some rituals that arose out of creative answers to necessity: we put up our Christmas tree the Sunday before Christmas my entire childhood. Turns out this tradition started when my parents could not afford a tree and waiting for people to put them out in the trash when they went on vacation; my parents then went "tree hunting" and chose their favorite of the abandonded trees and brought them home.
    Same with our "Little Christmas" tradition. As we were military and far from family we opened presents from our grandparents and any one else Christmas Eve, Christmas morning Santa would visit and fill our stockings and maybe leave something under the tree. January 6th, Epiphany or the 12th day of Christmas, we received presents from our parents. It both allowed us to honor the Christian holiday of Epiphany and allowed my parents to take advantage of after Christmas specials at a time when pre Christmas sales were not what they are today.
    We have a favorite Birthday tradition from the Polish/German side of the family. Belgian waffles for breakfast dressed up with ice cream. Not everybody does it that way, some have Belgian waffles with whipped cream. Some don't have it for breakfast but for desert later in the day. Nobody has married someone who didn't want to continue that tradition! Also we do presents at breakfast. The waffles came because our grandmother went to the World Fair and had Belgian Waffles and went out and bought a waffle maker. The presents in the morning I think started because my dad was never sure when he'd come home from work, this took the pressure off to be home by dinner.

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    1. I wish you were in this course! As I stated to Karen above, it is extremely interesting to discover how much we have inherited that is not genetic.

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  4. Your new course sounds wonderful. I wish that I could be more helpful, but our rituals don't run very deep. For example, my mom has gone to the beauty shop on Fridays for as long as I can remember. If you asked my kids, they will always think of Sundays as pizza night. Looking forward to hearing more about your class.

    Julie

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    1. Julie, if you dug deeper into it, you would discover that you have hundreds of traditions and rituals you never even think about. Just pick a culture that seems remote and odd and compare it to American culture.

      In my Jungian studies, I came across some examples of inherited beliefs that were very thought-provoking. In one example, a woman who had never actually seen a live snake was absolutely terrified of the concept of a serpent. Digging back into her ancestry, she discovered her great grandmother had been bitten by a rattlesnake and nearly lost her life. That fear was actually transferred to her without her knowledge.

      When you read literature and look for some of the commonalities we share, it opens up a new world. Literature does not "inherit" per se, but the humanity expressed by authors through their fictional characters is fascinating to trace.

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  5. Just wanted to stop by and say thank you for your comment before christmas. I hope you and your family had a lovely time together. Happy new year to you all, Dee :-)

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    1. Dee, thank you! Be well, and keep in touch.

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  6. I'm thinking but I don't think we had any special family traditions. We just kinda went along with the American way.
    Interesting class. You are a teacher to be admired.

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    1. That's what is so fascinating. The American way is 100% ritual, tradition, and folklore. We just don't realize it. When my students study it, they look at life through different lenses.

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  7. I let this post rest for a night to see if I would think of traditions that are not really rooted in anything. I didn't come up with anything yet. But, I wanted to let you know that I find this subject matter very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Next time I see you, remind me about "Surviving the Journey." If I have an extra copy at my house, I'll give it to you. It is a very interesting subject.

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  8. Family traditions seem to have died with my parents and their generation. A couple of reasons for that are, I think, economics--children and siblings relocating to work where they can find work, intermarriage of diverse backgrounds and family values. -- And one more, also economic, double income families with partners too tired to take responsibility for maintaining extended family relationships.

    We, the most senior family members, do carry on some of the traditions of our parents--one being we light yahrzeit candles to honor family members who have passed away on the anniversary of their deaths. That tradition will stop with our passing. Sunday phone calls to family members may also stop?

    Meanwhile, Ellis traditionally takes out the trash and I do all the cooking

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    1. There are so many rituals and traditions that we participate in regularly and don't even realize it. It might be as simple as wearing jewelry.

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  9. I think we are all inspired and manipulated by folklore. I love folklore and think it does add spice to everyday life, and so do rituals. A connection to the past into the present from times long gone...

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    1. This is one of those courses where I learn more than my students every semester because I end up doing a ton of research. I love this stuff.

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  10. You're blowing my mind with all those questions. I guess one distinct family tradition that I love is the birthday song. Dad lived in Brazil from 17 to 21, three of those years in a service mission. Because of that, he brought back the Portuguese birthday song. We always sang in English, then Portuguese. It's a tradition that trickled down into all of homes as we've grown and married, and every time we sing it, it's a reminder not only of Dad, but the mission he served and the importance of serving others.

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    1. A great tradition! If you were to research back into time, you could find many connections between your family and families of the past.

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  11. Your course sounds really interesting! We started several traditions with my kids when they were little that we continue to this day. Friday was pizza and game night, then it became pizza and movie night. Both kids are grown and out of the house, but Mark & I carry it on. When they come back to visit, they always look forward to pizza night.

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    1. I'll bet if you do a little research you will find that similar food and game nights have been going on for thousands of years. The games might have been feeding Christians to the lions, but they did exist. I would also bet that when your kids were teens, they ate the pizza like lions!

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  12. When I first contemplated an answer to the questions posed I didn't think I'd have much to write but now I've got the old noodle working, there is just so much I could write here. I think I could ramble on forever. My husband comes from South American background, born in Vina Del Mar, Chile and a lot of his family traditions are carried on in our own little family. Here's is a very short list of only some of the things I can think of.
    1.On the 1st of December, Christmas music is played as we decorate the Christmas tree and it gets taken down ritualistically the day after New Years and of course this is accompanied with a glass of Bailey's Irish Cream.
    2. We attend Midnight mass on Christmas Eve with the family and upon arriving home open just one present after Mass
    3. In my own little family a ritual that started with my own children is watching Christmas movies on Christmas Eve. We watch the same movies every year and we love them all the same every year. (Chevy Chases Christmas Vacation, The Grinch and the Sound of Music which although is not a Christmas Movie holds special Christmas meaning to me from my childhood Christmas's in Mackay with my grandmother.)
    4. During the Football season here in Australia, we have Friday Night Football on TV. This is a family affair. We all gather together in the lounge to watch and eat Hot Dogs
    5. The other thing that my husbands family does, which is now part of our family tradition is associate certain foods with a particular occasions, weather and even illness. Like making Sopaipillas (Pumpkin fritters) or Empanadas on a rainy day. For Christmas Dinner my mother inlaw makes Pastel de Choclo (this is a traditional chicken, corn and mince casserole), so yummy and also a traditional Chilean Christmas cake and punch (colo de Mono). For those times when sick it's Chicken or Vermacilli Noodle Soup and Semolina with blood orange syrup.
    My mother in-law has had many superstitious beliefs passed down to her which my husband has effectively passed onto myself & my children. One example.. When bread has gone stale or moldy before throwing it away you must first kiss it, out of respect to god and the hungry.

    You know JJ... I could go on and on ... but I shall leave it there. I'd like to thank you for raising these questions. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I believe I would absolutely love your course.

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    1. Katherine: I absolutely love your traditions! We also try to follow some Chilean traditions, since my adopted daughter is from Chile.

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