celebrations, customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, holidays

LET THERE BE LIGHT!

 

Along with the tens of thousands watching in person in NYC, I nestled in my NM comfy home recliner and saw the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I felt the same awe that was reflected in the astonished faces the moment the lights came on.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, 2017.

 

That’s what so magnificent about Winter. With its abundance of traditions igniting their special fires, we are privy to observe lighting rituals unlike our own.

First there is Diwali, the biggest and brightest of all Hindu Festivals. Diwali symbolizes the victory of good over evil, and lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope. This year it began on October 18 and lasted four days. Each day had its own tale, legend and myth.

 

Woman in sari next to burning Diwali lamps.

 

Beginning on December 12th, Jewish families will gather around the menorah to honor the miracle of lights. With its eight-branched menorah we commemorate the unexpected duration of burning oil that was supposed to last only one night. The holiday is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting with special prayers and fried foods.

 

Lit menorah with pastel colored candles as it would look on the 8th night. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

 

On December 26, African Americans will begin their observance of Kwanzaa, using their candelabrum called the Kinara (in Swahili). They light one new candle per night for seven nights to celebrate African American heritage and achievements. The holiday expresses reverence for the Creator and creation, and commemorates the past as well as recommits to cultural ideals.

 

Lit Kinara on the 7th day with black, green, and red candles. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

 

Living here in Las Cruces, NM, one of my favorite light rituals is one that has been brought here from Mexico – the luminarias. They represent the illuminated passageway to welcome Jesus into the world. For me, the lit pathway represents my life’s journey.

 

Luminarias lighting the way to see the Christ Child as recreated in New Mexico.

Light warms us. It allows us to find our way out of darkness to inner awakening. And with our light we have the power to ignite the glow in others.

 

This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine; let it shine; let it shine.

(old gospel tune)

 

And so, as we approach 2018, this is my holiday wish for you. May you take your inner light and shine it upon others.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys the rituals of all ethnicities and religions.

Visit her Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org

aging, friendship, holidays, music, parties

Confessions of a Bearded Lady

I love pulling pranks, but it’s so much more fun when you have a playmate. And I have one — my fabulous friend and neighbor, Roxana Gillette.

Bearded Ladies, Norine Dresser and Roxana Gillett at the Las Cruces Ukes. Photo by Bob Hull. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2016.
Bearded Ladies, Norine Dresser and Roxana Gillett at the Las Cruces Ukes. Photo by Bob Hull. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2016.

After discovering the above pictured wonderful bearded masks on an obscure website, Roxanna ordered two.Then while waiting for delivery, and as a surprise for us to perform for the Las Cruces Ukes, she wrote a parody, set to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Based on the assumption that the beards and wool head coverings were filled with cooties, she changed the chorus from “Hallelujah” to “We’ll Shampoo Ya,” creating an absurd juxtaposition.

We rehearsed numerous times and arranged that both ukulele classes would be present when we emerged in our hirsute conditions. I assured Roxana that even if the audience didn’t laugh at the song, they’d laugh at our appearances. And so they did. We were a hit. Mission accomplished.

Pulling pranks has no statute of limitations.The only requirement is being willing to take a risk that might make one’s self look foolish (over and over again).

Sisters Saggitarius, Norine Dresser and Janice Garey, 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016
Sisters Sagittarius, Norine Dresser and Janice Garey, 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

During the 1960s, I had a different playmate, Janice Garey. My niece, Madge Dresser had consulted with me in planning her November Sweet Sixteen birthday party. She selected an astrology theme concentrating on her unique choices of food, activities, flower arrangements.

Janice collaborated with me in making a surprise entrance at Madge’s party as the Sisters Sagittarius.We dyed sheets black for our cover-ups, wore very tall black cardboard hats, slathered our faces with zinc oxide and exaggerated our features with black eye liner. For an added touch, Janice dried out a cooked chicken leg to use as a witch’s wand.

We stashed our four daughters into my car and parked it half a block away from the party. After pounding on the door, my startled sister-in-law answered as the two of us burst in and in witch-like voices and with Janice wielding the chicken leg, we menaced the teenagers, threatening acne or cramps if they didn’t obey us. I don’t remember much else except we ad-libbed drawing upon our inner witchiness. After about five minutes, we tore out of there, ran down the street and got back into the car laughing all the way.

Why do I and others commit such silly acts? Because making others laugh is a great motivator. Even at 84, I get a kick out of the scheming and wondering if the prank will work and will I get some laughs? But sometimes the prank falls flat.

 

Black wreath, example of style of wreath I hung on Lillian's front door. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Black wreath, example of style of wreath I hung on Lillian’s front door. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

In the 1950s, I met Lillian, a lovely woman whose children attended the same nursery school as my children. She invited my husband and me to a Halloween party. I volunteered to help with the decorating and while at her home asked, “How about a black wreath to hang on your front door?”

She thought that was a wonderful touch, so I offered to make it for her. I bent a wire clothes hanger into a circle and threaded a ribbon of twisted black crepe paper on it. Hanging in my car, the wreath actually cast a pall over me as I drove to Lillian’s house to deliver it before the festivities began.

Several hours later, when my husband and I arrived at the party, the black wreath was missing from the front door. Surprised, I asked, “Lillian, where’s the wreath?”

Before she could answer, a distraught relative of hers pulled me aside and demanded. “How could you do such a thing?”

I was dumbfounded as she explained, “When we pulled up to the door and saw the wreath, we thought the worst. So we drove to a public phone booth and began calling relatives to ask who had died.”

I couldn’t believe what she was saying. It was Halloween. It was a Halloween party. If she did take it seriously, why not enter the house and find out?

I did not act defensively. I couldn’t. She was so genuinely upset, and I found it so irrational that I just stood there mute.

And that was the last time I ever made a Halloween funeral wreath.

But it was not the last time I have played a prank, and I hope there will be more opportunities to do so in the future.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes that we need to create fun and to keep on laughing as long as we can.

customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, food, good luck/bad luck, holidays

GUNG HAY FAT CHOY! (Happy New Year)

L. A. Chinatown New Year's goods for sale.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
L. A. Chinatown New Year’s goods for sale. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

Las Cruces, NM, supplies all my needs except one — GOOD CHINESE FOOD. True, they have a few Chinese restaurants here, but they mainly offer food that has been sitting in steam tables for hours.

Good Chinese food is always freshly made to order. That is why, when I recently returned to Los Angeles, eating at a Chinese restaurant was my number one priority. Gorging on fresh pork dumplings, pea sprouts, and beef rolls, I devoured the perfect fix.

I was also fortunate to have visited during the 2015 Lunar New Year. As I eyed all the new souvenirs I heard myself skeptically say, “Probably made in China.” Duh, I should hope so.

Chinese monk shopping for New Year's.  L. A. Chinatown.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Chinese monk shopping for New Year’s. L. A. Chinatown. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

When our children were young, we always brought them to Chinatown for the excitement, parade, and firecrackers. That was part of our family tradition, but I was reminded one year that I was an outsider.

During the festivities, I ran into a neighbor at a souvenir shop and when she left, I merrily said, “Happy New Year, Marie,” to which my offended salesperson retorted, “It’s not YOUR New Year.”

But ALL New Year’s celebrations are mine regardless of religion or ethnicity. I love the anticipation, the colorful rituals, the special clothing and colors, the feelings of hope that the new year will be an improvement over the last.  These emotions are universal and should be shared.

Los Angeles Chinatown, Year of the Ram.  Fake fireworks.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015
Los Angeles Chinatown, Year of the Ram. Decorative firecrackers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys celebrating holidays — everyone’s holidays.

customs/rituals, folklore, good luck/bad luck, holidays

God Is Back in My Patio, so All’s Right with the World

Mask of God.  Photo by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Mask of God. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

I always thought the giant mask was the North Wind. Artist, Chris Hardman, appointed me its guardian more than three decades ago when he moved from Venice, CA, to the Bay area.

Many years later, Chris shocked me when he asked, “How’s God doing?”

“God?”

“Yes, that large mask,” he confirmed

Still incredulous I asked, “God is in my living room?”

That I had a representation of God living in my Los Angeles house overwhelmed me. I reflected on how I had assumed it was the North Wind.The mask’s puckered mouth was the major clue. I had discounted the naked female figures in its eyes, mustache, hair and beard that might have led me toward the theme of creation.

Chris Hardman’s God lived in my Los Angeles home for more than three decades, but the interior of my new Las Cruces interior could not accommodate its size and scale.I then had him hung in my patio yet worried about the impact of weather on it. Trying to allay my concerns, the contractor assured, “After all, it’s not the Mona Lisa.”

His words stung. To me, the mask of God was priceless, the equivalent of a personal Mona Lisa.

Recently, artist Layle Kinney, visited my home and noted that the wind and rain had taken a toll on this magnificent artifact. Coincidentally, she dealt with the paper maché medium and offered to repair him. It took four people to remove, wrap, carry and gently secure him to the back of her pick-up truck.

For weeks, my patio wall felt naked and off-putting, so I was thrilled when I received a call that “God” was ready for delivery.

On a chilly December Las Cruces afternoon, the artist and her family carefully returned my mask and rehung it. Aha! Everything now felt right again. And that is one of the many reasons why, on the brink of the New Year, 2015, I feel gratified.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist steeped in global beliefs and practices. Having the mask of God back in her possession is one of her idiosyncratic traditions.

customs/rituals, folklore, good luck/bad luck, holidays

Light My Fire

According to Jewish tradition, mourners light a candle on the anniversary of a loved one’s death.

I have adapted and embellished that tradition. I light a candle on my husband’s death date and on his birth date, too. This year his birthday caught me unprepared. I was out of yarhzeit candles (short white memorial candles in a glass) that are hard to find in Las Cruces.   In desperation, I went into my folklore room that contains many tall decorative votive candles. I considered the Virgin of Guadalupe, but that had been burned down too far.

Suddenly, I found the perfect candle: Powerful Protection from P.M.S. The candle had a prayer for keeping water retention and bloating at bay. It also included a petition to ensure a steady supply of Chocolate and Ibuprofen, AMEN.

That seemed to be the ideal candle for the occasion. Because Harold had a wicked sense of humor, I knew he would have enjoyed the irony of a PMS candle.

PMS votive candle to prevent cramping and other symptoms.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
PMS votive candle to prevent cramping and other symptoms. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Ordinarily, lighting candles occurs on solemn occasions: Customarily, Orthodox Jewish women light two candles on Friday nights, the eve of the Sabbath. Lighting the Sabbath candles has a particular order. The woman often wears something on her head, covers her eyes with her hands and recites a blessing in Hebrew that translates: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has made us holy through His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Sabbath light.   Additionally, some women wind their hands three times around the Sabbath candles before reciting the blessing.

Andrea Dresser lighting the Sabbath candles.  Note that her head is covered.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Andrea Dresser lighting the Sabbath candles. Note that her head is covered. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

Andrea Dresser covering her eyes as she recites the Sabbath Candle lighting prayer.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Andrea Dresser covering her eyes as she recites the Sabbath Candle lighting prayer. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire, via burning candles, is a pan-cultural event.   Any ritual worth its salt, religious or secular, has candlelight: at a wedding ceremony; at a romantic dinner; at Hanukkah; during Kwanzaa.

Multicultural ritual candles:  left to right in back: Kwanzaa; Seven African Powers; luminaria; Hanukkah candles.  Foreground, Buddhist lotus candle: Jewish yarhrzeit (memorial) candle.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Multicultural ritual candles: left to right in back: Kwanzaa; Seven African Powers; luminaria; Hanukkah candles. Foreground, Buddhist lotus candle: Jewish yarhrzeit (memorial) candle. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Check out the ritual candles depicted in the above photograph: for Kwanzaa, an African American holiday between Christmas and New Years with candle colors of red, black, green. The first night, one candle is lit and on subsequent nights additional candles are lit until all seven are kindled. Similarly, during Hanukkah the Jewish Festival of Lights, late November or December. eight multicolored candles burn, one for each night until the final night when all are aglow

Luminarias, common to the Southwest, are lit candles placed inside paper bags.   They appear outdoors at night on the days leading up to Christmas and represent the illuminated pathway of Mary and Joseph.

The pink lotus is a powerful Buddhist symbol and in candle form is commonly found on Buddhist altars, in temples, in homes, and places of business owned by Buddhists. The lotus represents the progress of the soul, coming out of the muddy roots of materialism blossoming into the sunshine of enlightenment.

The tall votive candle, with its roots in Africa, is a petition to the seven African powers or orishas that is used by various Caribbean religions in the U.S. and in the West Indies. By lighting the candle one may petition the gods to provide for physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

And no birthday party is complete without the burning candles on the birthday cake that honorees must extinguish with one breath in order to make a birthday wish come true.

Happy Birthday to You; Happy Birthday to You; You Look Like a Monkey, and You Act Like one, Too.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys lighting ritual candles.