celebrations, customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, holidays



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

customs/rituals, folklore, food, food taboos

“It’s Not on Your Father’s Diet!”

Once, when I was teaching a university foodways class, a student recalled that while growing up whenever she or her siblings requested a chicken dish, Mom responded, “It’s not on your father’s diet.”  That explanation satisfied them while they were young.  Only when she was older did this young woman ask her mother, “Why isn’t chicken on Dad’s diet?”

Mom explained that when Dad was growing up in the country, he had to walk by the chicken slaughterhouse each day.  The overwhelming stench and the terrified chicken squawks caused a lifetime aversion to chicken.  This taboo was passed on to the man’s children without their ever knowing why.

Holding My Nose to Drink Orange Juice.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013.
Holding My Nose to Drink Orange Juice. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013.

Food memories are powerful.  They stimulate many senses all at once: taste, smell, touch, sight.  They become indelible.  Because I was a sickly child, my parents wanted to build me up, so they hid two teaspoons of cod liver oil in my morning orange juice.  When I tried to drink it, I gagged.  To this day, I can never drink orange juice in the morning because those awful memories take over, and I can still smell and taste that malodorous fishy oil.

Sometimes food taboos are caused by individual bad experiences.  Other times they are culturally based.  Henry, one of my writing class students, related an experience he had in high school.  On his way home one day, Henry stopped at a fast food restaurant and purchased two hamburgers before he impulsively stopped to visit the home of his new classmate, Harihar.

Although the family was eating supper, Harihar’s mother invited Henry to sit at the table with them.  Henry told the mom that he had brought his own dinner.  What a shock for Henry when Harihar’s family reacted with horror when they saw the hamburgers on their dinner table.

Harihar’s family was Hindu and eating beef was a primary food taboo.  Harihar and his family couldn’t get over how thoughtless Henry was eating a religiously forbidden food in front of them.  At the same time, Henry had no idea that beef was a tabooed food and he became embarrassed when Harihar’s mom explained this to him.

Stories abound about offending people from other cultures because of food taboos as well as other conflicting customs and beliefs.  From time to time, I will relate more examples because one of my passions is understanding how cultural differences can cause people to misunderstand one another.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys learning about cultural differences in customs and beliefs.