The defining feature of folk culture is that it is a localized form of culture. It is based on longstanding regional traditions.
We can contrast folk culture with popular culture because folk culture is not mainstream. In fact, whereas mass media promotes popular culture, it tends to suppress folk cultures. Thus, globalization is the nemesis of folk culture, which is drowned out by global culture.
Folk culture is resistant to change and is usually traditional and longstanding. It tends to be best preserved in tight-knit rural communities, but is very localized so it may be prevalent in one community but not in another one a few miles down the road.
Folk Culture Examples
1. Traditional Dance
Many minority, traditional, and indigenous cultures have their own forms of dance that are preserved through folk culture. One that comes to mind is Irish dance, which remains popular in rural and remote regions of the Republic of Ireland.
Similarly, Indigenous dance traditions in North America could be considered folk culture. The dance of certain tribes may differ and incorporate elements of their own folklore and stories about the cultural landscapes in their homeland.
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2. Oral Folklore
Oral folklore refers to stories that are passed on from one generation to the next. These stories traditionally were not written down but rather were passed on through stories.
For example, a town might develop a folklore story about a local forest to encourage children to say out of the forest. The story might involve tales of ghosts in the haunted forest, which helps to keep children from wandering into the forest during playtime.
Here, we can see that oral folklore often incorporates local landscapes. But it usually also incorporates fables that pass on the morals and values of the local culture.
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3. Pagan Religions
Paganism refers to any belief system that is not aligned with the major world religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. This includes a wide range of belief systems, such as Wicca, Druidism, and Asatru.
For many pagans, nature is sacred and there is a strong focus on living in harmony with the natural world. Other common beliefs include reverence for ancestors and the acceptance of multiple gods and goddesses.
There are pockets of Celtic paganism in North-Eastern Europe as well as Indigenous religious traditions around the New World that continue to be practiced.
4. Traditional Crafts
Traditional crafts can still be seen being sold in local markets all over the world. When I lived in England, which has a great deal of folk culture, I would go to local markets and often find old, traditional, trinkets sold by older ladies at the markets.
In North America, you can see traditional crafts still being practiced by first nations people and sold at their own markets. Similarly, in Australia, the Aboriginals have traditional paintings that embrace earthly tones and dot painting methods.
5. Traditional Clothing and Dress
Traditional clothing is typically associated with a particular regional culture or religion. It is often made from natural materials such as wool, cotton, or silk, and it is often handmade.
Moreover, traditional clothing is often passed down from generation to generation, and it often has symbolic meaning. For example, in many indigenous cultures, traditional clothing is used to represent group membership and social status.
In other cultures, traditional clothing may be worn for special occasions or ceremonies. Thus, traditional clothing often plays an important role in helping people to connect with their cultural heritage.
6. Regional Dialects and Slang
When you travel through Europe, you may notice a wide range of dialects that change from one town to the next.
For example, there are a number of different regional dialects spoken in Britain. One of the most notable is the Cockney dialect, which is associated with the East End of London. This dialect is characterized by its use of rhyming slang, as well as certain words and phrases that are specific to the East End.
Another regional dialect is Scots, which is spoken in Scotland. This dialect is distinct from standard English in both its pronunciation and its vocabulary. For example, Scots often use the word “barn” instead of “child,” and they might pronounce words differently than speakers of standard English.
Similarly, there is the Welsh dialect, which is spoken in Wales. Like Scots, Welsh has its own unique pronunciation and vocabulary. For instance, Welsh speakers might say “diolch” instead of “thank you.”
7. Traditional Ceremonies
May Day is a spring festival that has been celebrated for centuries in Europe. One May Day tradition celebrated in villages and small towns in Europe is the Maypole dance, in which dancers weave ribbons around a tall pole.
The Maypole is often decorated with flowers, and the ribbons are usually brightly colored. The dance is thought to symbolize the fertility of the earth and the union of masculine and feminine energies.
In some cultures, the Maypole is also seen as a key part of Beltane, a festival that celebrates the beginning of summer. On May Day, Beltane fires are lit and people jump over them to cleanse themselves of negative energy.
8. Localized Christmas Traditions
While there is a globalized Christmas culture, when you travel around the world, you also notice that there are a range of local Christmas traditions and activities.
In Catalonia, one of the most beloved Christmas traditions is the Caga Tio, or “Pooping Log.” This tradition originated in the rural areas of Catalonia, where families would use a real log as a decoration. The log would be brought into the house and placed near the fireplace, and then covered with a blanket or a piece of fabric.
Each day leading up to Christmas, the children would feed the log and care for it, and on Christmas Eve, the log would “defecate” gifts for the children.
Today, many families in Catalonia still practice this tradition, using a Caga Tio figurine instead of a real log.
The figurine is often made of wood or ceramic, and is decorated with paint or fabric. On Christmas Eve, the figurine is placed under the Christmas tree, and the children hit it with sticks until it “poops” out candy and small presents.
9. Regional Food Dishes
There are many regional food dishes across the world that have been practiced for generations, despite the influence of globalization. We call the culture and traditions surrounding these foods ‘foodways‘.
Some examples include New England clam chowder, Baltimore crabcakes, Charleston shrimp and grits, Tex-Mex chili con carne, Kansas City barbecue, and St. Louis toasted ravioli. Each dish is unique and reflective of the area’s culture and history.
For instance, New England clam chowder is a hearty soup that originated in the Fishing villages of Massachusetts and Maine. The soup is typically made with fresh clams, potatoes, onions, and cream.
Baltimore crabcakes, on the other hand, are a lighter fare that originated in the Chesapeake Bay region. They are usually made with lump crab meat, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, mustard, eggs, and Old Bay seasoning.
10. Irish Travelers
One specific folk culture that has a long history in Europe are the Irish Travelers. The Irish Travelers are a traditionally itinerant ethnic group who maintain a distinct culture and language within the countries of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 members of the group live in Ireland, with smaller populations in Scotland and England.
The Irish government recognizes them as a distinct ethnic minority, and they have been formally granted minority status in the UK. Travelers typically live in communal campsites, often on the outskirts of towns and cities.
The group is known for their unique customs and traditions, which include elaborate funerary rites and extensive use of the Romani language. They also have a strong sense of family and community, which is reflected in their close-knit social structure.
11. Amish Culture
The Amish are a unique cultural group in the United States who have their own folk culture. They’re interesting in that they explicitly reject mainstream and global culture.
The Amish way of life is characterized by simple living, plain dress, and a commitment to community and family. One of the most distinctive aspects of Amish culture is their avoidance of modern technology. The Amish believe that technology can lead to temptation and pride, which are contrary to their values of humility and simplicity. As a result, they often use more traditional methods for farming, construction, and transportation.
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It is usually very longstanding and resistant to change. It preserves itself in rural areas of the world where the traditional way of life is still cherished.
Because of their vulnerable status, uniqueness, and longevity, folk cultures need to be cherished and protected. They’re threatened by globalization and glocalization forces.
It’s up to the people who inherit the culture to carry it on from one generation to the next. However, we all can help to protect and admire it.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]