Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Custom Of Wearing Birthday Dollars In New Orleans & Elsewhere In The USA

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams provides excerpts from several online discussion threads about the birthday custom in New Orleans and some other American communities of wearing dollars pinned to the top of a female's shirt or dress or a male's shirt.

This post also showcases two videos that show the custom of wearing birthday dollars.

The Addendum to this post showcases a video of the custom in Hawaii of wearing a dollar leis (necklace) for graduation. I believe that that Hawaiian custom has a different source than (what appears to be) the primarily Southern region of the United States custom of wearing (pinning) birthday dollars.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to to all those who are quoted in this post, thanks to all those who are featured in these videos, and thanks to the publishers of these YouTube videos.
This post is a companion to the 2011 pancocojams post I wrote in that post that the American custom of wearing birthday dollars appears to be largely practiced by African Americans, particularly in New Orleans and some other parts of the South. I also theorized that this custom is an adaptation of the Nigerian (and some other African nations') custom of "spraying" paper money on a person to express appreciation and congratulations. In those countries spraying money is not only done at weddings, birthdays, but is also done to express appreciation for dancers, singers, or other people in a program. That 2011 pancocojams post showcases several African videos of people spraying money.

These comments are given in no particular order and are numbered for referencing purposes only.
Excerpt #1
Oonkas Boonkas, June 26, 2014
"The Cajun Tradition of pinning money onto the birthday boy or girl is the most prevalent among African Americans with it being at it's highest concentration in New Orleans.
This is an old New Orleans tradition. This is not a “new” ritual at least not to those of us from New Orleans. The first time it happened to me a French Quarter chef pinned a $20 note on me said happy Birthday and gave me a kiss I didn't know what to do.

And, although it’s roots are in the black community, everyone in NOLA celebrates with this tradition if they are so inclined. It doesn’t matter what color you are! We are a gumbo of people in NOLA who truly assimilate and appreciate each others culture, i.e. jazz, creole cooking, etc....

You all may be interested in reading this. New Orleans has deep ties to West Africa due to slave trading.

So, this makes sense:
It’s also a West African custom to give money to musicians and dancers while they are performing. Paper money is given in appreciation of the performance. The dollar bills, or other paper money, are either laid at their feet or put in their clothing. This is called “dashing” or “spraying”.

That custom-and the West Africa custom of dashing newlyweds with dollar bills at their wedding reception-are also done in the United States and other places where West Africans live. These gifts are expressions of appreciation and good fortune.

These traditions of “dashing” are probably the source of the custom among some African Americans of giving people (especially children) celebrating their birthday gifts of dollar bills. Those dollar bills are then pinned to the birthday celebrant’s shirt, blouse, or the dress top (near his or her heart).

Lastly, many New Orleanians were scattered to the four corners of this country during Katrina. Some of our New Orleanians evacuated to Houston and have remained there. Hence the picture at the bus stop*.

The custom of spraying money is a traditional Yoruba custom for special occasions such as birthdays, and weddings. Paper money is placed on the honoree’s face and floats down to the ground where it is collected by a designated person. "Spraying” (dashing) is different and was done to shower good fortune on the honoree-that good fortune literally and symbolically is represented by the paper money that is supposed to come down like rain upon that person.

The African American custom of pinning dollar bills to the birthday person (for adults, it seems to me that the honoree is usually female) derives from that Nigerian custom. We pin the dollar bills on to make sure that none goes missing-and a dollar bill is pinned on the top of a person’s dress or shirt to indicate that it’s that person’s birthday and to therefore receive other dollar bills from those seeing that pinned money (whether they are known or unknown to the birthday celebrant)."
*This Facebook post includes a photograph of a young Black woman sitting at a bus stop with dollar bills pinned to the left side of her top. A young man is also shown looking at her. The sub-title for this photograph is "poorly dressed".

That photograph and article which ridiculed the woman with dollars pinned to her shirt is what motivated me to publish the 2011 "Pinning Birthday Dollars" pancocojams post whose link is given above. It's interesting that as of at least May 25, 2017, no comments are shown for that particular post, although in 2011 I responded to one comment which I quoted, and I also quoted another comment. And my recollection is that there were other comments besides those three which are preserved in that pancocojams post.

That Facebook post also featured a black and white photograph of an old Black man with birthday dollars pinned to the top right and top left of his suit coat and also pinned throughout many other areas of that suit coat.

Excerpt #2
Pancocojams Editor: Notice the assumption in several of these comments in this yahoo excerpt that wearing birthday dollars is a "Black custom".

From What's up with pinning dollar bills to your shirt on your birthday?

"What's the story behind pinning dollar bills to your shirt on your birthday? Do people do this any other time, or all the time? How many dollars are you supposed to pin to yourself? Apparently it's a black person thing popular in schools. I've only seen one person do it, but other people have mentioned it and we couldn't figure out why people would do something that silly.

Update: Do you provide your own cash, or do you try to persuade others to donate?"
-no name given, 2007

1. "Best Answer: They do that at my school. The goal is to get the number of $1 bills as your age (ex. $16 if you turn 16) I don't know the story behind it but they hate it when the white kids do it lol
-mjstwin0405 · 2007

2. "It's not a black thing. It's a "people that can use a little extra cash thing". They used to do it when I lived in Houston, but I moved to a nicer neighborhood and they don't do that anymore. See? It's also a way of giving people a chance to give you a birthday present if they haven't already. When I was in Houston, your friends would decorate the first bill with markers, and it went on top."
-happyfarah88, 2007

3. "You don't pin them on yourself. Your friends give you dollars for your birthday and pin them on you. I've never done it but I've heard about it. Kind of like a dollar dance at a wedding. I'm not black so I don't really know if it's a black thing."
Boober Fraggle, 2007

4. It's a form of gift giving. They do this at wedding, birthdays and other celebrations. And it's not just a black thing. My family does it and we're asian. No, you don't provide your own bills, your guests give the money willingly.

my family"
bornagain, 2007

5. "It's from a "dollar dance".. which means you pay a dollar and you can dance with the girl.. It was originally a tradition at an Italian wedding.. but it became so popular.. everyone does it and not just for weddings anymore... birthdays, graduations, baby showers etc..
Janine, 2007
I believe that pinning birthday dollars comes from a different source than the dollar dance custom that is described above.

6. Can a man get pinned with money for his birthday too?
jania, 2015
There's no published answer to this question as of the date of this pancocojams post, but from reading other online comments, from the two videos that are shown below, and from my own (admittedly limited) experience, it appears that men in the United States can also have dollar bills pinned to their shirt. However, it also appears that more females (and perhaps more little girls) are the recipients of this custom than males of any age.

Excerpt #3
From [page 2] Re: Has anyone ever done the "pin a dollar to your shirt" thing?

1. KansCityKid, May 20, 2013
Kansas City

"Locals all know what it means. Not just a New Orleans thing, I have seen it done in Arkansas. Not sure how widespread it is, the whole Deep South or just a couple of states. It is a fun custom."

2. iquidLuck, May 21, 2013,
El Paso, Texas

"Yes, I have done that. Just a different variation. I live in the southwest, and the custom here is like a birthday corsage that you pin on and then bills get stapled to the corsage. As the night goes on other people add to it. If you do it this way, make sure to carry a mini stapler so people can add to your pile."

Pancocojams Editor:
In contrast to the multiple numbers of videos that I've found of the custom in parts of Africa of spraying people with paper money, I've only found a few videos of wearing dollar bills in the United States and most of those were from New Orleans, Louisiana. I didn't include two of those videos because the videos themselves or their summaries focused on people in clubs (nightclubs) drinking for their birthdays.


AyooDenise51, Uploaded on Feb 12, 2012

This video is part of Walmart's 2012 "get on the shelf" contest: [a] "Viral contest developed by @WalmartLabs returns, offering more opportunities for American businesses and entrepreneurs to sell their products to millions of new customers"
The background music is an adaptation of the 2011 Baltimore (Maryland) Club Music song "Get On The Floor If You Got That Booty!"

Example #2: Respect Rap Only

Hal Sandick Uploaded on Apr 25, 2011

Song Available on Itunes - "It's called respect" by the Fearless Lions.

Students use rap and dancing to explain the importance of respecting each other.
The following selected comments refer to a male teacher who is wearing a dollar pinned to his shirt (at 2:30 of this video).
Zeraxi Roblox Gaming, 2016
"Lol why did he have a dollar on his shirt"

internal 21 ealu, 2016
"Zeraxi Roblox Gaming lol he did have a dollar on his shirt that's funny"

Nikki Bennett, 2017
"Zeraxi Roblox Gaming because it was is birthday duhh"

Clayton Adams, 2017
"Because it was his birthday, many people do that"

Room Fifteen, 2017
"what guy? still lol"

Mattygamer HD, 2017
"I thought it was a money necklace"*

Reborn CutiePies, 2017
"Room Fifteen the teacher at 2:30."
*Watch the video given below as Example #3 for information about a "money necklace".

It's likely that the teacher in this video wore a dollar bill pinned to his shirt as a way of informing his students about this custom or acknowledging a custom that his students were already familiar with and definitely not with the expectation that any of his students would give him money. However, it's possible that other adults in that school may have acknowledged his birthday by giving him dollar bills.

ADDENDUM: How to make a money lei for graduation with school colors

Classy Cheapskate, Published on May 13, 2016

DIY project: How to make a money lei using school colors. This currency project is very easy and makes a super special gift for a high school or college graduate. It's so simple – all you need is paper, ribbon dollar bills, and tape. This method will not harm the money and the receiver will be able to spend the money gift when desired.
Here's some information about Hawaiian money leis:
"When a person gives someone a lei, it symbolizes their affection towards the other. Leis are commonly presented when someone is arriving and leaving, so it’s no surprise that leis are given to graduates as they are leaving school and arriving to this new stage of life. Traditionally, the receiver is supposed to bow their head down so the gift-giver can place the lei around their neck. They end this custom with a kiss.

The most common types of leis are made from flowers or some type of botanical element, whether it be green leaves or vines. Dendrobium orchid leis are the most popular type of graduation ceremony gift because of their long-lasting quality. Purple is the most common color chosen for orchid leis, followed by white and green. Other graduation lei flower types are rose leis and carnation leis. Yellow roses are a popular choice for girl graduates because of their lovely fragrance and femininity. Carnations are also a great choice, for there are so many color options and therefore they are easier to match to the school’s colors—which is an important feature to consider when purchasing flowers for a grad."...

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