Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. These include oral traditions such as tales, proverbs and jokes. They include material culture, ranging from traditional building styles to handmade toys common to the group. Folklore also includes customary lore, the forms and rituals of celebrations such as Christmas and weddings, folk dances and initiation rites. Each one of these, either singly or in combination, is considered a folklore artifact. Just as essential as the form, folklore also encompasses the transmission of these artifacts from one region to another or from one generation to the next. Folklore is not something one can typically gain in a formal school curriculum or study in the fine arts. Instead, these traditions are passed along informally from one individual to another either through verbal instruction or demonstration. The academic study of folklore is called folklore studies or folkloristics, and it can be explored at undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. levels.
To initiate the performance, there must be a frame of some sort to indicate that what is to follow is indeed performance. The frame brackets it as outside of normal discourse. In customary lore such as life cycle celebrations (ex. birthday) or dance performances, the framing occurs as part of the event, frequently marked by location. The audience goes to the event location to participate. Games are defined primarily by rules, it is with the initiation of the rules that the game is framed. The folklorist Barre Toelken describes an evening spent in a Navaho family playing string figure games, with each of the members shifting from performer to audience as they create and display different figures to each other.
In verbal lore, the performer will start and end with recognized linguistic formulas. An easy example is seen in the common introduction to a joke: "Have you heard the one...", "Joke of the day...", or "An elephant walks into a bar". Each of these signals to the listeners that the following is a joke, not to be taken literally. The joke is completed with the punch line of the joke. Another traditional narrative marker in English is the framing of a fairy tale between the phrases "Once upon a time" and "They all lived happily ever after." Many languages have similar phrases which are used to frame a traditional tale. Each of these linguistic formulas removes the bracketed text from ordinary discourse, and marks it as a recognized form of stylized, formulaic communication for both the performer and the audience.
Framing as a narrative device serves to signal to both the story teller and the audience that the narrative which follows is indeed a fiction (verbal lore), and not to be understood as historical fact or reality. It moves the framed narration into the subjunctive mood, and marks a space in which "fiction, history, story, tradition, art, teaching, all exist within the narrated or performed expressive 'event' outside the normal realms and constraints of reality or time." This shift from the realis to the irrealis mood is understood by all participants within the reference group. It enables these fictional events to contain meaning for the group, and can lead to very real consequences.