“My dad comes from a Mexican and Spanish heritage, his dad was from Spain and his mom was from Mexico, and its interesting because my grandmother and my grandfather never really liked Halloween and my grandmother never really liked the day of the dead but my dad is like an enthusiast about Halloween like every year since he was little he used to build haunted houses for Halloween so when he was little he used to build haunted houses out of boxes or on the playground at parks and now that he’s older he builds them out of our house because its like a big deal and he spends hundreds of dollars on Halloween decorations every year and he makes me and my sister fly to Arizona to celebrate it with him. Its almost bigger than Christmas. Each person is designated to a certain set-up so like one year I’ll do the voodoo set up and my sister will do like the graveyard and he tries to theme it every year, so one year it will be the Caribbean and the next it will be like the classic haunted house like the Disneyland haunted mansion, and my whole entire family comes to his house to celebrate it, and my grandmother when she was alive would dress up like a witch and my grandfather would dress up as the hunchback of Notre dame, and every year no matter what the theme is, there is always a fog machine, and usually it sets off the fire alarm every year and the fire department comes and they help my dad fix the fog machine so it doesn’t give out too much fog. My dad plans Halloween literally after Halloween is over for the next year. To me it has special significance because it’s a time when all of my family gets together because usually at thanksgiving and Christmas your relatives are at different places and usually at Halloween, while my dad takes it seriously, not everyone else does, so we aren’t worried about who is making dinner or seating arrangements so its like a big party every year.”
Informant: The Informant is twenty-one years old, and of Spanish, Italian, and Mexican heritage. She grew up in Arizona.
This holiday tradition, along with the interest in it taken by the informant’s father, has several interesting attributes. Both Mexican and Spanish traditions place great emphasis upon Halloween and the day of the dead. In Mexico, the day of the dead is very important to the culture, and widely celebrated throughout the country, and Halloween, along with All-Souls’ day is an integral part of the Spanish culture. The main belief surrounding these holidays is that the souls of the dead return to earth during this time, and are to be honored and celebrated.
For the grandparents of the informant’s father to dislike Halloween and the day of the dead festivities could be attributed to fear or superstition or the supernatural, which surround this holiday season. However, it also detracts from the inherited tradition of the family. Therefore, the father’s love for Halloween could come from a subconscious desire to celebrate his heritage through partaking in the tradition that both of the cultures, from which he is descended, place a special emphasis upon Halloween or the day of the dead.
If this were the case, the large-scale celebration that he insists upon enacting through the building of elaborate, themed haunted houses would constitute celebrating the holiday with a special connection to his heritage. In addition, his large celebration brings together the entire family, something that is very special to the informant, as it is the only time of year that her entire family is together. So, a holiday that was once disliked by the grandparents of the informant’s father, now serves as a binding holiday because of the elaborate rituals undertaken by the informant’s father to celebrate Halloween. It brings together the family as they each help out in building the houses, even though they are not nearly interested in the holiday as much as the informant’s father. This also demonstrates that the actual construction of the themed houses serves as a great example of a ritual that brings together a family in celebration of their culture and tradition.
Original Script: “Okay…so like this is annoying. Like SO annoying and it happens every damn Halloween, I SWEAR. And I love Halloween! But, okay, so I like scary movies, I just like the adrenaline rush that they give me. I don’t know. But there are some creepy ass movies that really scare me. Like ones with clowns or creepy girls that crawl—something about the crawling just freaks me out. I usually watch them with my stepdad, Chuck. Anyways, there was this movie called Mama, and it was not that scary. EXCEPT, when she crawled upside down in a long dress with her hair covering her face—similar to a crab walk but creepier. IT REALLY FREAKED ME OUT! So during Halloween, Chuck got this GRAND idea, to play a joke on me. I was in my room minding my own business, it was nighttime. THEN, the power went out, and I’m like ‘oh what the hell’ because whose power randomly goes out. I was pissed. So I open my bedroom door to ask Chuck what was wrong. Because I was trying to binge watch on Netflix on all the ‘scary’ movies they had. Mind you, my room is at the end of the hallway, directly across from the stairs. So I get no response, and it is creepy as hell so I take another step out of my room. And hear something creaking up the stairs. I step again, and there is a freaking look a like Mama crawling up the stairs. I screamed SO loud, and kept screaming. But then Chuck—who was dressed as the lady—starting laughing and fell down the stairs. I was so pissed. Now it is funny. But I was literally so pissed. Like good, you should of fallen down the stairs. AND like how the hell did he crawl like that? Did he practice? AND THAT’S NOT ALL. The Halloween before that, I opened my bedroom door and there was a creepy clown standing thing in my room—like a thing you get from the Halloween store! I should have been prepared. This Halloween, I am going to make sure Chuck get’s his just-deserts. I am starting to plan NOW. In freaking MARCH! I can’t wait.”
Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jenna grew up in Chandler, Arizona with her family. About two years ago, she moved across country with her mother and now lives in Milford, Pennsylvania. Jenna loves stuff about ghosts, and she is always willing to see if the legends are true. She has gone on a many legend quests but have yet to hold them true until this one. She is now a senior in high school and eighteen years old and plans to go to California in the fall. Jenna loves scary movies and is not scared of many things—besides those stated in the above piece of folklore. According to her, she plans on pranking Chuck this year, 2016, around Halloween.
Context of the Performance: Halloween
Thoughts about the piece: I felt that this particular piece of folklore that I collected was rich in the folkloric terms we had learned in our Forms of Folklore class. Foremost, there is the precedent of the practical joke, where there is a victim—Jena—and initiator—Chuck—and a dope—the scaring of another person. There is the obvious separation of groups, the people who think it is funny, like Chuck, those who are on the inside of the joke and those who are the unsuspecting casualties, like Jenna, who are outside of the joke.
However, it is interesting to note the occurrence when this practical joke transpired. In Milford, Pennsylvania, where Jenna lives, contrary to popular belief, it really does not start snowing until the end of November. Thus, there is this transitional period from fall to wintertime. Additionally, while Halloween does mark the end of a season, there is seemingly coherent transition between everyday life as well. For example, the marathon of Halloween movies on ABC Family will start to transition into Christmas time movies, the radio will start singing Christmas carols, and department stores will stop selling their Halloween decoration and start to set out Christmas decorations. (It is probably the perfect time for a practical joke such as this, because one would have to question Chuck’s sanity if he dressed up like a dead woman crab walking up the stairs on a regular basis).
Pop culture happens to play an interesting role in this joke as well. As Jenna had noted, the movie Mama (2013) directed by Andrés Muschietti, personifies woman “creepily.” Especially, in horror films, the ghosts and/or dead creatures are most often portrayed as being female: The Ring (2002) and The Grudge (2004). Furthermore, there is also the portrayal of clowns being scary, even though they were supposed to be a child’s entertainment at parties. In pop culture, these clowns are often portrayed as being murderous: It (1990), Amusement (2008), and Poltergeist (1982). There are even designated costumes at Halloween stores, or aisles, that say “Ghost Woman” or “Murderous Clown.” Hence, while in the past these might of not been scary costumes, and or events, in today’s society, the realm of scary, even the “horror” genre has completely changed.
Finally, it is important to note that this practical joke has almost become a tradition in Jenna’s household. Chuck has played this joke on her for two Halloweens in a row, and Jenna had stated that she plans on a practical joke this coming Halloween, where Chuck is the unsuspecting victim and Jenna is in the know.
Informant: “It was a dark, Halloween night, and a boy was walking alone. There was a house with no power, like in the woods, in the back of the woods, like there was a pathway up to the house, there was no power. And he went in alone, and he goes, and he was walking through it all, and he kept on hearing creaky sounds, and then he finally got to the back, and this voice over the house just was like, ‘You walked into this house, and now you have to die,’ and he said, ‘but I’ll give you five choices on how to die.’ And it was like, ‘You can take a pill, and you won’t feel anything at all, and you’ll just die peacefully. Or you can, um, I can cut your neck off’…there are like two other ways, I can’t remember, and then, um…oh and then, ‘You can sit in a rocking chair and you’ll die by the…electric chair.’ And he…what would you have chosen? The pill where you don’t feel anything?”
Informant’s mom: “No, or the electric chair, or what?”
Informant: “Getting your head chopped off.”
Informant’s mom: “I don’t know, I wouldn’t do the pill, because I would think that I might have a chance to escape. So I wouldn’t do that.”
Informant: “Alright, well, he picked the pill, but if he would’ve picked the electric chair, he wouldn’t’ve died, because remember at the beginning, I said there was no power.”
Informant’s mom: “Ohhhhh (laughs).”
The informant, a sophomore in high school, told this to her mother. She says that she learned this from a classmate in second grade. The riddle doesn’t seem to be that clever, but I think it was probably very clever for second graders once they knew the right answer. It probably amused them while also skirting around the taboo of death and violence at such a young age. While effectively harmless, it was fun for young children to sort of trick one another.
“Eventually it got super boring and some dad drank too much and they had to take care of him, so we left.”
The informant’s hometown had a tradition on Halloween catered toward fathers in the neighborhood. Mothers would typically stay home, passing out candy to kids, while fathers would take the children out for drink or treating. However, at each stop at a father’s house in the group, they would Trick or Drink, which involved going into the house and spending a short while having pre-prepared drinks. The dads would usually prepare the drinks at their respective homes before gathering up to go out, and when they got there on the journey with the kids, the moms would bring the drinks out for all the dads. As the drinking sessions got longer and the dads a little less “focused”, the kids would break off and go out alone or with minimal supervision to continue their trick or treating. The starting house was determined simply by cycling through ones that hadn’t been done in recent years.
The tradition started a few generations before the informant. It served as a way for dads to spend time with their kids but also have fun with each other in the process. The informant remembers it being a rather high energy night until the dads slowed down and took longer at each house, to the point where to kids got bored and wanted to go back out on their own. She wasn’t sure what kinds of drinks were being made since she was so young, but just knows there were a lot of them. Other people in the room chimed in when she mentioned this tradition saying they had looser but similar things that would happen in their hometowns.
It’s a little funny how formal this tradition is. While other people present for the performance noted similar tendencies from their hometowns, this particular one had ample preparation, planning, and repetition. While it wasn’t the case that this was the only way the dads could be incentivized to go out with their children, it was obvious that making sure their kids had fun and got candy was not the focus of their night. To a certain extent, it’s a night where the fathers can act more like kids, but with the added benefit of alcohol. The fact that every year at least one dad drank too much and had to be taken care of is also a bit humorous. It wasn’t clear what level of supervision the kids had after they abandoned the dads, or why they needed supervision earlier if they were comfortable going out later alone.
“Probably wasn’t the best idea we had. We knew people did it all our lives, I guess just Halloween sorta sucked when you got older so you did other stuff.”
Informant states that teens in Vancouver wander around during Halloween causing trouble and being mischievous, very often to dangerous degrees. While he says people in America seem to be somewhat crazy on Halloween, it doesn’t compare to the tradition of teens in Vancouver. His friends and many other teens would go around with fireworks, firecrackers, and even M80s sometimes, causing a lot of trouble for people walking about during the holiday. They would shoot roman candles at one another and lob firecrackers over fences. He remembers this happening when he was a child, and his parents recall similar stories from their youth.
This rather dangerous tradition spanned 2-3 Halloweens for the informant, until they graduated high school. They never intended to deliberately harm anyone, but would often end up hurting one another. He doesn’t recall any particular reason for it, and it’s not something they would do on any day but Halloween. There wasn’t anything specific to Vancouver with the tradition, but he says being in a few different places for the holiday since, nothing compares to it.
While not rooted in any specific reasoning or location-specific motivation, this tradition is upheld for a decent amount of time in at least one area. It’s an opportunity to teens to be rowdy and dangerous for a night, likely when a lot of people are expecting it and watching out for it. Halloween seems to carry a lot of meanings for people depending on age group. He stated that the behavior they exhibited was pretty atypical for how his friends would behave through the rest of the year, but that they would be betraying a tradition if they didn’t act wild on the night of Halloween. Other people in the room, as he shared this information, made mention of a “Mischief Night”, which is similar but not typically fully associated with the night of Halloween.
“The idea was that Satanists, or people like them, were slipping needles into apples, or like, razorblades into apples, and poisoning candy, and whenever I got a pixie stick, my parents would make me pour it out, like if I got one for Halloween they would make me pour it out, saying ‘no, they could have put drugs in that, you can’t have that.’ And then if, ah, like, one year, and this was the only year they did it but the urgent treatment center was doing an X-ray where you could bring your kids’ candy in and they would X-ray it and be like ‘okay, no needles here ma’am, no razorblades in your apples’ My parents still believe this, even now.”
This urban legend affected many of the informant’s Halloweens, as his parents would “screen” his candy before he could have it. It also becomes part of the Halloween ritual in a way, because the “checkpoint” has to happen before the informant can have the candy. This urban legend was so widespread that the Urgent Care Center in his area actually allowed people to use an X-ray machine! This translation from legend to real life fear shows how pervasive urban legends can be. This fear also reveals who people were most afraid of at the time (the informant grew up in the eighties). Satanists were apparently the biggest threat, those who seemed most evil and likely to do something like this to innocent kids. Though the informant left this belief behind, it seems that his parents have not.
Ever since I was a little kid, trick-or-treating was a big deal to me. Seeing as my parents were very protective of me however, I was never allowed to go very far outside my Santa Barbara neighborhood each Halloween. Every year, kids with more lenient parents would circulate tales of what fantastic goodies they collected from the more affluent neighborhoods I was not allowed to visit. Rumors of “king size” chocolate bars and candy buffets incurred awe and jealousy from the kids with restrictive Halloween guidelines, but what really captured my attention were the iPods Oprah Winfrey allegedly distributed to those lucky enough to make it to her Montecito estate. Nobody I knew ever made it out there to get a piece of this iPod action, it was always their brother’s friend or a friend of a friend who got the goods, but I believed all the same. I could just imagine a group of costumed children arriving at Oprah’s doorstep to be greeted by exclamations of “You get an iPod! You get an iPod! And you get an iPod! Everybody gets an iPod!” as confetti rained down, etc. To this day I’ve never been able to confirm the veracity of this rumor one way or the other, but I guess that’s the case with most urban legends; regardless of truth, the story never dies.
This is a FOAF legend, popular among trick-or-treating children who live in Santa Barbara, or near enough to Oprah’s Montecito estate they could potentially stop at her house on Halloween night. As Oprah has a reputation for giving our lavish gifts on special occasions, the story is not beyond the realm of possibility. However, as the person who told me this folklore never knew anyone directly who received an iPod, there is no guarantee that this story is true.
The informant is 56 years old. She is Mexican and was born in Mérida, Yucatán. She moved to California when she was 6 six years old, but still remembers many of the local traditions, especially the tradition surrounding the Day of the Dead.
Before the celebration begins, people clean their houses, making sure the laundry is done and the dishes are washed. This is because if a deceased family member’s spirit comes to visit on the Day of the Dead, you don’t want them to have to do the work for you, or at least feel like they should. The celebration is supposed to be a time for them to enjoy themselves, and like awaiting the arrival of any house guest, you always clean up to make things presentable.
The Día de los Muertos celebration begins on October 31st. As the first day of the celebration, it is dedicated to celebrating the passing of the children. Any babies or toddlers that have died in the past year are honored on this day. Families set up an altar or a shrine. The altar is covered with a white tablecloth that has colorful embroidery around the edges. A green cross is placed on the altar because this is the color of Mérida. Colorful candles are set up too. Then, the deceased one’s favorite dishes are put out on the shrine. These can be anything from favorite candies to Mexican pan dulce bread. Favorite toys and games are set up too. Sometimes these are marbles, or even coloring books—it just depends on whatever happened to be the child’s favorite. Pictures are also put on the altar. After the altar has been assembled, the family gathers to say the Rosary. The altar stays up for the entire day and night of the 31st.
On November 1st, the child’s altar is taken down and another one is set up, this time celebrating the passing of any adults. The decoration for these altars is all black and white. The white tablecloth has black embroidery and white candles are placed on the altar. Pictures are put up and the adults favorite foods are placed on the altar as well. Again, these can be the pan dulce bread or tamales, even shots of whiskey or a pack of cigarettes. The altar is left up all day and night.
On November 2nd, the adult altar is taken down and the day is set aside for going to visit the grave sites of the deceased family members. Sometimes candles are burned on the graves, or flowers are set upon them. This marks the end of the Día de los Muertos celebration.
As my informant said, the entire celebration is a way to celebrate the life of a loved one. The altars are meant for families to pay their respects to the dead by presenting them with all of their favorite things from life. It is a festive way of honoring the dead, and communing with the spirits that come back for a visit.
“So, um, there’s a legend that, and I’m pretty sure it’s true, that one time on Halloween, the Engineers, it might not actually be the Engineers, I don’t know who did it, but I think it’s the Engineers because they’re the only ones smart enough to actually do something like this… one Halloween, they got a huge pumpkin on the top of the clock tower and no one really knows how they did it because the clock tower is pointy and really tall and has one hundred and sixty-one stairs. And so now, every year for Halloween, as tribute to that, Cornell lights the face of the clock tower orange and makes it look like a jack o’lantern… like makes a jack o’lantern face in it. I’ve heard the story from Orientation Leaders. I don’t remember if they said it was Engineers, but I think it is.”
The informant was very adamant that the group of students who supposedly pulled off this prank consisted of Engineers. Her tone was very insistent. This makes sense because she is an Engineering student. Her version of the legend reflects how highly she thinks of her own major at Cornell. It’s interesting how the school has turned this prank (or legend of a prank) into a folk tradition by lighting up the clock tower every year to look like a jack o’lantern. The school seems to greatly value the prank or (legend of the prank) and thus feels the need to keep this story alive through this annual, symbolic practice.
My informant told me about the traditions surrounding Devil’s Night, or October 30th, the night before Halloween. She mentioned that the normal activities boys would participate in would be egging houses at night and “doorbell ditching.” When egging became an issue of destruction of property and legal action could be taken against the children involved, they switched from egging a house to using toilet paper, spreading it around trees and the house yard.
My informant felt that this was a very east coast tradition because of our association to early Halloween traditions and witches in Salem. She could not name when Devil’s Night started, just that several generations of her family knew about it and all that went on that night, usually criminal behavior.
Often this would involve smashing pumpkins as well. My informant thought that maybe this was another imitation of spirits because of the stories surrounding Halloween. My informant said that when she was younger, her parents would tell her scary stories of things that happened on Devil’s Night to prevent her from going out and taking part in the activities that got her fellow classmates into trouble.