USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘halloween’
Customs
Game
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bob-Apple

Background Information:

My informant is my aunt from rural Ireland. She related to me a tradition common in Kerry in particular, but spread out over time, called bob-apple or swing-apple. As a child, I also partook in these games, common around Halloween time, which involved either bobbing one’s head in a basin of water to try and catch an apple with your teeth, or tying an apple to a string and hanging it so that you had to try and bite it, both without using your hands. She learned this from experience in school, and has passed the tradition down to her children. For her, it is one of the fondest memories of her childhood.She is signified in this conversation by the initials J.O.

Main Piece:

J.O.: So both of these games were things we’d play around Halloweentime, I’ve never heard them played at any other time of year, and I think it’d feel fierce strange to have it at any other time. So on the last day of primary school before the Halloween break, when you’d get a week off school, the teacher would bring in a load of apples and some basins and sometimes string. And what he’d do is fill up one of the basins with freezing cold water and then put one apple for each student into it, so they’d float on the water.

A: Did the water have to be cold?

J.O.: Yes, that was part of the fright of the whole thing that it was freezing, and it’d be harder for you to catch your breath between bobs. Then what the teacher would do is to put each child’s name into a hat and pick people out one by one to bob for apples. And then when he’d call someone you’d have to put on a blindfold and keep your hands behind your back and try and fish for the apples with your face. And you’d want to go fairly early on when there were loads of apples as they’d be easier to get, and you could corner one easier. The later it got, the more the apples could float around and it’d be harder to get a grip on one. The last few people were absolutely hilarious, though, as it could go on for a good ten or fifteen minutes just watching them root around in the water for an apple. If you were taking too long or the day was almost over the teacher might guide the apple over to you with a stick, but that was funnier sometimes as the person with the blindfold wouldn’t know the apple was coming and it could hit them in the face. The audience could tell you whether you were hot or cold, too, hot being closer to the apple and cold being further away. At the end you were allowed to keep the apple, which was a luxury as the only time we got apples was when we robbed them from  neighbor’s orchard, but I heard the rich people would put sixpence in some of them. That was another variation of the game, actually, but they were mostly Dublin people so they had more money. The teacher would also bring in a box of sweets and you could have two, so it was probably the best day of the year at school.

A: And you mentioned a variation earlier, called swing-apple?

J.O.: Yes swing-apple! The premise was pretty much the same, but what would happen was the teacher would set up an apple swinging from a rope from one of the beams of the ceiling, and he’s call on people to try and get it with their teeth without using their hands, and they were blindfolded again. The first person to take a bite was allowed to keep the apple. Looking back, it was a breeding ground for germs and the like, but I suppose they were the times.

Performance Context:

This piece of folklore was related to me over FaceTime, as my aunt is in Kerry and I am in California.

My thoughts:

Firstly, apples have long been associated with Halloween when we consider other traditions such as caramel apples, traditionally only eaten at Halloween. There is also an element of practical joke in this, as the people who have to go last are the butts of the joke, but there is no harm in it. The idea of Halloween as a liminal space between dead and living, and when a lot of societal rules are broken, such as the idea of actually ‘taking candy from a stranger’ by trick-or-treating, plays into the bob-apple tradition as you would not normally be sanctioned to skip classes in favor of a game, especially one that made a joke out of the last few people. Therefore, the setting of the performance is important, as well as the time of year. That the participants are children also suggests that Halloween has, over time, become more of a children’s holiday, especially with the tradition of trick-or-treating.

Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Barmbrack

Background Information:

The informant is my aunt from rural Kerry, who related to me this recipe for Irish Barmbrack, a kind of sweet loaf prepared around Halloween-time, and the objects put into the “brack” and what they symbolize. Recently, I asked other people if they had heard of barmbrack and none of the Americans knew, but one of my English friends did, and all of my Irish friends. This leads me to believe that it is a Western European tradition only, if not Ireland-specific, with some spill over into neighboring countries. For her, this is a family tradition which she learned from her parents and  has passed onto her children. It is synonymous with the Halloween season for her. She is signified in this conversation by the initials J.O.

Main Piece:

J.O.: Brack is a sweet, heavy loaf with fruit in it, so it’s usually a combination of flour, spices like allspice and cinnamon, butter, eggs, milk, dried fruit, and then some candied peel. It’s a very heavy batter, and so it takes a while to cook, and it’s not a rising bread, it won’t double like a yeasted loaf.

A: Is there a specific festival or time of year you’d eat this at?

J.O.: I’ve not heard of anyone making it any time other than around Halloween, perhaps a little bit into November but not any later than that. With the spices and dried fruits it’s a warm loaf that you’d have with tea and butter and so it’s a bit heavy for summer, especially as you’d have fresh fruit from the start of May onwards. It’s a leftovers loaf in that sense, with the dried fruits, you know?

A: In the shops you always buy brack with a ring in it, do you know what that means?

J.O.: Yes, actually. We didn’t just put a ring in, we’d take tiny pieces of a rag, a stick, a pea, and a coin as well and wrap them all up in greaseproof paper, and bake them into the cake. So when you took a bite, often there was something in it, and each thing meant something different. The ring was a symbol of marriage, obviously, so if you got the piece with the ring you’d be married soon. The piece of cloth or rag meant that you’d be poor and wear rags, the stick meant that you were in for a beating, which usually suggested that you were going to do something wrong. The pea was a marriage thing again, I think, and the coin suggested that you’d be rich. I don’t think there was any truth behind it, as we’d always put them in the brack when we were kids, and then Mam wouldn’t put them in the bigger brack that she and Dad would have. So as, say, eight-year-olds, we weren’t expecting to get married anytime soon, and the annual nature of the thing would suggest that every year your fortune could change and you might get something contradictory, so it’s all just a bit of fun.

My Thoughts:

I agree that this is just a bit of fun leading up to the Halloween season, and not a serious tradition of prediction. It does, however, play on the idea of prediction and turns it into a game mostly for children. It also suggests something about the cultural values, that there is a high appreciation for marriage and wealth in whichever era this tradition came from, and when these are combined the idea of marrying up, or marrying into money, becomes obvious. This is suggestive of strong social stratification, regardless of the actual prediction value of the brack. The fact that this tradition is centered around Halloween time furthers the idea of this tradition as just a game, as Halloween is traditionally a time of reversal of roles in dressing up as someone else, a liminal space, and so kids can play adults for a while without consequence. By using seasonal ingredients the dish is therefore confined to this time of year, and projects the human experience of the year onto the progression of the seasons.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Haunted Houses for Halloween

“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.

 

Analysis:

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.

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Practical Jokes on Halloween

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.

Narrative
Riddle

Halloween House

The riddle:

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.

Customs
Holidays

Trick or Drink

Item:

“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.

 

Context:

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.

 

Analysis:

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.

Customs
general
Holidays

Halloween in Vancouver

Item:

“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.

 

Context:

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.

 

Analysis:

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.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Hidden Razor Blades

“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.

Customs
general
Holidays
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Oprah Gives Out Halloween iPods

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.

Adulthood
Childhood
Customs
Festival
general
Holidays
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Día de los Muertos Celebration: Mérida, Yucatán

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.

 

[geolocation]