Tag Archives: halloween

Sleepy Hollow Road

Background: This piece was a common piece of folklore within the informant’s community. He lived on Sleepy Hollow Road, so parents in the community adopted the tale of the headless horseman and used it to scare their children, and prevent them from wandering around unsupervised.

Context: This ghost story was performed to an audience of one, in the village dining hall.

Body: I lived on sleepy hollow road so in my neighborhood there was like the typical legend, I’m pretty sure the guy was headless on a horse or something, so we would stay with our parents and walk around. Whenever Halloween would come around, the kids on our street would be scared by it, so we would want to walk with our parents. Our parents would use it as a ploy to make sure people we not leave the house without them. Like he’ll get us basically. Ironically, like, I’m actually pretty far from the actual town of sleepy hallow.

I believe that this piece is a tool which parents who lived on the street of sleepy hollow adopted from a pre-existing myth to prevent their children from wandering off and misbehaving.

For another version of this legend, see “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving.

Halloween on Military Bases: Trunk or Treat

Genre: Folk tradition/ritual, holiday


Nationality: American but takes place in other countries

Location: Germany

Language: English


Abstract: CB describes how Halloween is celebrated in American military families overseas by going trunk to trunk of cars instead of door to door in houses.


Background: CB is from a military family, and she spent a portion of her life in Germany while her dad was stationed there. She experienced this tradition every Halloween while she was overseas. The topic of conversation was brought up, at first, during a class section, then further discussed after.


The tradition:


Every Halloween (October 31st), CB would go to her father’s military base and join all of the other families in a Halloween celebration. Instead of walking around neighborhoods and ringing doorbells like Halloween in America, families on the base would bring their cars, decorate them, and walk around getting candy from the trunks of vehicles. Everything, including costumes, was the same. The only real difference was the smaller scale of who was celebrating and the place where the candy was located (in cars).


S: So, have you ever done this in the United States or in bases back in America?

CB: Not really, actually, I would say that it is more popular like outside of the US. Probably because, ya know, no one else really celebrates Halloween even though they might have similar versions.


Interpretation: While CB attributes the Halloween tradition of Trunk or Treat to the fact that surrounding areas do not celebrate the holiday, there is also another reason for the international twist. For soldiers overseas serving their contracts, Trunk or Treat provides them with a little taste of home. Living another life in a different country cause for America’s warriors to become nostalgic and miss the small things from back home. Celebrating halloween in their own way brings them back to recognize what they are fighting for and give them motivation to finish their service to get back home. The reason for the cars having to be used is because there is not the neighborhood/house atmosphere on a military base. The cars provide opportunities for decorations where one might see the typical orange and black colors with spiders, witches, blood, and pumpkins. Transporting this holiday across seas also means that young children of soldiers are able to still experience the childhood of typical Americans which will make the eventual transition back to America easier. On American bases, Trunk or Treat is not as popular because the soldiers stationed usually have houses outside the bounds of the military fences which allows for the typical house to house Halloween.



Halloween Festival

Context & Analysis

The subject is from Ashland, Oregon—a relatively small town in Oregon that is an extremely tight-knit community. She expressed to me that Ashland has a rich tradition of festivals—particularly ones that involve floats. I asked her to elaborate on a few of her favorite festivals and she brought up Halloween. The subject has a lot of pride for her town and it’s traditions and it’s interesting that this is a tradition that involved the entire town. The shut-down of the town reflects the ‘suspension of regular life’ that often is related to festivals, even more so because of the size of the town. I find it unique and interesting that stores will hand out candy.

Main Piece

“The biggest festival in Ashland is I’d say probably Halloween, um my town is really really big on parades, so there’s always like a huge parade for fourth of July, the festival of lights, Halloween. And it starts at like, 3—3:30? And, um, everybody meets at the library and they shut down, like, the main strip of town. Um and everyone dresses up in costumes, there’s always costume contests and there’s always like a run the morning of and it’s this giant parade you walk from the library all the way down to the plaza in all of your costumes and you get candy from all of the stores you get to, like trick or treat um and you go around and there’s like food and it’s fun and um everyone just has such a good time and people go all out. Like my town is just….so extra [laughs] it’s unbelievable.”

Haitian Halloween

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Um, so like Christmas dinners – my whole family would come into like – we would rotate which house we would go to. And then everyone was – not really assigned – but everyone knew what like, what dish to bring. Cause like, that’s the only thing you’re good for, so just bring that. I was desserts. My mom was – there’s this thing called Soufflé Maïs, so. It was so good. It’s like sweet corn and cheese. And then – it was soufflé because it’s cooked in the oven. And then my mom also makes – I call it egg salad because I like the eggs more than the potatoes. With spam and hotdogs or either like mayo or mustard. It’s so good, it’s so delicious. It’s not a Haitian dish, it’s just a dish. And then uh, ah, Diri Djon Djon. So it’s like black rice basically. It’s soooo good. It’s like rice – of rice, and then the type of mushroom you put in with the rice. Cause it blackens the rice. And then you put peas in it.”

She later told me that these same dishes would be served around Halloween, as her family created a tradition of having a Halloween dinner every year. The Diri Djon Djon was particularly popular then, as the black color lends itself perfectly to the spookiness of Halloween-time. It was cool to hear about how her family mixed American dishes with Haitian dishes, at times using each culture as a sort of springboard into unexplored food territory. Before I finished the interview, I made her promise to bring me some Souffle Maïs next time her mom made it.

The Great Pumpkin

Title: The Great Pumpkin

Category: Legend

Informant: Kurt A. Gabbard

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 50s

Occupation: Princeton Seminary—Vice President of Business Affairs/Financial Consultant/CPA/CFO

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/8/18


The night of halloween after trick-or-treating and the children have collected candy from neighboring houses, the great-pumpkin visits the house in the middle of the night after the children have gone to bed. Before going to bed, the children are instructed to give up about 1/4 of the candy they’ve collected that evening. The candy donated is a diverse collection from the children’s loot, but what gets donated is generally the candy least preferred by the children. The donated candy is put into it’s own candy bucket (in the shape of an orange pumpkin) and left on the doorstep with a note from the children. When the children wake up in the morning, the candy bucket is replaced by small gifts that the children can then play with.


The Great Pumpkin is a holiday entity similar to “Santa” or “The Easter Bunny” and visits a family’s house on the night of Halloween after the children have gone trick-or-treating. The Great Pumpkin comes to collect candy from the children of house so that he can take it to children in need who don’t get to go trick-or-treating. The Great Pumpkin teaches the children the importance of penance and giving back while also giving the children something to look forward to because of their donation.

Personal Thoughts:

In my family, the Great Pumpkin was used in a similar way with a few alterations. The Great Pumpkin came to take about 1/4 of each of our candy collections each Halloween. My parents made sure that we sacrificed candy that included some of our favorites as well as the candy we didn’t like as much. We didn’t know at the time, but my parents would then take this candy and re-use it in the piñatas for our birthday parties. As a small reward for donating some of our candy, my parents would then leave small gifts for us the next day as if the Great Pumpkin had brought them for us. An example of these gifts might be: a pack pf baseball cards, some barbie clothes, or a small lego set.

Halloween at Stanford Campus

Background information:

The Stanford area in Silicon Valley located in California is beautiful in a myriad of different ways. It is close to nature, has beautiful architecture, and is an extremely environmentally conscious and friendly location. I grew up in the Palo Alto area which neighbors Stanford and would frequently visit Stanford Campus as my friends lived there because their parents are professors at the University. As such, a memorable tradition in my childhood, along with many others’ in my neighborhood, is celebrating Halloween walking around Stanford Campus at night.


Main piece:

Since I moved to Silicon Valley when I was almost six years old, my friends and I would always celebrate Halloween by dressing up and trick or treating around the houses located on Stanford’s outer residential campus. Where I am from, Stanford’s campus was known to be a fantastic place to trick or treat, as many people went all out with their Halloween decorations and truly created a Halloween wonderland for both children and adults to enjoy. As my friends and I frequented Stanford’s campus every Halloween, we became familiar with the various decorations around the campus, noting around five different haunted houses and several different pumpkin carving exhibits. This might only be a locally known event, but it truly shaped my Halloween experience when I was growing up, with its great Halloween spirit, creative decorations, and extreme vibrancy.



Personal thoughts:

I cannot imagine spending Halloween in a different location when I was growing up because each Halloween had such a memorable impact to me. Not only was I able to spend time with friends, but I also had the opportunity to engage in classic Halloween traditions such as haunted houses, pumpkin carvings, and extravagantly decorating the houses around Stanford campus. Thus, I am profusely grateful that I was able to have such pleasant Halloween experiences as a child that I will be sure to share with others.


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.


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.

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.



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.

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.