Tag Archives: halloween

American Halloween Parties: A Festival

--Informant Info--
Nationality: american
Age: 56
Occupation: homemaker
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my mother/informant (ET). 

ET: I went to Catholic school growing up, and we always had All Saints Day off, which is the day after Halloween, so we’d always have big sleepovers on Halloween. You know, since no one was going to school the next day. I’ve always loved Halloween because of that, and of course my birthday is then… and it’s just a sweet holiday. Oh, and the costumes… that’s one of the best parts… But that’s how I really got started throwing Halloween parties. Then of course, I grew up and had kids- holidays are always better with kids… I loved that our house was the hub for all the neighborhood kids and their parents when everyone was done Trick-Or-Treating. I love cooking lots of food, so everyone has something real to eat that’s not candy (laughs). Even now that you guys are older… I think I’ll always throw Halloween parties. I’ve got them down to a science, you know. Like what decorations are the best… and oh! You have to carve the pumpkins the day before so they don’t go bad, but you’re not too busy the day of. 

Background:

My informant is my mother who mainly grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. Her birthday is Halloween, and she used to always tell me she “had special witch powers” because of it. To her, Halloween is the most important holiday. Every year, she begins elaborately decorating our house weeks in advance for her annual costume party that takes place Halloween Night. She doesn’t even mail invitations anymore because everyone in our community knows it’s happening. 

Context: 

I am currently in quarantine at my informant/mother’s house, and this piece was collected while we were eating dinner at the kitchen table.

Thoughts: 

I believe Halloween parties are such big celebrations in America because the holiday is simple, fun, and nostalgic. Having grown up in a home where my parents practiced different religions, I always loved that Halloween was secular, so both my parents would get really excited about it. It’s not religious, it’s American. There’s no moral to Halloween in common practice (unlike All Hallow’s Eve- the pagan holiday that Halloween was based on, which celebrates the rising of the dead). On Halloween, people are just supposed to get dressed up, have fun, and eat lots of candy (or drink lots of booze, depending on your age). The point of any party, but especially a Halloween party, is that it’s unifying. All are invited to have a shared experience. Furthermore, the fact that it is a costume party highlights this idea by letting people be anyone they want to be. You can dress in a way that’s unacceptable any other day of the year, potentially channeling your childhood dreams or wonder that you haven’t expressed in years. 

Razor Blades for Halloween

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: Environmental Scientist
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4 - 26 - 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.

Interviewer: So do you remember when we were kids trick or treating, and our parents used to tell us to be careful and check all the candy we got?

Informant: Yeah, dude, that was crazy! I remember my mom got all worked up about there being razorblades and prescription pills mixed in with what I got haha but I never got anything like that and neither did anyone I know literally ever…

Interviewer: Yeah same, do you have any clue where that rumor started?

Informant: I’m pretty sure it was just some online troll trying to fuck with people and then I think the story actually hit the news so parents started to freak, you know? I think it was all a bunch of bullshit though like I’ve actually seen people saying there’s molly in kids candy now but It’s gotta be just some hype-story so they can get people worked up and get more clicks and all that. 

Background:

My informant was born and raised in Southern California, fairly close to where I was raised as well. The area is more or less crime-free and very safe to raise children in. 

Context:

I spoke with my informant over a zoom facetime call during the 2020 Coronavirus epidemic. We had plans to meet in person, however, the virus made it impossible to do so.

Thoughts:

It’s funny how some people messing around on the internet can lead to a nationwide panic about something that’s not a real issue. This whole “Razor blades in candy” thing started as a joke online, and blew up when people started thinking it was actually happening in their hometowns. The fact that their children were potentially at risk was probably a huge factor in driving this legend to the point it is at today. 

For more information about the “Razor Blades in Candy” story, check the History.com article, “How Americans Became Convinced Their Halloween Candy Was Poisoned” at the link: https://www.history.com/news/how-americans-became-convinced-their-halloween-candy-was-poisoned

Black Cat; Halloween Mythical Legendary Creature/Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Marin County
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant-  When I was little I firmly believed in the Halloween Black Cat creature. The Black Cat would visit the night after Halloween to collect my candy. I would know to gather all of my candy and place it at the foot of my bed. The cat would take all of the candy and replace it with a toy or money. 

Interviewer- Did you ever see the Black Cat?

Informant- No the Black Cat always visited in the late hours of the night. I would stay of late trying to catch the cat but never found him. 

Interviewer- Were you ever afraid of the Black Cat? Did you ever not give away your candy? 

Informant- No, the Black Cat was a friendly creature and always gave me the best gifts or a few 2 dollar bills. I remember my brother always tempted me to not give away my candy but in the end, we both were too excited about the possibility of a new gift. 

Interviewer- Do you remember any specific or recurring gifts?

Informant- When I was younger, I remember receiving toys like dolls or stuffed animals. One year I received a cool new toy called, Chatitude, a walk talky toy I could share with my friends. Later in my childhood, I started receiving money. 

Interviewer- When did the Black Cat stop visiting? Do you still believe in the Black Cat or thing you will carry on this tradition?

Informant- When I was around 12 years old I realized the Black Cat was actually a tradition that my parents carried out to make my Halloween healthier. Even though I no longer believe in the Black Cat, I still believe it is a great family tradition. 

Background: My informant recalled this folk belief from her childhood. The tradition was carried out by her parents every year. She no longer holds the childhood belief that the Black Cat is a real creature, but plans to carry out the tradition with her children. 

Context: This piece was collected when visiting a childhood friend. She grew up in Marin County in Northern California. She believed in the Black Cat for many years. I grew up with her and remember hearing about the new Halloween toy exchange every year. 

Thoughts: Kids are drawn to mythical creatures and tales. The Black Cat represents a legend, occurring real-life and possibly being true. These folk creatures bring the children into a new reality of imagination. Halloween is a very superstitious Holiday with much room for tales and folk beliefs. This belief gave the family a fun tradition to lift Halloween spirits and imagination. 

Sleepy Hollow Road

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

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

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: NA
Residence: Arlington, Virginia
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/18/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): NA

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

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Ashland, OR
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/23/18
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): French

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

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Haitian-American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Southern California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 24, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

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

--Informant Info--
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 Performance/Collection: 4/4/18
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

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

Description:

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.

Context/Significance:

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

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Swedish
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/24/18
Primary Language: Swedish
Other Language(s): English

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.

Barmbrack

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Irish
Age: 58
Occupation: Homemaker
Residence: Kerry, Ireland
Date of Performance/Collection: February 18th, 2017
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Irish

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.