Tag Archives: parties

American Halloween Parties: A Festival

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. 


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. 


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.


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. 

Boston University, Trash Can Punch

Title: Boston University, Trash Can Punch

Category: Recipe/Food

Informant: Julianna K. Keller

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: 20

Occupation: Student

Residence: 325 West Adams Blvd./ Los Angeles, CA 90007

Date of Collection: 4/09/18


“Trash Can Punch” is a mixed alcoholic beverage made in the fraternity houses at Boston University. The trash cans used are the large grey janitorial trashcans that are often used in cafeterias and janitorial carts. The trashcans are bought or cleaned thoroughly before use (one can hope). “Trash Can Punch” has no real recipe but follows the same general guidelines. There is usually a strong fruity component or flavor, and then a variety of different forms of alcohol. Each fraternity or house serving “Trash Can Punch” will usually have its own recipe and sometimes color. All guests are welcome to drink it at the party and is served by the host or resident of the house throwing the party.


Ms. Keller visited Boston University her senior year of high school to catch up with a friend and gain firsthand insight about the university as she considered where she might study after graduation. Her visit just happened to fall over halloween weekend and her friend invited her to go out with a group of them for the occasion.

When they got to the party, held at a fraternity house, Julianna asked where she could find drinks being served. The girls hosting her visit pointed to the trash can in the corner where it was filled close to the top with a sweet orange alcoholic mixture. When she asked what was in the drink, no one was really abel to tell her an answer.

One of the girls said they were made from recipes. That each fraternity house had their own mixture and color and was only served at their house in particular. Another friend agreed and that the remaining contents from the party was poured into a bucket and saved in the fridge for use at the future party as a base to go off of (kind of like a rue for gumbo or starter for sour-dough bread.) A separate girl told her that ht house will only fill the trash can half way and then as party guests arrive they bring alcohol with them to add to the trash can so no one can ever really tell what’s inside.

Personal Thoughts:

Sounds dangerous to me, but who am I to judge? This seems like a form of half passive bearers of tradition, half active bearers of tradition. No one is explicitly taught how to make “Trash Can Punch,” but underclassman seem to hear these stories of how it’s made and perhaps learn them from fraternity histories during the pledging process. When these students reach the level of upperclassman, they then attempt to make these recipes themselves and alter them themselves in the process. The recipes have undoubtably changed over the years but remain somewhat iconic to each fraternity in some way.

The Great Norwegian Graduation Rager

“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day  that you celebrate Independence Day  and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like,  not a lot, but  maybe one out  of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”


The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.

This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.

What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.

The Kenyan Way to Serve Food

“At any major event, like weddings and parties, the order in which the food is served is very specific. First, all the children are served. Then, the main guests are served. These are like the important people at the party or the bride and groom and their families at a wedding. Once they all have their food and sit down, everyone else gets their food”.

In Kenya, guests at large events where meals are provided are served food in a specific order that must be followed. The events where this tradition takes place are usually gatherings such as parties and weddings. Children are fed first. They are then followed by the significant guests and the rest of the invitees. It is deemed disrespectful to not feed the children first.

The informant, Alastair Odhiambo, is a 19-year-old international student who was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Alistair and his family have deep roots in the country, so he is confident that he knows a great deal about Kenyan folklore. He was taught this tradition by his mother, who was the parent that was responsible disciplining him and teaching him how to act appropriately in public. Alastair believes this tradition comes from the idea that children need the most amount of sustenance out of everyone else, since they are the most vulnerable. Adults want them to be able to have a long and healthy future, so they choose to wait to be served. To Alastair, this tradition reflects how Kenyans were forced to live before they became a modernized nation. Many children died at a young age, so it made sense to feed them first to hopefully prevent their early demise.

Like Alistair said, it is likely that the food scarcity problems Kenyans had to live through in the past influenced this tradition. Parents had to work extra hard to make sure that their children stayed healthy for as long as possible, so this tradition probably developed out of the desire to make this happen. Even though things like hospitals and modern medicine can help extend the lives of anyone nowadays, this idea seems to have stuck.

Russian American Bar Mitzvahs

My informant is a member of the Russian Jewish community in Los Angeles. She explained how her community celebrates special parties like graduations, bar mitzvahs, and significant birthdays.  The particular Bar Mitzvah party that she told me about was similar to many of the parties within the Russian community in Los Angeles.

Normally invitations for such parties are mailed to the guests.  For a wedding and Bar Mitzvah invitations would be mailed.  But for a birthday party or graduation party, the hosts typically call the guests and invite them.  And once they say they are going, there is no backing out.  So much planning goes into the parties that it would be inconsiderate to back out.

I asked if the Bar Mitzvah had any different religious practices or traditions.  But my informant explained that it is not so much the religious ceremony or even the fact that the event was a Bar Mitzvah celebration that is important.  In fact, many of the party’s attendees did not attend the religious ceremony.  My informant said, “Bar Mitzvah means nothing.  It’s a party.”

My informant said that the parties like her friend’s Bar Mitzvah celebration are extravagant.  Prior to the party, women get their hair, makeup, and nails done and wear cocktail attire made by high fashion brands such as Alexander McQueen and Dior.  They were fine jewelry. The men wear suits.  It is not so much the question of what are you wearing, but who are you wearing.  My informant explained that many attendees make such an effort to look good because all of the party’s attendees are talked about after the party.  Word spreads fast.  My informant has even heard about Russian American parties that have happened in New York.  She said, “All of the Russian grandmas are going to hear about me and talk to their grandsons. I once had a guy fly down from San Francisco to go on a date with me.”

These Russian parties typically take place at people’s homes or restaurants.  This particular Bar Mitzvah celebration took place at a Russian restaurant called Romanov.  The party begins with about an hour of greetings.  “The first hour is basically just saying hello, kissing, and talking. Then the hostess tells everyone to sit down.” The attendees then sit at their assigned table and are greeted by top-shelf vodka and tequila.  The attendees then rotate between eating, toasting, and dancing.

My informant explained that every inch of the table is covered with food. The food is served family style.  While most of the food is Russian fusion, my informant said that every party will serve the Russian staples: crepes with red caviar and butter and pickled vegetables.  There are several courses to the meal and almost no one eats the main course because they are already so full by then.

During toasts the guests stop eating.  There are several toasts throughout the night given by family members and close friends.

My informant’s favorite part of the night is dancing.  “There is always good music–everything.  ABBA sometimes.  Songs that you love.  It’s very rare that you get electronic music.  It’s fun music.”  She explained that there are no traditional or choreographed dances.

The older guests sometimes dance but it is more likely that they sit, talk, and gossip with one another.  Having learned what older guests do at the party, I wondered what younger guests do.  My informant explained that if a couple has a baby they will bring the infant and a babysitter.  The babies are a part of the party.  They even have their own seats at the dinner table.

The only “traditional” dancing she has seen was performed by professional dancers hired for entertainment at the party.  Having performers at these parties is not uncommon.  There are always performers at Romanov, the restaurant that commonly hosts the parties.  She has seen performances featuring snakes, dancers, aerial artists, DJs flown in from New York.  She shared, at one Bar Mitzvah a woman popped out of a cake and danced sexily!

My informant explained that within this social circle are different kinds of Russians.  They are all in a wealthy group, but some are more wealthy than others.  She explained that her family is not in the group full of socialites.  Rather, her closest family friends within the community are more down to earth; they came from poor cities in Russia.  So rather than pouring money into extravagant performances, it is a tradition in her family and her family friend group that the children put on a performance at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. One year the children performed skits from Grease.  Another year, Austin Powers.  They all dressed up in costumes and performed “full-blown” skits.  The parents of the group also take part in the tradition.  For a family friend’s 40th birthday party, all of the parents organized a skit based on a scene from Grease.  A guy even rode in on a motorcycle! At another 40th birthday party, all of the wives dressed up as old Russian women wearing a giant plastic butt and giant fake breasts.  The women did a whole Russian song and dance, and the performance ended with a toast to the birthday boy.

At the end of the night, guests leave the party having had fun. Though it is customary to say hello to everyone at the beginning of the party, it is common to leave the parties without saying goodbye to all the party-goers.

Gifts are common at such parties.  Almost everyone brings checks.  It is very rarely a gift.  In the case that someone receives a gift, they are perhaps more meaningful but also the recipient would most likely just prefer the cash.  It would be unheard of to not bring a gift. My informant said that diplomacy is the most important aspect of Russian culture.

My informant expressed that the Russian American community in Los Angeles is superficial. I asked my informant if members of the community were trying to one-up each other with each party.  She first agreed with me but then said the parties were more like a display of taste and wealth than a one-upping.  Taste seems displayed through the venue, type of food, type of alcohol, appropriateness of performers and women’s dresses.  Wealth seems displayed through the venue, the amount of food, the amount of alcohol, the extravagance of the performers, and the designer of the women’s dresses.