Decorating and entertaining for special occasions gives me great joy. I love to share some of my more creative ideas.
How We Celebrated Halloween In The 1950s
There are significant differences in the way we celebrated Halloween in the 1950s, even though it wasn't that long ago. And, that is what this article is about. It's an effort to capture and record our Halloween customs and traditions; the party, the costumes, the trick or treating.
All the big news items are recorded but the day to day activities and customs and traditions tend to fall through the crack.
I wish I had asked my grandparents more about their childhoods when they were alive. At the time, I was not thinking of their childhood as history. I thought of the things I learned in school -- the Colonial Period in America, the Civil War, the World Wars as history. There is so much about their everyday life that I now have questions about.
I feel it's important to share the way things were when I was young, and share a little Halloween history.
What were your childhood recollections of Halloween? - It seems as if everything in society is changing at an excelerated pace.
My Oldest Memories of Halloween Were of Halloween Parties --Not Trick Or Treating
For several Halloweens, when I was maybe 6 to 8 years old, my mother would throw a little Halloween party. As I think back on it, it was because I was too young to go out trick or treating. I don't know of any parents who accompanied children door to door as they do now. You waited until you were old enough and then went with your friends.
We played games at the party. Bobbing for apples was a tradition at Halloween from when my mother was young. But, we didn't bob for apples as my mother thought is was both messy and dangerous. She knew of children losing teeth bobbing for apples.
We played pin the tail on the donkey. Pin the tail on the donkey was the game for Halloween and all our birthday parties.
The decorations were simple at our Halloween Party then
There was not the wide variety of fancy Halloween dinnerware, cake stands and accessories as there are today.
My mother would take orange and black crepe paper streamers and twist them together and thumbtack them from one corner of the room to the other and another across that one.
We did have paper plates and Halloween napkins. We found the paper plates and napkins exciting. "Wow" "look at these".
There was a few paper black cats with a paper honeycombed middle. They could be opened and stand as a centerpiece.
Fortune Telling Charms In The Halloween Cake - The kind of charm you find in your cake, indicates your fortune
Back then bakeries sold fortune telling charms. They came in a little box, about the size of a crayon box and held about 10 different metal charms. They looked quite a bit like a monopoly pieces and came with a written key that indicated what each different charm meant. A wedding ring meant you would be married; a horseshoe meant you would have good luck. The box of charms cost about $1.00.
My mother would bake a Halloween Cake --- it had orange frosting -- and hide the charms in the cake. The charms were meant to just be pushed in the cake, but we wrapped them in a big chunk of wax paper and pushed them in the side. This way my mother could tell where to cut the cake so each child would get a charm.
When each child had a piece they were instructed to immediately remove their chunk of wax paper first before eating. My mother did this so no one would choke.
I suspect the charms idea disappeared for that very reason -- maybe too many people choked on them.
Trick Or Treating In The 1950's
I don't remember ready made costumes early on, although there might have been. We made our own crude costumes. It was the era of Roy Rogers, Hop-a-long Cassidy and Gene Autry. We all had cowboy belts and toy guns. Hence, a glut of cowboys and cowgirls. Checked shirts were in, so that was the top for the outfit. The ubiquitous checked shirt was also the basis for the farmer costume. We were city kids, so dressing like a farmer was a costume --- checked shirt, blue jeans and straw hat.
A ghost was a sheet with the eyes cut out and a mummy was wrapping oneself in toilet paper.
A little old lady, was a bed pillow under one of grandma's or mom's house dresses and talcum powder in our hair.
A cat was just a piece of cloth attached to our butt and some construction paper ears bobby pinned in our hair . Then we would take a wine cork and burn the end of it black and use it to draw whiskers on our face.
A gypsy was a full skirt, white blouse, a lot of costume jewelry and a scarf tied around our head.
Later..........there were ready made costumes. They were made of plastic, just a little heavier than a trash bag. They were not hefty, hefty, hefty. They were very very flammable.
Oh Those Bad Boys!
Boys would take colored sidewalk chalk and grind it up and put it in a sock and knot the sock.
If we were trick or treating and saw chalk dots on the side of the buildings or on the sidewalk we knew there was a group of boys with chalk socks lurking. The dots were from the boys slamming their chalk socks up against the wall.
"Oh, oh, there are boys around here -- watch out!"
Usually, they would come up behind you and rap the sock on your back leaving a colored chalk mark. Once in a while you would get a really nasty one who packed his sock tight with chalk and smacked you pretty hard.
My cousin reminds me that after Halloween, the kids would throw their chalk socks up onto the power lines. There would be all these socks hanging from the lines.
And The Darker Side Of Halloween
We would very often be given apples as our treat. I don't know why we thought of it as a treat. We weren't poor, we had apples at home. It was just the perception of someone being nice enough to give us something.
But then, we started hearing stories, or maybe they were urban legends, of someone putting razor blades in apples they gave to children at Halloween. We were still given apples by people, but we had strict orders not to eat them until we got home and our parents inspected them.
© 2012 Ellen Gregory