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The Fascinating History Of Halloween

Audio

Aired 10/29/09

We'll explore the history of Halloween, from its humble origins as an agrarian, summer's end festival to the lavish celebrations of today.

Families enjoy a hay-ride through a pumpkin patch leading up to Halloween.
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Above: Families enjoy a hay-ride through a pumpkin patch leading up to Halloween.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. It used to be Halloween was about kids dressing up as ghosts and getting some candy corn. Well, not anymore. Halloween is now a huge holiday in America. People decorate their houses with Halloween lights. Movies and DVDs are targeted to the Halloween audience. Parties and costumes and Halloween greeting cards have boosted the October 31st holiday to the second biggest commercial holiday of the year. How did this celebration of all things spooky get its start? And what does it say about us that we are so fascinated by the ghouls and gore that Halloween unleashes? This morning we’ve picked the right person to answer those and many other questions about Halloween. Lesley Bannatine – Bannatyne, I’m sorry, is a journalist and author whose Halloween-related books include "Halloween: American Holiday, An American History" and "A Halloween How-To: Costumes, Parties, Decorations & Destinations." Lesley is an editor and communications writer at Harvard University. And, Lesley, welcome and Happy Halloween.

LESLEY BANNATYNE (Author): Thank you very much, Maureen. Happy Halloween to you, too.

CAVANAUGH: Now we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Are you surprised Halloween has grown into such a big holiday? Tell us what you or your kids are wearing this Halloween. Give us a call with your Halloween questions or comments. The number here is 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. Well, Lesley, let’s start at the source here. Can we trace a direct link between our Halloween and some ancient holiday or festival?

BANNATYNE: You can. You can. There is a mythological source story to Halloween and that is this, that it began in Celtic lands in old Europe as Samhain, which means summer’s end and this is the time of year when the herds were brought back from winter pastures (sic) and safely put away for the winter and when the crops were in. So this is a time when there was plenty of food and there was actually some free time so it became a time of feasting and gathering together the tribes. And although we can’t say that they celebrated something like Halloween, this was definitely a time of year when you looked forward into the dark half of the year, into the half of the year that was more associated with the supernatural and with ghosts. And that we do have, myths from that period, from that Celtic period.

CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting because I think we have in our collective imaginations the idea of people sort of dancing around bonfires and things. Is that what we’re talking about, that kind of a celebration?

BANNATYNE: I think that is imagination.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

BANNATYNE: But it’s a nice way to imagine it, you know. It makes sense to us in the modern world. But this is a very long time ago and it’s almost impossible to tell what these people did. My sense is it was more like a Thanksgiving than…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh, I see.

BANNATYNE: …than crazy, half-naked people dancing around a bonfire.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, shucks.

BANNATYNE: Yeah, the more direct source for Halloween is probably the church holidays of All Hallows…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BANNATYNE: …and All Souls Day, and then you’d only have to go back about 1000 years or 800 years to find rituals that had to do with the dead. Again, All Souls Day with the dead. The church, it was a huge church holiday in medieval times and people were encouraged at this time of year to make a connection to the dead and to think about them and to give alms for them. And so there was a big relationship between the living and the dead and souls in purgatory for the medieval church were members of the church, so it was one big old community then.

CAVANAUGH: And the very name Halloween is All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day on the Christian calendar.

BANNATYNE: Exactly. All Saints Day, All Saints and All Hallows mean the same thing. All Hallows was the way they referred to it in Britain.

CAVANAUGH: Now, it was popular for a while to believe that the reason that Halloween became so popular was because the church basically came in and took over pagan rituals and said, okay, now we’re going to call it All Saints Day, now we’re going to call it All Hallows Eve.

BANNATYNE: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: And that was a kind of a way of thought a while ago that it was more or less…

BANNATYNE: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …usurped but you don’t necessarily agree with that.

BANNATYNE: You know, I don’t. I don’t think you can – Well, you can’t prove or disprove it, you know, to any final extent but this is so long ago, I just don’t see how – I also don’t see how a church can think, gosh, let’s just take over this whole pagan religion. I don’t think the pagan religions, one thousand, two thousand years ago were so organized that you could locate them like in a grove somewhere and say, aha, let’s get rid of this specific thing. Let’s insert our own customs onto it. On the other hand, it makes sense for both the pagan religions and the Christian religions to think about death and the afterlife at a time when the Earth is darkening. And I know it seems superfluous to talk about the weather but at the turn of the year, it really did move early people to ritual and I think our Halloween did, to some extent, come from both those sources.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Lesley Bannatyne. She’s written a number of Halloween-related books including “Halloween: American Holiday” and “A Halloween How-To: Costumes, Parties, Decorations & Destinations.” And we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, if you have a question about Halloween or you just want to tell us what you’re doing this Halloween. What’s a big costume this year? What are you dressing up as? 1-888-895-5727. Now, just to linger for a moment on the history of Halloween before we move on, there is this idea—I think that I’ve heard this as well, this probably comes from the same idea of people going around bonfires that didn’t turn out well. But that there was a notion that during these days where the days get shorter and the night gets longer, that there is a thin veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead…

BANNATYNE: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …that kind of, you know, and that’s why there’s this spookiness involved in this whole thing. Does that have any credibility?

BANNATYNE: Yes, you could definitely say it like that. At this time of year, people’s thoughts turned to the other world, to the dead, to the supernatural. And there were bonfires at this time of year, I’m not saying that there weren’t. But they were lit in honor of the saints and sometimes in honor of the dead that have gone before. It’s just the dancing around them part. In fact, people were so – It was so important to them to remember these two church holidays that when the reformation hit and the protestant countries no longer celebrated All Souls Day, they still lit bonfires in celebration of this – of the saints and the souls.

CAVANAUGH: So in the medieval past, when you’re talking about All Hallows Eve, what kinds of things did people do on Halloween? Did…

BANNATYNE: Ah…

CAVANAUGH: Where did the begging for food and money come in?

BANNATYNE: Yeah. That’s a good one because – and here you’re getting into more modern times. You know, think about Shakespeare, and even in some of Shakespeare’s plays there were people out begging around All Hallows for – they were – for All Souls Day, they were asking alms for All Souls Day. There were a number of winter holidays, starting with All Hallows, where people disguised themselves and went out pounding on each other’s doors and demanding food and drink. It was the winter begging season. It was fun. A lot of it had to do with misrule, with the poor acting like the rich and the rich acting like the poor and the fool became king and vice versa. And so the whole idea of trick or treating, of disguise, of asking for sweets, even of kids demanding of grownups, you know, give me something, it’s reversing the whole world order. And that season began on All Hallows, again, because there was lots of food in the larder and there was free time to do it. But they begged and they asked for treats and dressed in disguises All Hallows, Christmas, Three Kings Day, it was a whole winter season of masked begging.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s hear from Angel in Slab City. Hi, Angel. Welcome to These Days.

ANGEL (Caller, Slab City): Oh, hi. Thank you. This is the first time I’ve actually had a chance to call. I run a soup kitchen, Karma Kitchen, out in Slab City. It’s a non-intentional community. A lot of us gather here each winter and all of a sudden we find out years later we have a community out here that pops up every winter. And what we’re doing is very simply, a lot of people don’t have a lot, especially in this economic times, most of us don’t have anything, so we’re doing a feast of what we’ve got in our larders and giving back to the community, and we’re doing a canned food drive. And we’re even having a pet costume contest.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

ANGEL: We’re asking people to dress their dogs up, and the entry fee is a can of food. I know that doesn’t sound like much. And if I get 100 cans, I can feed ten families for a week.

CAVANAUGH: Hey, Angel, thank you so much for the call. I really appreciate it. It sounds like they’re taking their celebration back to what we were just talking about, Lesley, the very beginning of this harvest celebration…

BANNATYNE: That’s right.

CAVANAUGH: …that Halloween – Where does the phrase trick or treat come from? Do we know?

BANNATYNE: We kind of do, yeah. The very first – And here we’re in America now. The very first Halloween celebrations in America were probably not celebrations like we think of them. People may have had Halloween folklore, like on this night was the night that if you went to the crossroads, you could hear the future whispered on the wind. Things like that people believed about Halloween, but it wasn’t like a party. The first things that we did to celebrate Halloween was trick and that was – comes from this long tradition of misrule and one of the first tricks that happened in the fall in America was that kids would take leftover pumpkins, carve out a face, put a candle in them, put them on the end of a stick and float them in front of their neighbor’s windows. And I know…

CAVANAUGH: That might wake them up.

BANNATYNE: Yeah, it would. And that’s the genesis of our jack o’lantern.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BANNATYNE: I mean, that’s – it started as a trick but kids did wild tricks back then: greasing trolley tracks. In the twenties, it wasn’t unusual for a city like Los Angeles to put 800 extra men on the tracks that night to keep the kids from greasing the trolley tracks on Halloween. The tricks were what we might call now vandalism, you know, tying door handles together or tripping people on sidewalks or stairs. And so after World War I and before World War II, there was just a concerted effort to stop this tricking and what the town fathers thought of was, well, let’s give some parties, let’s give some candy, let’s keep them inside somehow. And so they started to throw huge amounts of parties for kids, Halloween parties. In fact, there was a committee called the National Halloween Committee whose job it was to convince parents to have Halloween parties at home to keep the kids in.

CAVANAUGH: And when was this?

BANNATYNE: This was the National Halloween Committee in 1948.

CAVANAUGH: Aha.

BANNATYNE: Their goal was 11 million Halloween parties, that’s what they wanted. And so it wasn’t a big leap from there to homeowners giving out candy on their own streets to kind of keep the kids engaged and stop them from pulling pranks. And actually it became known as trick or treat in print around 1939 but it still wasn’t very accepted by everyone, and homeowners and kids were still kind of at each other and not everybody gave out treats. They saw it as extortion. And it wasn’t until Unicef came in in 1950 and through the fifties into the sixties where Unicef kind of had to teach the American public how to trick or treat. They called it trick or treat, they came up with their Trick or Treat for Unicef, a good cause, raising money for kids in other countries, and they ran a slew of articles in media coast to coast about exactly how do you do this. You have candy for kids, they come to your door, you give them candy, they go away. Everybody’s happy.

CAVANAUGH: Isn’t that interesting. I thought the tradition was going to go back to the 19th century or something but here it is happening in the second half of the 20th century…

BANNATYNE: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …and Unicef is behind it. That’s…

BANNATYNE: Well, Unicef made it almost un-American not to turn on your porch light.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls with your – and your questions and comments about Halloween, 1-888-895-5727. Let’s hear from Clayton in El Cajon. Good morning, Clayton. Welcome to These Days.

CLAYTON (Caller, El Cajon): Good morning. How are you doing?

CAVANAUGH: Doing fine.

CLAYTON: And happy Halloween to both of you.

CAVANAUGH: Back at you.

BANNATYNE: Happy Halloween.

CLAYTON: I heard you comment a little bit ago about the veil between the living and the dead.

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

CLAYTON: And part of my family history comes back from Celtic druidism for pagan – the pagan rite. Basically, the way that it was passed down to me—of course it’s an oral tradition so I could be way off base but this is how I was taught it—is that Samhain is basically the fall harvest and at Samhain with all the gods passing on to their world to retreat for the winter, you ask your ancestors at the night of the breech, is what they called it, to come and protect you for the winter months.

CAVANAUGH: Oh.

CLAYTON: And then when the gods would return in the spring to deliver life back to the earth, your relatives or ancestors would go back and rest in the land of the dead.

CAVANAUGH: That’s great, Clayton. I like that. Have you heard about that, Lesley?

BANNATYNE: Yeah, I think it’s a beautiful way to think about it. You know, there is a relationship with the dead on this night, and there is a relationship with darkness and cold and the supernatural, and you need protection at this point of the year. You need friends, you know.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Light…

BANNATYNE: So it makes sense to me, it’s a beautiful way to think about it.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls about Halloween at 1-888-895-5727. I’m also asking people what they’re dressing up for or what their kids are dressing up for this Halloween and we have another caller on the line. Kathleen is calling from Normal Heights. Good morning, Kathleen. Welcome to These Days.

KATHLEEN (Caller, Normal Heights): Good morning. Hi. Her comments about the bribes tied into our giving of hot dogs. We barbeque hot dogs in Normal Heights. And it started in City Heights and we lived in a really bad neighborhood and we thought let’s be really nice to the kids and maybe they won’t keep tagging our fences and it actually worked. So my boyfriend and I and my 82 year old mom dress up as chefs and we have the barbeque out in the yard and we barbeque hot dogs. And we ask the parents if it’s okay for the kids to have a hot dog and we give the parents a hot dog.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. Thank you for that call. That sounds great. You know, Kathleen’s comment makes me think about this Halloween scares that we’ve lived through, you know, the idea that all Halloween treats have to be examined…

BANNATYNE: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: …and they have to, you know, the idea of somebody making hot dogs a while ago would be, you know, kind of terrible if you didn’t know the person. What is the history of these Halloween scares where we’re afraid that our children are going to be picking up something awful?

BANNATYNE: Right. You know, that’s a good question. And, first of all, let me say I think it’s a great idea to give away hot dogs and I’m so glad that you can do it without people being afraid. Like you say, it shows kind of a sea change in our culture. And Halloween always has been kind of a litmus test of what’s going on in our culture. And during the sixties and the seventies, there was an awful lot of tension, social tension, tension between generations, racial tension, and this kind of came out around Halloween in rumors, for example, that there was a psycho putting razor blades in apples and giving them to children. This psycho doesn’t exist. This is an urban myth.

CAVANAUGH: Oh.

BANNATYNE: There have been copycats. Usually when they trace, when police trace back these stories, they find that kids have done it, brothers and sisters to each other or, you know, for attention. But they’re hearing about the myth and then doing it. It’s not – The psycho doesn’t exist. And as far as I know, nobody gave out apples in my neighborhood anyway, so I didn’t…

CAVANAUGH: Right, yeah.

BANNATYNE: …have to worry about that but because it seemed possible, because there was a lot of fear of strangers at that time, in the seventies and going into the eighties, the idea made sense and so people changed their trick or treating patterns because of it, even if it didn’t exist the way that we thought it might have. So they started to trick or treat in safe places like malls or in places only where they knew the people who – in the homes, you know, in their own relatives’ homes or Halloween streets that were known as being very safe and everyone would just go there. So the poison in the treat is actually – that just never happened but you hear about it in the media. What you don’t hear about is the follow-up story that said, oh, actually this was a hoax, it didn’t happen, or it was a mistake, or it was related to something that didn’t have to do with Halloween candy. So it’s a hard question to answer, like is there danger out there, because, you know, as long as we believe there is, we’ll act accordingly and it’ll change the way we celebrate the holiday.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Lesley Bannatyne. She’s a journalist and, actually, Halloween expert. She’s written a number of Halloween-related books, and we have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue taking your calls and questions and comments and costume suggestions about Halloween. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, and These Days will continue in just a few moments.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. We’re continuing our discussion about Halloween on These Days. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, and my guest is Lesley Bannatine – I’m sorry, Bannatyne—I keep doing that—who’s written “Halloween: American Holiday,” and “Halloween How-To: Costumes, Parties, Decorations & Destinations” and currently writing a book called – on contemporary Halloween. Lesley, welcome back.

BANNATYNE: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take – let’s start out by taking a phone call. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Crystal is calling from Ramona. Good morning, Crystal. Welcome to These Days.

CRYSTAL (Caller, Ramona): Hi. Thank you. I was just calling in to let you know that my son is having his first Halloween and he and his best friend, who are three weeks apart, are going to be Thing I and Thing II from the Cat and the Hat.

BANNATYNE: Oh, brilliant.

CRYSTAL: Yes. And I handmade little furry blue hats and they’re wearing their red onesies and the patches and to do an homage to both the movie and book, on the back of my son, who’s the younger one by three weeks, in the movie they say that he’ll accept all these different names other than Thing II because he doesn’t want to be thought of as the lesser Thing…

CAVANAUGH: Noo…

CRYSTAL: …so I put Chocolate Thunda on the back.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for sharing that, Crystal. That’s really, really cute. Now, Lesley, you’ve written an anthology of Halloween poems, haven’t you. Tell us, where did that come from?

BANNATYNE: Well, that was actually collecting Halloween literature, poems, stories and plays from the past 400 years. And what was really interesting about researching that book was that Halloween and horror didn’t really come together again until the 20th century. Until the 20th century, Halloween was about romance and about asking the supernatural world for guidance, that Halloween was the night where you could ask the spirits for help. And so the literature and poetry then had to do with that, had – was very romantic and kind of sweet. But then as you get a little bit towards the 20th century, it starts to get spookier and then deep in the 20th century it gets very horror filled.

CAVANAUGH: Wow, I didn’t realize that. You have actually selected a poem for us. Can you tell us – can you read it for us?

BANNATYNE: Oh, sure. I’m going to read a little part of “All Souls” by Edith Wharton, and this was written in 1909 so it’s right at the cusp where Halloween is getting spookier. The thin moon faints in the sky overhead and dumb in the churchyard lie the dead, for it’s turn of the year and All Souls Night when the dead can hear and the dead have sight. Fear not that sound like wind in the trees, it is only their call that comes on the breeze. Fear not the shudder that seems to pass, it is only the tread of their feet on the grass. For the year’s on the turn and it’s All Souls Night when the dead can yearn and the dead can smite. And now they rise and walk in the cold but let us warm their blood and give youth to the old, till their lips drawn closed and so long unkist, forget they are mist that mingles with mist, for the year’s on the turn and it’s All Souls Night when the dead can burn and the dead can smite.

CAVANAUGH: That’s wonderful. That’s my guest, Lesley Bannatyne reading a poem from an anthology of Halloween poems that she’s collected. I wonder, America – you talk about American Halloween so much, is Halloween celebrated in other countries as well now?

BANNATYNE: It is and it’s celebrated in countries where it was celebrated before it was celebrated here…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, right.

BANNATYNE: …such as Scotland and Ireland and…

CAVANAUGH: Full circle.

BANNATYNE: Yeah, and it’s – but it’s also being exported – and this is in the last ten years to countries like Catalonia, Sweden, Russia. Germany always had something fairly similar called St. Martin’s Day on November 11th. But the Halloween that’s being exported, it goes to Army bases first and communities of ex-pats throughout the world. But more recently, elementary schools are starting to adopt Halloween because it’s a secular holiday and so many of these countries have new immigrant populations they’re looking for celebrations that everyone can do, and so they’ve started celebrating Halloween.

CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. Let’s take another call. Margaret is calling from El Cajon. Good morning, Margaret. Welcome to These Days.

MARGARET (Caller, El Cajon): Hello. I bought a book at the San Diego Museum of Art gift shop about monsters for my four-year-old grandson and it’s about the Greek mythology monsters. And so he really was interested in Medusa and so he asked my daughter to be Medusa for Halloween, his mom, and so she bought a headband and put the plastic snakes in it and then she wore a gray dress for the part, you know, of being turned into stone.

CAVANAUGH: Ohh…

MARGARET: And it was very inexpensive and everyone just loved it. They had a party last night and everyone just enjoyed it so much.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for that. It sounds like Margaret did, and her daughter, did not go to one of the Halloween stores that are all over the place.

BANNATYNE: Yeah. Oh, my gosh.

CAVANAUGH: Is that surprising, even to you, Lesley, that there is so much commercialism around Halloween now?

BANNATYNE: I am surprised. I’ll be honest, I am surprised. I read this morning in a news story that there are 2000 costume rental, huge costume rental stores across the country. That’s amazing to me. And I was even in one last night just to see what was going on and I must’ve been one of maybe 300 people, you know.

CAVANAUGH: Well, what was going on?

BANNATYNE: Everybody – Well, obviously people wait until the last minute but it was packed with mostly people in their twenties and thirties and getting together, you know, the best possible costume they could. And it was hysterical to watch. There was a huge guy in the store clutching the costume he’d chosen so I kind of took a peek at it to see what he picked and he’s going, apparently, as a yellow Easter Peep. You know, this is a crazy holiday.

CAVANAUGH: Do you know of any trends in Halloween costumes this year? You know, sometimes we hear everybody’s…

BANNATYNE: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …dressing up as the president or everybody’s…

BANNATYNE: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …dressing up as a villain. Anything this year?

BANNATYNE: I have not heard of anything this year. I think the things that we might lampoon have happened too recently…

CAVANAUGH: Right, they…

BANNATYNE: …to make it into the costume world. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a lot of mylar balloons this year.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh, yes.

BANNATYNE: You know, homemade.

CAVANAUGH: And I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a lot of Michael Jacksons.

BANNATYNE: Absolutely. That is in the costume store.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

BANNATYNE: The gloves and the masks are in.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another phone call. Pat is calling from La Mesa. Good morning, Pat. Welcome to These Days.

PAT (Caller, La Mesa): Morning.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, hi.

PAT: I come from upstate New York, a small village, Jordan, New York, and they used to have an old tradition that someone would go out Halloween night, or a couple of guys, and steal an outhouse from somebody and then put it in the center of town. And then the next morning it was like a pilgrimage for everybody in the village to go down and see whose outhouse became the victim of the prank. And you can imagine this sort of died out somewhere in the late fifties and sixties. But it was such a strange tradition and, you know, it was expected so people, you know, had to be guarding their outhouses, I guess.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, and you really don’t want to do that too much. I’m wondering, Pat, are you dressing up for Halloween this year?

PAT: No.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay. All right.

PAT: No, I’m past that.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for the call. Linda is calling from the college area. Good morning, Linda, and welcome to These Days.

LINDA (Caller, College Area): Ah, thank you for taking my call. I was interested in your guest saying that people used to – it used to be about helping the poor. When I was – I’m in my sixties but when I was a young girl in Detroit, we used to go around trick or treating but we used to say ‘help the poor.’

BANNATYNE: Wow.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, really?

LINDA: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: And was that for Unicef or was that just what everybody did?

LINDA: I think that was before Unicef maybe even.

CAVANAUGH: Isn’t that interesting.

LINDA: I’m not sure but…

CAVANAUGH: Doesn’t Detroit have a Hell Night tradition?

BANNATYNE: Devil’s Night.

CAVANAUGH: Devil’s Night.

LINDA: Yeah, that came later, though, after I left town but, yeah, help the poor. I don’t know where this trick or treat thing came from.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, thank you. Thank you for that, Linda.

LINDA: Okay, thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us more about the Devil’s Night. Does – Is that – does that coincide with Halloween?

BANNATYNE: It does. It was around Halloween and it has subsequently been turned to Angel’s Night. It was very specific to Detroit, a lot of abandoned property, a particular time in that city’s history, a lot of tension, and there were upwards of 800 fires set around – the three days around Halloween.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

BANNATYNE: And the city got together and a number of volunteers turned out and they, you know, cleaned up the abandoned property and the lots and some of the dumpsters and things that were set on fire. The volunteers started patrolling it, and they managed to turn it around into what they call Angel’s Night.

CAVANAUGH: Well, that’s at least a good result.

BANNATYNE: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s talk with Paula in Normal Heights. Good morning, Paula, and welcome to These Days.

PAULA (Caller, Normal Heights): Hi. I’m calling because I’ve got 17 and 19 year-old children and we have stopped going trick or treating for many years now but I continue the tradition for the children around the neighborhood and, you know, I had remembered how sad I was when I was bringing my children trick or treating to all of the Americans who were not participating, all the dark lights, and remembered back to my childhood when everybody had their lights on. Everyone trick or treated. And so I’ve felt that it’s really my responsibility to try to continue this tradition. And you hear a lot of Americans who say, gee, I’m really afraid of how much – how integration is going to change our culture and we’re not going to have the American way anymore, and I think that part of the assimilation process, it’s so important for us to maintain our traditions and to encourage others that are coming to our country to be able to appreciate that as well. And so I’m going to buy my candy today.

BANNATYNE: Ahh…

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Paula. Thank you for the phone call.

BANNATYNE: Well, but I’m so happy she’s doing that.

CAVANAUGH: Lesley, are there anti-Halloween trends that you’ve seen? You know, this holiday is growing so popular, is there anybody…

BANNATYNE: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …who just really doesn’t like it?

BANNATYNE: Of course there are. The thing is I think we’re hearing less and less about it. It’s not something that a lot of churches celebrate but in the past ten years or so I’m seeing more of them adopt the holiday and make it their own and have maybe a harvest festival or a trunk or treat party in a parking lot rather than trick or treating. And also in some other countries, they resent the American holiday kind of intruding on their own traditions. And those would be the main objections, I think.

CAVANAUGH: If there was one myth about Halloween that you would like people to realize is a myth, what would that be, Lesley?

BANNATYNE: I think it would be that it’s – there’s no danger in it. There’s no danger in it. It’s the last holiday we have where we open our doors to strangers. It’s really worth keeping. You know, as far as safety goes, your children are better to look out for cars than anything else.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BANNATYNE: That’s the main issue of safety on Halloween night.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I really want to thank you so much for reading the poem and talking to us and sharing your expertise about Halloween. Thanks so much, Lesley.

BANNATYNE: Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Lesley Bannatyne. She is the journalist and author whose Halloween-related books include "Halloween: American Holiday," and "Halloween How-To: Costumes, Parties, Decorations & Destinations." And I want to remind you if you want to tell us what you’re wearing for Halloween or comment about this segment in any way, please go online. Post your comments at KPBS.org/TheseDays. These Days is produced by Angela Carone, Hank Crook, Megan Burke, Pat Finn, Sharon Heilbrunn, and senior producer Natalie Walsh. Production manager is Kurt Kohnen with technical assistance from Tim Felton. Our production assistants are Jordan Wicht and Rachel Ferguson. The executive producer of These Days is John Decker. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, hoping you’ll have a wonderful and happy Halloween. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.

Comments

Avatar for user 'philkon'

philkon | October 29, 2009 at 11:18 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

I experienced two of the items discussed on today's program. I 'Trick-Or-Treated for UniCEF' in the late 1950s. That is my earliest memory about Halloween.

Unfortunately, I distinctly remember something happening which the guest said was a myth: poisoned Halloween candy. I lived in Pasadena, Texas in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1974, a man in the area (Ronald O'Bryan) took out insurance on his own children. He mixed poison into some candy called Pixy Sticks. These were long straws filled with a sweet-sour, granulated powder. O'Bryan gave gave some of these out to hide the fact that he was trying to kill his own child to collect the insurance. One of his children did die.

This event put a significant damper on Trick Or Treating in the area the next year. However, because of this event, more attention was placed on only allowing children to collect candy from people they knew, only accepting store-bought candies with packaging which appeared to be tamper-free, and more group organized events.

Here is just one link to an internet story about O'Bryan's crime:

http://image.examiner.com/x-22079-Houston-History-Examiner~y2009m10d8-Remembering-the-Pixy-Stix-Halloween-murder-of-1974

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