‘Tis the season for spooky festivities! While some current Halloween traditions have roots that stretch back to antiquity, our contemporary children’s holiday activities – like parties, games, costume parades, and even trick-or-treating – were actually devised in the 20th century as ways to keep kids from partaking in the destructive and dangerous pranks that plagued the season in the 1920s and 1930s.
The following Halloween party ideas come from a wonderful Halloween Program Kit distributed by the Cooperative Recreation Service in Delaware, OH, in the 1930s. My copy is stamped as the property of the Fresno, CA, Works Progress Administration. The kit – marked #28 in the series, revised – was edited by Lynn & Katherine Rorhbough.
I’ve selected the portions included here, providing editorial comments in brackets. Any of these can be used as-is or in adapted form for a modern Halloween party.
For Use in Planning the Halloween Program…
See a new moon over left shoulder.
Find four-leaf clover.
Horseshoe over door.
If cat sneezes.
Rabbit’s left hind foot.
See a pin and pick it up,
All the day you’ll have good luck.
To have a black cat cross your path.
To start a journey on Friday.
To change a garment put on wrong side out.
To walk under a ladder. (Whistling may avert it.)
To rock a rocking chair with no one in it.
To bring any farm tool into the house.
Not to leave a house after a call [as in, visit] by the same door you entered.
Seven years bad luck to break a mirror.
See a pin and let it lie,
You’ll need that pin before you die.
If you boast, knock on wood to avoid bad luck.
If salt is spilled at table, throw some over left shoulder to avoid trouble.
Signs of Death
To open an umbrella in the house.
To sit thirteen at a table.
Ringing in your ears.
Bird pecking at window.
Falling star. [Some traditions view this not as bad luck, but as a chance to make a wish that will come true!]
To bring a hoe into the house.
To let a baby less than a year old look into a mirror.
To cut a baby’s finger-nails before it is a year old.
Step on a spider, make it rain.
Thick corn shucks, hard winter ahead.
Corn hurts, going to rain.
Rain before seven, clear before eleven.
Cat eats grass, going to rain.
If you try on another person’s wedding ring, you will never marry.
Sleep on wedding cake, dream of future mate.
Rain on wedding day, tears will equal rain drops.
Take last piece on plate, never marry.
Stumble on stairs, you will not marry this year, unless you go back and start over.
Look under elbow in graveyard, see ghosts.
Horseshoe protection against ghosts and witches.
Witches can’t cross running water.
Dream of the dead, hear from the living.
Witches and ghosts haunt the place where two roads cross.
If you shudder involuntarily, someone is walking over your future grave.
[This fortune game can be modified as to the symbols used as well as their meanings…have fun and be creative, or leave as is and enjoy an oldschool tradition!]
Seven sauchers stand in a row, each containing one of the following: moss, thorn (or pins), red cloth, blue cloth, forked stick, clean water, double knot of string. Players are blindfolded one at a time and led to the saucers. (The position of the saucers should be changed each time.) The one which is touched by the hand of the player reveals his fortune:
Moss – A live of Luxury
Thorn – Disappointment in love.
Red Cloth – Military lover.
Blue Cloth – Husband [or wife] in the navy.
Forked stick – Marry a widow or widower.
Clean water – Never marry.
Double knot – Marriage soon.
[The kit recommends two variants of this game. In both, a suspended hoop or lazy-susan-type wheel is used to dispense a random item to the spinner. I recommend the lazy-susan method. The following description is mine, based on the words in the kit. I quote the editors’s actual words…]
In the first version of the game, bread, apples, peppers, cake, candies, and candles are placed around the wheel. Each player spins the wheel, blindfolded, taking the item nearest to them when the spinning ceases. Depending on the item received, the spinner’s married life may be “wholesome, acid, soft, fiery, or sweet.” The “candle entails paying a forfeit.”
In the second version of the game, “rings, coins, thimbles, empty nutshells for poverty, etc., may be tied around a wheel which is then rolled to each guest in turn, who catches it and takes off the gift nearest to him.” It is not necessary to be blindfolded for this version, though it might be a fun twist!
The letters of the alphabet are carved [or painted] on a pumpkin. Each player is blindfolded and armed with a hat-pin which he sticks into the pumpkin. The letter in which he puts his pin begins the name of his future mate. [You could also say that the selected letter begins the name of one’s future college, &c.]
Multiply the day of the month of your birth by 7. The left hand digit of the resulting number will be the number upon which hangs your fate.
Boats of Fortune:
Tiny lighted candles are fastened into nut-shell halves by drops of their own wax. Each boat is named and launched upon a wash-tub sea. Their behavior is significant. If they cling to the side, their namesakes will lead a quiet life. Some will float together; others collide and become shipwrecked. Some will float steadily onward to some port of call. The candle which burns longest belongs to the one who will marry first [or win the lottery, or whatever].