Halloween is one of those holidays just about everyone loves. Mobs of kids in imaginative and/or scary costumes roam the streets in search of candy, usually with parents in tow. Nowadays kids are more likely to attend a community Halloween party such as the ones sponsored by the cities of Hermiston and Pendleton in Umatilla County, complete with bounce houses, face painting, carnival-style games and (of course) lots of candy and treats. It’s a safer (and warmer) way for kids to celebrate the holiday, and much less worrisome for their parents.
In searching for how Halloween used to be celebrated in Pendleton’s early history, I came across a story from the Oct. 30, 1905 East Oregonian. It seems there were still superstitions about being out and about on the “picnic night” of All Hallow’s Eve, or Hallowe’en, when all the ghosts were said to roam free, and people stayed indoors and played party games instead. The article said nothing about trick-or-treating, and the party games described were for young adults, not little children.
The first Halloween tradition sounds a bit like a fraternity hazing ritual: The loving bowl consisted of a large punch bowl full of milk into which was put baked apples, boiled potatoes, peeled oranges and other fruits. Each party-goer was required to dip into the milk and bring out a “prize,” with the winner being the person who found the biggest apple or orange. The article didn’t say whether the players were required to eat their prizes.
In the second game, a candle was lit and placed on a table. A person was blindfolded and turned around three times, then instructed to walk three steps and blow out the candle. If he or she was successful, it was a sign that the player would be fortunate in matters of romance in the coming year, and in addition would be rewarded with a loving spouse before another Halloween rolled around.
A third game was called cross meetings. Three young men and three young women, all single, were blindfolded and then led to separate places in the house. At a given signal, the six players tried to find each other, stumbling and groping their way through the house. When two of them met, they embraced and were considered paired for the rest of the evening. “Of course,” the article said, “a master of ceremonies or a mistress of ceremonies accompanies each one of the blindfolded victims, to be sure that no accidents happen, and also to prevent fate from causing two men to fall into each other’s arms, or two young women to embrace each other when they should be, as are all well regulated young women, on the lookout for a man rather than a woman.” This was, after all, 1905.
The last game in the article is the fagot party (a fagot being a stick of firewood). As the party was winding down and everyone was settled in comfortably to chat, the master or mistress of ceremonies would suddenly throw a fagot on the fire and then call out the name of one of the party-goers. That person had to tell a story as long as that stick of wood was burning. When it fell to ashes, another stick was thrown on the fire and another party-goer had to tell a story, and so on. I would imagine a lot of ghost stories were told at Hallowe’en fagot parties.
Most of these games have morphed into something similar in modern times — bobbing for apples, blind man’s bluff and others — and have been adapted for young children’s parties.