NYPL Gallery
NYPL Gallery

13 Retro Halloween Party Activites for Your Spooky Shindig

NYPL Gallery
NYPL Gallery

No one knew how to party like the Halloween hosts of yesteryear. They sent weird invitations, with the text rhyming, written backward, or encased in a walnut shell. And from the moment their guests arrived, the spook factor was turned way up. One book from 1912 recommended hosts “have the hall totally dark with the door ajar and no one in sight to welcome the guests. As they step in they are surprised to be greeted by some one dressed as a ghost who extends his hand which is covered with wet salt.” Another from 1903 instructed hosts to dress like a “shade,” or a resident of the underworld, to welcome guests:

As guests enter house, barn or cellar, they are welcomed by a Shade who introduces them to another Shade by saying: "This is the shade of my grandfather” ... The Shade to whom the guest is introduced conducts the guest to waiting-room and introduces guest to Ghost: "Permit me to introduce the ghost of this room, she died ten years ago" ... Each time a guest is introduced there should be a lot of moans, sighs, groans, clattering noises, and raps. … After guests have removed wraps they are ushered into the first entertainment room by a band of Ghosts who close around them.

And things only got weirder from there. Here are a few fun, creepy activities from historical All Hallow’s Eve parties that you might want to incorporate into your own spooky shindig.

1. PLAY A GHOSTLY VERSION OF MUSICAL CHAIRS.

This game, as described in 1937’s The Jolly Hallowe’en Book, calls for chairs—one less than the number of participants—to be arranged in two lines; one chair should be covered in a white sheet. But unlike musical chairs, which eliminates the person still standing without a chair, "whoever was forced to sit in this chair when the weird music stopped suddenly was proclaimed a ghost and had to drop out of the game. Each time a player dropped out a chair was taken away. When the last player became a ghost he was commanded to howl as he thought a ghost might do.”

2. MAKE WALNUT BOATS TO DETERMINE YOUR FUTURE.

Forget the magic eight ball or the Ouija board; instead, use the shells of English walnuts to determine your future, as described in 1912’s Games for Hallowe’en. Step one: Open up some walnuts, remove the meat, and in each half “fasten short pieces of differently colored Christmas candles, each of which is to be named for a member of party.” (Alternatively, you can pour melted wax into the shells and stick in short strings to use as wicks.) Next, light them and put them in a large tub of water, after which your destiny will be revealed:

The behavior of these tiny boats reveals future of those for whom they are named. If two glide on together, their owners have a similar destiny; if they glide apart, so will their owners. Sometimes candles will huddle together as if talking to one another, while perchance one will be left alone, out in the cold, as it were. Again, two will start off and all the rest will closely follow. The one whose candle first goes out is destined to be old bachelor or maid.

In another version of this game from the 1903 book Hallowe’en Festivities, guests use a toothpick and slip of paper to make a tiny sail in their walnut shell boats: “On paper each one writes his initials and another's; revealing name to no one. Boats are all launched at same time; water is agitated to make miniature waves; those whose boats are overturned will not win their lovers and sweethearts, but owners of boats that override the troubled seas will get their hearts' desires.”

3. DO SOME GARDENING.

Kale is very good for you, and, according Halloween Festivities, can even help you determine some very important things about your future life partner. Party guests are blindfolded and taken down to the garden, either singly or in pairs, and, “groping about they pull up first stalk of kale or head of cabbage. If stalk comes up easily the sweetheart will be easy to win; if the reverse, hard to win.”

The shape of the stump will hint at your future partner’s figure, and the length will suggest his or her age. There are other things that can be determined by what you’ve pulled up out of the ground, too: “If much soil clings to it, life-partner will be rich; if not, poor.”

Lastly, the guest should take the stump home and hang it over their door; the “first person outside of family who passes under it will bear a name whose initial is same as that of sweetheart.”

4. HAVE A “WITCHES’ DANCE.”

To pull off this activity, as described in Hallowe’en Festivities, you’ll need a stage, “Tam O’Shanter” on your iPod, and eight ladies who can learn both choreography and stage direction and have the ability “[constantly hiss] … as if lots of cats were present.” Here’s just a portion of the action:

Enter eight Witches riding brooms and dancing around stage in a circle … After Witches have completed one circle, they reverse and go around stage in opposite directions. (Stage is lighted with white light.)

Witches straighten into one long line at each side of stage with brooms at side. They whirl brooms in air and lines swing into one long line facing audience with hissing sound. (Stage is lighted with red light.)

Witches clump handles of brooms on stage three times and meow. (Stage is lighted with green light.)

Witches whirl brooms in air again; line divides at C. and swings back to sides with hissing sound. (Stage is lighted with white light.)

Witches clump brooms on floor three times and meow. (Stage is lighted with green light.)

Witches drop broom ends on floor and drag them; lines approach each other and pass each other to opposite sides on tiptoe saying "sh-uh sh-uh" in most witchly fashion.

5. PAINT AND BLOW UP BALLOONS.

This one from The Jolly Hallowe’en Book requires some prep work—namely, painting grotesque faces on balloons. To freak out your guests, “[turn] the lights very low again and [give] each guest a balloon to blow up as large as possible. These balloons were all dark in color and had previously been inflated long enough to have hideous faces painted on them with phosphorescent paint. As they were blown up the faces shone out weirdly and an occasional explosion added to the effect.”

6. PLAY GAMES WITH APPLESEEDS.

Games for Halloween notes that “apple seeds act as charms on Hallowe'en” and, as such, there are a few games you can play with them. One simple game is to stick one seed on each eyelid; one is home and the other is travel, and “if [the] seed named ‘travel’ stays on longer, you will go on a journey before year expires. If ‘Home’ clings better, you will remain home.”

In another game, the seeds can be used to predict how much mail you’ll get. All of the apple seeds are placed in the palm of the left hand, and “with loosely clenched right hand strike palm of left. This will cause some, if not all, of seeds to fall. Those left on hand show number of letters you will receive the coming fortnight. Should all seeds drop, you must wait patiently for your mail.”

7. SING SPOOKY SONGS.

The Jolly Hallowe’en Book is full of songs you can sing at your party, most set to the tunes of other songs I’ve never heard of. But “Halloween is Lots of Fun” is sung to the tune of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” so it should be easy for everyone to sing along at your party:

1. Hallowe'en is lots of fun! E-I-E-I-O!

(Repeat this sentence after each verse.)

With Jack-o'-Lanterns everywhere ! E-I-E-I-O !
With a Jack, Jack here, and a Jack, Jack there !
Here a Jack, there a Jack, everywhere a Jack, Jack !

2. Hallowe'en is lots of fun ! E-I-E-I-O !
Yowling cats are everywhere ! E-I-E-I-O !
With a Meow, Meow here, and a Meow, Meow there!
Here a Meow, there a Meow, everywhere a Meow,
Meow!

3. Hallowe'en is lots of fun ! E-I-E-I-O !
Squeaking bats are everywhere ! E-I-E-I-O !
With a Squeak, Squeak here, and a Squeak, Squeak there !
Here a Squeak, there a Squeak, everywhere a Squeak,
Squeak !

4. Hallowe'en is lots of fun ! E-I-E-I-O !
Spooky ghosts are everywhere ! E-I-E-I-O !
With an Ooo, Ooo here, and an Ooo, Ooo there !
Here an Ooo, there an Ooo, everywhere an Ooo, Ooo !

5. Hallowe'en is lots of fun! E-I-E-I-O!
Witches ride then everywhere! E-I-E-I-O!
With a Cackle, Cackle here, and a Cackle, Cackle there!
Here a Cackle, there a Cackle, everywhere a Cackle,
Cackle !

8. MAKE A “DUMB CAKE.”

What makes the cake dumb? According to Halloween Festivities, it’s because the whole cake is made without anyone saying a word. Each participant “places handful of wheat flour on sheet of white paper and sprinkles it over with a pinch of salt.” Then, someone makes it into dough, “being careful not to use spring water.” Next,

Each rolls up a piece of dough, spreads it out thin and flat, and marks initials on it with a new pin. The cakes are placed before fire, and all take seats as far from it as possible. This is done before eleven p.m., and between that time and midnight each one must turn cake once. When clock strikes twelve future wife or husband of one who is to be married first will enter and lay hand on cake marked with name.

The aim of these games was obviously a little different back in the day, but this is still a fun challenge to undertake if you and your friends are lovers of baked goods!

9. GRAB TREATS FROM AN OPEN FLAME.

In “Snapdragon,” from Games for Halloween, the dragon is a half-pint of brandy or some other alcohol in a dish—which should be placed “middle of bare table, for drops of burning spirits are often splashed about.”

Light the brandy, extinguish all other lights, and “freely sprinkle” salt in the dish, “imparting a corpse-like pallor to every face. Candied fruits, figs, raisins, sugared almonds, etc., are thrown in, and guests snap for them with their fingers; person securing most prizes from flames will meet his true love within the year.”

Alternately, write verses on slips of paper and wrap them tightly in tin foil, then place them in the dish. Pour on the brandy and ignite it; “the verse each person gets is supposed to tell his fortune.”

10. STICK A PIN ON A PUMPKIN.

This one is kind of like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, only you’re sticking a pin on a pumpkin carved with every letter of the alphabet. Let Halloween Festivities explain:

Hostess enters with small round pumpkin on old pewter platter. On pumpkin are carved all letters of alphabet. One guest is blindfolded and given a hat-pin, then led to pumpkin, where she is expected to stick pin into one of the letters on the pumpkin.

Whichever letter she picks indicates what initial her future life-partner’s name will start with. 

11. GIVE OUT PRIZES.

Halloween Festivities recommends putting your guests' gifts in a “Hallowe’en Pie,” which “consists of upper and lower crust of dough and looks like any large deep pie. Dish is deep and round. Bake under crust and upper crust. When cool, fill with sawdust and dainty knick-knacks. Have knick-knacks evenly scattered throughout sawdust. Then put on top pie crust and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Knick-knacks should consist of things pertaining to occasion, as witches on brooms, tiny jack-o'-lanterns, ghosts, apples, etc., — souvenirs of the occasion.” Presumably, your guests have to dig in to discover the prizes inside.

Games for Hallowe’en, meanwhile, suggests making them a little harder to get:

Suspend apples by means of strings in doorway or from ceiling at proper height to be caught between the teeth. First successful player receives prize. These prizes should be Hallow-e'en souvenirs, such as emery cushions of silk representing tomatoes, radishes, apples, pears, pickles; or pen-wipers representing brooms, bats, cats, witches, etc.

12. DO A BIT OF PERFORMANCE ART.

This bit from The Jolly Hallowe’en Book would be right at home in a performance artist’s showcase. Called simply “Hallowe’en,” it should be “recited slowly with much dramatic feeling. When the underscored words are spoken, suitable accompaniments are heard from the background.”

Hallowe'en !

Witches ride on broomsticks ! (Clatter of wood.)
Black cats ! (Meows.)
Snakes ! (Hisses.)

Black bats ! (Flapping noise and squeaks.)
The world is full of ticktacks ! (Sound of ticktacks.)
Ticktack! (Sound of ticktacks.)
Ticktack! (Sound of ticktacks.)
Witches ! (Cackling laughter.)

Goblins ! (Noise of turkey gobbler — speaker looks back sternly.)

Goblins, not Gobblers !
Small boys! (Chatter.)

Whistles ! (Whistles.)

Catcalls ! (Catcalls.)

Witches ! (Cackling laughter.)

Cats ! (Meows.)

Snakes ! (Hisses.)

GHOSTS ! (Long drawn out sepulchral groan OHoooo.)

HALLOWE'EN !

13. TELL (TERRIBLE) JOKES AND RIDDLES.

After all of these strenuous activities, your guests will probably want to relax a little bit. These ones from Games for Hallowe’en are technically for children, but they’re bound to elicit groans among adults, too.

Why does a sculptor die horribly?--Because he makes faces and busts.

Why is it certain that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was not written by the hand
of its reputed author?--Because it was written by Mrs. Beecher's toe
(Stowe).

If all the seas were dried up, what would everybody say?--We haven't a
notion (an ocean).

Why is a fishmonger never generous?--Because his business makes him
sell fish (selfish).

If a man who is carrying a dozen glass lamps drops one, what does he
become?--A lamp lighter.

Why did Eve never fear the measles?--Because she'd Adam.

See? We told you they were bad.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
iStock
iStock

It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

June 21 date against a yellow background
iStock

The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

A vintage mapped globe showing the Tropic of Cancer
iStock

While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
CARL DE SOUZA, AFP/Getty Images

The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

A large bonfire
iStock

Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

Colorful picture of the sun hitting ocean waves.
iStock

You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

Arty image of fire and water colliding.
iStock

In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

Stars in the night sky.
iStock

In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

Yin and yang symbol on textured sand.
iStock

In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

Silhouette of a baseball player.
iStock

Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

The Earth tilted on its axis.
iStock

You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

Pages of a calendar
iStock

In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
iStock

The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
iStock

In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
12 Things You Might Not Know About Juneteenth
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There's more than one Independence Day in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced that slaves were now free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth across the nation. Here's what you should know about the historic event and celebration.

1. SLAVES HAD ALREADY BEEN EMANCIPATED—THEY JUST DIDN'T KNOW IT.

A page of the original Emancipation Proclamation on display from the National Archives.
A page of the original Emancipation Proclamation, from the National Archives.
ALEX WONG, AFP/Getty Images

The June 19 announcement came more than two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, so technically, from the Union's perspective, the 250,000 slaves in Texas were already free—but none of them were aware of it, and no one was in a rush to inform them.

2. THERE ARE MANY THEORIES AS TO WHY THE LAW WASN'T ENFORCED IN TEXAS.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

News traveled slowly back in those days—it took Confederate soldiers in western Texas more than two months to hear that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. Still, some have struggled to explain the 30-month gap between the proclamation and freedom, leading some to suspect that Texan slave owners purposely suppressed the announcement. Other theories include that the original messenger was murdered to prevent the information from being relayed or that the Federal government purposely delayed the announcement to Texas in order to get one more cotton harvest out of the slaves. But the real reason is probably that Lincoln's proclamation simply wasn't enforceable in the rebel states before the end of the war.

3. THE ANNOUNCEMENT ACTUALLY URGED FREED SLAVES TO STAY WITH THEIR FORMER OWNERS.

Photograph portrait of Civil War General Gordon Granger
National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

General Order No. 3, as read by General Granger, said:

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

4. WHAT FOLLOWED WAS KNOWN AS "THE SCATTER."

Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr

Obviously, most former slaves weren't terribly interested in staying with the people who had enslaved them, even if pay was involved. In fact, some were leaving before Granger had finished making the announcement. What followed was called "the scatter," when droves of former slaves left the state to find family members or more welcoming accommodations in northern regions.

5. NOT ALL SLAVES WERE FREED INSTANTLY.

Illustration of a white man reading something to a black slave.
iStock

Texas is a large state, and General Granger's order (and troops to enforce it) were slow to spread. According to historian James Smallwood, many enslavers deliberately suppressed the information until after the harvest, and some beyond that. In July 1867 there were two separate reports of slaves being freed, and one report of a Texas horse thief named Alex Simpson whose slaves were only freed after his hanging in 1868.

6. FREEDOM CREATED OTHER PROBLEMS.

Mist and fog over a river
iStock

Despite the announcement, Texas slave owners weren't too eager to part with what they felt was their property. When legally freed slaves tried to leave, many of them were beaten, lynched, or murdered. "They would catch [freed slaves] swimming across [the] Sabine River and shoot them," a former slave named Susan Merritt recalled.

7. THERE WERE LIMITED OPTIONS FOR CELEBRATING.

A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
2C2KPhotography, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When freed slaves tried to celebrate the first anniversary of the announcement a year later, they were faced with a problem: Segregation laws were expanding rapidly, and there were no public places or parks they were permitted to use. So, in the 1870s, former slaves pooled together $800 and purchased 10 acres of land, which they deemed "Emancipation Park." It was the only public park and swimming pool in the Houston area that was open to African Americans until the 1950s.

8. JUNETEENTH CELEBRATIONS WANED FOR SEVERAL DECADES.

Scene from the Poor People's March in Washington, D.C. on June 19, 1968.
Scene from the Poor People's March in Washington, D.C. on June 19, 1968.
ARNOLD SACHS, AFP/Getty Images

It wasn't because people no longer wanted to celebrate freedom—but, as Slate so eloquently put it, "it's difficult to celebrate freedom when your life is defined by oppression on all sides." Juneteenth celebrations waned during the era of Jim Crow laws until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when the Poor People's March planned by Martin Luther King Jr. was purposely scheduled to coincide with the date. The march brought Juneteenth back to the forefront, and when march participants took the celebrations back to their home states, the holiday was reborn.

9. TEXAS WAS THE FIRST STATE TO DECLARE JUNETEENTH A STATE HOLIDAY.

A statue of former Texas state representative Al Edwards, who introduced legislation to have June 19 officially declared a state holiday.
A statue of former Texas state representative Al Edwards, who introduced legislation to have June 19 officially declared a state holiday.
ניקולס, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Texas deemed the holiday worthy of statewide recognition in 1980, the first state to do so.

10. JUNETEENTH IS STILL NOT A FEDERAL HOLIDAY.

Silhouette of woman walking
iStock

Though most states now officially recognize Juneteenth, it's still not a national holiday. As a senator, Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, though it didn't pass then or while he was president. One supporter of the idea is 91-year-old Opal Lee—since 2016, Lee has been walking from state to state to draw attention to the cause.

11. THE JUNETEENTH FLAG IS FULL OF SYMBOLISM.

a mock-up of the Juneteenth flag
iStock

Juneteenth flag designer L.J. Graf packed lots of meaning into her design. The colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the slaves and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the bursting "new star" on the "horizon" of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.

12. JUNETEENTH TRADITIONS VARY ACROSS THE U.S.

Juneteenth celebration participants taste the sweet potato pie entered in the cook-off contest during the festivities Richmond, California, in 2004.
Juneteenth celebration participants taste the sweet potato pie entered in the cook-off contest during the festivities Richmond, California, in 2004.
David Paul Morris, Getty Images

As the tradition of Juneteenth spread across the U.S., different localities put different spins on celebrations. In southern states, the holiday is traditionally celebrated with oral histories and readings, "red soda water" or strawberry soda, and barbecues. Some states serve up Marcus Garvey salad with red, green, and black beans, in honor of the black nationalist. Rodeos have become part of the tradition in the southwest, while contests, concerts, and parades are a common theme across the country.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios