Rag Shag Parades – A Western MA Tradition

Is Western Mass Home to the Rag Shag Parade?

Kids line up for Ashfield’s Rag Shag Parade. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

A couple of years ago the question on the origins of the “rag shag parade” was proposed to our readers:

I had never heard of a rag shag parade until I moved to Western Mass. And as far I can tell, this style of parade is a local phenomenon. You don’t hear about rag shag parades happening in Minnesota or Louisiana. Not even Boston! Correct me if I’ve overlooked something, but they seem to take place largely in Western Mass, with at least eleven happening this week. So what gives? How did they originate, and why Western Mass?

And just what is a rag shag parade? Judging from my limited experience, rag shag parades are free-for-all community events where families dress-up in costume and loosely parade down their local town’s main drag. Sometimes fire engines lead the way, sometimes fire engines close up behind. At at the end of the parade there are typically refreshments, activities and/or a bonfire. The kids run around, the adults hide behind masks, and often times trick-or-treating begins. I’m certain there are variations to this format. We’ve been to a number of rag shag parades since our daughter was born. All in Western Mass and all followed a similar pattern. Share with us your favorite rag shag parade stories.

The Great Pumpkin sits outside of the Ashfield Hardware Store and Country Pie on Main Street on Halloween night, waiting for the rag shag parade and trick or treater’s to travel by. This one ton beauty was grown in Plainfield and wired to hear and speak to passersby. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

R. Joshua Mobley posted a great response to this inquiry.  He writes:

“In response to your inquiry on the history of the Rag-Shag, yes it is a New England, and more specifically, W. Mass phenomenon. This history is a little sketchy, but what I found out was that the actual term “Rag-Shag” is an inverse derivative of “Shag-rag”, which literally means: The unkempt and ragged part of the community. Being that the term has slang origins, the actual point of origin is vague at best, circa turn of the 20th century.

“Essentially it was the ruffians and derelicts that began the parade, sort of as a protest to the disparity of classism. It was the only acceptable way their voice could be heard from a voiceless group. Over time it merged with Halloween festivities such as trick-or-treating which did not become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the first U.S. appearances of the term in 1934,and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939.”

4 Comments

  1. October 31, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    The tiny little hamlet of Lenoxdale, ma.in the Berkshires has a Rag shag every Halloween usual on the weekend…..Firetrucks lead the parade with sirens and lights on, kids follow behind in costume…parents walk the side lines. The group ends up at the fire house where cider and doughnuts are served. I am not sure if it is still a tradition, but they use to show and old film reel of vintage silent cartoons….prizes are awarded for best costumes in several categories…

  2. Kristi said,

    October 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Although called their “Halloween Parade”, this is exactly what my hometown of Lake George, NY does each year, fire trucks and all.

    My son is excited for the Easthampton Rag Shag tonight at 6:30 PM, starting at Maple Street School!

  3. Rag Shag Westfield said,

    October 31, 2010 at 10:07 am

    The Rag Shag in Westfield Friday Night was a success again.

    Pictures and Story on link.

    http://wenpub2.com/blog/?p=9516

  4. Mindy Kelly said,

    October 20, 2010 at 10:22 am

    The Haydenville Rag Shag is on Saturday October 30th. Line up at the M.J. Moran Parking Lot between 5:45 and 6:00. March to the American Legion for fun, games and refreshments.


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