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.”

Share your families favorite Halloween tradition

Halloween Traditions

Most families have favorite Halloween traditions that they participate in with their kids (or as a kid).  Traditions may include trick-or-treating, having a picnic in the graveyard, marching down Main Street as a participant in your neighborhood rag shag parade, toilet papering your neighbors 100 year old maple tree (hopefully you stopped doing that by now!).

What are favorite Halloween traditions you’ve either participated in AS a kid or WITH your kids? Share with us HERE.  Here are a couple of shared tradition posted on the Hilltown Families facebook page:

Anyone living in our small town will tell you ours is the “SCREAM FOR A TREAT” house. For the past 12 years I’ve set up a mic on mic stand, hooked up to an amplifier on heavy reverb (echo) on the front stoop. There’s a sign on the door: SCREAM FOR A TREAT. The sound echos loudly throughout the neighborhood. Those three year olds can sure belt it out. Our neighbors just LOVE us! – Yosi Levin (Jersey Shore, NJ)

Every Halloween our daughter takes her candy loot from trick-or-treating and puts it on a big rock in our yard. The “Halloween Spirits” come over night and transform her candy into little toys. Saves on the dental bill! – Sienna Wildfield (W. Chesterfield, MA)

Suggested Events 10/27/07 – 11/02/07

IS WESTERN MASS HOME TO THE RAG SHAG PARADE?

Ashfield Halloween Haunted House 2007 (c) Sienna WildfieldHere’s a challenge for our readers, what are the origins of the “rag shag parade?” 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 eight ELEVEN happening this week. So what gives? How did they originate, and why Western Mass? I’ll throw in a free HFVS T-Shirt Review T-Shirt for the person that can come up with an answer, or at the very least a clever response.

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 four 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 below in the comment box.

SUGGESTED EVENTS

If you have a family-friendly event or educational program happening in Western Massachusetts that you’d like to let us know about, or would like to submit your event to the Hilltown Families calendar of Suggested Events, email Sienna at swildfield@juno.com. Comments are warmly welcomed!

Local forecast | Get directions | Free Museum Passes | Printable Format (pdf)

Events Happening in the Hilltowns

SATURDAY – 10/27

8am – FAMILY RADIO – While traveling around town, tune-in to WXOJ 103.3 FM in Northampton, MA, from 8-10am to hear fabulous family-friendly music on Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. [All ages] (Free)

11am-3pm – FALL FESTIVAL – The Community SOL 4-H is holding a fall festival craft fair with bake sale and free activities for kids. Join families, including members from the Hilltown Families Listserv, to make straw dolls, wands and witch hats, or play dress up in the costume corner. Being held at the North Hall (40 Searle Road) in Huntington, MA. [Families] (Free/$)

11am-4pm – HALLOWEEN EVENT – Hairy Scary Halloween at the Springfield Museums in Springfield, MA. 413.263.6800 x420 [Families] ($, Borrow a museum pass from your local library)

Noon-4pm – HISTORY WORKSHOP – Learn about the kinds of things that people made by hand every day in early New England at Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, MA. Practice sewing or have fun making a hand-made toy out of clay to take home. Included with general admission. At History Workshop. 413.775.7214 [Families] ($/Borrow a museum pass from your local library)

Tico and the Golden Wings by Leo Lionni2pm & 3pm – FAMILY THEATER – Picture Book Theater performs Tico and the Golden Wings at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Arts in Amherst, MA. [Families](>$, Borrow a museum pass from your local library)

2pm-4pm- FAMILY CONCERT & HALLOWEEN EVENT – Join the Pop Rocket’s for some extra Halloween fun at Bart’s Ice Cream in Greenfield, MA. Live music and dancing, along with ice cream. Come in costume. [Families] (Free)

5pm-8pm – HALLOWEEN EVENT – Rag shag parade (6:30pm at the Fire Station), talent/variety show, candy swap, and trick-or-treating in Worthington, MA. 413.238.0047 [Families] (Free)

5pm-8pm – HALLOWEEN EVENT – Rag shag parade and trick-or-treating down Main Street in Cummington, MA. Activities at the Community House. [Families] (Free)

6:30pm – HALLOWEEN EVENT – Haunted Farm at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA. A festive Halloween celebration, with “not-so-scary” haunted hayride, games and treats. Come in costume. [Ages 3-12]

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: