As the end of October approaches, kids prepare their costumes for trick & treating, while every adult stacks their candy supplies. It’s the time of the year when the neighborhood transforms into a spectral ambient with pumpkins on every corner, spider web on the porch, and Halloween accessories in every backyard.
But what does Halloween mean, and how did it come to be? Sure we all know it as the next best thing after Christmas, but there is more to it than that. Here’s everything you need to know about the Halloween tradition, its lore, and history.
Whatever you’re celebrating, it’s much more fun and meaningful if you know what it’s about, don’t you agree? You can’t celebrate if you don’t have a clue how the custom came to be or what it stands for. That’s why we prepared this crash course in the history of Halloween for kids so that you can expand your understanding of this popular holiday and enjoy it even more.
The tradition of celebrating Halloween, Allhalloween, All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saints Eve, is around 1700 years old. It’s widely believed that it originated from an ancient Celtic harvest festival. As they thought, it was supposed to signify the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. More precisely, Halloween, as we know it, came to be from the Gaelic festival, which they referred to as Samhain.
Samhain, being of pagan roots, was Christianized by the early church and became what we know now and celebrate as Halloween. There are also speculations it has nothing to do with Samhain and that it began as a Christian holiday. But there’s one thing that both understandings of this popular holiday share – Halloween brings a unique ghoulish atmosphere! It brings toys for kids and excitement for adults.
There are several variations of the same custom mentioned throughout history. From the Roman feast of Pomona to the festival of the dead, it seems that respecting the deceased was a tradition every culture shared. In Judaism, there is a similar idea called Yom Kippur that is also about saying prayers for the deceased. Next to that, it’s about atonement and repentance.
Before it was known as Halloween, many cultures referred to it as All Hallow’s Eve, or the evening before All Hallow’s Day. In time, as the name evolved, it turned from Allhalloween to Halloween. In Scots, the word Hallowe’en translates to Hallow Evening.
The idea of this beautiful tradition is to pay respect to the deceased and spirits to celebrate the upcoming period of winter. As the Celts believed, during Halloween, the barrier between our world and the world of spirits and celestial beings becomes extremely thin. So as a precaution, they dressed as spirits and ghosts and went from door to door. This way, the idea of a thin barrier between the two worlds seemed a bit lighter. So instead of being afraid of this obscure anomaly, the Celts celebrated and partied to scare away the evil spirits and ghosts.
What we’ve learned so far is that Halloween didn’t always bear that name. It is a modernized version of many holidays that revolve around more or less the same idea and share the same core concept. So to shed more light on this topic and make the upcoming period of holidays even more unique, here are some Halloween facts for kids. They’ll surely broaden its meaning and give you bragging rights.
When you think of the end of October, an image of pumpkins, candy, trick & treating, and fun family Halloween movies appears, right? Although carving pumpkins is our modernized way of celebrating this exciting holiday, it wasn’t always this way.
The Celts used a different vegetable to carve a face in it and scare away the ghosts. Because they didn’t have pumpkins around, they used something more common to their parts. Wondering what it is? It’s a turnip, a root vegetable commonly grown in temperate climates. Carving on a substantially smaller plant than pumpkin wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. So naturally, when the tradition arrived in America, instead of turnips, people used pumpkins as they are larger and easier to work with.
Ok, so we know how it came to be and what was used before pumpkins, but how about the name? The name is tied to an Irish legend of Stingy Jack but also to a phenomenon of strange light flickering over wetlands called jack-o’-lanterns or will-o’-the-wisp.
The legend of Stingy Jack is about a mythical character that allegedly lived centuries ago somewhere in Ireland. Jack was known for his silver tongue skills, and drinking habits, and was labeled as a manipulator and a crook by society. One fateful day, the Devil himself overheard a conversation about Jack’s silver tongue skills and manipulative nature. Naturally, he wanted to find him, so he did.
After presenting himself to Jack, Satan made it clear that he’s there for his soul. Jack, however, deceived the Devil by requesting one last wish before his departure. Jack asked for a drink or several, and being that drinking is sinful, the Devil approved. After drinking in the local bar, he insisted on paying by asking Satan to transform into a silver coin. Intrigued by this ingenious idea, he abided. Instead of paying for the drinks, he placed the coin ( transformed Devil) into his pocket, which contained a crucifix. The Devil was entrapped and had to give Jack ten years in exchange for freedom.
After ten years have passed, and the Devil came for his due, Jack being manipulative as he was requested one final thing. He was hungry, so he persuaded the Devil to climb a tree and pick apples for him. The Devil was trapped again, as Jack placed crucifixes around the tree. For his freedom, Devil gave up on Jack’s soul but cursed him to wander the earth for eternity with only an ember inside a hollowed turnip. That’s how Jack-o’-lantern term came to be, and given the story’s ghastly details, it became associated with Halloween.
If you ask any child what’s the purpose of trick and treating, the answer would be to get candy and Halloween toys, of course. But the real idea of trick and treating can be understood if we go back when Halloween costumes were invented.
As Celts believed, Halloween represented a period in the year when supernatural beings roam the earth. So to honor them, they mimicked ghosts and otherworldly beings by wearing clothes, probably animal hides, that were supposed to represent them. They went door to door, and the inhabitants would say prayers to the dead and deceased. As the tradition evolved, instead of saying prayers, now we honor these “ghosts” by giving them candy and sweets. Being honored with these gifts, the kids dressed as ghosts and monsters continue to the next house that will provide offerings for them.
Because connecting with the dead wasn’t such a fun thing to celebrate, Halloween games and rituals evolved into fun games and activities. The spirits always represented wandering souls that are trapped between worlds. As such, they have knowledge of past and future events. So in the 18th century during Halloween, women used to place apples in a bowl filled with water in front of them to determine who their suitor will be. The apples were supposed to represent all of their suitors, and whichever apple they were able to bite without using their hands would be their suitor. Another variation of the same custom is that the apples are tied to a string and the first girl to bite one will marry before others.
Nowadays, apple boobing is a common game that’s played on Halloween. But knowing how it came to be sure gives you a few points in storytelling. Apple bobbing isn’t for girls only. There’s another version of the story that depicts young unmarried people biting apples on a string. The first one to bite an apple was the one that gets married first.
Although there are several versions of the same custom, Halloween rituals, games, and activities are still about dressing up as spirits and supernatural beings. Knowing a bit more about its history can’t hurt, as you’ll learn something new and give more meaning to Halloween. So stack up on candy supplies or get your costume ready as Halloween is just around the corner. We hope that this crash course was helpful and will give you more topics to discuss during this particular period.