Where does Halloween come from? Why do we prance around in costumes and yell trick or treat? Is this even something I want my kid to be doing?
Understanding the history of Halloween not only provides insight into these questions, but also lends inspiration for alternative ideas on how to celebrate the holiday.
History of All Hallows Eve
Halloween has its origins in the changing seasons and the fear people used to have of autumn’s waning sunlight.
The name Halloween is a shortened version of “All Hallows Eve.” Hallows is another word for holy. Halloween originated as a nighttime vigil preceding the Christian holiday of All Hallows (All Saints Day), celebrated on November 1.
Modern Halloween is an amalgam of the celebration of fall and the Medieval European superstition that spirits return to earth.
Ancient Roots, Same Stories
Halloween is an ancient tradition. The idea of honoring the seasons precedes Christianity and has its roots in the Celtic festival of harvest, Samhain. The Celts believed that evil spirits were let loose on our earth for one day each year.
During this night, all hell breaks loose. People wear masks to hide from any spirits that might be seeking vengeance. Similarly, the gargoyles that adorn the front of Gothic cathedrals were intended to protect the building from evil. The idea that we can trick away or disgust ghosts is the origin of scary Halloween traditions.
Different Ways to Celebrate Halloween
Halloween's rich history means you can celebrate the day by drawing on elements of its traditions.
Some parents dislike the conventional Halloween festivities for a variety of reasons: religious beliefs, an aversion to scary situations, or concerns with its consumerist tendencies. If you are looking for alternative ways to spend October 31, here are a few places to start:
A Non-Scary Party
A party does not have to be only “Nightmare on Elm Street” or copyrighted cartoon characters. Bobbing for apples is a fun Halloween tradition without the scare tactics. Fill a bucket with water and have your guests dunk in their heads to retrieve an apple. The first person to fully bite the apple and remove it from the bucket wins! It’s frustrating, clean fun.
You can serve fall related foods. Make your own pumpkin latte or apple cider with a hint of cinnamon.
Consumerism runs rampant on Halloween. Tickets to Rocky Horror Picture Show experience an uptick, and masks based on the latest installment of Nightmare on Elm Street or costumes of Disney characters and superheroes flood the store shelves.
For a more inspired take, dress up as an important historical figure. Alternatively, have your child choose a religious figure to emulate, or a character from a cherished story you both love.
For other ideas on creative Halloween costumes, check out: Finding Inspiration at Home for Halloween Costumes.
The ancient Romans celebrated the fall season as a harvest festival, so an excellent alternative to traditional “trick-or-treating” is to go for a communal hay ride. Alternatively, you can create an autumn celebration at home, in your mosque, church, synagogue, or community center.
Go on an outing to a rural locale and take in the beauty of autumn. Instead of carving a pumpkin, use a gourd to make a flower pot, or do some berry picking. Hand out harvest-inspired healthy snacks (like apples or granola bars), rather than processed sugary foods, to trick-or-treaters.
Explore Common Threads
Teach your children that celebrating life and death is a universal custom shared by many cultures. Read stories from your local library about holidays celebrated around the world.
For example, in Mexico, Los Dias de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) is a three-day festival from October 31 to November 2. In China, springtime is a traditional season to remember the dead. In Japan, during the month of August, lit lanterns represent the souls of the dead returning to visit living relatives and friends.
Cycle of Life
Tell stories of your family's history instead of watching horror flicks on television. Flip through family albums together. Have your children talk to older family members so they can learn about their past. Tell stories of beloved relatives who are now deceased.
Learning the history of holidays is a fun, educational project you can appreciate with your children by your side. Understanding where traditions come from can allow you to find new ways to celebrate a day that has been around for centuries.
Hill, E., & Aiken, K. (2014, September 18). How to make your own damn pumpkin spice latte for $1. Retrieved online from the Huffington Post.
National Endowment for the Humanities (n.d.). Not just halloween: festivals of the dead from around the world. Retrieved online from EDsitement: The Best of the Humanities on the Web.
Rubenstein, B. (n.d.). How to bob for apples. Retrieved online from WikiHow.