What child doesn't love Halloween? It is a time when everyone—adults and children alike—get to play dress up, eat candy, and enjoy spooky tales of ghosts and goblins. But many trick-or-treaters of all ages don't know where this holiday comes from and what it's really all about.
Intrigued? If your interest is piqued, read on to learn some of the real history behind Halloween as well as find some tips and activities that are great for explaining this spooky time of year to your kids.
The Origins of Halloween
Before the kids of the neighborhood went door to door and orange and black streamers lined front porches, people celebrated the closing of the harvest. In fact, Ancient European practices that venerated the changing of the seasons are the basis for our modern-day Halloween, says Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of the Henry Ford Museum. This harvest-time celebration was called Samhain (pronounced "Sow-in") and originated with the Celts. "The Celts of Northern Europe experienced unknown forces of nature such as shortened days and weakened sunlight during their winter months," says Miller.
October 31 marks the Celtic New Year, and it was believed that on this day the barrier between the physical world and the spirit world was very thin, allowing all sorts of unwanted spirits to roam the earth. To ward off potential threats to their families, "the Celts would practice such traditions as offering food and drink . . . [and] dress[ing] in disguise as unwanted spirits," in hopes they'd deceive the unearthly beings, says Miller.
As time progressed and Christianity spread throughout Europe, the various holidays were modified to fit the Christian calendar. October 31 was then referred to as "All Hallow's Eve" because it was the eve of All Saints' Day.
As the Celtic people immigrated to America and throughout the world, they brought with them their folk customs and beliefs. Now, carving pumpkins to ward off spirits, dressing up in disguise, and trick-or-treating are done in good fun and have been adapted to a completely secular day.