Common Traditions and Symbols
Now that you know a bit of the origins of this frightful fest, it's time to bone up on some of the traditions practiced with this fall holiday.
- Pumpkin Carving: Irish immigrants originally used hollowed-out turnips as lanterns, says Miller, but upon coming to America, they adopted the use of pumpkins because they were more readily accessible. So pumpkins, transformed into jack-o-lanterns (carved with scary faces to ward off troublesome spirits), soon became harbingers of fall and the harvest.
- Bobbing for Apples: Although not a recommended activity for small children, bobbing for apples is a fun game where kids take turns dunking their heads in a bucket of water to try and grab an apple with their mouths. This tradition has been linked to Samhain celebrations and could possibly have ties to Pomona, the Roman goddess of Orchards, says Matt Cherry, Executive Director of the Institute for Humanist Studies.
- Dressing Up: For ages people have dressed up to reenact their past, ward off spirits, and for pure fun. The Celts in particular may have dressed up to disguise themselves from the spirits roaming the earth on Samhain. (Check out these classic and kooky Halloween costumes, as worn by BabyZone readers!)
- Trick-or-Treat: What once began as a way to keep the evil spirits at bay by placing food and drink outside of one's home, turned into a silly way to get free treats! Rather than real spirits tormenting the people, mischievous folk would dress up like the spirits and threaten harm unless given food.
Teaching Little Ones
The real story behind Halloween may be too frightening for youngsters, especially the part about the dead walking the earth! But it is possible to let your children in on this culturally important information without scaring the daylights out of them.
One good way to explain this interesting history, according to Miller, is to tell your kids that Halloween was brought to America by people from foreign countries. While relocating their homes to the United States, the immigrants brought many traditions from their homelands, one of which was celebrating the changing seasons by dressing up, eating, and decorating with harvest-time items such as pumpkins and scarecrows.