History of Halloween for Kids

History of Halloween for Kids

Most kids look forward to the revelry of Halloween each year with the exciting celebrations that ensue. As hair-raising as this annual holiday can be, children may enjoy it even more if they know some of the history of Halloween. Dressing in costumes and picketing the neighborhood for candy have deep roots in these fall festivities.

The origins of Halloween trace back to the end of summer, harvest time and a Celtic celebration. Approximately 2,000 years ago on October 31, the first Samhain festival was held. The word "Samhain" translates to "end of summer." This festival would become an annual meeting that involved gathering necessities for the coming winter. The pagan festival involved both supernatural and religious beliefs and rituals that have become a part of Halloween activities today. In the Gaelic culture, people believed that supernatural events occurred on October 31. They also celebrated the beginning of the new year on November 1, which corresponded with the beginning of winter. On this night, the world of the living and the world of the dead would overlap briefly to enable the dead to come back to life. This brief overlap could lead to illness and damage to their harvest. The Gaelic people would light bonfires to honor their dead who had died in the last year and to help them move on to the land of the dead. Sacrificing animals and harvest bounty was another ritual of Samhain.

Scotland and Ireland were the locations of original Samhain festivals that involved sacred fire rituals. During the night of October 31, only one fire, the "Druid fire," remained burning in town. Druids were Celtic priests. The entire population of the town would extinguish their home fires and relight them using the fire from the Druid fire. This ritual gave them comfort as they anticipated the long, dark winter. The relighting process also involved dressing in costumes and parading through the town. Costumes may have been animal skins. The purpose of the costumes was to confuse the spirits and to protect the townspeople from possible possession. Some people wore masks and blackened their faces, which could have been attempts to impersonate deceased family members. Early celebrations may have also included people telling each other fortunes.

The origin of trick-or-treating has evolved over the years to modern traditions. Originally, Halloween revelers went from door to door to gather money and food such as cheese, apples and eggs to use for the Samhain festival. Another aspect of this old ritual involved knocking on doors and requesting soul cakes and offerings to prevent bad luck and ascertain prosperity. The Celtic people may have also engaged in silly antics as they requested food and drink from houses, which has a connection with offerings made to supernatural entities. In the United States, trick-or-treating began in the 1930s to replace common pranking that was occurring on Halloween.

When Irish people came to the United States, largely as a result of famines connected with the potato blight in the mid-1800s, they brought their Halloween traditions with them. Slowly, Halloween traditions evolved in America and people began celebrating this holiday with parties, costumes and trick-or-treating. The Irish people introduced the Jack-O-Lantern to American people. The Celtic story involves a drunkard named "Jack" who tricked Satan into climbing an apple tree to retrieve an apple. Once the Devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross into the trunk, which kept the Devil trapped in the tree. Eventually Jack and the Devil struck a deal that the Devil would not pursue Jack's soul. The Devil came down and Jack eventually died. Jack was denied entrance into heaven, so he sought out the Devil, who also refused him. Jack was forced to wander at night to find a place to rest and the Devil gave him a simmering coal from Hell to light his way. As Jack had been eating a turnip, he tucked the coal inside and used it for light. The legend says that Jack continues to wander with his lit turnip, looking for a place to rest. Irish children repeated the ritual, carving turnips and potatoes and tucking lit coals inside to illuminate their Halloween wanderings.