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All About Halloween

Written by Itziar Madera, Educational Specialist at Lipa

The night is coming! Half the world is getting ready for everyone’s favourite spooky celebration. Pumpkins, candles, spiders, sweets, witches, and more will soon be running around everywhere out there, decorating houses, gardens, streets, cities, and villages.

We all love a good celebration: it brings us joy, fun, nice times, and memories, but do we really know why we are celebrating some holidays? Is it simply because they’re a trend? Because your neighbours are celebrating it? Is your kids’ school doing it? Or because you know what Halloween truly means?

We want everyone to think and celebrate whatever they want but we think now, just a few more days till October 31, it’s a good time to explain to your kids what Halloween is, why it’s celebrated, when it starts, how it goes, through games, videos, movies, activities, talks, and definitely spending time with the family. At this age, kids start to ask questions, so who are the best figures to answer these questions? Their heroes: parents. In addition, it’s a great opportunity to show and teach kids about festivities around the world that lead to open minded and positive attitudes towards people from different cultures; to respect them and understand them.

The Roots of Halloween

Halloween is a celebration of Anglo-Saxon origin that is celebrated in the evening of October 31. It dates back to the time of the ancient Celts, more than 2,500 years ago, when they marked the end of their year. On that last day of October, they believed that spirits could do things like leave the cemetery, eat food, and curse the living. They could do spells and tricks if you did not agree to their demands, which is how the phrase of “Trick or Treat” came along. To avoid this, the residents of Celtic villages would decorate their houses with bones, skulls, and other scary things, so that the dead were frightened and would stay away. Hence the tradition of decorating a house with sinister motifs and wearing costumes.

As the Catholics spread across Europe, they encountered all sorts of pagan festivals like Halloween. Instead of removing the time-honoured traditions of the locals, they decided to adapt them to display more Christian ideas. Halloween then came to be recognized as a three day festival to recognize the departed, starting with All Saint’s Eve on October 31st, followed by All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day.

The celebration was exported to the United States by European immigrants in the nineteenth century, but it didn’t take hold as a true celebration until 1921. That year the first Halloween parade was held in Minnesota and was soon followed by other states.

How It’s Celebrated Around the World

Halloween truly came into how Americans celebrate it today in the late 70s and early 80s thanks to movies and television series. Today, in the United States and what’s becoming more common in other countries, children dress for the occasion and walk the streets begging for candy from door to door. After knocking, the children shout out the phrase “Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!” If adults gave them candy, money, or any other reward, it would be interpreted that they have accepted the deal. If instead they refused, the children would then play a little prank on them, though this is rarely ever carried out.

Trick or treating is done in many other countries, but often with some differences. In Latin American countries, for example, they go around and ask politely for their sugar skulls, as this is the treat of choice there. In Europe, trick-or-treating isn’t so common.

In European cities like Prague, local churches mark it by having Requiem concerts. Both in Europe and in many Latin American countries, they also visit the graves of their passed relatives and recall their lives, and in Mexico they additionally host large parades, parties, and dances.

Costumes and Colours

As Halloween was originally a festival based on magic and spells, the “characters” that are often associated with Halloween include ghosts, witches, black cats, goblins, and demons, as well as certain literary figures such as Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. This has been rapidly changing though, and many who aren’t into the more morbid aspect simply mark it wearing costumes of fantasy figures, like comic book characters and story book heroes.  

The traditional colours of Halloween are the black of night and the orange of the first light of day. Halloween also features autumnal symbols like pumpkins and scarecrows. Keeping with the more sinister side, Americans often carve scary faces into their pumpkins and put candles inside.

This is one very good opportunity to teach your kids about festivities from other cultures, how they’re celebrated differently, and to spend some quality time with them, sharing stories, making crafts, carving pumpkins, and cooking magic potions.