The History of Halloween - Sticks & Stones Education

The History of Halloween

The History of Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner, and we can already hear the excited whispers of little witches, superheroes, and friendly ghosts! It's that time of year when jack-o'-lanterns light up the night, dreams of candy corn flowing  like a sugary river, and imaginations run wild. But did you know that this spooktacular holiday can also be a fantastic opportunity for learning? In this blog, we'll delve into the history of Halloween, explore its global celebrations, and discover how it aligns with the Early Years Learning Framework. Plus, we've got a bag full of tricks and treats with fun educational activities for the little ones in your lives. 

mother and child having fun at halloween

I've seen so much love growing for Halloween over the years and as an American/Australian it warms my heart to know that it is finally becoming a part of my life here in Australia. 

Unmasking the History of Halloween:

Halloween, also known as All Hallows' Eve, has its roots in ancient Celtic traditions. The Celts celebrated Samhain, a festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. They believed that on the night of October 31st, the boundary between the living and the dead blurred, allowing spirits to roam freely. To ward off these wandering spirits, people dressed in costumes and lit bonfires.

Let's delve deeper into the history of Halloween in Ireland, where this ancient festival known as Samhain has its roots.

two children dressed as skeletons for Halloween

Samhain: The Celtic Origins

Ireland is the birthplace of Halloween, and its history can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced 'sow-in'). Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, falling around November 1st in the modern calendar. The Celts celebrated Samhain as a time to honor their deceased ancestors and to mark the transition from the lighter half of the year to the darker half, when the days grew shorter, and winter's grip tightened.

Spiritual Significance:

The Celts believed that during Samhain, the boundary between the living and the spirit world was at its thinnest. This allowed the spirits of the deceased, as well as other supernatural beings, to cross over into the mortal realm. While some of these spirits were welcomed and honored, others were feared. To protect themselves, people lit bonfires and wore masks and costumes to confuse and ward off malevolent spirits.

Bonfires and Divination:

Bonfires played a significant role in Samhain celebrations. These fires symbolized the sun, and their flames were believed to have protective and purifying qualities. People would light large communal bonfires and take home embers to relight their household hearths, symbolizing the preservation of warmth and light during the cold winter months.

Divination, the practice of seeking knowledge about the future, was also common during Samhain. People believed that during this time, they could gain insights into their destinies, especially in matters of love and marriage. Divination rituals often involved apples, hazelnuts, and mirrors.

Christian Influence:

With the spread of Christianity, the Celtic traditions of Samhain gradually merged with Christian celebrations. In the 9th century, the Catholic Church established All Saints' Day (also known as All Hallows' Day) on November 1st to honor all saints. The night before, October 31st, became known as All Hallows' Eve, which eventually evolved into Halloween.

child dressed as a witch for halloween

Celebrating Halloween Today in Ireland:

In modern Ireland, Halloween remains a time of celebration, but it is often seen as a combination of its ancient Celtic roots and more recent traditions. The customs of carving turnips (or pumpkins, more commonly now) into jack-o'-lanterns, dressing in costumes, and going trick-or-treating are enjoyed by children across the country.

Despite the commercial aspects of Halloween, there's a strong sense of connection to the Celtic heritage in Ireland, with some communities reviving traditional customs and storytelling to keep the ancient spirit of Samhain alive.

In summary, Ireland's history with Halloween is rich and deep-rooted, tracing its origins to the Celtic festival of Samhain. The combination of ancient traditions and Christian influence has shaped the modern celebration of Halloween, making it a time of both spooky fun and a nod to the past.

Celebrating Halloween found its way to the United States in the 19th century, and it has since become a playful and spooky celebration for all ages. But how does this tradition fit into early childhood education? Let's connect the dots!

child dressed as a ghost wearing a sheet for halloween

Halloween and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF):

The Early Years Learning Framework focuses on play-based learning and recognizes the significance of children's cultural backgrounds. Halloween seamlessly aligns with this framework, offering a rich learning experience in several areas:

Learning Outcome 1: Identity and Belonging:
- Encourage children to express their creativity by designing their own costumes.
- Discuss the concept of belonging to a community by exploring different cultural celebrations.

Learning Outcome 2. Communication:
- Improve language skills through spooky stories and rhymes.
- Encourage children to describe their costumes and their favorite Halloween treats.

Learning Outcome 3. Well-being:
- Teach children the importance of safety and stranger awareness while trick-or-treating.
- Promote healthy eating by discussing moderation with Halloween candy.

Learning Outcome 4. Learning through Play:
- Engage in imaginative play with costumes and props, allowing children to use their imaginations and creativity.

woman holding pumpkin for halloween

Celebrating Halloween Around the World:

Halloween is celebrated in various forms across the globe. While its popularity in some countries may not rival that of the United States, the spirit of Halloween is contagious. Here are a few places that join in on the fun:

United States: The epicenter of Halloween, where trick-or-treating, haunted houses, and pumpkin carving are a must.

Ireland: The birthplace of Halloween, where it's called Samhain and marked by bonfires and traditional celebrations.

Mexico: Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a vibrant celebration honoring deceased loved ones.

dia de los muertos

Japan: Halloween is gaining popularity, with costume parades and spooky decorations.

Germany: Known as Erntedankfest, it's a time for giving thanks for the harvest.

China: Halloween is known as the "Festival of the Hungry Ghosts."

Australia: Trick-or-treating and costume parties have become increasingly popular in recent years, and we are learning as we go! 

pumpkin on windowsill with child shouting boo though window

Playful Spooky Learning Activities for Little Ghouls and Goblins:

Now that we've set the stage, let's dive into some fun and educational Halloween activities perfect for early learning settings or home parties:

1. Pumpkin Math: Count and compare the sizes of different pumpkins. Explore concepts like big and small, heavy and light.

2. Spooky Storytelling: Encourage imaginative storytelling, where kids can create their own spooky tales.

3. Halloween Craft: Create unique Halloween crafts using recycled materials, fostering creativity and fine motor skills.

4. Sensory Play: Fill bins with Halloween-themed sensory materials like fake spiders, slime, and colored rice for sensory exploration.

5. Monster Manners: Teach children about politeness and manners by turning them into "monster manners" detectives.

6. Healthy Treats: Make fun and spooky fruit snacks to promote healthy eating habits.

trick or treat

How to Play it Safe on Halloween: Safety First: Halloween Tips for Parents

Ensuring the safety of children during Halloween is of utmost importance. Here's a section on safety measures that parents can take to make Halloween a secure and enjoyable experience for their little ones.  Halloween is all about fun and excitement, but it's crucial to prioritize safety, especially when young children are involved. Here are some essential safety measures to keep in mind:

1. Plan Costume Safety:
- Ensure costumes are flame-resistant and fit well to prevent trips and falls.
- Avoid masks that obstruct vision; opt for face paint or makeup instead.
- Attach reflective tape to costumes or treat bags for visibility in the dark.

2. Supervise Trick-or-Treating:
- Accompany younger children while trick-or-treating and keep older kids in groups.
- Establish a route and curfew time for older kids if they're going out without adult supervision.

3. Use Well-Lit Pathways:
- Stick to well-lit streets and sidewalks. Carry flashlights or glow sticks to enhance visibility.

4. Candy Inspection:
- Examine all candy and lollies before allowing your child to eat it. Discard any open or tampered packages. 
- Teach children to inspect their own candy and lollies. 
- Be mindful of food allergies and check labels for allergen information.

5. Stranger Awareness:
- Remind children not to enter strangers' homes
- Remind children to stay within sight and sound of their adult chaperones, whether that is their family, a neighbour, or family friend.
- Teach them to say "no" and immediately report any uncomfortable situations to a trusted adult.

6. Traffic Safety:
- Use crosswalks and obey traffic rules when crossing streets.
- hold hands while crossing the street
- Drivers should exercise extra caution on Halloween and be mindful of children running between houses.

7. Home Safety:
- Decorations and candles can be fire hazards. Keep them away from walkways and exits.
- Secure pets in a separate room to prevent them from getting stressed or escaping when the door opens frequently.

8. Emergency Contact Information:
- Make sure your child knows their name, your phone number, and address.
- Carry a list of emergency contacts, and consider using temporary safety tattoos for younger children.

9. Teach Kindness:
- Encourage your child to be respectful and considerate while trick-or-treating.
- Remind them not to take too much candy from one house to ensure enough for everyone.

10. Health Precautions:
- With the ongoing pandemic, consider local guidelines regarding mask-wearing and social distancing.
- Opt for outdoor or low-risk activities, if available and appropriate.

11. Home Party Safety:
- If hosting a Halloween party at home, ensure a safe and child-friendly environment.
- Keep decorations and snacks out of reach of young children to prevent choking hazards.

12. Food Safety:
- If preparing homemade treats for parties, be cautious about common allergens and label foods clearly.
- Store and serve food at the appropriate temperature to prevent foodborne illnesses.

By following these safety measures, parents can help ensure that Halloween is not only a memorable and fun holiday for their children but also a safe one. Remember, a little precaution goes a long way in making this spooky season a truly enchanting experience for the whole family!

kids having fun at halloween

Halloween Themed Jokes for the Littles

Q: Why did the ghost go to the party?
A: Because he heard it was going to be a "boo"-last!

Q: What's a vampire's favorite fruit?
A: A blood orange!

Q: Why did the skeleton go to the barbecue?
A: To get another rib!

Q: What do you call a mummy's favorite type of music?
A: Wrap music!

Q: Why didn't the scarecrow eat dinner?
A: Because he was already stuffed!

Q: What do you get when you cross a vampire and a snowman?
A: Frostbite!

Q: What's a witch's favorite subject in school?
A: Spelling!

Q: How do monsters like their eggs?
A: Terrifically boiled!

Q: What did one jack-o'-lantern say to the other?
A: "You light up my life!"

Q: Why did the werewolf bring a ladder to the Halloween party?
A: Because he wanted to go to the "howl"-way dance on the roof!

The history of Halloween shows that Halloween is more than just a day for costumes and candy; it's a fantastic opportunity for early childhood learning. By embracing the spooky spirit, children can develop essential skills while having a hauntingly good time. So, whether you're celebrating Halloween in the United States, Ireland, or anywhere in between, remember that this holiday offers a cauldron of educational possibilities for your little ones.

Happy Halloween, and may your day be full of tricks, treats, and lots of learning!

References + Further Reading on the History of Halloween: 


Check out our Calendar of Significant Days, Celebrations, Cultural Events Page and read our Blog: Significant Days for Early Childhood Education and Care where we feature blog articles written to support your understanding of key days and we make suggestions of experiences you can add to your programs and curriculum as well as links to the Early Years Learning Framework.


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