Did you know that Halloween is one of the world’s oldest holidays? It has gone through many changes but was originally a Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in), marking the end of harvest and the beginning of the new year (November 1st). The druids believed that ghosts and spirits roamed the Earth at this time, and they lit bonfires as protection.
When the Romans took over the Celtic lands, they adopted the day to honor their own deities. One of these, Pomona, was the goddess of fruit and trees and was represented by an apple. This may be why we bob for apples at Halloween parties today!
Eventually, the Roman Catholic Church adopted this time as All Saints', or All Hallows', Day, to honor saints who did not have a specific feast day of their own. The name gradually changed to Halloween, as it was the e'en (evening) before All Hallows Day.
The tradition of trick-or-treating dates to All Souls’ Days parades in England. Villagers gave poor people “soul cakes” in return for prayers for their dead relatives.
In 1920s America, kids began going trick-or-treating in their neighborhoods. By this time, Halloween lost much of its religious meaning and became a holiday where people could don costumes and become, for one night, something fantastical. It also became an inexpensive way for communities to celebrate together.
Other countries have their own celebrations at this time, but with different meanings. In Mexico, people celebrate El Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead. This is a time to honor and celebrate the dead. Families clean and decorate their relatives' graves, and, on the night of November 1, everyone meets at the graveyard. Traditionally, this is the time that spirits are believed to return to the land of the living.
You can check out these Halloween books from the library:
Our best elementary school titles on Halloween history and activities.