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Tips for Parents: Halloween-Beyond Candy | PDF

Español/Spanish: Consejos para padres - Halloween más allá de los dulces

Where did Halloween come from?

Halloween traces its history to well over 2,000 years ago.  At that time, the Celts in Britain, Ireland, and France celebrated their new year not on January 1, but on November 1.  About 800 years later, the church established a Christian holiday on the same day.  This new church holiday was called All Saints’ Day and the mass on that day was called Allhallowmas.  The evening before All Saints’ Day became known was All Hallow e’en (evening) or Halloween.

What was the significance of Halloween? 

In ancient times, Halloween marked the end of the harvest season and the start of a new season of cold and decay.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the holiday became associated with the death of plants that occurs in the late fall.  As a consequence of Halloween’s roots in themes of cold, decay, and death, it was only natural that Halloween became linked to a variety of “scary” symbols.

Where did “trick-or-treat” come from? 

In Old England, poor people went begging for pastries that they received by promising to say prayers for the dead.  It is likely that children’s current practice of asking neighbors for a treat to avoid having a trick played on them came to us from this English tradition. 

Where did we get jack-o’-lanterns? 

Originally, people in England and Ireland carved out beets, potatoes, and turnips to use as lanterns on Halloween.  When this custom reached our shores, Americans substituted pumpkins.  According to an ancient Irish legend, jack-o’-lanterns were named for a man named Jack who, because he could not enter heaven or hell, was sentenced to walk the earth forever with his lantern.

What can be done to make Halloween a safer holiday for children? 

There many steps that can be taken to make Halloween safer for children.  Here are a few:

  • Have costumed trick-or-treaters wear light colored costumes that can be seen easily by motorists.  If a child simply must have a spooky, dark costume, sew on enough reflecting tape so that the “spook” will be seen by drivers.
  • Make sure that any costume worn by trick-or-treaters does not burn easily.
  • Because many masks block a child’s vision on occasion, try painting a mask on the child’s face. (Be sure to use water-soluble, non-toxic paints!)
  • Adults should accompany younger trick-or-treaters.
  • Older children should trick-or-treat only in their own neighborhoods unless accompanied by an adult.
  • Children should be permitted only to eat pre-packaged candy until adults have had an opportunity to inspect the acquired goodies.

How is Halloween an educational opportunity? 

Because children are highly motivated by Halloween, parents can readily draw on that interest by linking educational activities to the holiday.  Here are several suggestions:

  • Prepare original costumes.  It’s so easy to run to the department store for a costume, but having children create their own costumes from at-hand materials can be a wonderful learning experience.  Be sure that the child plays the leadership role in any costume-making endeavors.  If a youngster is going to learn from costume-making, try to make the whole procedure a series of problems to be solved.  It will be fun and educational.
  • Describe Halloween’s history.  Using the information in this Fact Sheet, or in the materials listed later, fill your child in on the background of Halloween, trick-or-treats, and jack- o’-lanterns.  Because youngsters are already interested in this holiday, (and in its sweet dividends), they’ll usually find this sort of history to be fascinating.  It’s a great chance to establish a child’s awareness of the impact of past events on our current behavior.
  • Read Halloween stories or poems.  If the child is not yet a reader, parents can read aloud appropriate Halloween poems or stores (and thereby display an adult’s interest in reading).  For older children, joint reading of Halloween literary materials can be enjoyable.  Let the child choose what’s to be read from parent-supplied options.
  • Make pumpkin carving educational.  Help a youngster plan for carving a jack-o’-lantern by considering in advance the likely consequences of a “cut here and a cut there.”  Although it won’t be a full-blown geometry lesson, there are some useful insights to be gained.  When you and the child are scooping out the seeds, it’s a great time to discuss how a tiny seed can become a huge pumpkin containing many such seeds (almost always slimy!)

For more information:

Maggipinto, Donata.  “Halloween Treats: Recipes and Crafts for the Whole Family.” Chronicle Books, 1998.

Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt.  “Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History.”  Pelican Publishing, 1999.

You may also find these Tips for Parents helpful:

Tips for Parents: Parent Involvement

Tips for Parents: Your Role in School Success

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