It’s that time of year again. Trick-or-treaters, lawn decorations, and wholesome family fun. You know what I’m talking about: Halloween! Every year, people around the U.S. and other parts of the world gather and celebrate the frightening, the supernatural and the grotesque.
But where did it all start? How can you make sure your kids stay safe while going door-to-door soliciting candy from strangers? What are some things you can do at Halloween that will let the whole family in on the fun? Read on to find out!
The History of Halloween
If you give it a bit of thought, Halloween is a strange holiday. Fear, death and the unknown don’t exactly sound like the best causes for celebration! So why exactly do we celebrate Halloween, and where do its roots lie? Let’s find out!
The earliest Halloween traditions date back as far as the first and second century, to the time of the ancient Celtic tribes. Every year, the Celts observed the day when winter began, marking it with the celebration of ‘Samhain’ every October 31st. It was on this day that the Celts believed the barrier between the otherworld and our world thinned, letting the spirits of the dead roam the earth.
To frighten these spirits away, the Celts would dress up in frightening costumes, feasting all night. The Celts also believed that the spirits of dead kin would return to their families. Those with dead relatives would set an extra place at the table, inviting the spirits of their ancestors to dine with them.
It is from this time that we have one of the most famous traditions, the Jack o’ Lantern. To ward off those spirits who might mean to do one’s family harm the Celtic tribes-people came up with a unique solution. They would carve root vegetables, such as rutabagas or turnips, into frightening faces, hollow them out, and then put a candle inside to form the earliest form of what we know as the Jack o’ Lantern!
After the conquest of Britain and Ireland, the Roman empire changed its official religion to Christianity under the rule of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. As the empire adopted its new religion, many old regional traditions were incorporated into the spiritual life of their former adherents.
The date of Samhain coincided with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Day on November 1st. As it fell on the day before All Hallows, Samhain was renamed to All Hallows Eve. Over time became the name we know so well today: Halloween!
This Christian influence introduced another of the traditions we are familiar with today, trick-or-treating. On All Hallows Eve, the poor would go from door to door, offering to pray for the dead in exchange for gifts of food or money.
Over the centuries, Europeans continued to observe All Hallows Eve. When masses of Irish and Scottish immigrants flocked to the U.S. fleeing poverty and oppression, they brought with them many of the traditions that make up our modern Halloween celebrations. Today, Halloween is a time for friendship, family, and fun.
Halloween Activities for the Whole Family
October is nearly over and Halloween is right around the corner. The air smells of pumpkin spice, raked leaves and enjoyable frights. Before Thanksgiving rolls around and we celebrate the bountiful harvest, we’ll gather to celebrate the spookiest holiday of the year. Kids will celebrate by going to haunted houses and trick or treating. For adults, horror movie marathons (Friday the 13th, anyone?) and Halloween themed work parties will be the order of the day. But what activities can the whole family do together? Here are a couple of ideas!
Let’s Carve a Pumpkin
Jack o’ Lanterns! They’ve come a long way since the days of the Celtic festivals, but they still are based on the same idea: carve face in pumpkin, scare stuff. You can buy premade plastic Jack o’ Lanterns from your local supermarket, but this simply isn’t the same as carving them yourself. It’s not difficult, and the whole family can join in!
Around Halloween, pumpkins are dime-a-dozen and you shouldn’t have any trouble buying three or four at a roadside stand or produce market. Once you’ve secured a couple of the knobbly orange things, you’ll want to cut a hole in the top, being sure to keep the part you cut out. Hollow out the inside, removing all the seeds and fibers inside. You can save the seeds if you want, and later salt and bake them on cookies sheets for a tasty snack. Once the pumpkin is hollowed out, you’re ready to carve!
When you start carving, you can make whatever you want! A monster with three eyes and a toothy grin; the traditional Jack o’ Lantern face; a photo-realistic recreation of the Mona Lisa. Fair warning, you may need some practice before you attempt that last one! Just remember to never let young children carve by themselves, as they may hurt themselves.
Decorate Your Home
Around Halloween, your lawn decorations will determine how much fun trick-or-treaters have when visiting your house (that and the candy, of course). Will they leave bored, or with lifelong psychological trauma from the full-sized lifelike animatronic corpse that popped up from the fake grave? You decide!
Believe it or not, this can be one of the most fun things you can do as a family this Halloween! Whether you’re putting up fake spider webbing, hanging skeletons from the trees and putting your Jack o’ Lanterns in the windows, the whole family can have fun participating. Try crowdsourcing ideas from the kids for creative decoration ideas; chances are, you’ll have the best deco on the block!
Visit the County Fair
Who doesn’t love a good county fair? Cotton candy, kettle corn and funnel cake to eat, games of skill, rides, music, and entertainment all await you at your local county fair. During Halloween, a family outing to the local county fair can make for a lifetime of wonderful memories.
There’s plenty of things to do; For thrills and scares alike, visit the haunted house or the Gravitron. If you’re looking for something a bit slower and more tranquil to do with the kids, try the Ferris wheel or the carrousel. For those willing to try their luck at games of skill or chance, there are always shooting galleries, ring tosses or three-card monte.
Then, of course, there’s the food. And oh, what delicious morsels are available. For the sweet-toothed, candied apples, cotton candy, caramel popcorn, and funnel cake. If you’re looking for something with a little more nutritional value, try a hot dog, some kettle corn or a juicy turkey leg. Hey, I said a little more nutritional value, not a lot. Just be sure the kids brush their teeth when they get home!
And don’t forget about the entertainment! It might be a smash-up derby with the local boys driving cars into each other until only one remains functional. It might be a local band playing heartfelt country ballads. Whatever the night has in store, you and your family will have a great time.
Light a Bonfire
Nothing says good fall vibes quite like singing songs and roasting marshmallows around a roaring bonfire. When the night is cold, dark and full of terrors, gather your friends and your family, make a pile of wood, and set it alight. Be sure you have an unholy amount of graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and marshmallows at hand for maximum S’more production.
Know someone who plays guitar? Invite them over! You can sing folk songs, country ballads or pop mega-hits; as long as everyone knows them, it doesn’t matter what songs you sing. There’s nothing quite like a bunch of kids and adults, hands and faces sticky from melted marshmallows and chocolate, singing heartily around the bonfire pit.
It’s important to remember to check with your Home Owners Association and local fire department before starting a fire of any size. Depending on whether or not you live in a gated community or a heavily urbanized area, there may be strict regulations regarding recreational fires. A quick phone call can save you the trouble o firetrucks unexpectedly showing up to your gathering and dousing you and your guests with fire hoses!
Cooking as a family is unquestionably one of the most fun activities you can have with your family. Making cookies, cupcakes and other Halloween themed delicacies together can bring you all closer together and teach your kids the value of seeing things through. The best part is, you get to choose what you make! Instead of huge quantities of sugary Halloween candy, you can make health-conscious desserts that won’t cause you or your kids crippling health disorders later on in life!
Halloween is fun for everyone. But it also has its dangers. Trick-or-treating kids walk through neighborhood streets and knock on the doors of strangers, asking for candy. Drunk teenagers wander the suburbs, vandalizing property with eggs and rolls of toilet paper. Not to worry though, if you and your kids follow these simple safety tips, you’ll end the fall season happy and healthy.
Before sending your kids out trick or treating, make sure they know these rules:
- Always look both ways before crossing the street
- Always go trick-or-treating with two or more friends
- Never go inside a strangers house
- Be back at the pre-arranged meeting spot at the agreed upon time
- Carry Halloween glow sticks on you so you can easily be seen by passing cars
As a parent, you should also take a couple precautions before your kids go out trick or treating.
- Make sure you child’s costume fits properly and won’t cause them any discomfort or fatigue
- Make sure they can see clearly, and be seen by others. Try picking a light colored costume also add a few glow sticks
- Carefully pick the neighborhood, and arrange a time and place to meet.
- If you have very young children, never let them go trick-or-treating without adult supervision
- If your child has a phone, make sure they keep it turned on at all times. If the phone has a location tracking app, monitor it to make sure they haven’t made any suspicious detours
In whatever way you and your family decide to have fun this Halloween, make sure you stay safe, stay warm and most importantly, have fun! Make memories, smile a lot and enjoy yourselves. Happy haunting!