A history of Halloween
by Jude Scrutton (revised, originally published in 2011)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider the roots of Halloween.
Preparation and materials
- Note: some Christians discourage participation in Halloween celebrations. This assembly is available so that students can understand the history of Halloween and therefore be able to decide for themselves about what they do on 31 October. Please take your school policy into account when using this assembly. Local churches may also be running alternatives to the traditional event.
- Optional: below are some suggestions of traditional games that are played at Halloween. You may wish to demonstrate some of these during the assembly, but this is not compulsory.
- Bobbing for apples is arguably the most popular of all the traditional Halloween games. The origins of the game are still debated. Some maintain that the game comes from the Roman goddess Pomona, the goddess of orchards, whereas others say that its roots can be traced to the Celtic pagan religious festival Samhain, when families would gather for a community feast. Details of how to bob for apples are available at: https://tinyurl.com/ycrmohpk
- Snapping at apples is an alternative to apple-bobbing. Again, it is great fun to play and is especially liked by children. Details of how to snap at apples are available at: https://tinyurl.com/yaff2sb2
- Pass the orange is a simple game adapted to the theme of Halloween. It is perfect for small children, but also works well at an adult Halloween party. With minor improvisations, it can be made very interesting and is great fun to play. Details of how to play pass the orange are available at: https://tinyurl.com/ya4vyeym
- Pin the wart on the witch is along the same lines as the game of pin the tail on the donkey. Details of how to play pin the wart on the witch are available at: https://tinyurl.com/ydy8365f
- Optional: you may wish to display the list of festivals that the students name in the ‘Assembly’, Step 1, in which case you will also need the means to do so.
- Ask the students to name their favourite holidays or festivals and list them if you would like to. Suggestions could include Christmas, Easter, Harvest, Eid, Diwali, birthdays and so on.
Ask the following questions.
- Which of these are Christian festivals?
- Which are not?
Students might think that Halloween is pagan or non-religious. This is a good basis on which to start. Students might also think that Halloween is an American creation.
- Explain that Halloween is a festival that takes place on 31 October every year. Many people do not celebrate Halloween and some people disagree with some of the practices involved. Other people think that it is simply a fun evening of celebration. This assembly considers the history of Halloween.
- It is thought that the origins of Halloween lie in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. This festival, held on 1 November, marked the start of winter. It was believed that at Samhain, the way to the other world lay open, so people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.
- In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated 1 November as a time to honour all saints and martyrs. The holiday, called All Hallows or All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before All Hallows was known as All Hallows’ Eve, which was later shortened to Halloween.
- In the sixteenth century, in his play Hamlet, Shakespeare summed up the popular feeling about Halloween:
’Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.
- The idea of ‘trick or treating’ appears to have originated in the USA, where the celebrations have been made far more commercial with Hollywood films. Warn the students about the inherent problems of knocking on strangers’ doors, such as stranger danger, houses with babies or houses with elderly people who do not want to be continually getting up to answer the door.
- Over time, Halloween has evolved into a secular, commercial event. Sometimes community-based events are held and many shops sell scary costumes and masks.
- In several countries around the world, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.
- Some Christians and followers of other religions are uncomfortable with the celebration of Halloween. They feel that it represents darkness rather than light and goes against the idea that Jesus is the light of the world. Some churches hold ‘light parties’ on the night of 31 October.
- If using, introduce some of the games that are traditionally played at Halloween, such as apple-bobbing and pass the orange (see the ‘Preparation and materials’ section above).
Time for reflection
Some people enjoy Halloween, whereas others find it a scary time or disagree with the practice of it.
Ask the students to consider why people might feel uncomfortable with Halloween or find it frightening.
Pause to allow time for thought.
Ask the students to consider what they think about Halloween. Point out that as they grow older, they have choices to make about many things. However, when they make choices, they should also consider the feelings and concerns of others.
Ask the students to make sure that if they are taking part in Halloween, they try to make it fun and safe for everyone. Ask the students to respect people who do not enjoy Halloween and feel uncomfortable about taking part.
Thank you for festivals that we can enjoy with our families and friends.
Please help us always to be respectful of people’s opinions.
Please help us to focus on the good things in the world.
Thank you for light and joy.
Help us to realize that you are always with us and that we don’t need to be afraid.
‘So Will I (100 Billion X) – Hillsong Worship’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfVd5x9W1Xc (7.02 minutes long)