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Class Notes – Halloween History & Modern-Day Fun

The sharing of sweet and scary treats has been around for a long time and is celebrated in many cultures. It is believed to have originated about 2,000 years ago. The Celts, who lived in parts of Ireland, Scotland, and France, would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the United States, we still wear costumes and ward off roaming ghosts and so do many people all around the world.

Modern Halloween celebrations in Canada began with the arrival of Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 1800s. Canadians too carve Jack O’Lanterns, decorate their homes, and trick-or-treat around their neighborhoods.

Irish tricks and treats are similar to our own as well. Families play a game like bobbing for apples called snap-apple. An apple is tied to a tree and players attempt to take a bite. Children prank adults by knocking on the doors of their neighbors and running away before the door is opened. It’s called, “knock-a-dolly.” In my day, we rang doorbells and hightailed out of sight.  It was called, “ding-dong-ditch” and we didn’t only play on October 31st.

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In China, the Halloween festival is known as Teng Chieh. Bonfires and lanterns are burned to light the paths for spirits as they travel the Earth on Halloween night. Ceremonies in Buddhist temples are performed for pretas (translated from Sanskrit meaning hungry ghost) to help spirits on a peaceful journey to heaven – especially for the deceased who were not given a proper burial.

The Japanese celebrate with the Obon festival. It is an annual Buddhist observance dedicated to the spirits of ancestors. Bright red lanterns are hung in front of houses and set afloat in lakes and rivers to guide the ancestors’ spirits. Families often visit the gravesites of relatives, cleaning and placing flowers and incents on and around their gravestones.

In Spanish speaking countries, Halloween is known as El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). It is a time to remember friends and family who have passed away. The three-day celebration begins on the evening of October 31st. Many families construct altars in their home and decorate it with candy, flowers, photographs, and samples of their lost loved one’s favorite foods.

No need to travel the world to enjoy some Halloween high spirits.  You can have some constructive tomfoolery right in your own home. Grab the older kids and a flashlight and read Edgar Allan Poe under a blanket. A website devoted to Poe,  www.poestories.com, has a complete list of all his short stories, poems and much more. For the younger ones, check out Ghost in the House by Ammi-Joan Paquette, Romping Monsters by Jan Yolen, and Vampire Baby, by Kelly Bennett. Rent some wholesome Halloween movies like Hocus Pocus, Casper, Ghost Busters, and The Addams Family. Then, put the whole family’s stimulated imaginations to work. Grab some paper and markers and cut and color skeletons, spiders, ghost and goblins and adorn the house with homemade haunting creations.

Contact Margaret Lavin at elementarydays@gmail.com.

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