Kids love Halloween: the costumes, the candy, the parties! The excitement and holiday spirit surrounding Halloween provide an ideal opportunity to inject some multicultural education into the mix. We know that American children don costumes, carve pumpkins and go trick or treating, but where did this holiday start and what do other countries do to celebrate?

Also called Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, Halloween is observed in various countries every year on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. Devoted to deceased souls including martyrs, saints (hallows), and faithful departed worshippers, the festival starts with a three-day religious observance and ends with evening prayer. Many scholars believe that the celebration of “All Hallows’ Eve” developed from Celtic harvest festivals, whereas others contend that it originated independently of Samhain (the Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season). Early traditions included carving jack-o’-lanterns out of turnips or winter squash, and wearing costumes to ward off evil spirits.

In the 19th century, mass transatlantic immigration popularized Halloween in the United States and Canada. Gradually, commemorating Halloween expanded to places including South America, Australia, New Zealand and continental Europe.

How people celebrate Halloween differs from country to country. In Scotland and Ireland, children dress up traditional costumes, host parties, light bonfires, and enjoy fireworks. In Brittany, France, lighting candles in skulls in graveyards is a popular tradition. In some countries, people attend church services and light candles on the graves of the dead. In other parts of the world, these solemn traditions are less popular and people are more focused on wearing costumes, attending parties, and “trick or treating.”

When preparing for Halloween parties, teach students about the origins of the holiday and some of the unique traditions in other countries. You also can use it as an opportunity to teach about related holidays, such as Mexico’s El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a three day celebration that begins on October 31st. Consider having some of your students talk about any similar holidays in their home country or asking older students to do research on how Halloween is celebrated in another part of the world.

Make the fun multicultural!

For additional suggestions on celebrating global traditions in Autumn with your children and students, please see our earlier blog post: Traditions Around the World: Celebrate Autumn.

For more information on how Halloween is celebrated in other countries, you can visit the following sites:

-       www.novareinna.com/festive/world.html

-       www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org/halloweenglobal.php

Share how you celebrate Halloween by commenting below.

(photo credit: hin255)

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