Halloween History for Kids: 7 Fun Facts to Share

Learn about the history of Halloween, and amaze your kids with your knowledge of this spooky holiday.

Did you know that jack-o-lanterns were originally carved into turnips? Or that trick-or-treating likely came from an English medieval custom? Keep reading to learn about seven interesting Halloween facts for kids, and share them with your family to get in the spooky spirit!

1. Halloween is a cultural mashup.

While discussing the history of Halloween with your kids, you can note that the holiday is a combination of several celebrations from different cultures and religions at various times in history.

The ancient Celtic people celebrated Samhain, marking the end of harvest season. It was a time when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and ghosts visited the earth. After the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic peoples, their festivals of Feralia (in which the Romans honored the passing of the dead) and a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, were combined with Samhain.

Taking place on November 1, the Catholic holiday of All Saints' Day (All Hallows' Day) also contributes to the history of Halloween. It honors the saints who have attained heaven. Celebrated one day later on November 2, All Souls' Day honors all who have died but have not yet reached heaven.

2. Dressing up in costumes was once a way to hide from ghosts.

The tradition originated as a way for the Celtic and other European people to hide from the spirits who returned this time of year. People wore masks when they left their homes after dark so the ghosts would think they were fellow spirits. To keep the ghosts out of their houses, people would place bowls of food outside to make them happy.

3. Jack-o'-lanterns were originally carved into turnips.

In a traditional Celtic story, a man named Jack tricked the Devil. After Jack died, the Devil made him roam the night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the piece of coal in a carved-out turnip, a common vegetable in Ireland, and became known as Jack of the Lantern.

Irish and Scottish people would carve their own versions of Jack's lantern and place them near windows or doors to frighten away evil spirits, including Jack. When immigrants brought the tradition to America, the native pumpkin was more available than turnips, and today's jack-o'-lanterns were born.

4. Trick-or-treating might've evolved from the medieval custom of "souling" in England.

On All Souls' Day celebrations, poor people would knock on doors asking for food; in exchange, they would say prayers for the home's dead relatives.

5. Cats have been part of the history of Halloween for centuries.

During the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, priests sacrificed cats (along with other animals) as part of a ritual to predict the future. They often wore animal heads and skins during the ritual.

6. The history of Halloween includes a lot of romance.

In days past, Scottish girls would throw hazelnuts named after suitors into fireplaces. If a nut burned instead of exploded, it represented their future husband. As another tradition, girls would supposedly dream about their future husband after eating a mixture of walnuts, hazelnuts, and nutmeg on Halloween.

In colonial America, young women would peel an apple in one strip and throw it over their shoulder. The strip was supposed to land in the shape of the first letter of their future husband's name. Bobbing for apples was also a fortune-telling game: Girls would mark apples before they went into a water tub, and if a man caught that particular fruit with his teeth, it determined a future coupling.

7. The custom of decorating with black and orange for Halloween makes perfect sense.

The combination of black and orange is one of the most recognizable symbols of Halloween. Orange is seen through autumn's changing leaves. It's also associated with the bonfires of Samhain traditions, and it's a symbol of strength and endurance. Black, on the other hand, is typically the color of death; it may also symbolize the long and cold winter ahead.

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