How to Explain Halloween to Children

Halloween is lots of fun for kids - mostly because it usually involves getting dressed up and eating candy. There's more to Halloween than trick-or-treating, though, and you may want to share the history of the holiday with your family.

Explain the origins of the holiday. Although medieval Christianity is the origin for the majority of our modern Halloween celebrations, some traditions are rooted in Samhain, an old Irish festival. This festival honored the dead and marked the beginning of winter and the start of the new year (by the ancient Celtic calendar) in early Christian and pagan times.

Talk about how the celebration spread. As Christianity gained momentum in Europe in the ninth century, the church declared November 1 All Saints Day to honor saints who did not yet have their own day of homage. The special mass they held became known as Allhallowmas - the mass of all saintly ones. The night before was known as All Hallows Eve.

Discuss the origins of trick-or-treating. One version is that on All Souls Day, early Christians went door to door begging for "soul cakes," offering a prayer for the giver's soul in return. Others say that on Samhain, revelers would don masks representing the dead, and would go from house to house and collect food that had been reserved for the departed.

Explain why revelers wear Halloween costumes. People used to believe that on All Hallows Eve, the line between the dead and the living weakened, allowing spirits to re-enter the world and possess the living. Apparently, fearful folks wore the garb of ghouls and ghosts to avoid an encounter with the real thing.

Talk about jack-o'-lanterns, which originally were hollowed-out turnips, not pumpkins. According to folklore, a man named Jack who once tricked Satan was barred from heaven and hell when he died. He was condemned to wander in darkness, with just one coal to light his way. This is why we put candles inside carved pumpkins at Halloween.

Explain similar celebrations around the world. From Mexico's Day of the Dead to Sicily's Festival of the Dead and England's Guy Fawkes Day, there are many celebrations similar to Halloween around the world. Your family might even enjoy borrowing some traditions from these varied cultural celebrations.