When the Days Seem Darker
In October the evenings suddenly seem darker, the daylight comes later and the morning dew on the grass turns to frost; winter is approaching. We are once again reminded that our lives are not separate from the movements of the stars and planets. In ancient times human beings felt themselves directly connected with the celestial movements as well as deeply attuned to the rhythms of birth and death. They marked these changes of seasons and life rhythms with festivals of reverence and celebration.
The remnants of one of these festivals can be found in Halloween as it is celebrated today. This ancient festival, which originated with the early Celtic peoples, was celebrated on November 1 as a festival for the Celtic sun god. This New Year’s Day honored the sun and marked the beginning of winter. The sun, as ripener of the grain, was thanked for the harvest and offered strength for the coming battle with cold and dark. In anticipation of the coming darkness, bonfires were lit. These Celtic peoples believed that the souls of the departed were drawn by the fire to the warmth and light they remembered from former lives. They thought that all manner of ghosts, fairies, and hobgoblins walked abroad at this time of year. They believed that the fires would protect the people as well as appease the mischievous spirits. Thus, the festival was also celebrated to honor Samhain, the Lord of the Dead.
In later centuries this festival was recognized by the medieval European church and continued to be celebrated in honor of the transition from autumn to winter and to birth and death. The respect for and fear of the supernatural/invisible and of death remained strong. The people anticipated that ghosts, witches, and magic would abound on the night of October 31-November 1. They believed that disguising themselves as somebody else would protect them and their homes from any evil spirits that would come. It was also an evening to predict the future as it was believed the intuitive forces were very strong on that night.
In the north of England, a bowl of porridge was set outside the door to appease any visiting spirits. To frighten away witches the people carved faces on hollowed out turnips and placed candles inside. Even though today fear has subsided, the elements of the festival have remained in playful fashion with dressing up, apple bobbing, and fortune telling with apple seeds and nuts. And of course, turning pumpkins into Jack-o-Lanterns and handing out treats to any visitors who come to your door on Halloween night.
How to Bring Halloween to the Young Child?
It is important in bringing this festival to young children that both the spirit of the origin of Halloween as well as their developmental stage be honored. This age asks for goodness, beauty, and protection. It is also a time of expanding imagination and constant transformation. To dress up means to change one’s identity. Young children striving towards their own identity need to seek to identify with those who worthy of imitation. They need to be able to become a character who represents a virtuous quality—beauty, goodness, courage, hard work, love, care for others, care for the earth.
- Five and six-year olds can be guided to choose to be bakers, carpenters, sea captains, kings, queens, bee-keepers, farmers, doctors, nurses, mothers, knights, fishermen, pilots.
- Three and four-year olds are strongly connected to nature and can choose to be flower fairies, gnomes, kittens, bunnies, or lady bugs.
- Little ones who travel with older siblings can be pumpkins, bees, or in a backpack with a gnome hat. Or they can be at home helping to pass out treats.
If you have time to help your child make a costume, what a wonderful gift. They can experience taking simple raw materials, perhaps even some well used recycled garment and a stick from the woods and transforming them into something beautiful, imaginative and fun. This is a way we can educate the children when they are young about being human—making things with our hands; human beings have the power to transform. This is not only about making a Halloween costume; this is a gift for their whole lives.
Overalls, plaid shirt, straw hat and rake
And a sheaf of straw, do a farmer make.
White hat and mixing bowl, a pan for a cake
Wooden spoon and apron do a baker make.
Long pants and basket, then off to the lake,
Long pole and line do a fisherman make.
As the parent of a young child, you no doubt look for a little inspiration from time to time.
Our experienced Parent & Child teachers offer their insights, reflections, and suggestions in "The Young Child."
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