Do you know the roots of Halloween? Before kids went door to door trick-or-treating and costume contests were the norm ... before it became another money making event for Hallmark and candy companies ... long before all this it was the festival to mark the changing of the seasons, celebrating the harvesting of crops and paying homage to gods and those who died. Halloween seems to get a really bad rap these days; people claim that it is an evil holiday that shouldnt be celebrated. They say that it promotes evil, has ties to the dark side and serves no real purpose. Being someone that adores this time of year I have a hard time seeing how it can be an evil thing; after all, it started when people wanted to thank their respective gods for blessing them with good crops, health and hopefully a prosperous new year.
Unfortunately there arent many books on the subject of historic Halloween celebrations for kids; most are cute stories that dont really get to the bottom of the subject. Being someone that loves Halloween I am always on the lookout for new books to add to my ever growing collection [thanks to my friends for getting me started on collecting them!] of all types of books about the season. The one thing that I like most about this book is that it gives a tremendous amount of information about the holiday - its origins, how its evolved over the years and how its celebrated elsewhere. This helps to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about Halloween and serves to educate children [and adults] about the true history of the celebration, jack-o-lanterns, soul cakes and costumes.
The Story of Halloween
The book starts off with the history of Halloween, 2,000 some odd years ago when the Celts lived in Great Britain, in the northern regions of France and Ireland. They celebrated the feast of Samhain on October 31st. by putting out the fires in their homes that they used for cooking and warmth; but never fear, the priests and soon made another fire. Each family would take home an ember from the fire and start a new one at home, marking the start of the new year for them. Aside from starting a new fire they would let the huge bonfires burn all night long to scare away ghosts and friends they may bring along with them. One passage that really stuck with me was this one, No one wanted to feel a ghostly hand touch them as they slept, No One wanted an elf to snatch their hair or a fairy to sour their milk. Both of these things are superstitions that are still alive in more of Europe; if your milk sours in a short period of time it means that evil is about and when children get their hair cut, their grandmothers usually sweep it up, take it home and burn it so no one can use it for evil practices. These might sound like silly things but if you read enough about folklore and fables; youll see that a lot of the things we do today come from very old wives tales - like tossing salt over your shoulder if you knock over the shaker or avoiding black cats [once thought to be witches in an animal form] and breaking a mirror is bad luck [it was for servants who broke them since they were so expensive to make and purchase].
From there we move on to the Romans who sought to honor Pomona, the goddess of fruits. They harvested various fruits and nuts and made offerings to her so that she may bless them for the next season. When Christianity moved into the area it was absorbed into their beliefs. The Roman Catholic Church made November 1st All Saints Day as a way to remember departed loved ones. The people of Great Britain still clung to their beliefs of ghost wandering around on October 31st. so they still lit the bonfires, ate nuts and fruits and hoped that they would be blessed the coming year with a bountiful harvest, health and wealth. This is where you start to get a feel of how the holiday evolved to what we know now; people who went door to door begging for food in exchange for saying prayers for those who died - mostly soul cakes [something that I still make each and every year]. One thing that I can still remember the older people saying is, If you havent got a penny, a half-penny will do, if you havent got a half-penny then God bless you!
The people of Ireland were the ones that brought carving vegetables to light [no pun intended]; sure there is the story of Jack who tricked the devil but that is just one version of the story [the book does tell the story but its the cute version]. The Irish would carve out turnips, rutabagas and large potatoes and put candles inside them - not only did it allow them to create scary images on them but it kept the candles from going out if it was windy. They too would go door to door on All Hallows Eve asking for food and money; they werent going to say prayers but rather promise good luck for the generous and bad luck for those who declined. This is one of the few times youll hear the name Muck Olla in kids books and its a sure sign that the author did his or her research on the subject of Halloween in Ireland.
One of my favorite old world stories is about the Irish dish callcannon; its sort of like the Mardi Gras bread that has the baby in it. This involves four items; a ring, doll, thimble and coin. If you found the ring you would be the next to be married, the thimble means you would never marry, the doll would mean you would be expecting a child and the coin symbolized wealth. Of course this often meant stretching of the truth, if someone who was already married ended up with the thimble it would take on a new meaning like the spouse was not faithful or they would be widowed soon. If an old woman would get the doll it would mean she would have to take care of a grandchild or relative for some reason. There was a lot of play with the definitions and explanations but the book does give you the basics of it.
The transition of old world celebrations to what we know now is summed up in one paragraph - the potato famine in Ireland. This is when thousands fled to American and brought with their traditions of the holiday. You have the Irish and the English to thank for trick-or-treating; it was their door to door activities that led to Americans doing the same. At first it was practical things like money and basic foods but it grew to sweets and treats when the children decided to get in on the holiday. The book also offers a nice entry about the more devious things that people do on Halloween; opening the pens to the animals, covering the chimneys so peoples houses would fill with smoke and soaping up windows - all the while blaming it on the ghosts, spirits and goblins. You even get an explanation of Guy Fawkes Day, parades that people held to honor saints and angels and how Americans took the costume aspect of the holiday and mainstreamed it.
The last sections of the book are the modern events that take place on Halloween; be it trick-or-treating for candy or the creation of the UNICEF [United Nations childrens Fund] collection boxes - this book serves as a great way to teach the history of the holiday, give accurate facts about its evolution and perhaps show a child that might be frightened about the holiday that its just good fun. As I said, there arent may Halloween books out there for kids that give a historical look at the holiday - most just tell some creepy tale or repeat old stories that have been passed down through the generations. If you want to pick up a good solid Halloween book that kids will truly enjoy, this is one of the best out there!
The Bottom Line
From cover to cover this is a great book for kids to read - it gives them the facts, history and lore about Halloween without candy coating it [no pun intended]. The illustrations by Linda Bronson are fantastic; there are some scary images in the book by most of them are whimsical and light hearted. The use of the colors on the pages are what really give this a Halloween feel - rich and deep oranges, dark purples, apples of every color and angels in almost every form. Im really glad that I picked up this book when I saw it at the store; its something that I know kids will read over and over again and even though mine are a little too old for this type of book - they did like the fact that it showed the history of it from several perspectives. Two nice perks to the book are the last sections - Pumpkin Art and Spooky Riddles - they arent that long or detailed but they do add a nice touch to the information that was presented in the book!
As always, thanks for the read!
~^V^~ Freak ~^V^~
© 2005 Freak369
Other awesome Halloween books for kids ...
• The Hallo-Wiener • Halloween Night on Shivermore Street • Rookie Read-About Holidays: Halloween • Spooky America • Days of The Dead • The Halloween Book • Crafts For Halloween • Aunt Eaters Mystery Halloween • Minnie And Moo Meet Frankenswine • The Halloween House • Lets Celebrate Halloween • Fluffys Happy Halloween • The Pumpkin Fair • In The Haunted House • Poultrygeist • Big Pumpkin • The Thirteen Days of Halloween • My First Halloween Board Book • My Very Own Halloween • One Witch •