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Explaining Halloween to Your Children

Explaining Halloween

Halloween is not only a holiday where kids get to dress in costumes and go candy collecting, it is also a time of superstitious beliefs and customs of the past. Most parents are unaware of the true significance behind its origin. It is a good idea to educate ourselves and our children about Halloween’s history and its traditions, so that we may understand how it all began and make informed choices.

The origin of Halloween: A Celtic tradition

The Celtics (ancient pagans) lived 2000 years ago in what is now known as Ireland, United Kingdom and northern France. On November 1st, the Celtics celebrated their new year, because it represented the end of summer and their harvest, and the beginning of their hard, cold winter which they associated with human death. Hundreds of years ago, winter was a frightening and uncertain time, because food was low, the nights were long and many people were afraid that they might encounter ghosts if they went outside during these longer, dark days.

On the eve before October 31st, the Celts believed that the boundary between the living and the dead merged, and so they celebrated a festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-en). They believed that on Samhain, ghosts of the dead returned to earth to cause trouble and to damage crops. Samhain was a pagan ritual that honored the souls of the dead (some of which were evil), when they roamed the streets and villages at night. The Celts would set gifts and treats outside to pacify the evil spirits and keep them from entering their homes.

This was a time of celebration, mystery, magic and superstition, and the Celtic priests (Druids) commemorated this ritual by making huge bonfires, wherein they sacrificed crops and animals. People would dress up in animal heads and skins or wear masks so that the evil spirits would not recognize them and think they were a fellow spirits when they went out at night.

It was a time when people would attempt to tell each other’s fortunes and young women were helped to identify their future husbands and whether they would be married by the next Samhain. During this time, the Celts felt close to deceased relatives and friends, and would set places at their dinner tables, leave treats outside their doorstep or along the road. and light candles along the way, hoping the good spirits would find their way back to the spirit world.

The intervention of the church

By the 9th century, the influence of Christianity spread into the Celtic lands of the British Isles, and the church attempted to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a church-sanctioned holiday on the same day, known as the festival of ‘All Saints’. All Saints day was celebrated to acknowledge the saints of Christianity in much the same way as Samhain was attributed to the pagan gods.

The church would similarly celebrate this holiday by having big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils. All Saints Day was also called All-Hallows, and the eve before, was called All-hallows Eve and eventually, Halloween. Even with the church’s intervention, the customs of Samhain survived anyway, and eventually became intertwined with the Christian holiday. These traditions were brought to the United States by immigrants from Ireland and Scotland.

What the Halloween custom represents

1. Trick-or-treating is derived from the time when peasants went house to house, begging for food for the upcoming feast, and families would give them pastries called ‘soul cakes’ in return for their promise to pray for their deceased relatives. The church encouraged this as a way to replace the pagan tradition of leaving food out for roaming spirits. This tradition was eventually taken up by children who would visit homes in the neighborhood and be given food and money.

2. Bats, black cats, etc. were avoided due to the belief that they communicated with the spirits of the dead. Black cats were believed to bring bad luck and were actually witches in disguise, avoiding detection.

3. Bobbing for apples was a pagan technique used in foreseeing the future, and at Halloween parties, these type of games would be an indication of who would be the first to marry.

4. The Jack-O’-Lantern is based on a legend about a stingy, drunken man named Jack, who played a trick on the devil to avoid paying for his drink. Jack convinced the devil to turn himself into something else and would then place the devil near a cross, to prevent the devil from reverting to his devil form. Only once the devil promised not to take Jack’s soul for many years, would he allow the devil to return to his original form. The devil was upset and promised to leave Jack alone.

According to legend, when Jack died, he was turned away from Heaven, because he was a stingy, mean drunk, but Jack was desperate for a resting place, so he went to the devil. The devil, in keeping with his promise not to claim Jack’s soul, turned him away from hell. The devil sent Jack off into the dark night with only a lit coal from the fire of Hell. Jack placed this coal inside a turnip as a lamp to light his way as he roams the earth in search of a resting place.

Irish children used to carve out turnips and potatoes to light the night on Halloween, but when the Irish came to America in great numbers, they found that a pumpkin made an even better lantern, and this how the American tradition came to be.

Read, The Science of Halloween’s Scariest Creatures

What Islam says

“Say, never will we be struck except by what Allah has decreed for us; He is our protector.” And upon Allah let the believers rely”.  (Quran Surah At-Tawbah 9:51)

Abdullah Ibn Masud (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said,

“(Believing in) bad omen is (a form of) idolatry.” Ibn Mas`ud added,“It may occur to anyone of us, but God clears it away when we rely totally on Him.” (Al-Bukhari, At-Tirmidhi, and Abu Dawud)

Muawiyah ibn Hakam said to the Prophet (SAW),

“I have only recently abandoned ignorant beliefs, and now God has favored us with Islam. Some of our people visit fortune-tellers.” The Prophet said, “Do not visit them”. The man added, “And some of us associate bad omen with certain things”. The Prophet replied, “That is something which they find in their breasts. Let them not be deterred from their purpose ”. (Sahih Muslim).

Abu Hurairah quoted the Prophet as saying,

“Do not entertain bad omens. The best of it is the good one.” Asked which is the good one,  the Prophet answered, “A good word any of you may hear.” (Al-Bukhari and Ahmad).

Halloween is a festivity between autumn and winter, plenty and scarcity, life, and a celebration of superstitions from the past. It has now evolved into a secular, community-based event, catered to children. Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it one of the country’s largest holidays.

As parents, we should educate our children about these celebrations, and allow them to see that it not a harmless celebration of candy and dress-up. We need to decide if these traditions conflict with our values and beliefs in Islam, by being informed and discussing this knowledge with our children in a loving and gentle manner.

If you feel that it is simply too difficult for your children, or they are too young to understand, then be sure to check-out the masjids in your area, as some masjids hold events on this day, just for kids to enjoy, in place of celebrating halloween. May Allah grant us good in this world and good in the hereafter, and guide us and our children to the straight path, ameen.

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Zakkiya
Founder, author, and designer of Muslimommy. Mom of six from seven to fifteen years of age. My quest is to remind mothers of the blessings of motherhood and provide simple methods to attain relief. My Love for Allah SWT and his beloved Prophet SAW inspire me to spread a peaceful message through the woes of parenthood. Forgive me for any error for only God is Perfect. My writing is a reminder to others, but mostly myself, about the temporary and difficult challenges of this world for an everlasting and beautiful hereafter. Insha'Allah may we meet there someday.
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13 thoughts on “Explaining Halloween to Your Children

  1. momto5G1B :)

    Oh wow! Thank you soooo much for this amazing information!! My kids know that we don’t celebrate halloween and they are ok with it.. I’ve never really explained why to them, i think because i didn’t know how to…This posting was perfect since halloween is around the corner…Do you recommend maybe an alternate activity for the kiddos? Just so they don’t feel left out of the “fall festivities”? Perhaps carving pumpkins, or just buying some special candy or something. My kids actually look forward to after Halloween, because that is when i stock up on their “dress up” wardrobe! Dress up clothes in general are not cheap, I get the most amazing deals on dress up clothes with the after halloween clearance 70-80% off.. the dress up clothes lasts us all year!!!

    1. Muslimommy

      Thank you momto5G1B for taking the time to add your comment. Yes the ‘after’ Halloween sales are a good time for dress-up clothing bargains, thanks for sharing. My kids have a big tub of dress up clothes that they play with year round and that is one of their favorite pastimes. I think doing a project or assignment on autumn as a season of change would be a great way to make them a part of the fall festivities. I also feel that children are very adaptable & after they receive a good explanation, they usually do not feel like they are missing out. I always remind them how we have two, big Eid celebrations a year that last 3 days each & usually that appeases any last complaints.

  2. UmmSelma

    JazakAllah Khair! I am really struggling this year because we are living with my non-muslim family who are insisting

  3. UmmSelma

    (oops)who are insisting we celebrate and I put my foot down and my kids got really upset. At least i can give them an explanation now

    1. Muslimommy

      Thank you for commenting UmmSelma, yes it is tough to have to explain one’s beliefs all the time hoping others can be as tolerant as you are, and it makes it harder for one’s kids too. Try to bring in the theme of autumn by letting the kids do projects, hobbies or crafts from sites like http://www.enchantedlearning.com and try investing in some dress-up clothes that they can use throughout the year as they absolutely love role play at any age. My philosophy is not to always say to one’s kids ‘you can’t do this’ rather we say ‘let’s do this instead’. Try substituting instead of omitting and it will make it a lot easier for them to accept.

  4. hina

    Alhumdullillah my kids are never into Halloween although they themselves says eeww its disgusting and scary but thanks for sharing this i didn’t knew this whole thing behind it

  5. Aql

    Nice aritcle! But when reading from my iphone the “Contact me” tabs keeps bothering me and I cant read the text as the bar covers it on the left side. If i scroll up or down the contact me bar will also go up and down, hiding the text i was reading. Can u please remove it!

  6. Muslimommy

    Thank you for letting me know Aql & for your kind words. I was not aware of this on the iphone but I apologize for the inconvenience. I reassigned that pesky contact button, let me know if it is still a bother. Happy reading!

  7. lei

    Growning up my mother always looked up the holidays or any days people in that country observed. My family never felt as if we were missing out when reading many holidays have a pagan back ground.
    My children have never asked if they could participate because we do many family gathering through out the year plus being honest why we don’t participate also where most of these holidays came from
    . My problem is many of our muslim friends do participate in the holidays and make my children feel like they are really missing out when my children tell them the truth they are told they should relax and have fun.
    lei

    1. Muslimommy

      ASA Lei, no matter what one does in life you will never please all of the people all of the time. It shouldn’t matter what others say if you want to keep to your values. Sometimes we need to get some thick-skin to deal with criticism. Everyone has a different idea of what having ‘fun’ means. In our case, my kids do not think the scary Halloween theme is very fun anyway. Thank you for your comment!