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September 29, 2017
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October 13, 2017

Quiz Your Kids: 6 Facts About Halloween Traditions of Long Ago

  1. What kinds of treats do ghosts like to eat? That question probably doesn’t cross our minds today. We’re more likely to think about getting our own favorite treats on Halloween! But some people who lived more than 1,000 years ago thought about it carefully. People believed that spirits, or ghosts—especially those of their ancestors—roamed the earth on Halloween. It used to be common for people to leave food out on a table for the spirits, or to put a lantern in the window so they could find their way home.
  2. Why do people carve jack-o’-lanterns with scary faces? Long ago, people believed that some of the spirits that wandered the earth on Halloween night were not very friendly. They thought that a scary lantern would keep mean spirits away. So, they hollowed out turnips and beets, carved scary faces into these lanterns, and placed a small candle inside to make them even scarier.
  3. Who’s the “Jack” in the jack-o’-lantern? According to Irish tradition, there once was a bad-tempered, miserly man named Jack. After he died, Jack could not go to heaven because he had been so mean when he was alive. The devil would not let him into hell, either, because Jack had tricked him several times. So, Jack was forced to wander the earth with only a coal from hell in his lantern to light the way. Today, many people in the United States carve pumpkins and place a small candle or LED light inside as a decoration for Halloween.
  4. Long life? Ask the white stone. Halloween used to be a time of fortunetelling in some parts of Europe. In Wales, people would put a white stone next to the Halloween fire at night. If the stone was still there the next morning, it meant the person would live for another year. In Ireland, bakers would bake a coin, a ring, and a thimble into a cake. Whoever found the coin would become wealthy; whoever found the ring would get married soon; and the person who found the thimble would never marry. (A thimble is little cap made of metal or plastic and worn on the end of a finger to protect it when pushing a needle in sewing by hand.)
  5. Do you have a costume for Nutcrack Night? Apples and nuts have been an important part of Halloween celebrations for hundreds of years. In fact, long, long ago, Halloween was sometimes called “Nutcrack Night” or “Snap Apple Night.” Young women played a fortunetelling game with an apple. They would peel an apple in one long peel and then throw the peel over their shoulder. People believed the peel would fall into the shape of an initial letter that identifies the woman’s future husband. Today people sometimes play a game on Halloween night in which they “bob” for apples: they try to use only their mouth to grab an apple that is bobbing in a bucket or tub of water. Even more fun is eating “taffy” apples—apples covered in caramel and nuts.
  6. What small Halloween tradition has made a BIG difference? In 1950, some children in the United States decorated tiny milk cartons and asked people for small change as they walked around on Halloween night collecting candy. The change was for UNICEF—the United Nations Children’s Fund. Over the years, the milk cartons became orange cardboard boxes, and the small change turned into more than $175 million dollars! UNICEF has used the money to help provide children around the world with health care, food, and clean water.


Image credit: © Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

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