Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

The Origins of Halloween

As giddy children head out in the streets tonight for Trick or Treat with goody bags in hand, all dressed up in various ghoulish and festive costumes, it may interest students to know a little about the unusual history and traditions of Halloween. Educators can take advantage of eLibrary’s Research Topics and other documents and web resources to aid in their research.

Halloween ProQuest Research Topic

Halloween ProQuest Research Topic

Halloween, as we know it today, appears to have arisen from the convergence of two distinctly different cultures’ earlier holidays: the Irish Gaelic harvest festival Samhain (pronounced sow’in), celebrated with a feast for the dead, and the Roman Catholic Christian holiday of All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows’ Day, which also honored the dead. All Hallows’ Day was originally celebrated in mid-May and honored saints, martyrs, and family members who recently passed away.

Samhain, which is still celebrated today by some Brits and has its roots in Celtic Druidic traditions, marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. The belief was that during this time the divide between our world and the spirit world was at its thinnest and could be easily bridged. Families honored the dead by inviting them into their homes and offering food. However, when people went out at night, in order to avoid the more harmful spirits, they wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves. In addition, Druids built huge bonfires where people brought their fall harvest food to share with the community. Afterwards, people would take a log or branch from the bonfire to light their own fires at home which would keep them warm for the winter months ahead.

Celts ProQuest Research Topic

Celts ProQuest Research Topic

Around 600 A.D. Pope Gregory I, in an effort to Christianize and transform the rituals of the pagans, issued an edict to synthesize their Druidic practices into Christian practices to more easily convert them to Christianity. Eventually, All Hallows’ Day was moved from May 13 to November 1, with All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) falling on October 31. As a result, many of the ancient Celtic traditions of Samhain survive today. Interestingly, around this same time, Mexico also celebrates El Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday. Similar to All Saints’ Day and Samhain, but with roots from the Aztec culture, it is also considered a time to celebrate the fall harvest and honor those who have passed away.

Educators can teach students more about these ancient holidays and the people who practiced these ancient rituals and traditions with the help of eLibrary with its accompanying Halloween Research Topic and other related Research Topics and resources below.

Related Research Topics:
All Saints’ Day

Roman Catholicism
Day of the Dead

Other Resources:
American Heritage (Magazine)
A World of Fright
Ottawa Citizen (Newspaper)
Saint Gregory I (Pope)
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia (Reference Book)


National Christmas Tree Lighting

Winter is fast approaching and so is the season of Christmas. During this time of year, many people celebrate traditions with their families and communities. Activities include holiday parades, visiting Santa at the mall, decorating houses, and more. Since 1923, an important American tradition has been the annual¬†National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony¬†where the President of the United States lights the “National Christmas Tree.” This year, the ceremony takes place Dec. 3, 2015, in front of the White House at the Ellipse at President’s Park.

National Christmas Tree Washington DC

Aerial of the U.S. National Christmas tree on the northern end of the Ellipse in the President’s Park in Washington, D.C., in December 2011.
(Credit: Public domain via National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior)

Over the years, various trees have been used for the ceremony. The first decorated trees were cut trees and some were 23 feet tall! In 1978, a living tree was successfully planted in the Ellipse and was 30 feet tall. Since 2010, a few replacement trees have been planted in the same location.

Tickets for the actual day of the lighting ceremony are free and distributed through a lottery system. There are about 3,000 seats plus 14,000 standing spots for visitors. But the tree can be visited throughout the whole month of December.

To read more about this event, visit the official Tree Lighting website, the National Park Foundation, and the National Park Service websites.

Educators can also visit ProQuest SIRS Discoverer for student resources on Christmas and holiday traditions. Here are some examples of searches to get you started:

Christmas trees
Christmas, History