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When is Halloween? History, Crafts, and Fun | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Halloween 2021

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Halloween History, Crafts, and Fun Ways to Celebrate

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In 2021, Halloween falls on Sunday, October 31! Did you know that Halloween is an old astronomical holiday? Learn all about this holiday’s fascinating history (it may surprise you!). We also have a bagful of Halloween treats for you, including delicious recipes, cool crafts, fun activities, and even Halloween poetry!

When Is Halloween?

Halloween, traditionally called “All Hallows’ Eve,” is celebrated on the evening before the Christian holy day of All Hallows’ Day or All Saints Day (November 1). Therefore, Halloween is always celebrated on October 31.

When Is Halloween This Year?

Year Day of Halloween
2021 Sunday, October 31
2022 Monday, October 31
2023 Tuesday, October 31
2024 Thursday, October 31

In England, saints or holy people were called “hallowed,” hence the name “All Hallows’ Day.” The evening—or “e’en”—before the feast became popularly known as “All Hallows’ Eve,” or, even shorter, “Hallowe’en.”

Halloween cat and owl

A Brief History of Halloween

The Celts and Samhein

The origin of Halloween can be traced to an ancient festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in, which rhymes with cow-in), meaning Summer’s End. This was a sacred festival celebrated by the ancient Celts and Druids in the British Isles. It marked the end of harvesttime and the beginning of the “dark half” of the year. It was a seasonal marker as the ancient Celts bid good-bye to warmth and light as day length shortened.

Samhein was a “Cross-Quarter Day” which marked the midway between the autumnal equinox (when the sun sets due west) and the winter solstice (when the sun sets at its most northern or southern point on the horizon) at the darkest time of year! 

The ancient Celts believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest during Samhain. This had positive benefits, as it was an ideal time to consider the dead, communicate with the deceased, and also to divine the future. However, the Celts also believed that some spirits (ghosts) could pass through the wall and damage their crops. To mark the event, people would build huge bonfires to burn crops.

Learn more about the Cross-Quarter Days.

The Irish and the Jack-O’-Lantern

In later years, the Irish used hollowed-out, candlelit turnips carved with a demon’s face to frighten away spirits. The name “Jack-O’-Lantern” comes from an Irish folktake about a man named Stingy Jack who  invited the Devil to have a drink with him but wouldn’t pay. Jack tricked the devil and made a deal in which the devil couldn’t claim his soul but God didn’t want Jack in heaven either. Now Jack’s stuck roaming the Earth as an evil spirit with his lantern shining the way.

The Irish would carve scary faces into turnips or potatoes and place them near doors or windows during Halloween Eve to frighten away Stingy Jack and evil spirits. When Irish immigrants in the 1840s found few turnips in the United States, they used the more plentiful pumpkins instead. See more about the origins of popular Halloween traditions—from witches on broomsticks to bobbing apples.

All Saints’ Day 

Following the Roman Empire’s rule over Celt-occupied lands in the 1st century A.D., the Romans incorporated many of the Celtic traditions, including Samhain, with their own. Eight hundred years later, the Roman Catholic Church further modified Samhain, designating November 1 as All Saints’ Day to honor all saints from Christian history.

This day was formerly known as All Hallows’ Day or Allhallowmas, hallow meaning to sanctify, or make holy. The evening before, October 31, is known as All Hallows’ Eve—or, more commonly, Halloween!

If All Saints brings out winter,
St. Martin brings out Indian summer
.

Celebrating Halloween

Many of the practices of Halloween are innocent fun, though some deal with reminders of death and concepts of good and evil.

Halloween was once known as “Nutcrack Night” in England—a time when the family gathered around the hearth to enjoy cider and nuts and apples.

1. Carve Pumpkins

Carving pumpkins is North America’s most popular custom. Every year childen enjoy scooping out the insides of the pumpkin with a spoon and carving their pumpkin with a little help from parents (often, a lot of help if they’re young!). See how to keep your carved pumpkin from rotting and make it last longer!

Pumpkin carving

Painting Pumpkins

As carved pumpkins only last 3 to 7 days without rotting, it can be fun to paint your pumpkins, too. This is fun for all ages but especially good for schools, groups, and offices who want to have an early pumpkin decorating contest. See who comes up with the best design! Give awards for most creative, funny, and artistic pumpkins.

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Credit: Biggs-Hansen Orthdontist staff

2. Roast Pumpkin Seeds

Of course, once you scoop out the pumpkin insides, you need to roast those pumpkin seeds! Careful, these salty and crispy snacks go fast! See our recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Seeds.

If you don’t like to eat seeds, you can also save those pumpkin seeds to make a colorful pumpkin seed necklace.

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3. Wear Halloween Costumes

Everyone loves a chance to dress up in Halloween costumes. The traditional costumes are spooky or Halloween-related such as witches, zombies, ghosts, and vampires. However, in the United States, the costumes get silly, too, from giant bananas to superhero characters to whatever your imagination conjures! 

You certainly do not need to buy a costume; the tradition was to make your costume from home. Toilet paper is all you need to become a mummy. An old white sheet can become a ghost. Add some facepaint to create a vampire. See ideas for Halloween Makeup and Fake Blood From the Pantry.

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4. Make Halloween Crafts

There are many fun Halloween activities and crafts. Here are some of our favorites from years past:

  1. Apple bobbing. Traditionally, we all bobbed our heads in a giant metal tub of water in an attempt to grab an apple with only our teeth. Today, many parents find this unhealthy. But here is a fun alternative: Give each person a bucket of water with an apple and challenge them to take a bite. Make it a race and give the winner a prize.
  2. Cornhusks dolls were made by Native American children long ago and it’s a fun activity today. See how to make a Traditional Corn Husk Doll
  3. Ever made shrunken apple heads? This tradition also came from Native Americans. All you need are apples! See how to make Spooky Apple Heads.

► Discover our best Halloween crafts here!

Candy apples

5. Cook Up Yummy Treats

Of course, you’ve all heard the saying, “Trick or Treat?”  The “treats” are much preferred to the “tricks.” Here are some classic favorites before the days of packaged candy:

  1. Candy Apples
  2. Peanut Brittle
  3. Oven Caramel Corn
  4. Peanut Butter Balls
  5. If you like classic Oreos, you’ll like making these spooky spider cookies—and eating them afterwards!

► Discover our best Halloween recipes here!

6. More Ideas for a Safe and Fun Halloween!

Here are six more fun and family-friendly ideas for the young and young at heart!

  1. Trick-or-Treat Trail: Give kids a simple map to your neighborhood. As they walk around the neighborhood with their map, they need to follow clues to get treats. It could be as simple as a road sign, a house that has big stones at the end of the driveway, a big tree, or a unique mailbox. If you have neighbors that decorate their home and porches, you can try to find pumpkins, skeletons, and more! Just drop a treat in your child’s bag at each stop. A similar idea for more of a neighborhood event is to give neighbors pumpkin drawings to put in their windows and give children a treat when they spot the next pumpkin drawing; this idea takes a little planning and close neighbors!
  2. Halloween Hide-and-Seek: Similar to an egg hut, hide wrapped candies throughout the house or yard, and let the kids go find the treats. You can also turn it into a candy scavenger hunt with clue cards so they can follow clues to fill their buckets with candy that’s hidden around your home or yard. 
  3. Ghost Story Time: Here at the Almanac, this is an occasion to tell ghost stories! (They can be scary or not-so-scary, depending on your childrens’ age and temperament.) Gather around with cozy pillows and blankets and a few candles or flashlights. Need a tale to read on Halloween eve? Here’s a scary and surprisingly touching ghost story from the Almanac archives to read aloud to your family! Or, here are 17 kid-friendly spooky stories
  4. BOO! Your Neighbor:  A newer tradition is create a “You’ve Been BOOed!” basket or baggie which you leave on the doorstep of a family member, friends, or neighbor—complete with a small treat and a sign or poster that says, “You’ve Been BOOed!” Then display the sign in your window, and pass on the kindness! 
  5. Halloween Party and Movie Night: Have a family party! Bob for apples (in individual bowls if you wish), try to catch donuts hanging on a string with your mouth, wrap one another as mummies with toilet paper and see who finishes their roll first. Rent a Halloween Movie with Halloween-themed snacks and candy! Ideas for G movies to rent: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. PG movies: The Addams Family, Hotel Transylvania, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Beetlejuice. See more “G” and “PG” Halloween movies for kids.
  6. Stick-or-Treat: Instead of having people exchange candy at your door, just put the candy out on a blanket in separate bags or stick the candy in the ground like this clever parent who created a lollipop garden in the mulch …

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If you have time, wrap the Tootsie Roll Lolllipops in tissue and turn them into ghosts! 

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Halloween Poems

Wake up your walking dead with these Halloween poems! They are perfect to read in the evening or to add to a homemade card.

From “Spirits of the Dead”
By Edgar Allan Poe
“Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still
.”

From “Song of the Witches” (Macbeth)
By William Shakespeare
“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

From “All Soul’s Night, 1917”
by Hortense King Flexner
“You heap the logs and try to fill
The little room with words and cheer,
But silent feet are on the hill,
Across the window veiled eyes peer.
The hosts of lovers, young in death,
Go seeking down the world to-night,
Remembering faces, warmth and breath—
And they shall seek till it is light.
Then let the white-flaked logs burn low,
Lest those who drift before the storm
See gladness on our hearth and know
There is no flame can make them warm.”

From “Theme in Yellow”
By Carl Sandburg
“I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know I am fooling
.”

From “Hallowe’en”
By Joel Benton
“Pixie, kobold, elf, and sprite
All are on their rounds to-night,—
In the wan moon’s silver ray
Thrives their helter-skelter play.

Don’t we all, of long ago
By the ruddy fireplace glow,
In the kitchen and the hall,
Those queer, coof-like pranks recall?

Every shadows were they then—
But to-night they come again;
Were we once more but sixteen
Precious would be Hallowe’en
.”

Happy Halloween, everyone!

What’s your favorite Halloween tradition? Let us know in the comments!

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