Festival of the Month: Halloween

Halloween, for those that celebrate, happens every year on the 31st of October and it’s one of the world’s oldest holidays! It’s changed quite a bit from its traditional beginnings though….

Where did Halloween come from?

There are differing opinions, but most people agree that it originates from a Celtic festival called ‘Samhain’, which represented the last day of summer before the cold and dark winter started. Due to the tough conditions, winter was associated with death and the Celts believed that on the night between summer and winter, ghosts could come back to the world of the living. Sound familiar? It’s almost identical to the Mexican ‘Día de los Muertos’ celebration but with one key difference – the Celts believed the ghosts that came back were vindictive and would cause trouble or ruin their hard-earned harvest. However, in Mexico, the ghosts are long-lost family members who are welcomed back and celebrated with flowers and food. (We know which one we would prefer…)

To ward off/appease the ghosts and their gods, the Celts would create a massive bonfire, offer sacrifices, and wear costumes of animal skins.

So where did the new name come from? Well, with the Catholic church changing the 1st November into ‘All Saints’ Day’ in A.D.609, the name of the festival began to change. ‘All Saints’ Day’ was also known as ‘All-hallows’ day, so ‘Samhain’ became known as ‘All-Hallows Eve/Evening’, which eventually became ‘Halloween’!

spooky trees

Who celebrates Halloween?

Although it’s considered by some to be a traditionally pagan celebration, Halloween doesn’t have any real religious links in modern-day society and is now celebrated by people all over the world. As we mentioned before though, lots of other cultures have their own version of Halloween, such as:

  • ‘Día de los Muertos’ in Mexico, which we mentioned before that involves the celebration of ancestors returning to the land of the living for one night a year
  • ‘Pangangaluluwâ’ in the Philippines, which roughly translates to ‘souling’ in English and involves children going house-to-house offering to sing songs for lost souls (deceased) in exchange for donations for the church (to pray for the souls) and rice cakes
  • ‘Zhong Yuan Pudu Festival’ in Japan, also known as ‘Ghost Month’, where souls without living family members are believed to roam the land of the living for one month a year

Back to those who do celebrate it though… It’s definitely still more popular with people from countries like the UK, USA, and Ireland, but it is practiced by other countries and cultures, even those that have their own version, across the globe. This is probably due to the serious influence of the USA on the world’s media, and their enthusiasm for the holiday!

halloween pumpkins

How is it celebrated?

There are lots of different Halloween traditions, depending on where it’s celebrated, but the most popular and universal modern-day ones seem to include the following:

  • Dressing up – usually as mythical creatures that are considered scary, such as a witch, werewolf, vampire etc. Face paints and fake blood are very popular to accompany the dress-up and add to the scare-factor!
  • Trick-or-treating – where people (normally children but adults are known to partake!) go door-to-door around their neighbourhood asking for a trick or a treat. Usually, a treat is given in the form of candy/sweets (especially when it’s children asking!)
  • Pumpkin carving – this is where you cut creepy faces or traditionally ‘spooky’ creatures (e.g. bats, wolves, etc.) into one side of a pumpkin, scooping out all of the centre of the pumpkin so you can place a candle inside, and displaying the finished article in front of your house.
  • Telling ghost stories
  • Watching horror films
  • Attending ‘haunted attractions’ – these are entertainment venues that aim to scare their customers. Examples include haunted houses, corn mazes where creatures jump out at you, or nighttime hayrides.

Basically, if you’re trying to scare yourself silly, or scare other people, you’re doing it right!

tefl classroom

How can I incorporate it into my TEFL classroom? 

Great question! It’s always fun to be able to celebrate festivals and key dates with your students, and Halloween is an easy one to incorporate into the TEFL classroom, as you can use stories, games, dress-up, and decorations.

Check out the British Council website for a great Halloween lesson plan – Halloween | TeachingEnglish | British Council | BBC – and ESLGames.com for some brilliant activities and games – Halloween Activities (eslgames.com).


Do you celebrate Halloween in your home country? If not, give it a try this year! And if you want to be able to share it with your students, but aren’t TEFL qualified yet, we can help you there! Take our quick 2-minute quiz to find out your perfect TEFL course match!

Have questions? Or want to speak to someone before you book? Arrange for a free call back with one of our TEFL experts, who will be happy to help!

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