The origins of Halloween

Before we look at some of the ways you can have fun celebrating Halloween in your classroom, let’s discover the origins of Halloween and how it came to be such an exciting evening in the calendar.

Halloween is one of the United States’ most loved celebrations (roughly 70% of Americans join in the Halloween fun on October 31). However, this fab-boo-lous day actually has its roots in Europe and is now celebrated by people from all over the living world.

Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. On this day, ancient Celts believed the boundary between the living and the dead began to blur, and the souls of the dead returned home — spooky! To send these ghoulish spirits back to the otherworld, Celts dressed in costumes and lit bonfires. This is where our tradition of dressing up for Halloween comes from!

Free Halloween templates & worksheets

Now we know where the tradition of dressing up comes from, but what about carving scary pumpkins? Well, during the mid-19th century, large numbers of Irish people emigrated to the United States during the potato famine. The Irish, who were mostly Catholic, continued the traditions and rituals of Samhain and added a little of their own folk traditions to the mix — including the jack-o’-lantern.

This iconic part of modern-day Halloween originates from the Irish folktale of Stingy Jack, a con man who tricked the devil into banning him from Hell. The only problem was that he was too sinful to enter Heaven. That meant that he was doomed to spend eternity roaming the world carrying a turnip lantern with a hellfire ember inside to light his way. 

On All Hallow’s Eve, the Irish carved out their own turnip lanterns (later to become a pumpkin) so that, when they went “souling”, they’d be protected from bad spirits like Stingy Jack.

What about trick-or-treating?

By the 1920s, so-called “mischief night” had become a serious problem. It’s unclear how causing mischief in the neighborhood morphed into asking neighbors for candy, but it was already established in the late 1920s. The first time we see the phrase “trick or treat” in-print was 1927 in Alberta, Canada where a newspaper ran a story about children going door-to-door asking for candy in exchange for leaving the homeowner in peace.

Many teachers take the opportunity to discuss acceptable Halloween behavior with their students ahead of Halloween night. It can be a great exercise for students to talk about what they see as polite and respectful behavior and to challenge any misconceptions. 

How can I bring Halloween into my classroom?

Here are some wicked classroom activities to creep it real in the classroom.

Elementary classes

For the younger kiddos, why not throw a Halloween party? It’s an excellent opportunity to combine several key subjects and skills into one classroom Halloween party. Here are some educational party ideas:

Middle school/ High school classes

They’re never too old for a fun Halloween. Halloween activities can be a fun way to teach important content and add a little festivity to your lesson plans.

  • Older kids can be real lazybones! Why not start the lesson with a party game before getting to the serious stuff?
  • Give your math class a Halloween treat with these math activities that are so fun, they’re to die for…
  • There are a ton of opportunities for science learners too. Check out these ghoul science experiments!
  • Halloween is an excellent time for literacy activities. Why not read a spooky classic such as ‘Frankenstein’ or ‘Dracula’? Or create writing prompts for a haunted house story or for a scary twist on a Shakespearean tragedy — ‘Romeo and Ghouliet’
  • Because Halloween is such a visual festival, it’s an excellent opportunity for art students to get creative. Cover one of your classroom bulletin boards with black construction paper and get each student to create a spooky piece of art to decorate it.


Save trick-or-treating and carving jack-o-lanterns for when the kids get home — there are some roarsome learning opportunities to be had in the classroom. So, download our spooky templates and worksheets, and have a Happy Halloween!