Five Fun Ways to Teach Halloween … Geographically!

‘Tis the season of All Hallows Eve(n).

The city of Blackpool, England, began illuminating its streets with elaborate and changing decorations in 1912 as a ploy to extend the tourist season well into the fall.
Photograph by Tomasz Tomaszewski, National Geographic

Did you know that the holiday name “Hallowe’en” comes from the Old English phrase “All Hallows Evening?” ” E’en is a shortened form of “even,” which is an abbreviation of “evening.”

The commercialization of holidays often means that their historic and geographic origins all but disappear from the public consciousness … spooky! So channel your inner Jack-o-Lantern and rekindle the flame of knowledge with these five tips for celebrating Halloween … geographically.

1. Learn about the geo-historic origins of Halloween.

Do a wee bit of research on the origins of Halloween—I’ll bet you’ll be surprised.

Most scholars connect our modern celebration with the Celtic festival of Samhain, meaning  “summer’s end.”  (The Celts were a European cultural group most associated with the modern-day regions of Scotland; Ireland; the British country of Wales and county of Cornwall; and the French region of Brittany.)

Ancient Celts believed that Samhain marked a period of transition between the underworld and the “realworld,” when good and bad spirits could wander back and forth between the two.

Is this young celebrant is dancing between the underworld and the “realworld”?
Photograph by Laura Hasbun, National Geographic Your Shot

On Samhain, families would honor their ancestors and deceased loved ones, as do modern Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos or Dia de Muertos) celebrations so popular in Latin America and areas of the world with large Latinx populations. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community.

Find more information and classic Nat Geo imagery with our resources on Dia de los Muertos, how it’s celebrated, and other harvest festivals around the world.

2. Think local when planning your Halloween harvest.

This towering stack of gourds and squash loomed over the first annual National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, California.
Photograph by Stuart Thornton, National Geographic

The foods most of us traditionally associate with Halloween—pumpkins, apples—were popularized by celebrations of Halloween in the Northeastern United States, where these crops were readily available.

The Celts would have originally carved jack-o-lanterns from root vegetables widely available in the British Isles—namely turnips and rutabagas.

Use this guide on Local Food Systems from the National Resource Defense Council to find fall foods produced locally in YOUR area of the country—and try to include these in your Halloween harvest festival.

Learn more about the “locavore” movement with our student-friendly article.

3. Go on a ghost tour.

You can always create your own ghost by double-exposing your film. Learn how here!
Photograph courtesy the National Archives (UK)

Many cities and communities offer ghost tours recounting tales of historic hauntings and paranormal activities in the area. They’re fun and educational—make sure to do some research afterward to draw your own conclusions about the truth behind the stories!

One of our favorite virtual ghost tours is a horrifying trip through 1692 Salem!



4. Plan your route: Create a trick-or-treat map.

So get out the paper and crayons, or your Google Maps or MapMaker Interactive, and plan your night!

Where are the houses that pass out the best candy? Where is your friend’s Halloween party? Which road are you not allowed to cross without Mom or Dad?

You don’t have to limit yourself to your neighborhood—find mysterious creatures with our cryptid cartogram!

Get started mapping by narrowing down your neighborhood with MapMaker Interactive!



5. Dress the part.

In need of last-minute costume ideas? Dress up like a globe, compass, famous explorer, or an endangered species. (We’d love to see a ghostly Lonesome George, still looking for love beyond the grave.)

Image courtesy National Geographic’s “Destination Wild”

Some scientists dress up as part of their job!!!

Send us your pictures or tag us on Twitter!!!!

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