Hallowe’en in School written by Richard Wilkins and published by the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) in 1994


As you may already be aware, in late 2016 we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

We have checked and sorted these publications, discovering many interesting items during the process. You may recall that in February this year we created a LibGuide and published a series of blog posts looking in more detail at a selection of these NUT resources.

Our focus has now moved to the over 400 other organisations included in the donation. Some of these were and still are well known, others are special interest groups that offer a unique perspective on the key educational issues of the day. This week we thought we would share some of the ‘gems’ that we’ve discovered so far…

Hallowe’en in School written by Richard Wilkins and published by the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) in 1994 and is a revised edition of an earlier book first published in 1988. ACT first published a leaflet on the subject of Hallowe’en being used educationally in schools in 1982.

At that time Hallowe’en was not the highly visible occasion it is now. People were puzzled about why others expressed concern about Hallowe’en. Now celebrating Hallowe’en with decorations, costumes, parties with themed food, fireworks and going ‘Trick or Treating’ seems to be an established event. It is certainly a more commercialised one.

Teachers, especially in Primary Schools, may use Hallowe’en as a handy topic for creative writing and craft activities. It is a colourful celebration during the gloomy autumn term. However an examination of the background to ‘Hallowe’en’ may help to understand why some Christian parents, and those from other religions, may have felt uneasy about their children’s involvement.

All Saints and All Hallows are two names for the same day and have the same meaning: ’All Hallows’ means ’All the Holy People’. The previous day was the date of the Celtic New Year celebration of Samhain. It was a time when the dead visited the earth and people worried about what the New Year held for them. Meals were left out to appease the dead and fires were lit and loud noises made to frighten away evil spirits. Aspects of the modern Hallowe’en celebrations reflect its pagan past.

The early Christian church did not ban pagan celebrations but gave them new meanings which encouraged people to accept the new religion. The alternative to Samhain is now spread over three days with All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Soul’s Day on November 2nd more important than the Eve of All Saints (Hallowe’en). The lives of saints were remembered as a triumph of goodness and families remembered their ‘faithfully departed’.

Christians (and other faiths) believe that evil is a real force that has to be defeated and feel that Hallowe’en is about evil being triumphant. Portraying witches as ugly, broom-riding hags who wear black hats and can cast nasty spells is misrepresenting the historical reality of the cruel persecution of women. It is surprising that on this one evening it is deemed acceptable for children to dress up and use threats to demand treats from strangers. Children may be made uneasy or feel threatened without really understanding why. The modern form of paganism is popular, Green, feminist and tolerant and far removed from its ancient form with its animal and even human sacrifices.

The ACT publication acknowledges that by schools not participating in Hallowe’en based activities, their pupils may feel left out of events in the local community. The ACT has suggestions for alternatives to Hallowe’en which include One World Week  at the end of October, a general theme of ‘Remembrance’ (which could include Remembrance Sunday) and even All Saints/ All Souls (activities about Saints).The booklet also suggests alternatives to Hallowe’en as a theme for a party which include Creatures, Books, Words, Green and Gardens.

At the time of publication several Local Education Authorities had advised schools to refrain from having Hallowe’en activities. An Appendix reprints the letter sent from the Inspectors of The Inner London Education Authority to schools in 1986. The main concerns were inaccuracy of what was being taught, creating fearfulness amongst children and insensitivity.

The booklet may be nearly 25 years old but it raises points of debate which still seem to surface every year towards the end of October:

The tacky, confused mix-up currently called Hallowe’en is not a part of any mainstream religion: parents and inspectors will take some convincing that RE cannot be fitted into the timetable of a school which spares time for this commercialised distortion of ancient paganism.

The scale of the donation means that these items have not yet been catalogued – and that is the next stage in this exciting project. In the meantime, please visit our LibGuide which includes information on the access arrangements that we have put in place for these fascinating items.

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