This secondary assembly examines Hallowe’en and questions how much we know about why it is celebrated. It challenges listeners to consider how important they think it is to maintain customs and traditions, and to what extent we should understand what they mean before we observe them

Resources

Four readers and a leader. Spooky sound effects would be good. There is also a video clip of the news item referred to in the reflection section. This could be shown as an introduction to the reflection section.

These sources for Hallowe’en lore might also come in handy:

  • Hallowe’en itself
  • bobbing for apples

Engagement

Reader 1: [Bright and cheery] Good morning everyone! I’d like you all to join with me today in celebrating the age-old festival of Spud-Churning. This once-a-year day requires everyone to have some form of potato for dinner tonight. In fact, more than that is required. During the course of your school day you are expected to say the word ‘potato’ at least 50 times, and preferably in more than one language. Those of you who truly want to enter into the spirit of it might want to peel a thin slice of potato and wear it as a badge throughout the day – a crisp will do if you must. [Could begin discussion here – “Who has a potato with them today?”, “Why not?” etc.]

Reader 2: No, no, no! Today has always been celebrated as Yellow Shoelaces Day. I thought everyone knew that! Today you should all be wearing yellow shoelaces, and if you don’t have lace up shoes you can wear them in your hair or as a bracelet or necklace. Alternatively you could wrap some yellow shoelaces around your pens and pencils or attach them to your school bags. Let’s make this the best Yellow Shoelaces Day ever! [Can engage in similar discussion – “Where are your yellow shoelaces?”, “Why aren’t you wearing them?” etc]

Reader 3: You two really don’t have a clue do you? Potatoes, shoelaces….. I ask you. This day, as you should well know, is national Speak To A Horse Day. It is about remembering our four-legged equine friends, whether they are thoroughbred racehorses or dinky little Shetland ponies. In fact, it would be quite thoughtless of any of us to pass a horse today and not stop to have a quick chat. The horses expect it, after all, and we really shouldn’t disappoint them, should we? [Third possible discussion – “Have you had a chat with a horse today?”, “Don’t you think you should?” etc.]

Reader 4: Right. Enough – you three should be locked up. These pupils didn’t come in here today to hear about such nonsense. All they want to do is get to their classes quickly so that they can have their custard. It is common knowledge that today is the day in the year when one of our oldest school rules is observed [pretend to read from a book] “On this day [insert date] it is required that all members of staff serve to each and every pupil who attends their lesson one medium-sized bowl of custard… warm or cold as the pupil directs”. Our poor teachers have been up all night making home-made custard for that very purpose – so let’s get on with this assembly so we can all go to our custard-filled lessons.

Reader 5: Stop – enough! Enough I tell you! Where did all these ridiculous ideas come from? Have any of you even got the slightest clue what you are talking about, and why on earth anyone would want to take part in your, quite frankly, absurd, suggestions?

Reflection

This section could begin with the BBC Scotland news clip.

If video clip used:
Leader: So, as you have seen, a Church group in Banff, Scotland last week suggested that a local shop remove its Hallowe’en display on the following grounds:

If video clip not used:
Leader: Last week a small shop in Banff in Scotland put up a Hallowe’en display in its window. The shop owner was quite surprised to receive a letter shortly afterwards asking him to remove the display. The letter came from a local church group who stated:

“We wish to emphasise that we have no problems with children dressing up and having fun at Hallowe’en. We are, however, concerned that your display is particularly morbid and can be perceived as promoting an unhealthy interest in occult practices, attracting children to things that are potentially very dangerous.” (from The Scottish Sun)

Now, we can agree or disagree about whether Hallowe’en makes children interested in things which might be dangerous, but either way it does raise an interesting question which will probably cause pause for thought for many people in this room: “Why do we celebrate Hallowe’en?” [Can engage in discussion here as appropriate asking audience to suggest reasons for celebration of Hallowe’en generally as well as specific Hallowe’en traditions such as bobbing for apples, pumpkin lanterns etc].

Consider this story: A woman was baking bread one day. She made up the dough, but before she put it in the baking tin she threw a chunk of it away. She explained this by saying that her mother had always done that. Her mother agreed that this was so and said she did this because her mother did too. Eventually the grandmother explained that she did this because she only had one recipe for bread and no head for changing quantities in the recipe, but her oven was very small and so when the dough was made up according to the recipe she had to throw some of it away or the bread would fill the oven and burn: Neither her daughter nor grand-daughter knew about this reason, and so they had been pointlessly throwing away good dough for years.

Perhaps this is like Hallowe’en. We might celebrate it – we might even, as has happened in the UK over the last few years, go completely over the top in celebrating it – but we don’t actually know why. It’s just what we do because it has always been done that way; it’s tradition.

But is it sensible to celebrate something and not know why we are celebrating? The gruesome, scary and horrific masks and stories that come out at Hallowe’en do seem like funny things to celebrate – ghosts and skeletons, blood and gore, ghouls and monsters!

Well, here’s a quick-stop guided tour of some of the theory behind Hallowe’en:

  • The name “Hallowe’en” is shortened from “All Hallows’ Even” as it is the eve of (or the evening before) “All Hallows’ Day” – now more commonly known as All Saints’ Day.
  • In Celtic religion, the Lord of Death, Samhain, was worshipped on this day, which is really the start of the Celtic year.
  • The ancient Celts believed that on this day the boundary between the alive and the dead disappeared, and that the souls of the dead became dangerous for the living by causing problems such as sickness or damaged crops.
  • To scare them away, the living dressed up in scary ways and wandered the streets making lots of noise.
  • Originally it was believed that the first person to bite an apple when bobbing for apples would be the first one to marry.
  • Some say the tradition of trick-or-treating came from a practice where people would go around begging for soul cakes – called “soulling”. The more cakes they got the more prayers they would say to help the dead get to heaven.

How many of these did you know about, or, now that you have heard about them, how many do you understand? It is probably true that most people who celebrate Hallowe’en don’t really understand its pagan roots, its Christian links, or its deeper significance to certain groups of people. So why do we celebrate without understanding what we’re celebrating?

Some people argue very strongly that some of the themes of Hallowe’en are not ones that young children should be thinking about, or be involved in. Others argue that they are just a load of harmless traditions which are good fun to celebrate. Maybe there’s value in continuing traditions even if we don’t know why, and maybe there’s not – maybe some traditions are helpful and some are not. Perhaps some traditions are best to be allowed to fade away, and others should remain.

What do you think? Will you be celebrating Hallowe’en this year? Why?

Response

Help me to understand the things that I celebrate To know what they mean and why I take part in them Help me to question what I do not understand And to be clear in my own mind about my own actions Let me never lose the childish need to ask the all important question

Why?

Amen

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2008

About the author: Joe Walker

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