In modern times, Halloween is known primarily for two things: the giving and getting of candy and dressing up in costume. Parties are a part of the holiday as well. For kids, a Halloween party may come in the form of a dance hosted by the elementary, middle, or high school they attend. These dances are often held as a fun and safe way for kids to dress up and celebrate the holiday with their fellow students and friends. In this environment, they can enjoy seasonal and popular music as well as safely receive candy or other treats with minimal threat of tampering and without interacting with strangers.
Halloween is a holiday rooted in Samhain, a Celtic festival from nearly 2,000 years ago. The festival was held to mark the ending of the harvest season as well as the beginning of the colder, darker winter season. This holiday was celebrated on Nov. 1 of each year. However, the evening prior, they would leave drink and food on doorsteps to honor the ghosts of the dead, whom they were celebrating. The dead were honored because it was believed that the doorway between this world and the afterlife would become blurred and weak enough for the souls or ghosts of the deceased to cross at this time of year. People would also dress up as ghosts or other scary things so that the ghosts, if present, would not attempt to possess them. In the 8th century, in a move that some believe was designed to replace Samhain, Nov. 1 became All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, which was a Christian holiday honoring saints. Oct. 31 was then turned into All Hallows Eve.
As large numbers of immigrants traveled to America in the 1800s, they added their traditions to those that were forming in America. The giving of treats, for example, stemmed from the tradition of providing "soul cakes" during parades celebrating All Souls Day in England. These cakes were given to poor families who would beg for food. There was a stipulation, however, that those receiving the food must promise to pray for the giver's dead relatives. These cakes were also often given out by people in other places to masked wandering performers, called mummers. In some parts of America, early forms of trick-or-treating would see people dressed in costumes traveling from one home to the next asking for money or treats.
Because many of these traditions were focused on superstition, there was eventually a movement to make the holiday more community oriented and family-friendly by removing elements that seemed scary or grotesque. As celebrations of the holiday continued to grow into the early 20th century, Halloween was often tarnished by acts of vandalism. By the 1950s, in hopes of quelling the tide of vandalism, the holiday was promoted as a celebration primarily directed toward children. Giving out treats of candy to costumed children made trick-or-treating a prominent and permanent Halloween tradition in the U.S.
Dancing was often a part of early Halloween celebrations. In the southern colonies of Colonial America, for example, people took part in a version of Halloween in which the harvest was celebrated with dancing as well as singing and the telling of fortunes. Although adults today may dance at parties, kids can also take part in dances with their peers. When it comes to buying children Halloween costumes for school dances, parents are presented with many options. Choices often depend on age, but there are many fun selections available, such as cartoon characters, cuddly or fierce animals, witches, vampires, or funny costumes such as clowns. Popular superheroes or movie characters are also often in high demand. Unfortunately, with such a range of options, there are also costumes that may seem too mature for kids, particularly when participating in a school event. When choosing a costume for a school dance, parents should first check for any restrictions regarding what their children may or may not wear. Typically, schools do not allow costumes that are too revealing or provocative or that feature symbols, images, or wording that could be associated with drugs or affiliated with gangs or other criminal organizations and behaviors. Some schools may prohibit costumes that are overly grotesque. Parents should also avoid costumes that mock or otherwise make fun of other cultures. Ultimately, parents should choose a costume that their kid favors, provided it falls within the school's and their own guidelines.
It is also important that parents speak to their children about being responsible at this time of year. Kids should be advised against accepting candy from anyone at a Halloween dance unless it is given out by the school directly. Kids should also never give out or share candy, as other students may have allergies that can prove dangerous or even fatal. Behaving responsibly also includes not drinking if other students sneak alcohol into the dance, nor should students leave the premises for any reason. Kids who go trick-or-treating should also follow certain rules in order to have a fun and safe Halloween. This includes making sure that they can see well and are visible to others, carrying a cellphone with them in case of emergency, and never getting into the cars of strangers or riding with anyone who has consumed alcohol or drugs. Advise them to never enter the home of a stranger and to stick with a group when trick-or-treating. Kids who are allowed to trick-or-treat should only have permission to do so at the homes of people who the family knows. Responsible kids should always inform an adult if they are given or offered something unusual or unacceptable. In addition, they should know to wait before eating candy until it has been inspected by a parent.