So, you want to plan a spectacular Halloween for your site.
Halloween has its roots in Samhain, the pagan festival celebrated by the Celts over 2000 years ago. Since then a rich tapestry of history and traditions has developed, including the many different activities and symbols we associate with Halloween in Britain today, such as pumpkin carving, dressing in scary costumes and trick or treating.
Although the usual Halloween-related activities are fun, there are many alternative ideas to consider if you’re looking for something a little different to offer at your site. Perhaps it’s the culture and traditions of Halloween which interest you, or maybe you’re looking for something a little out of the box.
There are a number of different creatures associated with Halloween, so why not utilise them? Spiders make a good topic, they are commonplace in older buildings especially at this time of year and create beautiful webs to boot. There are a number of different species native to the UK and plenty of ‘spidery’ activities to choose from, including arts and crafts and spotting activities. Decorations could also be fun around this topic- creating arachnids and webs from different materials, such as paper-plate spiders, watercolour webs, bin-liner webs, or box spiders!
For more information on spiders in the UK, you can visit the British Arachnological Society’s website.
Sticking on the topic of creatures, how about bats? Bats can make their homes in outbuildings and are present at a number of heritage sites. They have long been associated with Halloween, perhaps because they were traditionally thought to be witches’ familiars, or the secondary form of a vampire! They often make an appearance around dusk and, weather-permitting, bat watching is always a fun activity. There is plenty of potential for making decorations and different activities featuring bats, such as arts and craft creations- toilet roll bats, hanging bats, or bat sponge art to name just a few.
Ghosts and Ghouls
Ghosts are of course frequently associated with Halloween, as it was traditionally thought of as the day when the veil between living and dead was at its thinnest. Although perhaps a little clichéd as a Halloween theme, ghosts can prove a useful tool through which to teach the history of a heritage site. In the case of a historic site or a museum in particular, a fun activity could be to tell stories of those who used to occupy the site and are now believed to “haunt” the grounds. Hampton Court Palace conduct ghost tours around Halloween, and throughout the rest of the year, for both adults and families, teaching the history of their site via ghost stories. Click here for more information.
History and Mystery
The history of Halloween provides a theme in itself by looking at how it has been celebrated throughout history and the societies in which people lived at the time. From Samhain with the Celts, the Roman celebration of Pomona, All Saints Day implemented by Pope Gregory III to the modernisation of the holiday in the 19th century, there is a lot to choose from.
Associated with the history of Halloween is the food traditionally eaten at the Samhain feast. Food plays a big part in most traditional celebrations and Halloween is no exception. There was a belief that it was the eve when those who had died in the past twelve months were allowed to pass on to the next realm and the living would celebrate this with a feast. Traditional autumnal foods would be eaten, such as potatoes, squash, apples, nuts, and pumpkins. There are a variety of different dishes which could be cooked, or use the foods as decorations instead.
Sticking with a traditional, historic theme, masks are another idea for a topic. They were originally used on Halloween night as people believed that spirits would return to wander the earth on this night. People wore masks, as scary as possible, as they believed it would prevent the spirits from recognising them as human. This is where the tradition of wearing a scary Halloween costume stems from, see a gallery of images of vintage Halloween masks here.
There are a range of superstitions and myths associated with Halloween which could prove a useful basis for a theme as well. For example, there is the superstition that if a black cat crosses your path, it may be that a witch is nearby- the basis for this superstition is that elderly ladies who lived alone were often accused of witchcraft and many of them happened to own a cat. There are plenty more spooky superstitions surrounding this day which can provide a basis for sub-themes and fun activities. Why not develop a quiz with questions based around Halloween superstitions and traditions? Superstitions are steeped in history and there are so many of them stretching across the ages. Check out the Tudor Merchants House Tudor superstitions trail if superstitions grab your interest.
Superstitions and plants can also be closely linked with some plants having been associated with Halloween and warding off dark spirits for hundreds of years. One such plant is the Red Campion, a hedgerow plant, which is associated with goblins such as Robin Goodfellow or, aptly named, Jack o’Lantern. Historically there were prohibitions in some parts of Britain against picking the plant, with superstition saying that if you did, misfortune, or even death, would follow. Rowan is also steeped in history with its name thought to be derived from the Old Norse word ‘rune’, meaning ‘charm’ it was thought to hold protective powers.
Some other plants linked with superstition are Thyme- associated with death and funerals- and Holly- said to be sacred to witches and favoured by ancient druids.
We can help!
If you are looking to develop a new activity along these themes, or perhaps a theme of your own, then you may be interested in our bespoke trails and activities! This is ideal if you need to develop an activity, walk, trail, or talk, and are short of time, or would like some fresh inspiration. We will work with you to develop a unique product just for your site! There are plenty of other resources available on our website. Maybe you don’t want to buy a whole workshop but just want a place on one? Sign up to INSPIRE to be the first to hear about latest workshops. Whatever you choose as your theme, ensure you have a fun, and safe, Halloween!