Halloween: A Shift in Perspective
With the end of October fast approaching, we see the evidence of Halloween - front lawns decorated, activities with pumpkins, bats, ghosts in classrooms, and of course the abundant presence of candy in the stores. Carving pumpkins, roasting seeds, dressing up and collecting candy seems to be what Halloween has become here in Canada. Its presence so profound, one would think it is one of our most cherished traditions. Is it? Why do we celebrate Halloween so heartily? What if we shifted away from the consumerism of Halloween? How could Halloween be a springboard into deepening relationships with nature and each other? These were all questions that rolled around in my head as I contemplated what to do with this (for me) unusual celebration. As a way into my reflections, I decided to start by exploring the history of Halloween.
I discovered that the Celtic festival of "Summer's End" was a celebration that marked the end of harvest season and the approach of winter. There were community gatherings, feasting, storing food for the winter months. It was also a time for honouring the dead and celebrating the living as the Celts believed that the"veil between the worlds of the living and the dead were thinnest at this time". Harvest. Honouring nature. Honouring the cycle of life. With this information, I decided to create a space where children could begin to see and appreciate the pumpkin for the plant it was. I hoped this would be another stepping stone to building a deeper connection to the natural world.
In the classroom, almost on cue, the children began talking about Halloween Oct. 1st. When I brought a pumpkin into class, many dismissively told me they already had a pumpkin, had carved it and roasted the seeds. End of story. I asked them what was inside, what the insides felt like. I asked, Did you cook the pumpkin? Silence. Pumpkins are just for Halloween, Miss Cathy. This was my opening - I read them Sophie's Squash and we talked about their experience with squash. We looked at different squash alongside the pumpkin. They noticed similarities and differences. They became curious about looking inside. With a focus on the pumpkin, I cut it open and the children scooped out the pulp, fibres, seeds. They commented on the sliminess, the smell of the pulp, how the seeds were hard to hold on to. They felt the skin, talked about the smoothness, the colours. What did the stem do? they wondered. I brought out the magnifying glasses and they took a closer look. They drew, painted, talked. By observing them I learned about their wonderings, and this directed me to the next invitation.
When they were interested in seeds, we collected seeds from the neighbourhood - horse chestnuts, acorns, various seed pods. I think there's something mysterious about these seeds. Let's be investigators, one child announced. I offered a mortar & pestle. The children helped each other pound, open, investigate.
.... drink in the beauty and wonder at the meaning of what you see ~ Rachel Carson
I wasn't able to keep the pumpkin in the classroom, so I took it home, kept it outside so it could start to decompose. From time to time, the pumpkin made an appearance in the classroom. The children were amazed - they had never seen a decomposing pumpkin before. We re-read Pumpkin Jack and this time the story had more meaning. I thought - yes, the power of recursiveness, revisiting after new experiences, and seeing through a new lens.
In the spring, I brought the pumpkin back to class for the last time; it was completely flat. That's not OUR pumpkin! they exclaimed. When I assured them it was, they adapted - It's just the top then, they offered. They poked and prodded, noting how dry the pumpkin was, how it had lost its colour. It's really dead. This prompted some children to talk about the compost bin they had in their yard - new information for some, a connection point for others. I brought out the seeds we had saved. The children once again examined them, smelled them, some children took a small nibble, testing to see if the seeds were still the same. They planted the seeds and we watched them sprout. I don't know that I can capture in words the difference in the children as they planted the seeds. They were gentler, kinder, they collaborated more deeply. It felt magical. Somehow the connections with each other seemed deeper. I couldn't help feeling that having the shared experience of the pumpkin's life cycle had brought about the change. The time taken to follow their curiosity and investigate deeply had led to an inner knowing about the pumpkin. They had built a relationship with the pumpkin. And, through their shared conversations and discoveries they had deepened their relationship with each other.
As time went on we continued to connect with nature, witnessing the bloom of spring. The children hugged trees, looked closely at flowers, picked samples more carefully. They created land art to honour the trees and express their gratitude. Their experience with the pumpkin and other nature-based activities had allowed them to make connections, build relationships that I hope will last a life time.
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. ~ Rachel Carson
The History of Halloween ~ https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1456/history-of-halloween/
Suzanne Axelsson ~ The Story of Traditions
Will Hubbell ~ Pumpkin Jack
George Levenson ~ Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden
Pat Zietlow Miller ~ Sophie's Squash