In a few days’ time, the border between the world of the living and the dead will be blurred, giving rise to a variety of celebrations. To mark the occasion, we present an overview of the origins of Halloween in Canada. We’ll also give you some tips on how to keep safe and healthy while celebrating the various traditional activities of this holiday.
Emilie Bedard, October 29, 2021 (updated August 25, 2023)
Halloween in Canada: A union of Celtic and Christian traditions
Although there’s no certainty as to the origins of Halloween, many historians assume that it originated with the Celtic populations of ancient Europe. Thus, the tradition of Halloween in Canada is said to have its roots in a Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced « SOW-in »).
According to the Celts, the night of October 31st marks the division between the cycle in which the days are longer than the nights, and that in which the nights are longer than the days. During this period, the separation between the world of the dead and the living lessens, giving the souls of the dead, ghosts and demons the opportunity to pass over to the side of the living. In this tradition, certain practices, such as dressing up in costumes and making offerings, are said to ward off and soften evil spirits.
Its arrival in Canada dates back to the mid-19th century, with the arrival of a large wave of Irish and Scottish immigrants. The traditions of Samhain were then combined with those of the Christian feast of All Saints’ Day. Indeed, the term Halloween is said to derive from All Hallows Eve.
Where does the famous Jack-o’-lantern tradition come from? It comes from an ancient legend about a mischievous, drunken man named Stingy Jack, who outwitted the Devil twice. Legend has it that the Devil descended from Hell to punish him for his unacceptable behavior. Unfortunately, being cunning, Jack managed to keep the Devil prisoner by surrounding him with crosses. To be freed, the Devil had to promise Jack that he would never bother him again. Later, when the man died, Heaven didn’t want him and, in Hell, neither did the Devil, since that was his promise. The story goes that ever since, Jack has been wandering between the worlds of the living and the dead.
So people started making Jack-o’-lanterns to ward off wandering souls like Jack. Digging pumpkins, putting candles on them and lighting them protects your home from evil spirits.
A few tips to make sure your Halloween doesn’t turn into a horror film
Whether you’re carving Jack-o’-lanterns with the family, handing out candy, having a party or driving your car on Halloween night, it’s important to take certain steps to ensure everyone’s safety. These simple precautions will help you celebrate Halloween with peace of mind!
- Use a tool kit specially designed for this activity to reduce the risk of injury.
- For example, the small serrated saws in these kits are less likely to slip or get stuck in the pumpkin pulp than an unserrated kitchen knife.
- Prepare your work area and tools carefully.
- Your space should be well lit, and the work surface should be stable and flat. Nothing should be wet or damp, to avoid anything slippery.
- Carve the pumpkin before emptying it, to avoid putting your hand inside while carving.
- VYou may, however, want to trim the pumpkin a little at the base to ensure stability.
- Keep sharp tools away from little witches and ghosts. Cutting should be done by an adult.
- Of course, this doesn’t mean that children can’t participate. They can help empty the pumpkin, draw the face and decorate it.
My Teal Pumpkin
The “Teal Pumpkin Project” initiative helps make traditional Halloween trick-or-treating more inclusive for allergic children! In short, place a turquoise pumpkin in front of your house to indicate that you have non-food options and treats free of the 9 major allergens: (1) peanuts (2) wheat or triticale (3) milk (4) mustard (5) tree nuts (6) eggs (7) fish, shellfish and crustaceans (8) sesame and (9) soy. Although it’s safer to offer non-food surprises to allergic children, if you decide to offer candy, make sure that the individual packaging contains the list of ingredients.
- Make sure the front of your house is well lit.
- Clear the way so people can walk around without tripping or injuring themselves.
- Keep pets indoors in a separate room to avoid accidents (fear, allergies, escaping, etc.).
- Children’s excitement and the constant coming and going can stress your pets and may cause reactive or unusual behavior, such as jumping on children or even biting.
- Bright accessories and loud noises can scare them away.
- Be careful to keep sweets and wrappers out of their reach. For your pets, eating candy can cause serious health problems that can lead to death, such as kidney failure, convulsions or choking.
Safety between pedestrians and drivers
- Be even more attentive and alert than usual.
- Avoid all distractions. For example, wait until you’ve stopped to change the song or answer the phone.
- Be patient and drive slowly to avoid, for example, a collision with a child who has forgotten the safety rules and ventured to cross the road between two parked cars.
- Costumed pedestrians need to be able to see and move easily, and should have reflective strips on their costume, especially if it’s dark. In this way, they can circulate safely and see and be seen.
- It’s important to be vigilant at all times.
- Cross carefully at crosswalks and intersections. In other words, NEVER cross between parked cars.
- Of course, the above tips for keeping your pets safe also apply in a party context. While it may seem fun to involve your furry best friend in the festivities, it’s not a good idea.
- Clear the space as best you can to prevent guests from tripping and injuring themselves. For example, if you have a coffee table in the living room, move it to a bedroom.
- Avoid full darkness. For example, dim the lights in the main room and turn on the lights in the main passageways (e.g. the one leading to the toilet).
- Use small battery-operated lanterns to light your pumpkins, rather than real candles, to avoid the risk of fire.
- Impaired driving is NEVER a good idea. Use a ride-hailing service, such as Tolérance-Zéro, so your guests can return home safely.
- Don’t serve alcohol to underage guests to avoid being held responsible for an accident caused by an intoxicated minor.
Learn what to do in case of an incident
Of course, the best way to celebrate with peace of mind is to be able to intervene if an incident occurs. Learning the basics of first aid is just a few hours of your time that could one day make all the difference! Learn at your own pace with our 100% online courses —> See the courses
Celebrating Halloween despite diabetes
Although Halloween is a terrifying holiday, a diagnosis of diabetes shouldn’t be one of the things that inspires fear on this day. For young and old alike, proper preparation can help you enjoy this freakishly fun day.
- Make sure that the adults in charge (teachers, caregivers, other parents, etc.) have the necessary information, such as;
- the quantity of sweets that can be eaten, as well as those to avoid;
- the right amount of insulin depending on the circumstances;
- identifying the signs of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, and what to do if such a situation occurs;
- Dress appropriately to avoid getting cold and having a drop in blood sugar levels.
- Make sure that the device and glucometer remain within easy reach, despite the costume.
- Have a plan for safe candy sampling during and after trick-or-treating.
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- Gouvernement du Canada. 2023. « Sécurité à l’Halloween ». URL : //www.canada.ca/fr/sante-canada/services/securite-domicile/securite-halloween.html# [Last consulted on September 14, 2023]
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- Régie du Bâtiment du Québec. S.d. « Decorating for Halloween and the Holiday season ». URL : https://www.rbq.gouv.qc.ca/en/you-are/citizen/think-safety-at-home/decorating/ [Last consulted on September 14, 2023]
- Roger, Virginie. 2018. « 10 tips for keeping your pet safe at Halloween ». Mondou. URL : https://www.mondou.com/en-CA/blogs/advice/dog/10-tips-for-keeping-your-pet-safe-at-halloween-ad33.html [Last consulted on September 14, 2023]
- Vermette, Katia. 2016. « Ma citrouille turquoise, une initiative à l’ampleur inégalée ». Allergy Quebec. URL : //allergies-alimentaires.org/ma-citrouille-turquoise-une-initiative-a-lampleur-inegalee/ [Last consulted on September 14, 2023]
Article written in collaboration with Laurie Levesque, content creator