Tuesday, November 26, 2013

10 Characteristics Of A Highly Effective Learning Environment


Wherever we are , we’d all like to think our classrooms are “intellectually active” places. Progressive learning (like our 21st Century Model) environments.

In short, highly effective and conducive to student-centered learning.

So we put together 10 characteristics of a highly effective classroom that can act as a kind of criteria to measure your own against.

See if you notice a pattern.

1. The students ask the questions, good questions

This is not a feel-good implication, but really crucial for the whole learning process to work. The role of curiosity has been studied (and perhaps under-studied and under-appreciated), but suffice to say that if a learner enters any learning activity with little to no natural curiosity, prospects for meaningful interaction with texts, media, and specific tasks are bleak. (Interested in how to kill learner curiosity in 12 easy steps?)

Many teachers force students (proverbial gun to head) to ask question at the outset of units or lessons, often to no avail. Cliché questions that reflect little understanding of the content can discourage teachers from “allowing” them. But the fact remains if students can’t ask great questions even as young as elementary school—something, somewhere is unplugged.

2. Questions are valued over answers

Questions are more important than answers. So it makes sense that if good questions should lead the learning, there would be value placed on these questions. And that means adding currency whenever possible grades (questions as assessment!), credit (give them points they love points), creative curation (writing as a kind of graffiti on large post-it pages on the classroom walls), or simply praise and honest respect. See if you don’t notice a change.

3. Ideas come from a variety of sources

Ideas for lessons, reading, tests, and projects the fiber of formal learning should come from a variety of sources. If they all come from you, TeachThought, and your PLN at-large, you’re risking a compliance over curiosity. Better sources? Mentors, the community, content experts outside of education, and even the students themselves.

Huge shift in credibility.

4. A variety of instructional design methods are used

Inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, direct instruction, peer-to-peer learning, school-to-school, eLearning, Mobile learning, the flipped classroom, and on and on the possibilities are endless. Chances are, none are incredible enough to suit every bit of content, curriculum, and learner diversity in your classroom. A characteristic of a highly-effective classroom, then, is diversity here, which also has the side-effect of improving your long-term capacity as an educator.

5.Classroom learning “empties” into an authentic community

Learning doesn’t need to be radically repackaged to make sense in the “real world,” but starts and ends there. As great as it sounds for learners to reflect on Shakespeare to better understand their Uncle Eddie and they might depending on that kind of radical transfer to happen entirely in the minds of the learners by design may not be the best idea, no? Digital (acceptable) or physical (desirable), plan from the onset for the learning to leave the classroom. And not a single letter or posterboard. All of it.

6.Learning is personalized by a variety of criteria

Personalized learning is likely the future, but for now the onus for routing students is almost entirely on the shoulders of the classroom teacher. This makes personalization and even consistent differentiation a challenge. One response is to personalize learning to whatever extent you plan for by a variety of criteria not just assessment results or reading level, but interest, readiness-for-content, and others as well. Then, as you adjust pace, entry points, and rigor accordingly, you’ll have a better chance of having uncovered what the learners truly “need”.

7. Assessment is persistent, authentic, transparent, and never punitive

Assessment is just an (often ham-fisted) attempt to get at what a learner understands. The more infrequent, clinical, murky, or threatening it is, the more you’re going to separate the “good students” from the “good thinkers.” And the “clinical” idea has less to do with the format of the test, and more to do with the tone and emotion of the classroom in general. Why are students being tested? What’s in it for them, and their future opportunities to improve?

And feedback is quick even when the “grading” may not be.

8. Criteria for success is balanced and transparent.

Students should not have to guess what “success” in a highly-effective classroom looks like. It should also not be entirely weighted on “participation,” assessment results, attitude, or other individual factors, but rather meaningfully melted into a cohesive framework that makes sense not to you, your colleagues, or the expert book on your shelf, but the students themselves.

9. Learning habits are constantly modeled

Cognitive, meta-cognitive, and behavioral “good stuff” is constantly modeled. Curiosity, persistence, flexibility, priority, creativity, collaboration, revision, and even the classic Habits of Mind are all great places to start. So often what students learn from those around them is less directly didactic, and more indirect and observational.

Monkey see, monkey do.

10.There are constant opportunities for practice

Old thinking is revisited. Old errors are reflected on. Complex ideas are re-approached from new angles. Divergent concepts are contrasted. Bloom’s taxonomy is constantly traveled up and down, from the simple to the complex in an effort to maximize a student’s opportunities to learn and demonstrate understanding of content.

Finding the Right Career


Choosing or Changing Career Paths
Whether you’re just leaving school, finding opportunities limited in your current position or, like many in this economy, facing unemployment, it may be time to consider your career path. Regardless of your reasons, the right career is out there for everyone. By learning how to research options, realize your strengths, and acquire new skills, as well as muster the courage to make a change, you can discover the career that’s right for you.

Finding meaningful work in today’s world
You may have fallen into the trap of thinking the sole point of work is to bring home enough money to live comfortably. While adequate compensation is important in any job, it’s not the whole story. If you are unsatisfied with what you do every day, it takes a toll on your physical and mental health. You may feel burned out and frustrated, anxious, depressed, or unable to enjoy time at home knowing another workday is ahead. What’s more, if you don’t find your work meaningful and rewarding, it’s hard to keep the momentum going to advance in your career. You are more likely to be successful in a career that you feel passionate about.

Whether you’re looking to enter the work force for the first time or contemplating a career change, the first step to choosing a fulfilling career is to uncover the activities that get you excited and bring you joy. 

Discovering new possibilities
The first step in considering a career change is to think carefully about what really drives you. You might find it hard to get past thinking about “what pays the most” or “what is most secure,” especially in today’s economy. However, it’s important to first discover your primary interests and passions. This can open doors to careers that you might not have considered. Once you have that foundation, you can start fine tuning your search for the right career. You may be surprised at how you can fit your passions into a new career.

Exploring your career opportunities
Focus on the things you love to do. What have you dreamed of doing in the past? What do you naturally enjoy doing? Jot down what comes to mind, no matter how improbable it seems.
Look for clues everywhere. Take note of projects or topics that stir your compassion or excite your imagination. Reflect on stories of people you admire. Ask yourself why certain activities make you happy, and pay attention to times when you are really enjoying yourself.

Be patient. Remember that your search may take some time and you might have to go down a few different roads before finding the right career path. Time and introspection will help you identify the activities you most enjoy and that bring you true satisfaction.

Overcoming obstacles to career happiness
It’s always challenging to consider a huge change in your life, and there may be many reasons why you think changing careers is not possible. Here are some common obstacles with tips on how to overcome them:

It’s too much work to change careers. Where would I ever begin? Changing careers does require a substantial time investment. However, remember that it does not happen all at once. If you sit down and map out a rough plan of attack, breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones, it is a lot more manageable than you think. And if the payoff is a happier, more successful career, it’s worth it.

I’m too old to change careers. I need to stay where I am. If you have worked for a number of years, you may feel that you’ve put too much time and effort into your career to change midstream. Or you may be concerned about retirement and health benefits. However, the more you’ve worked, the more likely you are to have skills that can transfer to a new career. Even if you are close to receiving a pension or other benefits, you can start to plan now for a career transition after retirement.

I don’t have enough skills to consider a new career. You may be unaware of the skills you have, or low self-esteem may lead you to underestimate your marketability. Either way, you probably have more skills than you think. Consider skills you’ve learned not only from your job but also from hobbies, volunteering, or other life experiences. And gaining skills is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can volunteer once a week or take a night class to move forward, for example, without quitting your current job.
In this economy, I’m lucky to have a job. I don’t want to rock the boat. In today’s climate, it might feel like too much of a risk to consider changing careers. However, if you’re unhappy in your current job, doing research on other options will only benefit you in the long run. You may discover a career with a more stable long-term outlook than your current career, for example. And you don’t have to quit your current job until you are confident of your new career path.

What if I’ve already lost my job?
Being unemployed or underemployed can be tremendously stressful. It can increase the pressure of meeting mortgage payments and other financial obligations. You may feel ashamed for not working, or feel the loss of your job has stripped you of your identity, at home and at work. This is especially true if you have been in the same field for a very long time.

However, unemployment also has a bright side. It gives you the chance to reflect on your career path. If you’ve been considering a new field, now is the time to research the options and see what might be the right fit for you. You may end up in a much stronger position than if you had originally kept your job.
Finding the right career tip 1: Identify occupations that match your interests
So how do you translate your interests into a new career? With a little research, you may be surprised at the careers that relate to many of the things you love to do.

Career tests
Different online tools can guide you through the process of self-discovery. Questions, quizzes, and personality assessments can’t tell you what your perfect career would be, but they can help you identify what’s important to you in a career, what you enjoy doing, and where you excel. One example, frequently used by universities and the U.S. government, is the RIASEC/Holland interest scale. It outlines six common personality types, such as investigative, social, or artistic, and enables you to browse sample careers based on the type of personality you most identify with. Find links to this and other online career tests in the Resources section below.

Researching specific careers
If you have narrowed down some specific jobs or careers, you can find a wealth of information online, from description of positions to average salaries and estimated future growth. This will also help you figure out the practical priorities: How stable is the field you are considering? Are you comfortable with the amount of risk? Is the salary range acceptable to you? What about commute distances? Will you have to relocate for training or a new job? Will the new job affect your family?

Get support and information from others
While you can glean a lot of information from research and quizzes, there’s no substitute for information from someone currently working in your chosen career. Talking to someone in the field gives you a real sense of what type of work you will actually be doing and if it meets your expectations. What’s more, you will start to build connections in your new career area, helping you land a job in the future. Does approaching others like this seem intimidating? It doesn’t have to be. Networking and informational interviewing are important skills that can greatly further your career.

You may also consider career counseling or a job coach, especially if you are considering a major career shift. Sometimes impartial advice from others can open up possibilities you hadn’t considered.

Finding the right career tip 2: Evaluate your strengths and skills
Once you have a general idea of your career path, take some time to figure out what skills you have and what skills you need. Remember, you’re not completely starting from scratch—you already have some skills to start. These skills are called transferable skills, and they can be applied to almost any field. Some examples include:
  1. management and leadership experience
  2. communication (both written and oral)
  3. research and program planning
  4. public speaking
  5. conflict resolution and mediation
  6. managing your time effectively
  7. computer literacy
  8. foreign language fluency

Tips for discovering your transferable career skills
Don’t limit yourself to experiences only at work. When you are thinking about your skills, consider all types of activities including volunteering, hobbies, and life experiences. For example, even if you don’t have formal leadership or program planning experience, founding a book club or organizing a toy drive are ways that you have been putting these skills into practice.

List your accomplishments that might fit in. Don’t worry about formatting these skills for a resume at this point. You just want to start thinking about what skills you have. It can be a tremendous confidence booster to realize all of the skills you’ve developed.

Brainstorm with trusted friends, colleagues, or mentors. They may be able to identify transferable skills you’ve overlooked or help you better articulate these skills in the future.
Uncover more transferable skills by taking the online tests listed in the Resources section below.

Finding the right career tip 3: Develop your skills and experience
If your chosen career requires skills or experience you lack, don’t despair. There are many ways to gain needed skills. While learning, you’ll also have an opportunity to find out whether or not you truly enjoy your chosen career and also make connections that could lead to your dream job.

Gaining career skills:
Utilize your current position. Look for on-the-job training or opportunities to do projects that develop new skills. See if your employer will pay part of your tuition costs.

Identify resources in the community. Find out about programs in your community. Community colleges or libraries often offer low cost opportunities to strengthen skills such as computers, basic accounting, or how to start a business. Local Chambers of Commerce, Small Business Administrations, or state job development programs are also excellent resources.

Volunteer or work as an intern. Some career skills can be acquired by volunteering or doing an internship. This has the added benefit of getting you in contact with people in your chosen field.
Take classes. Some fields require specific education or skills, such as an educational degree or specific training. Don’t automatically rule out more education as impossible. Many fields have accelerated programs if you already have some education, or you may be able to do night classes or part-time schooling so that you can continue to work. Some companies even offer tuition reimbursements if you stay at the company after you finish your education.

Finding right career tip 4: Consider starting your own business
If you’re getting worn down by a long commute or a difficult boss, the thought of working for yourself can be very appealing. And even in a slower economy, it’s still possible to find your perfect niche. Depending on the specialty, some companies prefer to streamline their ranks and work with outside vendors. However, it is especially important to do your homework and understand the realities of business ownership before you jump in.

Make sure you are committed to and passionate about your business idea. You will be spending many long hours getting started, and it may take a while for your business to pay off.

Research is critical. Take some time to analyze your area of interest. Are you filling an unmet need? Especially if you are considering an online business, how likely is your area to be outsourced? What is your business plan, and who are your potential investors? Learn more in the Resources section below.
Expect limited or no earnings to start. Especially in the first few months, you are building your base and may have start-up costs that offset any profit initially. Make sure you have a plan on how to cope during this period.

Final tips for career changers
Pace yourself and don’t take on too much at once. Career change doesn’t happen overnight, and it is easy to get overwhelmed with all the steps to successfully change careers. However, you will get there with commitment and motivation. Break down large goals into smaller ones, and try to accomplish at least one small thing a day to keep the momentum going.

Don’t rush into a change because of unhappiness in your current job. If you are stressed and unhappy in your current job, or unemployed, you might be feeling a lot of pressure to make a quick change. However, if you don’t do enough research, you might end up in an even worse position than before, with the added stress of a new position and new learning curve.

Ease slowly into your new career. Take time to network, volunteer, and even work part-time in your new field before committing fully. It will not only be an easier transition, but you will have time to ensure you are on the right path and make any necessary changes before working full-time in your new field.

Take care of yourself. You might be feeling so busy with the career transition that you barely have time to sleep or eat. However, managing stress, eating right, and taking time for sleep, exercise, and loved ones will ensure you have the stamina for the big changes ahead.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Droodles


History
Droodles was a syndicated cartoon feature created by Roger Price and collected in his 1953 book Droodles. The trademarked name "Droodle" is a nonsense word suggesting "doodle", "drawing" and "riddle." Their general form is minimal: a square box containing a few abstract pictorial elements with a caption (or several) giving a humorous explanation of the picture's subject. For example, a Droodle depicting three concentric shapes little circle, medium circle, big square might have the caption "Aerial view of a cowboy in a Port-a-john."

Droodles are (or were) purely a form of entertainment like any other nonsense cartoon and appeared in pretty much the same places (newspapers, paperback collections, bathroom walls) during their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. The commercial success of Price's collections of Droodles led to the founding of the publishing house Price-Stern-Sloan, and also to the creation of a Droodles-themed game show. There was also a droodle-based game called "Mysteriosos" on HBO's Braingames. Series of newspaper advertisements for the News and Max brands of cigarettes featured cigarette-themed Droodles.


Frank Zappa's 1982 album Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch
One of Price's original Droodles serves as the cover art for Frank Zappa's 1982 album Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch. Price's other captions for that drawing include "Mother pyramid feeding her baby."

Droodles For Students

Description
This lesson combines students' love of word games and drawing to promote critical thinking.

Objectives
Students

  • explore word and picture puzzle techniques.
  • interpret word and picture puzzles.
  • create word and picture puzzles.

Keywords
words, puzzle, drawing, game, vocabulary

Materials Needed

  • computers with Internet access (optional)
  • chalkboard and chalk or large paper and marker
  • tips for rebus puzzles (available online)
  • sample word and picture puzzles (available online)
  • paper and pencils


Lesson Plan
Word and picture puzzles are fun, educational, and well received by students. "Droodles" are picture puzzles that may be interpreted with words in many different ways. There is no single correct answer with a droodle every reasonable response is as acceptable as the next!

To get started with this activity, introduce your students to the droodle with the Exploratorium's The Meaning of Droodles page. If you prefer, you may print this page and use the information as the basis for instruction.

Draw some sample droodles on the board or on large paper so that all members of the class can view them, and have your students share their ideas about what the pictures may mean. (If you plan to leave this lesson behind for a substitute teacher, you might print off a handful of droodles from the archive to leave behind with this lesson.) Then give students time to create a droodle and have the class or a few partners attempt to interpret it.

Extension activities:
Using IMOK. UROK. from the Exploratorium, have your students write conversations in puzzle form. They may even illustrate the conversations as cartoons. Everyone will enjoy finding the meanings behind these unique puzzles.

Assessment
The teacher may collect student work (original droodles and picture/word puzzles) for evaluation. All satisfactory student-created puzzles must be appropriate for the classroom and be representative of the puzzles introduced in the lesson. The teacher will also observe students as they work together in exchanging and solving puzzles.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Hallowen History


Halloween is one of the world's oldest holidays, dating back to pagan times. But it is celebrated today by more people in more countries than ever before.  there's a simple reason: it is fun and it is good, clean, harmless fun for young and old alike!  Also see Halloween around the world and see this page of current Halloween facts and statistics.

Summary

Since much of the  history of Halloween wasn't written down for centuries; some of it is still sketchy and subject to debate.  But the most plausible theory is that Halloween originated in the British Isles out of the Pagan Celtic celebration of Samhain. It goes back as far as 5 B.C. It was believed that spirits rose from the dead and mingled with the living on this day. The Celts left food at their doors to encourage good spirits and wore masks to scare off the bad ones. Some historians believe that the Romans who invaded England added a few of their own traditions to the celebration of Samhain; such as celebrating the end of the harvest and honoring the dead; others say that since the Romans never conquered the Celts (Ireland and Scotland) there was no mingling of cultures, and that the Celts celebrated the end of the harvest and honored their dead in this way, anyway!

Many centuries later, the Roman Catholic church, in an attempt to do away with pagan holidays, such as Halloween (and Christmas, which had been the Roman pagan holiday of Saturnalia)  established November 1st as All Saint's Day (in French, la Toussaint), in celebration of all the saints who do not have their own holy day. This attempt to detract attention from the pagan celebration of Samhain didn't work. The celebrations on the eve of All Saint's Day continued to grow and change!  During the massive Irish immigration into America in the 1840s, Halloween found its way to the United States, where it continued to flourish!

It is also believed that  the Christian practice of celebrating the evening before a holiday, such as Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, etc. came from the Jewish traditions.  Jewish days and holidays begin with the evening before. Always have, as Judaism follows a lunar calendar in which the sunsets begin the new day. Many Christian groups now observe holy days from sundown on one day until sundown on the following day.

The modern name, Halloween comes from "All Hallows' Evening," or in their slang "All Hallow's Even", the eve of All Hallows' Day. "Hallow" is an Old English word for "holy person," and All Hallows' Day is just another name for All Saints' Day,  eventually, it became abbreviated to  "Hallowe'en" and then "Halloween."

Samhain and the Celts

The Celts lived hundreds of years ago in what is now Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and northern France. The Celtic people, around 800 B.C., commonly kept sheep and cattle. When the weather got colder, the shepherds brought their animals down from the hills to closer pastures. Life changed dramatically between summer and winter for the Celts. In the winter months, everybody stayed inside or close to home, fixing things indoors, sewing, spending time together, and generally trying to avoid being outside where one froze to death, go sick, or otherwise was killed or eaten by something that was larger and hungry. The change of seasons from growing, plenty, and life to winter, dark, shortages and death was at the meaning behind the holiday.

The final harvest of the year was marked by a celebration called Samhain (pronounced sow-en) and was also the ancient Celtic New Year. Samhain, which translates to "end of summer," usually occurred around the end of October, when the weather started to get cold in Ireland and Scotland. (yes, I know it's not a big difference from "summer" there, but they apparently can tell the difference! :)

Celts believed that transitions, times when things change from one state to another, had magical properties. Samhain marked what was for them one of two of the biggest turning points of the year (Spring being the other)  a change in the weather as well as a change in life. The Celts also believed this magical time created an opening to the dead. They believed the worlds of the dead and the living were  closest at the time of Samhain, and that the spirits of the dead were freed to travel once more among the living, in part because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld.

 People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to help them on their journey to the otherworld, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were afoot: ghosts, fairies, and demons! Many of the activities of the Samhain festival were related to these beliefs.  Many of those practices then evolved into odern day Halloween traditions.

On October 31st after the crops were all harvested and put into storage for the winter ahead, the cooking fires in the homes would be extinguished. The Druids, the Celtic priests, would meet in the hilltop in the dark oak forest (oak trees for their size and strength and mistletoe for remaining green in the winter and having berries in the cold were considered sacred). The Druids would light new fires and offer sacrifices of crops and animals to thank the gods for the harvest and appease the gods of the coming winter.

The morning after, the Druid priests would give an hot ember from the fires to each family, who would then take them home to start new cooking fires. The fireplace and fire were a big deal to the Celts, as they kept the homes warm and free from evil spirits.

The festival lasted for 3 days. Many people would parade in costumes made from the skins and heads of their animals representing various gods of nature.

All Saints' Day

Societies and religions honored their martyrs for thousands of years. Catholics canonized saints after death. Saints are effectively "ranked" higher since they have special status (sainthood, holiness) bestowed upon them, saints are held in esteem as role models, and God may perform miracles on earth through them. Roman Catholics, and some other Christians, honor saints, and ask them for guidance in daily life.

Many saints have their own day to honor them. But with  so many thousands of canonized saints, only a small percentage are recognized specifically. Pope Boniface IV officially established All Saints' Day in order to honor all the saints at one time.

All Saints' Day originally fell on May 13.  In 601 A.D., Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries regarding the beliefs and customs of the peoples they wanted to convert. Rather than try to banish native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope had his missionaries to incorporate them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship. In 835 AD, Pope Gregory III moved it to November 1 to try to take over the pagan holiday. Officially, the Church chose this new date to mark the papal dedication of a church honoring the saints. Few historians accept that as the Catholic Church had a long-standing policy of incorporating non-Christian traditions into its holidays.  For example, many historians believe, for example, that the church set Christmas on December 25 so that it would correspond with pagan winter solstice festivals (Shepherds don't "watch over their flock by night" in the winter, as the flock is inside or would die in the cold!).

In any case, when All Saints' Day moved to November 1, many of the pagan Samhain traditions were brought into the holy day's activities. This may have helped bring descendents of the ancient Celts into Christianity, but it created some problems for the church. Much of the Samhain traditions centered on the supernatural and spirit world, ideas that don't have much of a place in Christianity. Recognizing saints, who were by definition dead, covered a lot of the same ground, but the creepy and supernatural aspects like the dead spirits walking the earth again at midnight certainly wasn't part of Christianity.  Young men were now instructed to go door to door begging for food for the town poor. Villagers were allowed to dress up in costume to represent a saint. Now, instead of dressing up to chase away evil spirits, and celebrating pagan beliefs, they were dressed up to honor the saints. Like anyone cared! :)

Witches

One legend has it that  on one All Hallows Eve that a priest was walking by on a country road when on the hill he saw the bonfires burning. He saw people dancing around the fire in costumes with shafts and torches in their hands. With the moon as a backdrop to the fires the people appeared to be flying in the air. The man hurried to the village to tell that witches were flying and evil was afoot. Presumably, this is where the myth of witches on broomsticks flying on Halloween comes from.

There is a lesser known church holiday called All Soul's Day that came into being at the end of the 10th century. It was an occasion to recognize all Christian dead. .

All Souls' Day

All Souls' Day, observed on November 2, is celebrated with Catholic masses and festivities in honor of the dead. The living pray on behalf of Catholics who are in purgatory, the state in the afterlife between the land of the living and the otherworlds where souls are purified before proceeding to heaven. Souls in purgatory, who are members of the church just like living Christians, must suffer so that they can be purged of their sins. Through prayer and good works, living members of the church may help their departed friends and family.

It was on Halloween in 1517 that Martin Luther began to try to reform the Catholic Church. It ended in the formation of the Protestant Church, which didn't believe in saints (in the Roman Catholic sense of of specific individuals).

Without Saints, there would be no All Hallow's eve, no Halloween and no partying, so in Britain, when a conspiracy to blow up the English Parliament and King James I in 1605 was foiled, this became a convemnient means to solve two issues at once. The celebrations that people were accustomed to just moved to November 5 and became Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes was not-too-bright accomplice who became the fall 'guy"  (his name is also where we get the word "guy" from) in a Catholic plot to blow up the English Parliament, which at that time was Protestant. So, although technically, the celebration was to commemorate the failure of the plot, nonetheless, it was Halloween. Bonfires were lit across the country. People made lanterns from carved out turnips and children went begging for "a penny for the guy" (and they were to use the pennies to buy more wood for the bonfire upon which Guy Fawkes was to be burned alive. gruesome, huh?  I knew you'd like that..

Realizing that it could not completely get rid of the supernatural aspects of the celebrations, the Catholic church began characterizing the spirits as evil forces associated with the devil. This is where much of the more malevolent  Halloween imagery, such as evil witches and demons come from.

All Souls' Day has morphed and exists today, particularly in Mexico, where All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day are collectively observed as "Los Dias de los Muertos" (The Days of the Dead). First and foremost, the Days of the Dead is a time when families fondly remember the deceased, visit their graves and clean the gravesites and leave fresh flowers. But it is also a time marked by Mardi Gras-like festivities, including spectacular parades of skeletons and ghouls. In one tradition, a mock funeral procession with a live person inside a coffin is paraded through the streets.

Trick-or-Treating

In the Celtic times and up till the medieval ages, fairies (a.k.a., faeries) were also thought to run free on the Eve of Samhain. Faeries weren't necessarily evil, but not particularly they weren't good. They were mischievous. They liked rewarding good deeds and did not like to be crossed. On Samhain, faeries were thought to disguise themselves as beggars and go door to door asking for handouts. Those who gave them food were rewarded. Those who did not were subjected to some unpleasantness.

In medieval times, one popular All Souls' Day practice was to make "soul cakes," simple bread desserts with a currant topping. In a custom called "souling," children would go door-to-door begging for the cakes, much like modern trick-or-treaters. For every cake a child collected, he or she would have to say a prayer for the dead relatives of the person who gave the cake. These prayers would help the relatives find their way out of purgatory and into heaven. The children even sang a soul cake song along the lines of the modern "Trick-or-treat, trick-or-treat, give me something good to eat."  Dressing up as ghouls and ghosts originated from the ancient Celtic tradition of townspeople disguising themselves as demons and spirits. The Celts believed that disguising themselves to look like the spirits who were wandering the earth that night might allow them to escape the notice of the real spirits wandering the streets. (ref)

As part of the Samhain celebration, Celts would bring home an ember from the communal bonfire at the end of the night. They carried these embers in hollowed-out turnips, creating a lantern resembling the modern day jack-o'-lantern.  This carried on in Ireland and Scotland through the 18th century.  A very popular character in Irish folk tales was Stingy Jack (ref), a famous cheapskate who, on several occasions, avoided losing his soul to the devil by tricking him (often on All Hallows' Eve).  Much like the American stories of the devil and  . In one story, he convinced Satan to climb up a tree for some apples, and then cut crosses all around the trunk so the devil couldn't climb down. The devil promised to leave Jack alone forever, if he would only let him out of the tree.

When Jack eventually died, he was turned away from Heaven, due to his life of sin. But, in keeping with their agreement, the Devil wouldn't take Jack, either. He was cursed to travel forever as a spirit in limbo. As Jack left the gates of Hell, the Devil threw him a hot ember to light the way in the dark. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed-out turnip, and wandered off into the world. According to the Irish legend, you might see Jack's spirit on All Hallows' Eve, still carrying his turnip lantern through the darkness. Click here for a web page that has the complete Stingy Jack story!

Traditional jack-o'-lanterns, hollowed-out turnips with embers or candles inside, became a very popular Halloween decoration in Ireland and Scotland a few hundred years ago. Folk tradition held that they would ward off Stingy Jack and other spirits on Halloween, and they also served as representations of the souls of the dead. Irish families who emigrated to America brought the tradition with them, but they replaced the turnips with the more plentiful pumpkins. As it turns out, pumpkins were easier to carve than turnips. People began to cut frightening faces and other elaborate designs into their jack-o'-lanterns.

All of this brings us to PUMPKINS which become Jack O'Lanterns, which you want to go pick and carve. So let's look at why!

Jack-O'-Lanterns

If you are not from the British Isles, you won't believe where your hollowed out pumpkin comes from! In Ireland and Scotland hollowed-out turnips with embers or candles inside, became a very popular Halloween decoration a few hundred years ago. Baldrick would have met his dream! (Fans of "Blackadder"  will recognize this!) Tradition held that they would ward off Stingy Jack and other malevolent spirits on Halloween, and they also served as representations of the souls of the dead. Irish families who emigrated to America brought the tradition with them, but they replaced the turnips with pumpkins, which, native to the new world, were plentiful. It didn't hurt that they are a lot easier to carve than turnips.  Have you ever tried to hollow out a turnip?  People began to carve frightening faces and other designs into their jack-o'-lanterns.

Bringing it home to the United States

Meanwhile, back in the new world, the settlers were all Protestant and Halloween was technically a Catholic holiday. The original colonists in this country found ANY celebration immoral, especially a Catholic one. In fact, celebrating Christmas in the Massachusetts colony was once illegal, punishable by banishment or death.

After the American Revolution, Halloween still never really caught on in America. Most of the country was farmland, and the people too far spread out to share different celebrations from Europe. Any chance to get together was looked forward to - barn raisings, quilting bees, taffy pulls. Eventually, a fall holiday called the Autumn Play Party developed. People would gather and tell ghost stories, dance and sing and feast and light bonfires. The children would stage a school pageant where they paraded in costumes. 

The Autumn Play Parties lasted until the Industrial revolution.  After that, the majority of Americans lived in cities and had no need for such get togethers. By the end of the Civil War, only Episcopalians and Catholics celebrated All Saints' Day and Halloween, and the two religions combined made up less than 5% of the population. Concerned about letting a part of their heritage fade away, the the two religions began an aggressive campaign to put those two holidays on all public calendars. In the late 1800's there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborhood "get-togethers," than about the supernatural. .At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate. The first year All Saints' Day and Halloween showed up on the calendars, the newspapers and magazines made a big deal about it. Suddenly, everyone knew about Halloween and began celebrating it by lighting bonfires and having masquerade parties. The first official citywide Halloween celebration in the United States, occurred in Anoka, Minn., in 1921. In the 1920's and 30's Halloween became a secular but community centered holiday which was celebrated with parades and town wide parties. By the 1950's vandalism had to be brought under control and by this time Halloween was more of a child's celebration. Treats were handed out in order to prevent tricks like lawn rolling at each home. Those traditions have made Halloween the country's second largest commercial holiday to the tune of more than $2 billion spent on candy each year.

Today, Halloween is once again being celebrated as an adult holiday or masquerade, like Mardi Gras. Men and women in every disguise imaginable are now participating in parades. Many parents decorate their homes and yards, dress in costume, hand out candy at their door or go with their children as they collect candy.

And despite  its origins, today it has nothing to do with evil, devil worship, satanic forces, etc.  It's just good clean fun!

Sources and references
  • Rogers, Nicholas (2002). "Samhain and the Celtic Origins of Halloween". Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, pp.11–21. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516896-8
  • Roger, Nichola (2002). Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Oxford University Press. pp. 28–30. ISBN 0-19-514691-3.
  • Arnold, Bettina (2001-10-31). "Bettina Arnold – Halloween Lecture: Halloween Customs in the Celtic World"   . Halloween Inaugural Celebration. University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee: Center for Celtic Studies. http://www.uwm.edu/~barnold/lectures/holloween.html   . Retrieved 2007-10-16.
  • Skal, David J. (2002). Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, p.34. New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 1-58234-230-X.
  • Pope John Paul, July 1994, conversation with the author in Rome, Italy
  • Thompson, Sue Elled, ed. 2003. Holiday Symbols and Customs. 3rd Edition. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, Inc.
  • Skal, David J. 2002. Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

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