Celebrating Samhain With Kids

Kids in Costumes
Celebrate Samhain with your kids!.

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Samhain falls on October 31, if you live in the northern hemisphere, and it's the season when the crops are dying, the nights are growing cool and crisp and dark, and for many of us, it's a time to honor our ancestors. If you're one of our readers below the equator, Samhain takes place at the beginning of May. It's a time to celebrate life and death, and to interact with the world beyond the veil.

If you’ve got kids at home, try celebrating Samhain with some of these family-friendly and kid-appropriate ideas.

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Honor Your Ancestors

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In many cultures, ancestor veneration is an important part of the season. Depending on how old your children are, you may want to use this time of year as an opportunity to introduce your kids to the people whose blood runs through their veins.

Study Genealogy: All of us came from somewhere, so why not figure out what that place might have been? Get your kids involved in learning about their forbears, even if it's just something as simple as asking Grandma what it was like to live when she was a child. Take the information you learn, and fill out a family tree chart — if you're feeling really crafty, use that info to make an ancestor altar cloth!

Got photos and family heirlooms? Set up an ancestor altar in a place of honor in your home. Is your child — or are you — adopted? That's okay, you can still honor your kinfolk, you just have to go about it a slightly different way. Consider celebrating archetypes that represent your ethnic or cultural background.

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Hold a Family Friendly Ritual

Samhain Centerpiece
Celebrate the season with a family friendly ritual.

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Let’s face it, sometimes ritual is hard to get through when you’re little. The trick to keeping young children involved in Pagan practice is to keep them occupied – that means rethinking ritual ideas so that it can fun as well as spiritual. This ritual is designed to celebrate Samhain with younger kids.

Obviously, if your children are older, or you have younger kids who are very focused and mature, you may not need a “kids ritual.” However, for those of you that do, this is a rite you can complete, from start to finish, in about twenty minutes. Also, keep in mind that you are the best judge of what your child is ready for. If he wants to paint his face, bang a drum and chant, let him do so — but if he'd rather participate silently, that's okay too! 

Use a basic altar setup for this ritual - feel free to raid your Halloween decorations for ghosts, witches, skulls, and bats. If your kids are old enough to not burn the house (or themselves) down when near an open flame, you can use candles, but they’re not required for this ritual. A nice alternative is the small LED tealights, which can go on your altar safely.

In addition to your Samhain decorations, place photos of deceased family members on the altar. If you have other mementos, such as jewelry or small heirlooms, feel free to add those. Also, you’ll want an empty plate or bowl of some sort (leave this on the altar), and a bit of food to pass around as an offering - if you’re working with kids, you might want to have them help you bake bread ahead of time for ritual use.

Finally, have a cup with a drink in it that the family can share — milk, cider (always a great option in the fall), or whatever you may prefer. Obviously, if someone is sporting a cold or runny nose, you might wish to use individual cups.

Gather your family around the altar, and ask each child to stand quietly for a moment to take a few minutes to think about the different family members that have crossed over. If your child is too young to know anyone who has passed away they can simply think about the family they have now, and all the living people who are important to them.

After everyone has taken a moment to think about their ancestors, and before anyone starts to fidget, begin the ritual.

Parent: Tonight we are celebrating Samhain, which is a time when we celebrate the lives of the people we have loved and lost. We are going to honor our ancestors so that they will live on in our hearts and memories. Tonight, we honor [name], and [name].

Go through the list of specific people you wish to honor. If someone has died recently, start with them and work your way back. You don’t have to unleash the names of every single person in your family tree (because it could be Yule before you finish), but it’s important to mention the people who have had the most impact on your life. If you want, to help the kids understand who everyone was, you can go into more detail as you name the ancestors off:

Tonight we honor Uncle Bob, who used to tell me funny stories when I was a kid. We honor Grandma, who lived in a cabin in Kentucky where she learned to make the best biscuits I’ve ever had. We honor cousin Adam, who served in the Army and then bravely fought cancer before he crossed over…

Once you’ve named off all of the ancestors, pass the plate of food around so each family member can take a piece. These are to be used as offerings, so unless you want little Billy sneaking a bite out of his, you might want to forgo cookies in favor of plain bread, broken into chunks. After each family member has a piece of bread for their offering, everyone gets to approach the altar, one at a time. Adults should go first, followed by the oldest child, working down to the youngest.

Invite each person to leave their offering on the altar on a plate or bowl for the ancestors and send up a prayer to the gods of your family’s tradition, the universe, or your ancestors themselves. It can be as simple as, “I leave this bread as a gift for those who came before me, and thank you for being part of my family.” If you wish to name individual ancestors, you can, but it’s not necessary unless you want it to be.

For smaller children, they may need some help with putting their bread on the altar, or even with verbalizing their thoughts — it’s ok if your little one just puts their bread on the altar and says, “Thank you.

After everyone has made their offering on the altar, pass the cup around the circle. As you pass it, you can say, “I drink in honor of my family, of the gods, and of the bonds of kinship.” Take a sip, and pass it to the next person, saying, “I share this with you in the name of our ancestors.”

Once everyone has had their turn, replace the cup on the altar. Ask everyone to join hands and close their eyes for a moment.

Parent: Ancestors, family, parents, brother and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, we thank you. Thank you for joining us this Samhain night, and for helping to shape us into who we are. We honor you for that gift, and thank you once more.

Take a moment for quiet reflection, and then end the rite in whatever way works best for your family.

Pumpkins And Corn
Use symbols of the season to decorate your Samhain altar.

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This is the time of year when the nights are starting to come a lot earlier than they did just a few weeks ago, so your kids are going to be coming indoors quite a bit earlier than they did during the summer. Why not take advantage of this, and use the season to get crafty? Seasonal crafts are always fun, and with just a few simple supplies, you can create some great goodies to mark the Samhain sabbat.

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Get Outdoors

Kids on Autumn Hike
Grab a jacket and go outside!.

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Even though it's starting to get dark early, that doesn't mean you can't play outside. This time of year, when the nights are cool, is a great time to celebrate the season with a bonfire or a moonlight walk. For daytime adventures, go for a hike in the woods or visit a nearby cemetery. Be sure to use this as a teachable moment, and help your kids consider questions like "Why are the leaves changing colors?" and "Where do the animals go when it gets cold?"

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Get Silly!

Trick Or Treat!
It's ok to have fun at Samhain!.

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Let's face it, for most of us Samhain ties in with our Halloween celebrations - which can be pretty ridiculous sometimes. This time of year is often a blend of the spiritual and the secular, so don't be surprised if your kids are interested in a bit of overlap. You can celebrate Halloween and stock up on candy, and still make room for the spiritual observation of Samhain. Why not get your kids together with neighbors for a celebration? Consider one of these ideas:

  • Neighborhood Trick or Treat Party: Many communities do a scheduled trick or treat for Halloween, but you can make it even more fun by getting your neighbors together and organizing a traveling party. Instead of sitting indoors and opening the door to pass out candy, sit outside and interact with the people who live near you. Offer snacks and treats for adults as well - I have a neighbor who grills hotdogs at the end of his driveway and hands them out to anyone who walks by. Another has a cooler of refreshing adult beverages sitting on his porch, so the grownups can have a good time too.
  • Samhain Goodie Bags for Pagan Kids: Got Pagan kids coming over for your Samhain celebrations? Put together creative gift bags that celebrate your Pagan spirituality and tie it into the Samhain season.
  • Cuddle up by the fire and read together! Check out our list of 9 Spooky Poems for Samhain Night. All of them are classics worth reading at Samhain!