Trick or Treat? Should English Language Teachers Welcome Halloween into the Classroom?

I recently came across a blog post by an upset parent in Australia who didn’t want to celebrate Halloween since it wasn’t a custom she had grown up with. Her children along with some others in the neighborhood wanted to adopt some of the customs they had become acquainted with (through films, the Internet, or some other means not specified). It got me thinking about whether holidays limited to one or a few English-speaking countries should be addressed in all ESL and EFL classrooms.

Even in mainstream American society, Halloween raises some controversy. Sure, millions of dollars are spent every year on Halloween candy, costumes, and festivities, but not all American households celebrate this holiday. Some flat out reject it for religious reasons. Maybe that’s reason enough to exercise caution in addressing Halloween in the classroom.  

I’d argue that particularly in those English-speaking countries where Halloween is a recognized and practiced holiday, language learners should be acquainted with some of the customs. This can be done in different ways and to different degrees, being mindful of learners’ ages and respectful of their personal beliefs. A costume party isn’t required to familiarize students with the holiday, its symbols, and its practices. Films, short stories, news articles, and photographs can all be used to create a language lesson. The goal isn’t to force students to embrace the holiday, but rather to understand it and appreciate its place in the host culture. The material shared should perform double duty, facilitating a culture lesson and a language lesson.

There’s also value in addressing Halloween in EFL and ESL classrooms in countries where this holiday isn’t generally practiced. Why? Because we’re teaching English, and English is part of global communication. The fact is that a significant number of English-speakers do celebrate Halloween, so to ignore the holiday in our classrooms would essentially leave students in the dark about a popular cultural practice in the English-speaking world. Language and culture are closely related. Learning about different practices among English-speaking countries gives English language learners a stronger foundation on which to build communication skills. I say Halloween should be allowed into ESL and EFL classrooms if only for the sake of raising awareness of popular customs. There are many Englishes and English-speaking cultures in this world, and greater exposure increases a person’s ability to function in the international community.


Please check back soon for some suggestions for Halloween activities.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. rliberni says:

    Interesting article. I had a student in London a few years ago who knew nothing whatsoever about Halloween and imagine the shock she and her very young children got when a group of trick or treaters turned up at her door dressed as monsters and ghosts!! They were terrified!

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