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History - A serving of soul food

What it's all about

Halloween is the perfect occasion to study the Middle Ages. As part of a topic called Extreme Childhood, my class studied the history of Britain through the experiences of children in each era and compared them with life today. They looked at modern Halloween practice before tracing its origins to the Middle Ages, writes Chris Fenton.

The children discussed parties, costumes and goody bags, but had no idea why each year on 31 October they dressed up, went out and in effect demanded treats from neighbours.

I explained the beginnings of trick or treat by showing images of life for the poor in the Middle Ages. We discussed taxes, the Domesday Book and the fact that paupers survived on very little at all, most of which was given over in taxes. We looked at pauper houses and clothing.

Halloween is believed to have started on All Souls' Day (2 November) when the poor would beg for food from wealthier people in return for praying for the souls of their dead. Wealthier families would bake soul cakes (a simple oat and ginger biscuit) and give them to the poor and destitute in return for prayers. Souling, as it was known, became an annual event and was the precursor to modern trick-or-treating.

We went on to bake our own soul cakes and sold them to the rest of the school. The proceeds went to Save the Children, so the tradition of helping the less fortunate was continued.

What else?

Explore life in the Middle Ages with a PowerPoint from buxtocl. bit.lytesMiddleAges. Or compare life in medieval England to the present day with alainechristian's presentation. bit.lytesMedieval.

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