If you’re raising kids in a Pagan tradition, it can sometimes be hard to find rituals and ceremonies that are both age appropriate and celebrate the aspects of the particular Sabbat. Factor in that small children tend to have a shorter attention span, and the days of standing in a circle for an hour watching someone chant are pretty much out of reach. That said, there are plenty of ways you can celebrate the different Sabbats with your children.
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.
One of the best ways to have a successful ritual with small children is to do the prep work ahead of time. This means that instead of doing stuff while they stand there fidgeting and playing with their shoelaces, you can work in advance. For starters, if your family doesn’t have an altar for Samhain yet, set it up before you begin. Better yet, let the kids help you put things on it.
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.
If your tradition requires you to cast a circle, do so now. Keep in mind that not all traditions do so, however.
Gather your family around the altar, and ask each child to stand quietly for a moment. You can use the word “meditate” if your kids know what that means, but otherwise just ask them 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 - and that happens a lot - that’s okay. They can simply think about the family they have now, and all the living people who are important to them.
A quick note here: if your child has recently lost a pet, feel free to encourage them to think about that deceased pet. Fido and Fluffy were just as much a part of your family as anyone, and if it comforts your child to think of them at Samhain, let them do so. You may even wish to put your deceased pet’s photo on the altar next to Grandma and Uncle Bob.
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 whom 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 (or whatever) 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. As they do - and here’s where you get to lead by example - ask them to 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.
Be sure to read about: Honoring the Ancestors When You're Adopted
For more seasonal rituals you can perform with children, be sure to read: Pagan Rituals for Families With Children