My Humble Take On The Hot Halloween Debate

kim-cat

The hot debate in school districts around the country is whether to “Halloween” or not. When I was in school 30 years ago, every class had a Halloween party and the younger kids got to dress up and partake in a Halloween parade throughout the school, which was a super fun treat for everyone. One teacher even had the unique tradition of making homemade donuts in class, complete with sprinkles. It was an awesome time of year. Fun for the sake of fun!

Halloween was not so fun for me, though. To be honest, the stress and anxiety started each year about October 1st when the costumes started popping up in the stores and pictures of jack-o-lanterns started donning windows. These outwards signs of the inevitable holiday filled me with dread and sadness. October 31st would soon be here. Not again!

Right around when I was six, my parents decided that Halloween was not something our family would celebrate anymore. Up to this point, we had taken part in the usual traditions (trick-or-treating, handing out candy, decorating pumpkins). My older sisters spent their childhood years doing these things. My only memory of trick-or-treating was when I was in kindergarten and I thought it was the coolest concept in the entire world. Holy buckets (of candy)! My mom had made me a homemade costume of a cat and I loved it. She even drew whiskers on my face with eyeliner!

My parents had started watching a TV program that was strongly discouraging the practices of Halloween. Coming from a strong Christian foundation, my parents had an eye-opening experience that brought them to the conclusion that Halloween was not something they wanted any of us to partake in. I remember the night exactly when we went around the house and took down the festive decorations that we had so excitedly put up a week before. One by one, they all came down and were thrown away. My simple youthful view was that they were “bad” because it was a night that Satan loved and we cannot celebrate with Satan. Pretty freaky. And pretty freakin’ confusing for a kiddo my age.

Inevitably, what followed were years of lies and shame. I was embarrassed to tell my friends and teachers that we didn’t go trick-or-treating and I was resentful to my parents that I never got to go. I lied to my classmates about what I was going to be each year, often pretending “I didn’t know yet” and the next day would lie again, acting as if I had went. I faked out my parents by acting like I didn’t care either way because I didn’t want to rock the boat or make them feel bad.

My parents meant well. Their hearts were in the right place. To this day, I don’t hold anything against them because honestly I know they were only trying to prevent exposing us to things of an evil nature. Very, very good intentions; hard to argue with their motives.

Thirteen years ago when I started teaching kindergarten, the debate to ban Halloween in the school district was in full swing. The core of the debate was that it WAS indeed a religious holiday (separation of church and state). Boy, as you can imagine, this brought up some sensitive issues for me. Things I hadn’t thought about in years. So sensitive that I found myself unable to share my experience from childhood with my colleagues.

As it stood when I had left the school after teaching five years, the 5 and 6 year olds were still allowed to have “fall parties” with costumes and treats, but it was a fight from year to year. In those five years of teaching I got to see the holiday through the eyes of these kindergarteners. It was a real gift! For weeks prior, they would savor the anticipation of wearing their costumes and the excitement about seeing what their friends would be dressed as. There was nothing but pure delight to be found when the kiddos got to walk the halls of school in their costume for the Halloween parade (which by that point had then been limited to walking through the kindergarten classes only). And of course — the candy! Cupcakes with little orange pumpkins, orange Hi-C, festive napkins.

Pure, honest, innocent fun.

No child ever mentioned Satan or the “day of the dead.” Evil never got brought up. No one ever talked about the religious origins of the holiday or the satanic worship practices. Heck, most people don’t even know they exist.

The argument is being made that if schools are not allowed to let other religious holidays be celebrated (Jesus at Christmas, menorahs, etc.) then why should this religious holiday be allowed to continue?

Here’s my (maybe too simple) answer…

Many holidays that are celebrated in our culture in the United States have SOME sort of religious origin. Heck, the entire foundation of the origins of this country are religious. Didn’t this country get founded on the concept of finding religious freedom? Over the years the religious core of the holiday has faded into the mainstream and the secular traditions have taken the spotlight. A few examples…

Valentine’s Day. Are only Catholics allowed to celebrate this day? Yes, it’s all based on St. Valentine. Same holds true for St. Patrick’s Day. The more obvious ones of course are Christmas and Easter. Yet I know practicing Jews who put up Christmas trees and atheists who dye Easter eggs.

Where’s the line between overanalyzing and respect?

Should we stop acknowledging Father’s Day in our culture because some people do not know their fathers?

Halloween and every other holiday are great opportunities to be mindful of HOW you celebrate it and what you choose to put emphasis on.

At the end of the day, every parent has to make their own call and do what’s best for their family. Jason and I have been very intentional about our Halloween traditions. Our family is intentional about steering clear of the extreme scariness and I’m not big fans of overabundance of the revealing costumes for women, so we opt out of this part of the holiday. However, we all dress up. Lucy looks forward to what we’re all going to be. Our neighborhood has a Halloween parade through the streets led by a firetruck, which is a hoot. Our best friends join us in costume for the parade, then we do some trick-or-treating, followed by a dessert first (candy, of course!) dinner together back at our house while we take turns going to the door to hand out candy to our neighbors. And don’t forget the annual viewing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Our dinner menu is usually something very fall-ish and under the category of comfort food (think shepherd’s pie or homemade soup and warm bread). It’s a night we all savor and I suspect will continue to for years to come.

Unfortunately, life is filled with endless inevitable opportunities for hardship and sadness. We’ve seen this far too many times through our work with Make-A Wish.

When the opportunity for some pure, honest, innocent fun arises, you can bet I’ll be the first in line with my pumpkin bucket to get me some of that.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Kim. Dress up and pretend are so much fun. I think Halloween is about as secular a holiday as you can get. So what if it had unhappy origins; let’s pull it into the light and reclaim it for our families for good.

    • Thanks, Lynn! I’ve heard the argument that “kids can dress up anytime, they don’t need a holiday to allow them to do this.” Honestly, I think that’s pretty lame. There’s something really cool about a collective effort, having your neighbors come to the door in costume, and the excitement that all of it generates. Yes, as families let’s reclaim it for the good that exists and leave the origins in the history books. :)

  2. Hi Kim, you know how I feel about the ridiculousness of banning Halloween parties in school. What happened to fun for fun’s sake? But I wanted to mention that your wording here “No child ever mentioned Satan or the ‘day of the dead.’ Evil never got brought up” leaves the impression that Day of the Dead is evil and it’s the exact opposite. For anyone not familiar with the custom, in the U.S. Catholic religion, it’s All Saints Day and All Souls Day. In the Mexican culture the days are meant to celebrate their deceased relatives, complete with parades, shrines, and trips to the cemetery where decorations abound. A wonderful way to honor their dead and nothing evil about it.

    • Hi Marilyn,
      Thanks so much for clarifying this!!! Honoring the dead is a beautiful tradition. Funny how’s it’s gotten turned around. Hope you have a great Halloween today!!! :) Kim

  3. I am a parent who decided to discontinue Halloween celebrations on the same grounds as Kim’s parents. Our son who is now 15 yrs old never dressed up or went trick-or-treating. But that changed in October 2008 when I nearly died.

    For some for some reason I ordered a decorative plate that says, “Until further notice celebrate everything” I had ordered and wrapped it for Christmas. I had forgotten the plate until I opened the untagged gift on Christmas morning.

    Now we celebrate everything, even Halloween.

    • I LOVE this… “Until further notice celebrate everything.” What a good reminder!!!! Hope you have a great Halloween… and EVERYDAY!

  4. This post was such a personal share, thank you. A good reminder to celebrate and love the focus on celebrating as a family. Which is interesting to me because we just are not really Halloween folks.

    My boys decided two years ago to no longer trick or treat. Living in the woods of camp we have never had a neighborhood. Also my husband growing up in New Zealand did not have a history of Halloween either. We had visited some local churches trunk or treats and some years we visited family and enjoyed their neighborhoods but it has never been a big tradition for us. My youngest at most has visited 15 houses in his 11 years. He is cool with it. Lots of fun costumes, just not into trick or treating. He usually gives the candy to his brother. He also declared two years ago he would rather have family Taco Bell night. So we did, in costume. Our favorite part of Halloween is decorating pumpkins and we have enjoyed costumes throughout the years. But it just wasn’t our holiday. My boys still are allowed to dress up at school but it is not their thing. We did finger mustaches last year. But that was it. And they were cool with it.
    We are Thanksgiving folks. We love it! A holiday focused on family, food and fun. We love laughing together around the kitchen table. It’s just us. I am good with it. Sometimes I worry because I wonder if my boys are missing out on something. But then I stop and realize they are happy kids.

    This weekend we were shopping at Walmart and the boys saw Christmas stuff out. They were mad. They like November, Thanksgiving and enjoying the fall season. We are weird in our own wonderful way. And I have learned to break the rules a bit and let that be my focus.
    Jen

    • I LOVE that you guys march to the beat of YOUR family, without trying to force anything. Who says you HAVE to love Halloween?! Or dress up? Thanksgiving is SO overlooked – as the Christmas trees up so early. Have a great Taco Bell night!!! Thanks for sharing this!!

  5. Libby says:

    Great post, Kim and great responses with neat ideas. Halloween is not my favorite holiday as an adult but I loved it as a child. I was just telling my husband I’m not looking forward to trick or treating this year. It seems like a lot of work and I’m not feeling very festive. Thanks for reminding me why I should put in the effort– to have fun and make memories!

  6. Kim,
    Thank you for saying what I have thought for year about how the fun of all the holiday are being shown as being negative and we all use to enjoy the different times of year so much as children. Hopefully people will read this and remember the fun they had as children and let the new generation enjoy the holidays too.

  7. ginny wilkerson says:

    Hey! I’m just going to be one who is different! (I’m one of the 30 something percent that do not think we should celebrate Halloween). It all has to do with celebrations in general. What are celebrations and what are collective celebrations?
    There are cultural celebrations that represent history, such as President’s day, or even Thanksgiving day (which I know many families that are not even “thankful” on that day). There’s also birthdays and anniversaries, etc.but most of the time, it’s usually a day to 1)eat 2)to sing songs 3)to dance 4)to join family5)to act out an event by doing a play or something like that,6)to drink strong beverages or 7) to specifically have activities just for children and make them the center of attention and festivities.
    I like costumes ahd it’s really fun to dress up and I like the idea of getting out in the neighborhood, which is what sort of characterizes Halloween as being fun.
    I think if Christians can’t think of anyway to do get out into the community, we are borrowing from a pagan culture because we don’t have any ideas of our own. We must not be very creative or maybe we’ve been duped. Do you think maybe God has a plan for holidays and celebrations like He has a plan for salvation? I think that’s why there are SEVEN feasts mentioned in the Bible and they start in the spring and go through the fall and teach awesome truths about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Why not do what God says. He has really great ideas for getting folks together.

  8. Connie says:

    Great post Kim!!!
    I admire your strength for writing it and your courage to share it with your readers. Your family sure has some fun traditions going and it sounds like you are recouping a portion of your childhood in doing so. Thanks again for sharing, I really enjoyed reading it :)