My hometown banned Halloween. It’s true! Fox News told me!
Well, ok, it isn’t actually true. What happened was two of the town’s four elementary schools adopted a policy of no Halloween costumes and parties during the school day, bringing them into line with something the other two elementary schools a number of years ago. So now, on the 31st, no Kindergarten through fourth graders in public school in Newington, CT shall attend school in costumes or celebrate Halloween.
And that’s a bit sad.
But honestly, it’s just a bit.
But before we get into my sadness, let’s just get a bit accurate, shall we?
First, as noted above, the town did not cancel Halloween. Trick or treating is still allowed. Shock troops will not descend on the children of my hometown should they venture out with a pillowcase to collect candy door to door. The town has not even cancelled its town-approved/encouraged/funded (?) events. The center of town trick or treating thing is still doing. So let’s stop pretending that the town government is going door to door and burning costumes before screaming, weeping kids and their brave, stoic, but broken hearted parents.
Second, the kids will still be having fun on Friday. It’ll just be called a Fall or Harvest Festival instead of a Halloween party. I know there’s nothing we hate as a nation more than still getting to do what we want but having to call it something different (see also: Happy Holidays), but take a moment to really consider a child in Newington’s day Friday. The classic 31st goes this way: school normally for most of the day, then the last hour or so there is candy, other treats, games, running around, and general merriment while wearing costumes followed by going home and trick or treating. The “new” 31st goes this way: school normally for most of the day, then the last hour or so there is candy, other treats, games, running around, and general merriment while NOT wearing costumes followed by going home, putting on a costume and going out to trick or treat. Spot the difference? The TWO differences? No costume, no “Happy Halloween.”
Not to be overly flip, but, shock shock, horror horror, clutch my pearls, swoon.
(Ok, that’s a bit flip.)
Next, let’s be clear why this is happening. Or rather who it is happening for. And who it isn’t.
We’ll begin with who does not object to Halloween typically. 1.) Hindus. Indians of the Hindu faith are a small but significant population in Newington, but they do not object to Halloween. 2.) Muslims. If my demographics are accurate, there are not a lot of Muslims in Newington, but those that are there do not traditionally have an issue with Halloween. 3.) Peoples of the Jewish faith. They’re down with All Hallow’s Eve. 4.) Atheists. They do not care. At all. 5.) Pagans. It’s actually a holiday to them, not just an excuse to dress up scary or super hero-y. 5.) Liberals. It’s basically the redistribution of wealth in candy form, right?
These are the groups we typically point to when we shout “POLITICAL CORRECTNESS RUN AMOK!” But they are not the ones who object to Halloween. So holster that kneejerk reaction.
Here’s who does: 1.) Very fundamentalist Christians. They consider the holiday to be a celebration of Paganism, evil, the devil, or some combination therein. 2.) Jehovah’s Witnesses. Celebrations of holidays of any kind including Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc are considered idol worship and thus forbidden for Witnesses. Additionally, they have some of the same concerns as the extreme fundamentalists regarding evil and such (see: the disclaimer before Michael Jackson’s Thriller video).
(On a sidenote: there is some debate about whether Witnesses are Christians or not in much the same way there is some debate about Mormons. If the price of admission in Christianity is believing in Christ’s divinity—and to be clear, it is—then both groups are. Debate over.)
So, these are Christians objections, not immigrants, not Muslims, not secularists or humanists. Just keep that in mind. You can still feel free to criticize of course, just aim it in the right direction.
Finally, let’s get back to my sadness. May daughter, who is three and for the first time is really into Halloween, does not get to wear her costume to pre-school this Friday (she does not attend pre-school in Newington for the record, so, OH NO, it’s happening everywhere!!!!!!!!). And, to be honest, it bums me out a little bit. I love Halloween and I love kids loving it. My wife and I are both a little down that we will not get to see my daughter and her friends delighting in the day.
But the thing is, my daughter will still get to trick or treat. She will still get to dress up. She will still have fun.
On the flip side, if I take you back to the late 80’s when Newingtonites still celebrated Halloween in schools like good wholesome Americans, you will see a boy, a friend of mine, sitting in the front row of a classroom, by himself, half-heartedly eating a cupcake and reading a chapter book while the rest of his classmates screamed, cheered, and cavorted in costumes. The boy was a Jehovah’s Witness and could not partake. So he sat alone.
That’s screwed up, isn’t it? That’s heartbreaking. Yes, he was the only one, but why oh why would you wish that on any 8 year old. Serious, why? Tradition is one thing, but if we can drop a name and a costume from a school day and that 8 year old and others like him get to play games, and scream, and run around, is that “sacrifice” really too much for you? Can you really not handle that difference between now and when we were kids?
It is always sad for at least some group when traditions change; when the way it was gives way to how it is. But often, and this is one such time, it signals a chance for others to be involved, to be included, to start a brand new, different, but still fun and great tradition.
So, 30-something (and above) year old you: yes, it’s a damn shame we cannot just celebrate Halloween like we used to. But what’s worse, you’re disappointment about things changing or another year a host of 8 year olds do not get to be a part of the fun the rest of their classmates do? When we think of it that way, does a name change and costume loss really seem so horrible, so political correctness is making us soft proving? Or does it seem, I don’t know, kind of like a nice thing to do for someone who probably is already very aware of how his faith distances him from most of his friends?