Dispelling the magic of Halloween

News & Politics

Halloween is, at best, a mixed blessing of a holiday. Sure, dressing up is great, and sure, kids love the free-for-all cavalcade of avarice and sugar, but the end of October has long since become yet another feeble marketing holiday, stripped of any meaning or import.

So bring in the protesters, already! The Christian Science Monitor reports today that school principals around the country are cancelling the costumes because of complaints from parents and other groups.

Bowing to concerns of a wide range of groups -- from Christians who consider Halloween to have pagan or satanic overtones to church-state separatists who object to the holiday's religious roots -- some elementary schools are canceling their customary costume parades and Halloween celebrations.
In their place are "Fall-o-ween" events, which take note of harvest and seasonal change but that eliminate all things spooky -- or controversial.
This is such an interesting development. It's not a clear-cut case of "look at those Christian wackos," the ones who boycott Harry Potter for endorsing Satanism (though clearly they're involved). Nor is it completely the doing of those who would oppose the All Hallow's Eve aspect of Halloween, itself a Christian reclamation of what began as a Celtic pagan ritual on Samhain Eve.

So the Christian right is opposed to Halloween for being anti-Christian. The antidisestablishment left is opposed to Halloween for being pro-Christian. Clearly, there are many good reasons to oppose Halloween, but for my money, the best of them stem from the sheer economic muscle the candy and costume industries have put behind the event. The Monitor says Halloween is a $3.3 billion dollar business these days, much of which goes to promoting deadly junk food and cheap, toxic, disposable costumes and accessories.

But there's more to the event than just another outlet for our increasingly disposable culture. As Eric Dietrich, a Binghamton University philosophy professor, tells the Monitor:
"Halloween is a flare-up of huge social problems we're facing," he says. "If you show me a United States with no holiday where you can be creatively weird, I will show you a United States with no hope."
I would gladly welcome a fall/harvest celebration around this time. What a powerful antidote to mini-Snickers bars, reminding children of the seasons, of our relation to food as it grows naturally, not as it's shipped transnationally to provide us with year-round flavorless, nutritionless produce and processed food byproducts.

But Dietrich makes a valid point; giving in to knee-jerk protests -- from the left as much as the right -- against Halloween does more than send a message to the increasing power of fringe voices in our putatively democratic society. It discourages creativity and hinders kids from developing an identity, even if that identity, on this particular day, means choosing the most desirable of many mass-produced and mass-marketed disposable identities.

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