The history of Halloween is older than most of the countries that celebrate it. Under its playful surface, is Halloween a celebration of the darker side of spirituality, at its core a ceremonial worship of witches and demons suffused with Satanic influence? Is it what Adrienne Samuels in her article “Reinventing Halloween,” (Ebony, October, 2007) described as, “one night a year when, mystics say, the lines between the spirit and human worlds blur while infamous blokes like Jack the Ripper, Freddy and Jason wreak havoc on defenseless human souls”? Or is Halloween for kids, simply a fun night of trivial significance, but a huge commercial boon to retail businesses and candy manufacturers?
Evangelical Christians Trying to Transform Halloween
The clamor against Halloween is strongest among conservative religious groups, particularly evangelicals. In “Halloween Not for Everyone: Families Shun Day’s Connotations,” (Daily Herald, October 30, 2006), Stefanie Dell’Aringa tells the story of the Bridges family in Elgin, Illinois, who opted out of traditional Halloween for their kids. Husband Doug, a born-again Christian, views the celebration as “an abomination to God.” While neighborhood children in costume spend the night ringing door bells and collecting candy, the Bridges family stays at home watching a movie.
The Bridges’ outright refusal to participate in Halloween is not the typical behavior of evangelicals today. Many evangelical groups, Protestants and Catholics alike, are becoming increasingly involved in the celebration by trying to Christianize it. In “As goblins knock, evangelicals answer the door,” (Christian Science Monitor online, October 30, 2006), G. Jeffrey MacDonald explains that many evangelicals are using trick-or-treating as a rare opportunity to proselytize people with whom they might never otherwise come into contact.
MacDonald says that when children in Halloween costumes come to the homes of these evangelicals, the children and their parents are likely to walk away, not with a fistful of candy, but with a religious brochure or pamphlet. MacDonald reports that some evangelical publishers have even developed glow-in-the-dark tracts to entice young readers.
Animal Experts not in Favor of Dressing Dogs in Halloween Costumes
In the U.S. one of the Halloween ideas that has taken hold is dressing pets in a Halloween mask or full costume. Among the groups that would like to see this Halloween tradition disappear are pet advocates. Bark Busters, the online website for one of the United States’ largest dog training franchises, warns, “Halloween brings a fun time for most of us, but for some of our much-loved four-legged family members, Halloween can be a nightmare.” Bark Busters lists some of the major problems that can occur with dogs on Halloween.
- Dogs may attack children in costumes, even in their own family, because they do not recognize the child beneath the costume.
- Dogs may sicken and die if they get a hold of candy, especially chocolate which is highly toxic to them.
- Dogs might attack trick-or-treaters if the pets are not constrained.
- Agitated dogs can easily knock over candles, lit pumpkins, or other flammable items and start house fires.
The American Veterinary Medical Association is no fan of Halloween costumes for dogs either. In “Halloween Safety Tips for Pets,” the AVMA website advises that many pets do not like the noise associated with kids ringing doorbells. Further, many pets do not enjoy being in costume. Insisting that your dog be strapped into an uncomfortable costume with an unfamiliar odor and feel may make the pet prone to aggression or biting. The vets’ association advises pet owners to keep Halloween festivities for children and adults and separate pets from a discomforting and potentially dangerous situation.
Concerned Parents and Law Enforcement Officials Also Wary of Halloween
For concerned parents, Halloween brings special risks. Grandparents remember the scare in the 1970’s and 1980’s with poisoned candy and razor blades in apples. Even though the incidents were few, the panic that ensued spread across the US and Canada and forever tainted the once innocent activities of Halloween. Adding to these parental concerns are worries about the presence of child molesters in costume on the prowl for innocent victims.
Last October Time magazine writer Steven Gray reported on another fear aroused by the approach of Halloween. In “Can Detroit Prevent a Return of ‘Devil’s Night’?” (Time, Oct 30, 2009), Gray wrote, “Detroit has no shortage of ills, but in recent years it has made progress combating the city’s notorious tradition known as Devil’s Night, the period leading up to Halloween each year when scores of buildings would be torched.”
So-called Mischief Night has long been a ready excuse for teens over-excited by drugs and alcohol to go beyond mischief to commit major crimes and destruction of property. Mischief Night is not only the worry of inner city police. In generally peaceful Saginaw, MI, since 2006 arson has become a distressingly familiar Halloween ritual.
Banning Halloween outright is not likely to be successful. The holiday has too many supporters, including children, and its contribution to certain industries’ profit margins is a powerful incentive to keep the celebration going. Angelique Walker-Smith, head of the Greater Indianapolis Church Federation, offers a compromise. For parents and communities looking for a healthier, more affirming Halloween, she advises a fall festival or dressing children in costumes of notable historical characters and career professionals such as nurses, doctors, and fire fighters to negate the ghoulish, demonic characters of traditional Halloween.