An elementary school in Niantic, CT has canceled its Hallowe’en festivities citing a number of reasons, including “safety concerns” as well as “respect for religious and cultural beliefs.” That means no costume parade (a practice that has a long tradition in many American schools, including the one I went to in central NY), and no costumes or trick or treating allowed on school grounds. A report from a news outlet based in Albany, NY says that the decision is causing controversy among parents in this Connecticut community. One parent said it’s an overreaction and a “knee-jerk decision.” Some parents support the new rules, with one saying “I would say that it’s not a bad decision, it’s right because somebody could dress up and hurt the kids and hurt the parents as well,” (apparently citing the recent crazy clown sightings–an ABC news article about the Niantic school events also cites Target stores pulling clown costume and masks from shelves this year).
Of course, canceling Hallowe’en in nothing new in the United States; it’s been happening for years in conservative religious communities, and this phenomenon was even parodied to hilarious effect a number of years ago in the animated series King of the Hill, set in a small town in Texas (Hank Hill, proud of his plans for creating a Haunted House attraction for the kids, is thwarted by town officials who decide to cancel the festivities and have an evangelical themed attraction instead). But to see this occur in what we normally think of as more liberal-minded New England states (where we like to celebrate our autumnal holidays with color and gusto, with parties as bright as our autumn leaves and parties as juicy as our apples!) is an alarming trend.
The reference to “religious and cultural beliefs” is, naturally, what concerns us here. Because apparently the fact that Hallowe’en traditions in the United States are based mostly in Christian tradition (All Soul’s Night is a Christian holiday that occurs the night before All Saint’s Day), as well as secular customs (detailed in my older but goodie article for The Witches’ Voce website, “You Call it Hallowe’en, We Call it Samhain”), does not occur to those who want to cancel the holiday due to “religious” reasons. Thanks to many articles news media in recent years, many people now understand that Samhain is a festival celebrated by modern witches and that there is an overlap with Hallowe’en.
But prior to that, media was full of articles about the alarming “occult revival” taking place during the 196os and 1970s, and movies like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, etc., as well as made-for-TV trash like Satan’s School for Girls or The Initiation of Sarah, laid the ground for people to be suspicious of modern day pagan and occult based beliefs or practices. More recently, the rise of Wicca and other earth-based spirituality has, for many, created an image of modern witchcraft as a benevolent and life-affirming oath. (And, well, movies like The Craft both helped and hindered that positive PR) Movies aside, the idea that Hallowe’en is associated with a pagan holiday does not sit well with those people who want our schools to be Christian enclaves; but the irony is that such people will use the rhetoric of “separation of church and state” (the ACLU responded to a court case ruling related to this trend) to keep a “pagan religious holiday” out of our schools. Let’s not mince words; it is evangelical Christians that are demonizing Hallowe’en, and we have seen the impact of the attempts to impose legislation that specifically targets neo-pagan and Wicca-based activities. This is religious persecution. And still a violation of the separation of church and state, because it is motivated by a desire to have Christianity dominate the social discourse.
So: one religion is trying to demonize another religion in the name of “respect” huh? (though I find it difficult to understand how banning costume parades and trick or treating will accomplish anything productive) The hypocrisy, it burns! Do you live in a community where Hallowe’en is frowned upon?