Thursday, October 20, 2005

Halloween: Victim of Right-Wing Madness?

It is less than a week until Halloween, a favorite among holidays for most kids. It’s a time when they are actually permitted to go door to door and beg for candy.

Trick-or-treat is a long-standing American tradition. But it also occurs in other countries, including Canada and some European nations. Most Asians do not celebrate Halloween at all.

That’s probably because Halloween is tied to early celebrations of the Catholic Church, and Christians are a rare breed in much of Asia.

But despite its long heritage in the United States, some schools and church groups have attempted to stamp out Halloween. It doesn’t matter that it’s part of American history and that it carries a wealth of folklore. To some, Halloween is evil and must be eradicated.

That sentiment is nothing new. But it seems to be gaining strength lately, in light of this country’s unfortunate swing to the far right on the political spectrum, which has left rational thought back toward the middle.

I publish a Web site dedicated to holidays, Halloween among them. I receive feedback from across the country and around the world. But I received one letter the other day that really worried me.

It was from a woman named Debby who was lamenting the fact that her young daughter’s school had decided to do away with any kind of Halloween celebration altogether because some thought it was inherently evil.

The notice said there would be no parties, no decorations, and no dressing up in costume in commemoration of the day.

Debby was saddened, because she remembered that Halloween was a fun day when she went to school. She remembered the Halloween party and dressing up in costume. She was sad for her daughter who would not be able to participate in that tradition.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about throwing parties at school. I think teachers should spend more time on task and less time showing movies and playing games. But I do realize that, if presented within the context of history and culture, parties on Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day in elementary schools can be learning experiences.

And that’s what Debby was concerned about, as well. She believes that a classroom’s Halloween party is a good opportunity to introduce the history of Celtic culture to youngsters. It presents a learning opportunity.

Sure, there are groups of misguided individuals who carry on evil practices, and who have adopted Halloween as their day for wreaking havoc. But that is not mainstream Halloween. And it should not prompt local school officials to kick Halloween out of the classroom.

I don’t know how many elementary schools across the country have principals who view Halloween as inherently evil. But I would guess there are a significant number of them. And their numbers seem to be growing, judging from some of the feedback I get from my online presentation on the subject.

But Halloween is not evil. It marks the eve of a former church holy day, All Saints’ Day. And, historically, it can be traced to the New Year celebrations of ancient Celts.

Just because a few people choose to use it for evil purposes doesn’t mean we should eliminate the much more plentiful civilized celebrations that punctuate this time of year. Schools should use Halloween as just another opportunity for learning. They should not shy away from it for reasons that do not exist.

1 comment:

Indiana Teacher said...

Dear Jerry,

I read your article in this week's Edinburgh Courier about the Halloween holiday. I too, am a teacher, who plans to "celebrate" the holiday with my students featuring a power point presentation on the history of Halloween, and also listening to some of the masterworks of classical composers (and of course a few not so classical composers for fun) who wrote music which has ties to this holiday.

I also read your article on teachers and films. It's funny you mention the Civil War Documentary, as I remember watching the entire serious in my HS American History class. (Yawn). Though I found it interesting, a few clips would've done the trick. As a teacher I value my students' time as I help to prepare them for their future. Though I do know there are some teachers who gratuitously show videos, I can assure that is not the majority. I am most grateful to have technology in my classroom, but I can also assure it is always used for active, student-involved lessons pertaining directly to my subject.

Indiana Teacher