The H-word

NoHalloween150I’m in the field of education. And I live in Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in North America. Those two qualities together means that Halloween is, rightly or not, a pretty touchy topic.

And I know Toronto, and education, are not alone in this regard. Popular stereotype usually only has orthodox Christians opposing the mass celebration/consumption of a rite that has its origins in pagan beliefs. They don’t know how to have fun! They take it too seriously! It’s just a night for kids (and adults) to dress up and have fun before winter kicks in! But plenty of people choose not to participate, or permit their children to participate, in anything relating to Halloween, for reasons secular and sacred, moral and ethical, gastronomic and medical.

From an educative perspective, schools in urban, multicultural Toronto take positions across the spectrum, but more and more schools are looking to be inclusive by being exclusive. In other words, classrooms vary, but there’s a better and better chance that mentioning Halloween, or suggesting to have kids dress up as fantastical creatures or products of their perhaps forbidden fantasies, or passing out extra sweets, or whatever, is going to have a parent complaining because it offends their beliefs, morals, or ethics. ¬†And aside from the possible offence, there are students for whom Halloween is simply culturally irrelevant. So safer to let parents make the Halloween decision at home – as teachers we can talk about it in class on a personal level, but to make it an official part of the classroom content? Or have a school Halloween dance or lunch? Better not.

Speaking as someone who hasn’t dressed up for Halloween since grade school, I sometimes think about all the holidays we celebrate in North America, and I have to say Halloween seems the most…arbitrary, or at least far removed from its origins, for most people. Choose one day and celebrate love and romance? Sure. Honour your mother? Great idea. Christmas, Easter, New Year, Hanukah, Moon Festival, Diwali – all and more have deeply rooted secular traditions or sacred beliefs that hold prominent places within the celebration.

But Halloween? I’m not against the principle of pretending to be something you’re not and getting heaps of sweet stuff. But compared to all the other holidays on the calendar, to me it sticks out like a sore thumb. If anything, it’s more like a holiday to celebrate Fun than anything else.

What’s your take on Halloween – is it dangerous, useless, innocuous, or a great holiday? If you have kids, would you allow their schools to celebrate it? Would you celebrate it yourselves if you didn’t have kids?

- Jean AAR

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9 Responses to “The H-word”

  1. Leigh says:

    It is a holiday to celebrate fun. I tend to get a little irritated that some things are turned into a “big deal.” Although I am sure that some people use Halloween to do some bad things. Just like they use football games as justification for bad behavior or riots with all its looting.

    For the most part Halloween is for kids. Sure you can find adult parties with individuals dressing up. But adults don’t need an excuse to have a good time so the only thing unique is costumes.

    I don’t work in the education system, but in health care and we are welcome to distract the kids with signs of Halloween.

  2. Leigh says:

    P.S. with obesity climbing in the pediatric population, I am not so enthused about all the candy, but ultimately I do think that the parents have to set limits. I remember the Halloween nights at my school with the fun booths, etc. Maybe that is the way to go, instead of giving out tons of candy with trick or treat. Kids still love dressing up, and I am all for that.

  3. LeeB. says:

    I love Halloween because I enjoy seeing all the costumes. It’s a chance for people to dress up and have fun — like being an actor for a day and getting paid with candy. :)

  4. maggie b. says:

    I like Halloween. I think it is a good start to the more “serious” part of the holiday season, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love the kind of silliness of it – when else can you have an inflatable Snoopy dressed up as a vampire in your front yard? And the giving (and getting) of candy is fun too.

    I am actually thankful we are not celebrating the roots of the holiday. I would have a tough time joining in then because then I would be forced to take a long look at my beliefs, what the holiday stands for and how they mesh together. What it stands for now is fun, a giant costume party for the nation, silliness, and candy.

    As far as the cultural aspects, I guess I don’t much get that. I have seen festivals all over the world and [b}not [/b]thought “they shouldn’t celebrate that. Not everyone who lives here believes in that.” If some people believe, if it is some part of their culture, than those who wish should celebrate. Those who don’t can go on about their day.

    I apply that same thought system to Halloween. It is a part of American culture, I live in America, therefore I think it is relevant. It’s like the Super Bowl. I watch, I participate because it is part of who we are as a nation. But do I give a darn? No.

  5. Lynda X says:

    Yes, I can understand why lots of Christians don’t approve of Halloween, citing its pagan origin and its association (in their minds) with the devil. By that argument, they should not celebrate Christmas. Dec. 25th was chosen by church fathers because it coincided with the celebration of Jupiter’s birday, IIRC. If you read the bible, it seems very likely that Jesus was born in the spring.

    The problem with not celebrating any tradition for fear of leaving people out or offending them, is that quickly we end up celebrating nothing. And that would be a loss. I think Halloween is a visceral holiday, which often involves laughing at death and things we fear. Sometimes, I admit, some of the displays are a little too much, but that’s always true when people are free to express themselves.

  6. Herta says:

    There was a really interesting discussion on CBC’s noon hour show, including comments from a professor at U of T. The value is in placing importance on the imagination – creativity in its purest form. Designing and decorating a pumpkin, putting together a costume, etc. etc. all allow children that most fleeting of pleasures, indulging in fantasy. No other holiday compares. Why does it have to be about religion? Or culture? Why can’t it be simply about exploring our creativity? Instead of legislating everything into oblivion, why don’t we place some value on “play”?

  7. Susan says:

    I don’t see what the fuss is all about. I don’t celebrate, but I don’t have kids.

    As for arbitrary holidays, I’d go with Valentines Day for arbitrary. I can gladly do without that one.

  8. Jean Wan says:

    Do they still give out Unicef boxes to kids on Halloween?

    @maggie b – That’s an interesting point, to prefer to celebrate a holiday sans background. I’m going to have to think about that.

    @Lynda X – “Halloween…involves laughing at things we fear.” Not sure about where you live, but that’s only true to a certain extent here in T.O.

    @Herta – Would that have been Ontario Today? I love that show, even though I now miss it every single day. Great insights.

  9. Gigi Young says:

    As a Christian, I actually never celebrated Halloween, and even today, though I enjoy the general festivities of the celebration, can’t bring myself to go as far as dressing up in costume or trick-or-treating, etc.