In a few weeks, Religious Right groups, aided and abetted by their allies at the Fox News Channel, will start their annual carping about the “war on Christmas.” But before that starts, we have to get through Halloween.
Halloween has become a big business. Americans will spend billions this year to celebrate the spooky holiday. In the main, it’s all in good fun. For many of us, there’s something charming about little kids in costumes ringing doorbells for a fun-size Snickers bar. Many adults enjoy the opportunity to dress up and party as well.
But not everyone is a fan. Jehovah’s Witness and some fundamentalist Christians swear off Halloween, warning that it’s tied to the occult. TV preacher Pat Robertson has attacked the holiday repeatedly.
Of course, most Americans view the holiday quite differently and don’t take all of this talk about ghosts, demons and monsters quite so seriously. Nor do they celebrate Halloween as a religious holiday.
But the concerns are real for some people. In light of them, how should public schools react?
It’s worth pointing out that public schools are not required to acknowledge Halloween and some don’t. But many parents, perhaps fueled by nostalgia, yearn for things like Halloween parties and parades for their children. Schools cancel the holiday at their own risk, as education officials in one New Jersey town learned recently.
Rather than exile Halloween entirely, some schools are deemphasizing the holiday’s scarier (and bloodier) aspects. Kids are told to leave the violent costumes at home and opt for something less intense.
Another option is to tie the holiday to some aspect of the curriculum. For example, students could be encouraged to dress as famous figures from history or as their favorite characters from literature.
Schools could also use the opportunity to teach about Halloween. The history of this holiday is truly fascinating, and several books have been published about its origins. There is no reason why public schools can’t teach this from an academic and objective perspective.
No matter what approach they take, school officials should emphasize inclusion and employ sensitivity. Not all children may want to wear costumes and dwell on the scary stuff, and that’s all right. They can still enjoy the other aspects of the festivities.
Finally, parents have a role to play as well. If officials at a public school decide they would rather not sponsor any Halloween events, people in the community should accept that. Neighborhood groups and families can sponsor parties and events instead. And, of course, there’s always trick or treat.
With a little common sense, we can keep the spooky fun while still respecting everyone’s rights.