Let me begin by stating my obvious bias, I love Halloween. I like scary stories, I love pumpkin spice lattes, fake cobwebs, classic horror movies, pumpkin carving, and ghoulish skeletons. My favorite Halloween pastime is handing out candy, longing for the day when I can take my own children trick-or-treating.
For the past several years, however, the long lines of eager children are diminishing as parents take their kids to the local megachurches for nondenominational harvest festivals or skip it entirely. Halloween is often on a school night, why bother with the hassle?
There’s also the increasing adultizing of Halloween, where parents prefer to drop the kids off with friends (or the church) so they can go to a party.
I’m being harsh, I know, but only because it’s necessary. Halloween is under assault. Universities, for years, have decree what costumes are acceptable for students to wear to private parties; public schools have increasingly banned the wearing of costumes and classroom parties on top of having renamed the day “fall festival” or “black-and-orange day” or “crazy sock day.”
This sanitization is a mix of increasing religious diversity, vocal fundamentalism, Marxist social justice, and just plain old mean-spiritedness.
A Brief History of Halloween
Halloween, like Christmas, has Celtic-pagan roots with a Christian flare. Halloween or, All Hallow’s Eve is a Christianized version of Samhain, which translates to Summer’s End. European pagans believed it was when the gods, ghosts, and other spirits drew close to the earth and could be seen by mortals. The Romans conquered the Celts and incorporated their own festivals celebrating the harvest and the passing of the dead—this is cultural synthesis.
Enter the Christians, specifically the Catholic Church, and the creation of All Saint’s Day, a day set aside for the celebration of those known and unknown saints who have attained Heaven’s Glory. This made the night before All Saint’s Day a holy night, a hallowed evening. The Middle Ages brought about further synthesis, crafting the Western identity in its pressure cooker.
Protestantism brought that to its end and Puritan America never celebrated Halloween as a national holiday, until the 20th Century. Halloween inevitably became secularized as a way to curb crime, like vandalism, assault—even accidental murder—by encouraging costume parades, carnivals, and trick-or-treating.
Trick-or-Treating is believed to be a throwback to the Medieval English celebrations of All Soul’s Day (November 2nd) when the poor went around to richer households and asked for food and drink in exchange for prayers for the dead. This was called “souling.”
Other practices include the Scottish/Irish “guising” or dressing up and offering jokes, poems, songs and other “tricks” in exchange for ale and food. These traditions were brought to us by Scottish and Irish immigrants where it was celebrated in their communities. Although curtailed by sugar rationing during WWII, Halloween celebrations went on and then expanded in the 1950s with the baby boom and suburbia.
Halloween as Rebellion
Of all cherished childhood memories, I can vividly recall the excitement of Halloween on a school day. It meant something out of the ordinary, something different, something rebellious in nature—we wore costumes to school; had contests and classroom parties. After school we got little personal pizzas for dinner then met up with neighborhood kids for a few hours of trick-or-treating; my 9pm bedtime was stretched to 11pm and my parents let me eat candy well into the night, even though I had school the next day. For children, this controlled chaos is magical. Sanctioned by parents, accepted by society, it is a moment of sanctified risk taking.
Although seemingly inconsequential, this safe, even gentle rebellion against daily norms is a time when children have a chance at catharsis. On the symbolic level, Halloween is a chance to face ancient fears like the dark, the cold, and winter’s barrenness. For one day a year we turn quiet school rooms and suburban streets into haunting grounds, we put on the faces of those we idolize, or things we fear. We stay up late in spite of logical convention. We tell tales of terror and giggle when we walk away from a haunted house. Even adults earn a moment of catharsis as they enjoy seeing kids, be kids.
It’s a shout at the universe—we’re not afraid. We know spring will be back, the cold will vanish, and the sun will rise. It seems silly to say in a time of modern heating, cooling, and light. But, where modern amenities give logical peace of mind, the soul still quakes.
Take Wartime Halloween for example. Even in the midst of sugar rationing, high alert, and heartbreaking news from the fronts, people still managed to cobble together Halloween celebrations. Pranking was still popular and trick-or-treating really hadn’t come into its own at this point, yet people made due, because they needed that release. That doesn’t mean traditions didn’t change: many cities banned Halloween, others, like Pittsfield Massachusetts had children take “pledges to support the soldiers and sailors abroad by not engaging in Halloween vandalism.” The children “vowed to ‘back our fighting men by observing Halloween as they would want me to. I will share in good, clean fun and merriment, fight against waste and damage!’”
As America In WWII reveals, “when kids did walk door to door, people gave what they could. ‘Dressed in makeshift costumes, a bunch of 8-year-olds roamed the neighborhood—a block each evening for three nights until 7:30 p.m. or so…,’ recalled Nancy Hoag of her childhood days in Racine, Wisconsin. ‘We weren’t only given candy but often invited in to visit with the moms and dads whose loved ones were serving our country.’ Small parties, parades, and costuming still went on, even as WWII rationing tightened, people pooled resources and hosted get-togethers to play games. In a time when you may receive news that your son has died for a spit of land in France or been lost at sea, offering neighborhood children a slice of wartime cake is a great act of defiance to those elements of darkness clouding your thoughts every single day.
Invasion of the Scolds
Scolds exists, they’re always going to exist, but in the 21st century they’ve become exceedingly powerful. Political correctness is the simplest answer to why Halloween is under assault, but that too easily dismisses other culprits, most of them of a Christian bent, who think Halloween is a veneration of the devil.
As I showed above, that’s simply not true. But Fundamentalists aren’t the only religious folks to object to Halloween, according to Beliefnet, “Muslims consider Halloween haram (forbidden), since they believe it represents the “shaytan,” or devil, and also because it is a non-Muslim holiday. Likewise, religiously observant Jews discourage Halloween celebrations because of the holiday’s Christian and pagan (and therefore non-Jewish) roots.”
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the woke-scolds: cultural appropriation is usually their argument of choice when it comes to Halloween. Universities are particularly guilty of forcing this anti-fun message, giving students unasked and unwanted advice on what they should and shouldn’t wear to frat parties, then moving to outright banning the costumes all together.
Leftists, well known for their hashtag campaigns, have pushed the #NotYourCostume in a lame attempt to scold anyone who decides to dress up at an Indian. They’ve zeroed in on the tribal costumes as the stereotyping of indigenous populations in particular. The cry of “it’s a culture, not a costume” grows louder and louder each passing Halloween.
In the past several years, political correctness has allowed for strange bedfellows. Fundamentalists Christians, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and social justice leftists have joined together to create a pack of “concerned citizens.” They are united in their eye-rolling belief that they ought to be comfortable—that is, the opposite of offended. Innocent fun, charm, and childish make-believe are factors they choose to ignore. From their point of view, by partaking in the costuming you’re participating in evil, whether that’s devilry, pagan worship, or racism.
Covid-19 has become the new bludgeon by which scolds are allowed to pummel with impunity. It should come as no surprise that LA County has decided to ban trick-or-treating. This is on top of the fact that the LAPD has been sent to people’s home to break-up house parties because they’re violating heath codes. Although, as it turns out, people don’t like it when you “ban” things in a “free country.” Naturally, LA County walked it back, stating that the banning of trick-or-treating was just a recommendation. I eagerly await LA’s ban on Thanksgiving and subsequent walk-back the next day.
Recommendations aside, there is something really spooky going on here. And it’s that 2020 has been wasted away by inept leaders, lying or mistaking experts, and opportunistic fear mongers. We’ve been sold a bill of goods, and now we’ve paid so much for it, that few are willing to stick their heads up and state that truth: covid-19 isn’t as deadly as anyone thought, social distancing and masks don’t really work and we should demand our rights back from the opportunistic tyrants who took them.
Halloween, like Independence Day, now faces its most difficult challenge. More than just woke-scolds and religious zealots have Halloween fun in their crosshairs; now it’s the educated expert and the maternalistic governor looking out for you by ensuring you remain a good, but frightened and subdued, little citizen.
I have hope, of course. They banned—er, recommended against, celebrating the 4th of July and yet it featured some of the most spectacular displays I’ve seen in a long time. Although sometimes, Americans disappoint, they make up for it by exceeding expectation when you don’t expect it. It’s quite possible that this Halloween, on a Saturday this year, will be the delightful American tradition it’s always been, snubbing those who would ban it.
Like Apple Pie and Baseball
Halloween’s roots are Celtic, but when the Scots and Irish brought it to our shores, I doubt they expected it would explode into the massive tradition it is today. Like all American traditions, it has a kernel of defiance within, a ribald decadence, even a bit of lighthearted charity. It’s become a barometer of wealth—as Americans have more disposable income, they choose to share it in the form of Snickers and Kit-Kats. There’s something exceedingly American about children, weighed down by overflowing candy buckets, waving flashlights and glow sticks wildly, joyfully giggling rebellion to the dark.
This year has been extremely anxiety inducing. From covid19, the subsequent lockdowns, loss of rights, the Antifa-BLM riots, and the contentious election cycle—I understand. For some, especially those afraid of covid, or whose livelihoods have been destroyed by faceless health officials, or burned by black-bloc rioters, this year is dark and may get darker.
My advice is to take your kids trick-or-treating. Thankfully accept candy from people with masks or without, with Biden signs or Trump signs, of faith or not. By doing so, you reenact a ritual of defiance.