* Editor’s note: This column originally ran on Oct. 27, 2004
Once again, political correctness runs amok. A Washington school district has banned Halloween parties at school. Despite protests from parents, the Pullayup School Board held firm: no costumes, no cookies, not a single stinkin’ candy corn on campus.
The trustees claimed Halloween is offensive to Wiccans. However, Lisa Lawrence, local Wiccan high priestess, told the Associated Press that while Wiccans don’t appreciate the stereotypical images of ugly old witches, they aren’t the only ones ridiculed on Halloween. They can deal with it. She labeled the banning of Halloween “ridiculous.”
The AP story explained that Halloween, called Samhain by Pagans, has its origins in the ancient Pagan belief that on October 31 (the eve of the Pagan new year), the barriers between the living and the dead are thinnest, and dead ancestors might return for a visit. The early Pagans appeased their departed kin with a feast. How this evolved into dressing up like SpongeBob SquarePants and scampering through the neighborhood begging for candy is anyone’s guess, but surely the origins of the American version of Halloween revolve around the realization that there’s money to be made on costumes and candy. Unless you worship the almighty buck, there’s not much religion to be found there, folks.
It wasn’t merely a newfound sensitivity to Wiccans that persuaded the trustees to ban Halloween, however. A district spokeswoman said Halloween costumes “take the focus away from learning.” Hmmm. Wonder if that logic will extend to wearing cheerleading outfits and football jerseys to school on game days? Yeah. So much for that argument.
The real reason for canceling Halloween, I suspect, was non-Pagan pressure to ban the observation of Halloween at school on religious grounds, just like Christmas and Easter. Well, fair’s fair, I suppose. That’s the beauty of democracy — either it protects everyone or it protects no one. At least everyone’s equally miserable now.
But the line in the story that really caught my attention was Lawrence’s comment, “they want to take every bit of fun away from these kids and turn them into testing machines.” How true. There’s no joy in learning anymore. It’s all about jumping through hoops, meeting benchmarks, passing tests.
Childhood has become so joyless. By middle school, we’re already pressuring kids to start thinking about college, to study for jobs that will probably be outsourced by the time they graduate anyway. We’re teaching kids that life is about the destination, not the path. We know this isn’t true, but we’re teaching them that anyway.
Childhood was so much more fun “back then.” Kids can no longer ride their bikes around town and explore on their own. They might be abducted. No more teeter-totters. Someone might get hurt. There’d be a lawsuit. No drippy sweet Slurpee on a hot day. Red dye causes cancer. Forget playing ball on the corner after school. There’s three hours of homework (and you better get straight A’s!), and soccer/piano/ballet practice, and when you finally do sit down to dinner with your equally stressed and over-booked parents, you hear all about the latest nuclear threat or suicide bombing.
Life is stressful enough for kids. Couldn’t we leave dwindling childhood joys be? True, religion has no place at school. But wearing a Cinderella costume to school will no more turn a kid Pagan than singing “O Christmas Tree” will send him running to church. To kids, it’s all just fun and a welcome break from benchmarks and textbooks. It’s adults who freak out and muck it all up.
As for the all-important learning environment, in the larger scheme of things, will it really make that much difference if, for one afternoon, kids dress up like Batman, munch on pumpkin cookies and goof off for a bit? Because if it does, we’re in a lot more trouble than we realize. What point is there in living if we squeeze all the fun out of it? Are we raising a generation of drones?
As for those who are convinced that Halloween is Satanic, and their children must be protected from it, consider this: if we shelter our children from every single thing that goes against our beliefs, how will they learn to deal with these things when they’re grown? We might succeed in raising them in plastic bubbles, but how will they cope when life pulls out its sharp needle?
The most protected, well-prepared child is not the one who has never been exposed to a danger, but the one who recognizes it and says, “I choose not to participate.” This is a child who will know the difference between a devil costume and Beelzebub himself. Maybe it’s adults who have trouble making that distinction. Moreover, in a world filled with very real dangers, from AIDS to terrorism to child molesters, our kids have enough to be afraid of without fearing Halloween too.
— Email Debra DeAngelo, winner of the 2012 Best Serious Column award in the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest, at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com