Religion

The Passion of the Pumpkin

Who killed Halloween?

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Say a prayer, a spell, or a demonic incantation for Halloween. This October, as in past Octobers, many schools are refusing to celebrate the holiday. Others have recast it as "Fall-o-Ween" or "Orange and Black Day" or, in words carefully calibrated to be as generic as possible, the "Fall Festival." In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, one councilman—nominally a Republican, but spiritually a member of the Everything Not Prohibited Is Compulsory Party—has reacted with a resolution to require his county's schools to hold Halloween parties.

I don't approve of his solution, but I understand his aggravation. The War on Halloween, as The Denver Post's David Harsanyi has dubbed it, unites some of the most obnoxious elements of the left, the right, and the center—a Halloween coalition of Halloween-haters. Lined up like that, they demonstrate the most essential fact about the culture war. It doesn't really pit the left against the right. It pits the culture warriors against everyone else.

So who's trying to drive the devil from the public square? First there are the fundamentalists. Not all the fundamentalists—just the ones who think All Hallows Eve is Satan's annual pledge drive. Some of them shun the holiday altogether. Some create alternative institutions, such as hell houses, which are what you get if you mash-up a Jonathan Edwards sermon with a conventional haunted house. The craftiest ones infiltrate the festivities, giving trick-or-treaters Jack Chick comic-book tracts with their sweets. The Chickites hate Halloween with a passion they ordinarily reserve for Ouija boards and Jesuits, but they recognize the holiday as a "once-a-year witnessing opportunity."

All of which is fine and good. Halloween is all about fear, and a solid fire-and-brimstone sermon is as chilling as a Hammer horror film festival. But while hard-core Christians enrich our culture with their creepy alternative Halloweens, they also pressure officials to take the holiday away from everyone else, at least during school hours.

So do the witches. Not all the witches—just the ones who think All Hallows Eve is the church's annual minstrel show. When the Puyallup School District in Washington state banned in-school Halloween celebrations three years ago, one of the justifications it offered was the possibility that real witches would be offended. "Witches with pointy noses and things like that are not respective symbols of the Wiccan religion," a spokesperson told KOMO-TV, "and so we want to be respectful of that." A few years earlier, the station reported, a school official declared in an internal email that "administrators should not tolerate such inappropriate stereotyping (images such as Witches on flying brooms, stirring cauldrons, casting spells, or with long noses and pointed hats) and instead address them as you would hurtful stereotypes of any other minority."

Wiccans have lodged actual complaints to that effect, not just in Puyallup but in other West Coast communities. But I can't imagine that this opinion is popular in the larger world of witchcraft. I know several Wiccans myself, and some of them sometimes give the impression that they only joined up for the Halloween parties. Besides, most modern witches are aware that their religion isn't really a remnant from the old times: It was probably invented in the 1950s, and it didn't really take on its current characteristics until a bunch of feminists, environmentalists, and science fiction fans got involved in the '70s. That "inappropriate stereotyping" that set off the Puyallup official is actually older than the faith itself.

So the anti-Halloween front includes a minority branch of Christianity and a minority branch of Wicca. Sometimes it brings in easily affronted people of other religious orientations, including Muslims and militant atheists. But the alliance's most important members are driven by fear, not faith. They're the key to the coalition: the risk-averse bureaucrats.

Where the fundamentalists would like to see Halloween eliminated entirely and the Wiccans would replace it with a two-day teach-in about the Burning Times, the bureaucrats merely want to drain all the blood from it, eliminating anything that might offend somebody or give a parent something to worry about. Many would be happy to keep Halloween around as long as the witches wear bicycle helmets instead of dangerously pointy hats. Barring that, they'll sadly sacrifice a school's celebrations altogether, suggesting softly as they wield the knife that it's all for the best, really; all those costumes and candies were distracting the kids from their lessons. (The Washington Post reports that the anti-Halloween trend has been "accelerated" by No Child Left Behind, since holiday parties do nothing to prepare students for standardized tests. A few weeks after he exorcised Halloween from the Puyallup curriculum, the local superintendent declared that what really "resonated" for him was the need to "work hard every day to protect the instructional day from distractions and interruptions.")

And you know what? I can appreciate their dilemma. As long as the government's schools are monopolies capable of compelling attendance, they have to respect the many worldviews of the children that attend them. In a country as diverse as this one, it isn't always obvious where the line lies between making minorities comfortable and acting like a goddamn jackass. The typical bureaucrat prefers to err on the side of jackassery.

Unfortunately, the typical bureaucrat has an exaggerated influence over the holiday. Over the last three decades, Halloween has been migrating indoors. Trick or treating is far from dead, but it has been battered by a series of scares over contaminated candy and fruit containing razor blades: urban legends that parents find much spookier than those earlier myths of vampires and ghosts. The sociologist Joel Best, a specialist in moral panics, has been unable to find a single verified example of poisoned Halloween treats, and those alleged blades and needles almost invariably turn out to be hoaxes; the tiny handful that weren't have inflicted only minor injuries. But that hasn't dampened the fears. Add the other anxieties of the day, from sex predators to street crime, and it's no wonder that Halloween's center has been shifting, ever so gradually, from the neighborhood sidewalks to the neighborhood school. That gives public officials more power over the ways children celebrate the holiday, and that inevitably means more caution and political correctness.

But you can't extinguish the call of the carnivalesque. Despite these trials, Halloween generates roughly $5 billion each year, and that number is climbing. That money is buying more than just Snickers bars and kid-sized Spider-Man costumes. October 31 has grown increasingly popular among adults—that is, among people old enough to evade the authority of the schools. With no superintendents to suppress them, grown-up Halloween parties tend to be enjoyably decadent, or at least attempt to project an air of decadence. There's not much any Halloween-hating Grinch can do about that.

If anything, the Halloween-bashers play an important role. In a holiday that thumbs its nose at authority and celebrates the id, it's valuable to have some suitably spoofable superegos on hand. When someone says, "Halloween is too divisive to celebrate at school," there's a second, silent sentence lurking right below the surface. It's "Please TP my lawn."

Jesse Walker is reason's managing editor.

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  1. “Orange and Black Day”

    Only in Cincinnati…

    1. Personally, I blame Xmas for Halloween’s current sad state of affairs, as it seems as if that god damned holiday is taking over the fucking calendar!

      I actually saw Xmas decorations go up the night of fucking Columbus Day this year!

  2. Remember when being a hobo on Halloween was not politically incorrect?

    I was thinking of going as a donkey with a George Bush mask on but that just wasn’t really pretend enough.

  3. There’s not much any Halloween-hating Grinch can do about that.

    I must find some way to keep Halloween from COMING! But how?

  4. The problem with TP’ing the lawn of a bureaucratic asshole who tries to kill Halloween is that they are also the exact kind of person who would pressure the police to charge the perpetrators with hate crimes. Sometimes you just have to use dog shit in a flaming paper bag (bonus points for human shit). Then you only get charged with arson.

    I miss the good old days when you could egg the police cars that tried to shut down the fun on Halloween and not get tasered.

  5. War on Terror. Culture War. War on Obesity. Drug War. I’d declare a war on war but that would be self-defeating. Wasn’t the United Nations supposed to put an end to all this?

  6. When I was growing up, Our parents use to dress us in dark clothing, obstruct our vision, wait until dark, and then turn us loose to run through the streets and beg candy from strangers.

    Now that I’m an adult, I actually appreciate the transformation into All Sluts Day. I just wish I got invited to parties.

    1. When I was growing up, Our parents use to dress us in dark clothing, obstruct our vision, wait until dark, and then turn us loose to run through the streets and beg candy from strangers.

      That is what is known as thinning the herd.

  7. A few years earlier, the station reported, a school official declared in an internal email that “administrators should not tolerate such inappropriate stereotyping (images such as Witches on flying brooms, stirring cauldrons, casting spells, or with long noses and pointed hats) and instead address them as you would hurtful stereotypes of any other minority.”
    *vomits blood*

  8. A few weeks after he exorcised Halloween from the Puyallup curriculum, the local superintendent declared that what really “resonated” for him was the need to “work hard every day to protect the instructional day from distractions and interruptions.”

    I told ye! That colored chalk was forged by Lucifer himself!

  9. Really, re-readig the article, I have to say fangs to you, Jesse Walker for giving me a story I can really sink my teeth into. Often times finding a good article to read online is just murder, but Reason is always the best place for a guy or ghoul to go to for the best stories. In fact, I’m going to mail this article to my mummy, she’ll just love it to death.

  10. I’m sorry everybody for that last post.

  11. I wonder, how long until the war on Thanksgiving? When PETA will step in and try to put an end to the senseless violence against Turkeys, when “Native Americans” will step up to declare the truth about the white man’s (read Pilgrim’s) raping and pillaging of the natives of New England.

  12. *ambles on by. Reads Jonathan’s post. URKOBOLD whithers the taint of the Monty Python Knight with rubber chicken as a warning*

  13. “When PETA will step in and try to put an end to the senseless violence against Turkeys,…”

    The arses already are!

  14. When PETA will step in and try to put an end to the senseless violence against Turkeys

    Maybe Mister Nice Guy can drop by and amuse us with his faux agonised moralizing over eating meat, and provide the PETA view for us.

  15. Hey, what do alcoholics and necrophiliacs have in common?

    They both like to crack open a cold one…

  16. Epi – wow! bazing!

    Warren @9.35 – see the 9.24 post, and that’s what’s appeared to have happened to you!

    [keed keed] to make up for this, hier is a SFW treat for you.

    Careful Taktix. Otherwise we’ll have Mr. Steven Crane deal with you. neener.

  17. “Remember when being a hobo on Halloween was not politically incorrect?”

    The most politically incorrect one I’ve ever seen was a buddy of mine dressed up as a pregnant nun. Imagine a knocked up nun with a goatee smoking a cigar. Classic….

  18. When PETA will step in and try to put an end to the senseless violence against Turkeys

    “It may be Thanksgiving to you, but it’s the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to us.”
    -Johnny Hart

  19. Like 99.99999999999% of school related problems, this is yet another that can be solved by separation of school and state.

    Next.

  20. I would like to apologize to anybody who might be offended tomorrow when I work late on Halloween.

    And I apologize to those who were offended by my apology.

    These days, you can’t be too safe. If it covers just one ass…

  21. Imagine a knocked up nun with a goatee smoking a cigar

    Where was she wearing the goatee, and was she smoking the cigar Lewinsky-style? 🙂

  22. Did everyone but me celebrate halloween in school? Costumes were NOT allowed.

  23. “all sluts day”…. you beat me to it

  24. We celebrated Halloween at school. It was an all day event with a Halloween parade at the end. We also celebrated St. Pat’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and I think even President’s Day and Arbor Day (I remember planting a tree once). I don’t know if we ever actually had class though…I think we spent the whole time planning for the next holiday.

  25. Remember when being a hobo on Halloween was not politically incorrect?

    Picture this one. Skinny white male child. Cheap, but ceative mother. My costume? This. People raved over it. Times do change, don’t they?

    1. Racist!!!

  26. We celebrated Halloween at school. It was an all day event with a Halloween parade at the end. We also celebrated St. Pat’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and I think even President’s Day and Arbor Day

    You forgot Saint Valentines Day.

  27. curious,
    When did you go to school? Costumes until age 10 were compulsory in the 70’s

  28. Like 99.99999999999% of school related problems, this is yet another that can be solved by separation of school and state. – robc

    No fooling. I was sent to Catholic elementary school. We didn’t have in-school Halloween parties, and didn’t wear costumes, unless you count our normal school uniforms. We did learn about All Saints Day and All Souls Day, and how the church replaced the old pagan holiday ( Samhain in the Irish) with its new ones. We were not taught that pagan religion was necessarily Satanic, but more often an imperfect attempt of ancient man to deal with the transcendent without the benefit of special revelation.

    Since Nov. 1 was a Holy Day of Obligation, we had it off, and while the poor “public kids” were in school all the next day, our All Hallows Eves were blissfully free of homework hassles. Yeah, we had to spend an hour at Mass, but our co-parishioners who went to the government schools had to put that time in too, usually before they were due at school.

    Here’s a No Fun Allowed gubmint school on Long Island that has banned costumes, because of what some girls wore last year.

    Perhaps Mr. Restivo sees Mr. Krupp when he looks in the mirror?

    Kevin

  29. I can’t believe I forgot St. Valentine’s Day! Perhaps that’s an indication of my opinion of that “holiday” which, I think, is far more evil than Halloween, but, I digress.

    I now recall the dozens of GI Joe and He-man valentines I would buy and those shitty little hearts that were impossible to read and would break your teeth.

  30. That was a good one Taktix LOL

  31. I wonder, how long until the war on Thanksgiving?

    Dude-“Anti Pilgrim Day”, learn it, love it

  32. Christ, you Catholic school kids got screwed. I went to a Catholic high school and costumes were pretty much mandatory, unless you wanted to wear your uniform that day. Some got around this by dressing up as “public skool girls.”

  33. What bugs me about Halloween is how it incites fear of death.
    Why can’t everyone be atheists and see death as simply tranquil nonexistence?

  34. Why can’t everyone be atheists and see death as simply tranquil nonexistence?

    I don’t think it’s the destination that bothers most so much as the getting there.

  35. “I wonder, how long until the war on Thanksgiving?”

    It’s here. I’m informed my friend Nadine’s criminal nephew Nathaniel is in an institution (glorified jail) where, because they didn’t want to make those without close family feel bad, nobody gets to go with family on Thanksgiving. Instead, they can get release to visit family any single day of November except Thanksgiving!

    Why his mother Bonnie or his brothers would want him over anyway after he stole from them and brought such grief is a mystery to me. Beware on Nov. 10!

  36. Why can’t everyone be atheists and see death as simply tranquil nonexistence?

    I’m an atheist who thinks that whole “Die with Dignity” mantra is bullshit. When I go, I’ll be kicking and screaming figuratively, if not literally, all the way out!

  37. “I don’t know if we ever actually had class though…I think we spent the whole time planning for the next holiday.”

    Yeah, at P.S. 108, seemed we had nothing but holidays — including everybody’s birthday, which in classes of 40+ were quite a few. They could always cook up pedagogic reasons for att’n to holidays that nobody’d ever hear of otherwise, like UN Day. We probably heard more about Jewish & Catholic holidays than they did in Hebrew & Catholic school. If a holiday fell on a weekend or during a vacation, or even during another holiday, they figured out some way to give it mention anyway. If a pupil was a fan of some historic figure whose birthday (or some kind of anniversary) it was, we all heard about it.

  38. I’m an atheist who thinks that whole “Die with Dignity” mantra is bullshit. When I go, I’ll be kicking and screaming figuratively, if not literally, all the way out!

    You want a refund?

  39. hey, I was a junior in high school in this exact district when this happened. our school got around it by having a “superhero” day. except you were allowed to invent your own superhero. one friend was witchman. and there were plenty other people doing the same type of thing. the teachers didn’t seem to care. it wsa a collective fuck you to Tony Apostle.

  40. Taktix?

    I see somebody’s been reading Fark lately . . .

  41. Why can’t everyone be atheists and see death as simply tranquil nonexistence?

    It can’t be “tranquil” since it is non-existence. Since it’s true nothingness, it has no attributes or qualities.

  42. What if we had a Dr. Kervorkian national holiday the day before Halloween?
    Then dying could be seen to be almost as tranquil as death.
    Then we would also need to kill off All Hallows Day the day after Halloween.

  43. Matthew,

    Commonsense doesn’t belong in this world.

  44. My Halloween experience was like Kevrob’s to a T.

  45. “Why can’t everyone be atheists”

    Because if everybody were atheist, there would be no theists, making the term “atheist” nonsensical.

  46. Lamar,
    Shades of Noam Chomsky, but doesn’t every word need other words to be defined?

  47. Wasn’t the United Nations supposed to put an end to all this?

    To its credit, the U.N. is pro-Halloween. Well, at least, Unicef:
    http://www.unicefusa.org/site/pp.asp?c=hkIXLdMRJtE&b=1706865

    But, yikes!, itlooks like Unicef is under fire from the Knights of Columbus:
    http://www.knightsite.com/kc9496/unborn25.htm

  48. Jack Chick sure hates Halloween. He’s devoted a half-dozen cartoon tracts to showing how it is Satan’s holiday. Two of these tracts were made into short films, “Bewitched?” and “The Little Princess”. They are a gas. Over at http://www.316now.com. Happy Halloween! HAW HAW HAW!

  49. Frankly, we’ve not celebrated Haloween in years and we don’t pass out candy to the evil twisted brats that pound on the door, not that very many do anymore. I’m glad to see Halloween go down the tubes and I’m working hard to kill the “American ‘Holiday Season'” formerly known as “Christmas”. There’s no reason to have a “Winter” holiday called “Christmas” in a non-christian country. It’s stupid. Let the Christians have their “Christmas” while the rest work on. It’s dumb.

  50. Hey Tony, I hear they don’t celebrate christmas in hell. Have fun.

  51. Clean the inside of the pumpkin! The pumpkin scoops in the kits or an ice cream scoop works well for scooping out all of the seeds and pumpkin guts. Make sure you save the seeds (for the next step)! Also, when you are carving, it helps to thin the walls a little bit. Thinner pumpkin walls make the pumpkin easier to carve. cool pumpkin carving design ideas

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