How Halloween Became The Most Divisive Holiday Since The War On Christmas

Ulf Kirchdorfer Professor, Darton State College
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The Huffington Post had a piece this month with the title, “For The Love Of God, People, Do Not Dress Up As Ray Rice For Halloween,” plastering a huge photo across its site of an early Halloween reveler wearing a football jersey with the number 21, dragging a brown-skinned blowup doll, face down, by the foot as if she were an appendage.

I thought Halloween was beleaguered enough, but no, as the spooky Huffington Post reported, “Bush Gardens has removed headless figures and severed heads from the Halloween display at its Williamsburg, Va. theme park after some people complained they were a grim reminder of the ISIS beheadings.”

Add to that the extreme commercialization and sugary versions of Disney’s “Halloween on the High Seas,” this year offering four cruises, as reported by Fox News. And there is uproar about a sex offender in Caseyville, Illinois, who has decorated his house for Halloween, not explicitly forbidden by law to do so, though he is not allowed to give out candy, as reported by Fox2Now in St. Louis, Missouri.

Never one to turn down a flattering fan, Rush Limbaugh got in on the Halloween act early by taking a friendly call by a mother whose child wants to dress up for Halloween as Rush Revere.

And in my city in the Deep South, I saw what seemed to be the misinformed transformation or stomping out of Halloween, with divisiveness being the common denominator in the disintegration of what used to be a fun holiday.

What scares me about Halloween in Albany, Georgia, is not the appearance on our front porch of 6-feet-tall sixteen-year-olds without masks demanding treats in gruff voices hinting of cocked toy guns. Or the wives of upstanding citizens celebrating the night wearing slutty costumes and drinking while acting flirtatiously. No, Halloween’s boogey man is the divisiveness factor it brings to our small city, an experience sadly repeated across the country.

Some of the churches in my southern city stage alternative fests to avoid Halloween taking on any heathen or Pagan connotations. Not that such exclusive calls for festivities are unique to Dixie. Churches have for years worked to produce hits by having a helicopter drop candy from the heavens, one in Ohio having the scary tags of “marketing” “church” and “helicopter” on flickr as a recipe to drum up business. Not just any church can afford to do this. And that is precisely the point.

Other churches have to make do with tame Christian haunted houses. More enterprising ones teach a lesson of what can happen “in this life as well as the next,” by offering a tour of their truly ominously-named “Judgment House.” Others proffer with plain candy and prayer, albeit with painfully-creative spins, like “trunk-or-treat,” in which kids get candy from the trunks of churchgoers in the church parking lot. But that’s just a sign of a deeper problem.

For the past few years my wife and I have had not one trick-or-treater for Halloween. In part we are complicit because we have turned off the porch light, even darkened our house so that the only evidence of life inside is the barking of our three dachshunds as they press their noses and paws against the doorpanes.

After a trend of children arriving like candy pirates from God knows where, with rudeness surpassing any kind of giddiness and excluding the word “thank you,” my wife and I decided, along with our neighbors, all of whom we knew back then, to stop handing out candy. To turn out the lights over our small part of Georgia. It was as if we were monks banishing the Viking marauders.

To get back to the church’s role, while it has been a source of divided opinion over Halloween, it has at least served as a kind of family for some to be able to celebrate the non-holiday without needle-laced candy or whatever other fears keep helicopter parents up at night. Unfortunately, many families with young children are left out, either because they do not attend church or they are agnostics, or atheists.

Some might say local atheists should hold their own Halloween festivities, but the real problem is that neighborhoods and families no longer go about the business of trick-or-treating like they used to.

Ironically, the pagan Santa is allowed to thrive, alive and well at the mall; people don’t line up to take pictures with baby Jesus. I wonder how many of the Halloween spoilers have informed themselves about the holiday and its origins. All Saints’ Eve, the beginning of a celebration of saints and the dead, can’t be all that bad, and while scholars still debate whether the holiday has Pagan influences or is purely Christian, many still fight Halloween as something bad, evil, or connected to the devil.

So here’s hoping both Christians and the politically correct rethink Halloween. Let’s see if there is any way to rehab this holiday.  I’ll even jump on the bandwagon and allow the provocative costumes and tipsy housewives, so long as kids can go back to canvassing the neighborhood with some spontaneity and joy.