Halloween Celebration Questioned in America's Schools

October 31, 2000

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

On October 31, 2000, The Christian Science Monitor reported that "for many American parents, the celebration of Halloween is a long-standing tradition of American childhood, as integral a part of autumn as a cup of hot cider or a football bonfire. But for a growing number of today's school administrators, Halloween has become pretty spooky. Fears of school violence, protests from parents about the holiday's pagan roots, and discomfort over losing class hours in an age rigidly focused on test scores have put a damper on traditional classroom festivities. Even as adults sink record amounts of money into lavish costumes and parties, more schools are either easing the holiday out altogether or celebrating it in ways that replace dark and disturbing images with more wholesome and educationally sound activities... In part because of the elaborate nature of some celebrations, there has been a backlash in many circles, including some conservative Christian groups that see Halloween as the unnecessary glorification of a pagan ritual. There is an increasing discomfort among fundamentalist Christians with the perceived lack of values education in schools, says Richard Ward, associate professor at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. 'They see a double standard. You can't celebrate Christmas because you might offend someone, but at the same time you can celebrate Halloween.'

Yet even within the Christian community, there remains some disagreement about the degree to which Halloween truly celebrates the pagan. The holiday first arrived in the United States in the 1800s with Irish and Scotch immigrants, who had a 2,000-year-old tradition based on a pagan Celtic festival. Yet the Christian church had long before co-opted the holiday to some degree by creating All Saints' Day on Nov. 1 and turning the season into an occasion for contemplating both good and evil. Judy Turpen, prayer chairman for the Christian Education Association in Pasadena, Calif., says she encourages Christian educators to look more deeply into the origins of Halloween before they reject it. 'Much of it actually has its roots in the church,' she says. The tradition of wearing costumes, she points out, originally stems from the Biblical story of Esther. 'I'm not saying we don't have to be careful,' she adds. 'But almost any holiday, if you look hard enough at it, you could find some reason not to celebrate it.'"