Unlike most holidays, Halloween has a sneaky way of dividing parents into splintered camps: those who love it, those who hate it and those who wonder what all the boo-hooing is about. Here's a look at some of the different ways parents approach the mystical All Hallows Eve.
Most, but not all, of the families that choose to abstain from trick-or-treating and carving jack-o-lanterns do so for religious reasons. Does that mean they are stern-faced Puritans who don't appreciate a little whimsy in their lives? Not at all. They're the same kids who loved playing dress-up and hide-and-seek at your house yesterday. However, the underlying history of this particular holiday makes them kind of uneasy.
Halloween can be traced back to 500 BC, when Celtics in Ireland celebrated October 31 with a festival honoring Samhain, the god of the Dead. The Celtics believed the spirits of people who had died the previous year were set free to roam the earth and could not go to their final resting place until they were given "treats" (for their own enjoyment or to bribe the god who ruled the next world).
The Celtic response to these roaming spirits was rather schizophrenic. For instance, if they had not been especially friendly to those who had died, some Celtics would extinguish fires in their homes so as not to attract vengeful spirits bent on "tricking" or punishing them. More stubborn Celtics built huge bonfires to run the same spirits off. They would dress up in ghoulish costumes either to blend in with the spirits or to appear so ghastly that even the spirits would be scared away.
So should you be worried if your children want to dress up as something that represents darkness and evil?
Some parents say not to worry about it. "At this age, I don't think they have any understanding of all the history behind Hallowenn" says Lisa Carter, a Lee's Summit, Missouri mom who loves trick-or-treating with her children, Rachel (6-1/2), Sheri (4), and Nick (7 mos.) "Now, if I had a 13-year-old who wanted to wear black lipstick and a Marilyn Manson t-shirt, I'd be worried. That would really bother me. But when you see a little girl in a lacy orange dress, that's so far from satanism, it has nothing to do with it, as far as I'm concerned."
Other parents are a little more hesitant. Some even say, forget it -- we're not participating at all. "Parents who choose this course need to explain to their children why they have taken this stand and give them strong encouragement," advises Bob Passantino in his essay, What About Halloween? (1990). "Their children will undoubtedly experience some teasing or ridicule from their friends and schoolmates."
"Yes, there is a definite need to provide our youth with alternatives to dark forms of entertainment," says Mat Casner, a former Kansas City youth pastor. "Pop culture's fascination with the occult (witches, Goth, etc.) is turning into an obsession. We need to educate our kids, and even our adults, that things we used to consider as harmless fun have the potential to be very dangerous today."
"Adults are charged with the responsibility of keeping kids safe," says Dr. John Helgeson of Ozanam Home for Boys in Kansas City, Missouri. "Keep in mind where the children are developmentally. It is normal and worthwhile for kids to be involved with activities involving delight, anticipation and surprise, such as are common in childhood stories. But parents need to discern when an activity -- whether it's a movie, game or Halloween -- is no longer safe and healthy, and crosses the line into dangerous and traumatizing."
Rhonda Stock, a Lenexa, Kansas mom, remembers feeling uneasy about her kindergartner son, Jason, passing through the gruesomely-decorated sixth grade hallway as part of the school Halloween Parade. "Emphasis was on violence, cemetaries and ghoulishness, which is very appealing to sixth graders, but totally inappropriate for kindergartners and the other younger grades." Jason is now twelve, and, to his mother's relief, the school district has softened its approach to Halloween. "Now, they de-emphasize violence, gore and mayhem, and instead concentrate on silly, fun and gross stuff."
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