Halloween fact and fantasy in schools

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 1, 2005

By now I am certain we have all suffered through the litany of parents for and against Halloween celebrations in our schools, as well as any celebration or acknowledgement of other “traditional” holidays long associated with children enjoying a kind of fun respite from the daily routine of academic pursuits.

There is even an elementary school in Massachusetts whose principal last week banned all “religious” holiday acknowledgements from that school.


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Are we doing a great job of protecting our children from the horrors of being exposed to religion in our public schools or what!

What is the most frightening fact, however, is that these glimpses of or exposures to religious holidays in our schools may very well have been the only exposure some of our youngsters ever have of the principles of those holidays.

Now, that is all gone.

At the risk of sounding rather antiquated in my approach to modern education, I ask those of you who are reading this column to reflect on our schooling with regard to holidays.

Do you remember celebrating Halloween with a costume party and parade?

Or doing a Thanksgiving skit with Miles Standish and Captain John Smith vying for the hand of Priscilla?

Or the Christmas play and singing carols?

How about St. Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day?

And then there was always the relief in Spring with the Easter Bunny.

And in between it all we celebrated or at least acknowledged Columbus Day, Flag Day, Veterans’ Day, and, yes, even preparing our own design of a Mother’s Day Card.

That is not only four to five decades removed from our schools in time, but it seems to be a complete culture away from where we are today – and the Massachusetts elementary school for me typifies the malaise which has settled in with our children when we come to traditional holidays.

The net result is the unabashed commercialism of these holidays (a word, by the way, which has its etymological roots in “holy days”).

Elizabeth and I went to Birmingham just two weekends ago and we found that Christmas is almost here!

Every department store was putting up displays and offering merchandise specifically focused on “Christmas” – at least, the marketable Christmas!

What this dilution of the spiritual message of individual holidays has produced is a very specific view that these days actually have emerged out of the context of their spiritual genesis.

Santa Claus really is the spirit of Christmas, the Easter Bunny is the reason to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and St. Valentine’s Day is for roses and chocolate!

Hence, in our efforts NOT to offend anyone who does not share our spiritual heritage, we have completely negated the essence, the intent, and the messages of these holidays.

And after all, is it really Christmas without Santa Claus?

When I was in elementary and secondary school, for those who did not, in fact, share the specific spiritual connection with the holiday, there were always options not to participate.

Then, too, I remember Jewish children being excused from school for Yom Kippur and other Judaic holidays.

The Catholic kids also were excused for any religious holidays they had when I was still in school.

So, today we face the great battlefield in which the forces of Halloween represented by the Wiccans on the one hand face those of a religious position that sees Halloween as a kind of satanic holiday on the other. The ghosts and ghoulies, the goblins and the pumpkinheads seem to be in a monumental struggle for the souls of our children who really are quite unaware of the apparent Armageddon that is going on around them.

And with it all, parents entrench themselves in postures of which they are certain, on either side, while the child with the Spiderman outfit sees only the candy, the pumpkin carvings, and the cheering that comes with “trick or treat!”

Ultimately, the meaning given to any human activity is that to which we ascribe it.

Can we give the history of Halloween without including the celebrations of All Souls Day?

Can we give real meaning to Christmas without understand ding whose birthday it is anyway?

And can we explain Easter away with a chocolate bunny instead of the Resurrection?

Contemporary public education would seem to have us believe that this is just what these holidays need to be – extensions of our capitalistic economy, instead of the foundational bases of the predominant religious faith in America.

But the real “trick or treat” if this trend continues might be the complete neutralization of any kind of spiritual gleanings in our children, and for me that would be, well, UN-American!

Dr. Arthur G. Ogden is the Demopolis Campus Director of Alabama Southern Community College.

All his degrees are in philosophy.

He can be reached at aogden@ascc.edu.