Halloween Scolds

October 31, 1991

Does it seem to you that there are more Halloween effigies this year, more ghosts and witches and pumpkins in neighborhood front yards than in past years? Good. It shows that common sense still resists the strictures of our would-be moral tutors.

Halloween tutors come in several varieties. Some say Halloween has no place in public life because it is associated with the Christian feast of All Saints (or All Hallows). A more numerous group says just the opposite: that Halloween should be quashed because it gives offense to right religion through its use of pagan symbols such as witches and ghosts.

A couple of elementary schools in Carroll County have tried to soften the focus of the holiday by celebrating "harvest themes" instead of Halloween. One of the targets of concerned parents was Maurice Sendak's almanac poem, "Chicken Soup with Rice," which includes the rhyme: "In October I'm a host/to witches, goblins and a ghost."

The witches have their own lobby in the form of something called the Anti-Bias Curriculum, a product of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Witches are portrayed as "old, ugly, wicked and dressed in black -- reflecting stereotypes of gender, race and age." The curriculum recommends that teachers present positive images of witches -- as herbal healers, for example. Teachers are encouraged to remind the children that their own great-grandmothers may have been witches, and to bring ingredients for the children to mix into potions and hexes.

Two more groups of Halloween tutors have no great objection to the holiday itself, but want to censor the costumes, either because they are politically incorrect (Indians) or too scary (Freddy Krueger masks). One solution is to dress up as Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, Teddy Kennedy or Pee-Wee Herman. Masks of all four are big sellers this season, according to Halloween merchants.

Finally, killjoys pop up every year to urge giving trick-or-treaters nutritious snacks instead of unwholesome candy. To killjoys and moral tutors alike, we say: "Boo!"

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