It is scary indeed when schools attempt to ban Halloween celebrations for religious reasons

October 29, 1995|By SUSAN REIMER

I LOVE HALLOWEEN. No groaning meals to prepare. No desperate gift shopping. No boxes of cards to address. No days off from school. If there were no such holiday, we double-booked parents would have to invent it.

A costume, a pumpkin and a bag of candy. That's all it takes to have yourself a merry little Halloween.

I am so angered by attempts to ban Halloween, the only major holiday that takes less preparation time than spaghetti sauce from a jar.

Christians -- and I thought I was one until they took off after this holiday -- are pointing to Halloween's ancient Druid roots and demanding that it not be celebrated in schools, under the rubric of separation of church and state.

This is not out of respect for any Druids who might still be practicing their faith among us and who might be offended that )) Hallmark has made a mockery of religion, too.

No. These people believe that Satan exists outside of the costume department of Kmart and that Halloween is the holiest day on his religious calendar. And they believe that elementary-school Halloween parties and costume parades are the Evil One's chief recruiting venue.

"What happens when teachers who those students trust and love are seen joking and laughing when another child is dressed as a Halloween witch?" asked Los Altos, Calif., school-board president Phil Faillace.

"We take the First Amendment separations seriously, where schools can't be seen to endorse beliefs about religious issues. And school time may not be used to celebrate Halloween, just as it may not be used to celebrate Easter, Yom Kippur or Ramadan," he said.

This is the same school district that argued over the making of paper dragons in class during Chinese New Year, so it is safe to say these people long ago lost sight of the original question.

And they were forced to reverse their ban on Halloween after angry parents showed up at a board meeting -- in Halloween costumes.

But People for the American Way reported that attempts at censorship in public education reached a record number last year. Among them, increasing attempts to ban Halloween as "occultic."

Parents in school districts all over the country are as worked up and offended by Halloween parties at school as they would be if teachers were passing out the Holy Eucharist instead of candy corn.

In response, some schools attempt to ignore the holiday, while others sanitize it by making it some inoffensive harvest celebration.

A school in St. Louis this year has turned Halloween into "Pioneer Day." The kids are supposed to dress up -- not like Power `D Rangers or witches -- but like pioneers. They will watch a spinning wheel demonstration and eat homemade bread. I can only imagine that it is white bread.

Other schools have required that the kids dress up as historical figures, storybook figures or career figures and present some kind of a report, too.

What are we trying to do? Bore these kids to death?

I will concede that Halloween is another school day lost to reading, writing and math. I know that candy in school makes kids hard to handle. And toy swords and guns are not sensible costume accessories for a classroom party. And I, too, worry about the violent or tasteless nature of some costumes -- O. J. and Nicole masks, claws like those worn by the likes of Freddy Krueger.

But let's not confuse these legitimate concerns with some overwrought notions of religious freedom or Satanism.

Halloween is not religious. It is a secular celebration of no bedtime and free candy. And I love it.

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