a holiday with
October 22, 1998
By Franklin Harris
The rise of anti-Halloween sentiment came as something of a surprise.
When I was in my early teens, the private religious school across the street from my home held annual Halloween festivals, complete with costume contests, apple bobbing and elaborate, student-run haunted houses.
By the time I was in college, smiling, monkey-faced televangelist and would-be U.S. president Pat Robertson was telling viewers of his "700 Club" television program that Halloween was satanic. Children who celebrated it, he said, were consorting with demonic forces, and parents who condoned it were imperiling their children's immortal souls.
Grave words indeed from the Rev. Robertson. And he wasn't alone in voicing them.
In Christian Fundamentalist circles, anti-Halloween tracts began to proliferate. Some took the form of crude comic books. One depicted "satanic" pagans holding "Halloween" rites, during which they cursed and poisoned the candy they then passed out to unsuspecting children.
Some churches began to hold their own "judgment houses" in order to lure people from traditional Halloween celebrations. The judgment houses depicted their own brand of horror: abortion, homosexuality and all sex acts more involved than holding hands.
(Given their hatred for virtually all sex, I wonder why the Religious Right hasn't embraced horror films. The surest way for a horror-movie character to get a kitchen knife driven through his eye socket is to have pre-marital sex, especially with a young, nubile coed. But I digress.)
Halloween haters are still, fortunately, a lunatic fringe. Halloween is second only to Christmas in terms of holiday spending. Americans go to more trouble to celebrate Halloween than they do Independence Day, Easter, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Thanksgiving and numerous other holidays that, unlike Halloween, all have the advantage of being recognized officially by all levels of government.
But the Halloween haters are noisy. They can't just be ignored.
Halloween's enemies point to the holiday's pagan origins among the Celts of Britain and Ireland. They claim that both the holiday and the rites of the ancient Celts who celebrated it are "satanic." Then they conclude that anyone who celebrates the holiday today -- even as a purely secular event -- is endorsing "Satanism."
The anti-Halloween argument's reasoning is nonsensical. It's obvious one can celebrate a religious holiday as a secular one. Otherwise, Christians wouldn't have to decry the commercialization of Christmas.
Even the argument's facts are wrong.
Pagans are not Satanists. To be a Satanist, one has to believe in Satan. Pagans don't.
Now, while Christians can certainly disagree with pagan views, calling those views satanic is absurd.
Anti-Halloween propagandists try to sully the holiday by smearing the Druids, who were the high priests of the ancient Celts.
The Druids, they claim, slaughtered babies, held orgies and summoned demons on Halloween night.
Actually, we don't know much of what the Druids did on Halloween night -- or on any other night, for that matter.
Theirs was an oral culture, and it left no written records.
What we know about the Druids comes mostly from their hated enemies, the Romans.
Ironically, the same stories the Romans told of the Druids -- the stories of baby killing, orgies, etc. -- the Romans also told of the early Christians.
Make of that what you will.
In fact, the history of American anti-Halloween sentiment is itself somewhat sinister.
Many books Halloween haters cite as authoritative sources on the holiday were written around the turn of the century. At that time, America was undergoing an influx of Irish-Catholic, and ethnically Celtic, immigration.
Unsurprisingly, turn-of-the-century writers were anti-Catholic as well as anti-Halloween, and both Catholicism and Halloween were good excuses to hate the Irish.
But a century has passed since then, and I take comfort in knowing that today's Halloween haters remain few.
Last Halloween, I went to a "haunted forest" held at a local ranch. I was surprised and pleased to see that the man selling admissions was the former minister of a rather conservative church I attended as a child.
It reminded me that being a Christian doesn't require subscribing to the insanity mouthed by the world's Pat Robertsons.