I have a problem with Halloween – as a child, I remember how much fun it was – we might watch a scary movie like “Dracula” or “Frankenstein”. We would go out and knock on doors, collecting enough candy for the next 3 months, which my Mom doled out carefully. We took small boxes and collected money for UNICEF – we were taught to say “Trick or Treat for UNICEF!”, and the money would be collected and sent to help hungry children. We would carve pumpkins and dress up for school. As our children were growing up, we had family costumes and had a wonderful time celebrating the day as part of our welcome to the fall. We did all of the things that people do now – so what is my problem?
It feels like Halloween has become meaner, and this meanness has become a national obsession. It is estimated that Americans spent between $7-8 billion dollars on Halloween this year – and we spend more during elections than in other years. One theory for that is that we spend more on diversions when we are feeling stressed, and this may be the most stressful election year ever.
Activities like our local “Shocktoberfest” have become more common, and scary movies have become more violent. Halloween is no longer a day or even a weekend – it is an entire month. There are people who revel in the gore and destruction, and the tricks are no longer just eggs or toilet paper – they are slashed tires and damaged homes. Halloween has become an outlet for anger and violence.
I love the costumes and I love the sight of children walking around having fun. What I am concerned about is the depth to which so many people take this. I am not alone – a recent study showed that fewer parents are taking their children out, and the growth of “Trunk and Treats” attests to this concern. Every year, more communities set time limits out of concern for what might happen late at night. Disney has a “Not so scary Halloween” event for the month of October – I think they see this trend as well.
I hope that parents will consider what kind of message they give their children when they allow Halloween to become a night of fear rather than fun. Kids already have enough to deal with – Halloween shouldn’t be one of them.
Peace! The Rev. Dr. Steve Ohnsman, Ph.D., Pastor of Calvary United Church of Christ, Reading, PA