Halloween Isn’t Going Anywhere

IMG_1082I like Halloween as much as the next parent. It’s fun planning costumes with my boys (this year I’ll have a tiny Ewok and a very intense clone trooper with a specific name I can never remember), receiving them in the mail a few weeks later (I typically order them from a little boutique called Amazon.com), and discussing which neighborhoods we can cover trick-or-treating before the boys start asking for piggy-back rides (I’m the designated candy-hoarding monitor, while my husband mans the door at our house).

My son is in 2nd grade at our neighborhood elementary school, which has been celebrating Halloween during the school day for many years. On that day each year, students are invited to wear their costumes to school (sans masks and weapons to my son’s chagrin), classroom parties are had and treats are eaten. My 4-year-old’s preschool does it a little differently, inviting interested families to attend a Halloween gathering after school lets out.

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What Halloween is really about

Because we have our own Halloween traditions at home, I don’t really care whether or not my kids get to celebrate Halloween at their schools. In fact, I find it to be sort of a hassle to send their costumes in their backpacks, and I imagine it’s a somewhat exhausting event for their teachers to manage. And while my kids have enjoyed the parties the last few years, their real focus is the nighttime trick-or-treating they do with their family and friends—I honestly don’t think they would miss the school parties much if they didn’t happen.

But a lot of parents feel different about it than I do. Like ANGRY different.

Recently, a school district in Milford, Connecticut, opted to remove the Halloween celebrations from their school day, sending families a letter stating the following:

“This decision arose out of numerous incidents of children being excluded from activities due to religion, cultural beliefs, etc. School-day activities must be inclusive. Halloween costumes are not permitted for students or staff during the day at school.”

Instead of a party during the school day, the district agreed to hold a Halloween party on campus after school hours.

In response to this letter, Rebecca Lilley—a Milford resident and mother of three—started an online petition to fight the decision. In her petition, entitled, “Bring back our AMERICAN traditions to our schools!” Lilley proclaimed she was tired of her kids “missing out on our traditional activities due to people crying they’re offended.” She wrote that she didn’t see any harm in Halloween parades and parties at school, and that people who don’t want to participate should just keep their kids home from school that day.

More than 5000 people have signed Lilley’s petition, many leaving comments explaining why they support her stance. Here are a few examples:

    “I’m sick of seeing our culture destroyed to appease outsiders.”—Ryan, WI

    “People coming to a new country should adapt to it’s (sic) ways or not partake in it’s (sic) traditional events. The host country should not have to change to accommodate newcomers.”—Michael, Manitoba

    “I’m sick of the pc idiots running this country.”—Don, CO

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The appropriate age for whining and foot stamping

Whether you agree with Lilley’s stance or not, you can’t tell me that her arguments or those of her supporters are convincing. They’re essentially just stamping their feet and whining, “It’s not fair! You guys are stupid!”

But you know what? Their petition worked. The school administrators in Milford caved, and the Halloween parade is back on.

And that’s unfortunate, because when they made their initial decision to stop school-hours Halloween celebrations, the Milford administrators were just doing their job—they were thinking about the EDUCATIONAL needs of ALL students. District officials made the point that school celebrations need to be inclusive, and I agree.

As we know, many American families do not celebrate Halloween due to religious or cultural reasons, and—contrary to popular belief—these families are not all recent Muslim immigrants; some of them are Orthodox Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christians whose families have been in this country for centuries. When teachers host Halloween parties in their classrooms, these children have two options: 1) Play along and pretend to be a part of something they’re not, or 2) Sit and watch in isolation as their friends have fun without them.

Of course, thanks to Lilley’s petition, they now have a third option—they can just stay home.

But wait, they can’t stay home because they’re legally required to attend school! And they shouldn’t have to stay home, because ALL children in this country have a right to a free and appropriate public education. Not just on regular school days, but on all school days. Children whose families don’t celebrate Halloween should not be expected to stay home just so everybody else can enjoy the holiday guilt-free; that option would mean missing out on a full day of education.

And there’s one other major group of students the school district in Milford failed to mention in their rationale for banning Halloween parties—those living in poverty. In many public school classrooms across America, there are children whose families can barely afford clothing, much less Halloween costumes that will be worn exactly once. These kids certainly can’t be described as “outsiders” or “newcomers.” And as for the suggestion that extra costumes can be donated and kept at the school, consider the fact that no kid wants to force themselves into a worn, used costume two sizes too small and ten years out of date—that’s worse than wearing no costume at all.

Fear not, residents of Milford. Despite the best efforts of “outsiders,” “newcomers,” and “pc idiots,” Halloween isn’t going anywhere. But it’s not because of your ridiculous petition. It’s because you and I, like millions of people across the globe, care about the holiday. Regardless of how our schools celebrate the day, we can continue to celebrate it however we want in our own neighborhoods, our own places of worship, and our own homes.

After all, that’s what being AMERICAN on Halloween is all about.

Well, that and laughing at kids who think their parents ate their candy.

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