What Do We Do About Halloween?

By | October 23, 2020

We all know that this has been a challenging year. From a global pandemic to sweeping social unrest, we’ve had to really examine how we define our community, and what our place in it is. 

Now Halloween is almost upon us, and it’s time to look at the holiday from every angle and ponder its place in our school community. Hillcrest has a long tradition of celebrating the holiday, from teachers teaming up for epically themed costumes to the annual students’ Halloween Parade, but as we strive to be a more inclusive community, how does that change? Should it change?

First, let’s look at some of clearest offenders: Halloween costumes. For every inflatable T-Rex on the shelf, there are myriad costumes that hyper-sexualize children or make a mockery of marginalized groups. Teaching Tolerance offers lesson plans geared toward children in grades K-5 on how to handle the prevalent racism in some Halloween costumes, as well as how to question how certain costumes—and the models displaying them—influence our implicit bias.

But even in a school full of kids wearing old bedsheets with eyeholes, there are still things to take into consideration. Our style of Halloween celebration may be uniquely American, but America is a mosaic of different people, each with their own history, beliefs and traditions. 

Members of the Orthodox Jewish community don’t celebrate Halloween because of its roots in pagan worship; devout Muslims only celebrate two religious days each year; anyone who celebrates Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) has suffered the indignity of seeing their celebrations rebranded “Mexican Halloween” (it is not); and beginning several decades ago Evangelical Christians began decrying Halloween as the Devil’s holiday. 

So no. Maybe we don’t want to give up our Halloween parade. But maybe we can expand our observance of the holiday in a way that respects others’ beliefs: learn the difference between the Day of the Dead and Halloween; talk about why some view Halloween as a religious holiday while others view it as a secular night for kids to go a little wild and eat candy; make conscious choices about costumes that empower and inspire our kids; and raise kids who question, explore, and respect the world and people around them. This is not cancel culture but merely a chance to put history into context, to teach tolerance for others, to show empathy. Celebrations this October 31 are already going to look a lot different than years past; let’s challenge ourselves to look ahead to next year. What does a more inclusive Halloween look like? How much stronger can a more inclusive October 31 make our community?