Originally published by OMNI Online, 1997)
It must have been a horror writer who said, "Halloween is the only time of year I feel normal."
There seems to be a growing dichotomy in the United States, however, that is beginning to divide our society into "treaters" and "trickers" this time of year. On one hand Halloween has become so accepted by the populace of the United States that people now decorate their homes as lavishly as they do at Yuletide -- even stringing up lights and turning front yards into haunted graveyards. The holiday has become big business -- complete with the local WalMart incredibly well stocked with goods that even a few years ago could only be obtained, if at all, through theatrical suppliers. Specialty marketers galore can now help Halloween-happy Baby Boomers and twenty-somethings dress up, make-up, and surround themselves with as many special effects as a full scale stage production. Dozens of haunted mansions, houses, mausoleums, castles, laboratories, hayrides, walks, etc. are now available in any metropolitan area. You can select the perfect Halloween card for practically anyone.
But just as Halloween has become more acceptable for grown-ups, it is being taken away from children. Although kid-friendly amusements are available, most of the commercial or charity haunted ventures are geared to adults and far too gruesome for the young. In some areas the traditions of "Trick or Treat" or "Beggars Night" have been switched to daylight hours or abandoned all together due to fears that children simply are not safe on our streets any more.
Even more insidious and more frightening in the long run is that some Christian groups have decided that Halloween is an evil thing. October now brings media stories on how elementary schools around the country have replaced traditional Halloween costuming and parades with more mundane "Fall Festivals." Parents are quoted as saying, "celebrating Halloween is the same as celebrating Satan's birthday."
I was raised in Oklahoma in the Southern Baptist denomination. My Christian upbringing was about as fundamental as it gets. Yet at no time was Halloween ever preached or propagandized against when I was a child. My mother, as devout a Baptist as one can find, delighted in making me extravagant costumes (and delights to this day in seeing her grandchildren costumed and enjoying Halloween.) It seems that only in the last decade or so have Christians decided that the holiday is sinful and satanic and should not be celebrated.
Perhaps this negativism is merely a reaction against what is otherwise an almost too intense social acceptance of the holiday. Perhaps the truth was only lately revealed unto the faithful. Whatever the cause, I get more alarmed by some of the misinformation that flows forth this time of year against Halloween than I am of any number of imaginary monsters, ghosts, and vampires.
The Web, of course, has become a virtual soap box for opinion on Halloween as well as anything else. Among the hundreds of sites now offering pro-Halloween guides, hints, helps, histories, and more, there are those promulgating the anti-theme as well. W.J. Bethancourt, III's lengthy essay, "Halloween: Myths, Monsters And Devils" analyzes four anti-Halloween tracts that have appeared on the Net and circulated in print materials. He does a commendable job of tearing apart the myth and pseudo-factual basis of such writing, even exposing some less obvious anti-Catholic and anti-Irish prejudices. (Yes, as a child I quite distinctly remember hearing adults openly discuss how unsuited John F. Kennedy was for the presidency because he was a Roman Catholic and that as such his first allegiance was to the Pope, not to America. I also recall less open rumors that Catholics kept guns in the basements of their churches. I never caught on to WHY they kept them there instead of loaded and in the rifle rack of their pickups like good Protestants.)
As opposed as I am to modern day attempts to stamp out good dark fun, I can't help but being somewhat nostalgic for the days when a grown-up dressing in slinky black and sporting fangs or daring to dress in something that freed one's darker side or maybe just titillated a libido or two -- was something slightly risqué and not totally acceptable. When the few purveyors of haunted houses sought theater technicians out to work their magic and hired make-up artists to transform actors into staff for their nightmares.
Halloween just isn't what it used to be...but maybe it is still the only time of year horror writers are considered normal. -- Paula Guran, October, 1997
The "Happy Halloween" graphic was designed by Pat's Web Graphics.