“But how come some people don’t like Halloween, Mommy?” my inquisitive, observant 6-year-old asked as we chose a costume for her school’s Book Parade. (Students dress as their favorite characters from their favorite books, march the hallways and pick up snacks.)
It took me a moment, as it usually does, to answer her question. I didn’t want to delve too far into conversations on Samhain, the Celtic holiday from which Halloween was adopted, which marked the end of summer and acknowledged the spirits of those the Celts believed still roamed the medieval European countryside. How do you explain to a child coming of age with Harry Potter and Twilight that some people see Halloween as demonic, satanic and unworthy of “celebration?”
Growing up in an African-American, Southern, devoutly Catholic home of modest means, the day after Halloween—All Saints’ Day—meant rosaries and prayers; Halloween wasn’t an occasion to spend money we didn’t have on “devilish” things. Over the years, I’ve abandoned my mother’s distaste for the secular holiday, as many in the Black community have. As an adult, I’ve used the holiday to live out my fantasies, impersonate my favorite characters and wear some very naughty nightwear to packed house parties and bars.
And I’m not alone.
According to the Washington Post, this year shoppers will rack up the following in reference to Halloween spending:
“A National Retail Federation survey found that consumers will spend more than $8 billion on Halloween celebrations. The average person will spend $79.82 on decorations, costumes and candy, up from $72.31 last year. The NRF survey found that more than 70 percent of Americans, the most it has ever recorded in its 10 years of tracking such things, will celebrate Halloween in some capacity this year… Just on pets, consumers are expected to spend $370 million on costumes this Halloween, reports Time magazine, $70 million more than last year.”
So again, when we live in a time where the occult is no longer taboo, and African-Americans seem to be moving away from more traditional religious practices, what’s the big deal about this day of candy and costumes?
In my “let me think about that” time away from my little one, I had to question why, traditionally, African-Americans didn’t celebrate Halloween, and why many still don’t today. Though I personally see the Celtic and Druid celebrations of a new harvest season and ancestral reverence as nothing alarming (it may very well tie into our own African traditions of celebrating the land and those who’ve gone before), many in our community—especially many Christians—see these fêtes as taking praise away from God.
When we throw in the dressing as ghosts, goblins, witches and the Devil himself, it’s not far-fetched to understand the disconnect. For many, it’s either/or: Either Halloween is part of a “pagan ritual” and should be opposed and acknowledged as “unchristian,” or it’s a harmless children’s holiday that inspires fun and community—but it can’t be both.
Finally, I explained to my young daughter that many don’t celebrate Halloween because it’s against their religion, that it doesn’t line up with their faith and how people of their faith behave. I also explained we all have a right to choose what we celebrate and what we don’t.
In the end, whether to celebrate Halloween or not is an individual choice, and should be respected and met with tolerance instead of questions and eye rolls. I hope she gets it and remembers not to be too inquisitive or make too many comments when some of her friends don’t dress up this week.
Join the conversation! Do you have a problem celebrating Halloween? Why or why not?
Josie Pickens is a writer, educator and activist who blogs at www.jonubian.com. Follow her on Twitter @jonubian.