The following is an editorial I wrote for Osgoode Hall's student newspaper, the Obiter Dicta. Originally posted here.
An elementary school in Seattle recently reported that students were prohibited from dressing up for Halloween this year. The decision was implemented as a preventative measure out of fear that Halloween costumes could offend or upset students of different cultures, which came as somewhat of a surprise to me. As someone who doesn’t belong to a Judeo-Christian faith, Halloween was probably the only holiday that didn’t make me feel excluded growing up.
My friend who is currently attending teacher’s college confirmed that the Seattle school wasn’t just an anomaly. She said that her curriculum also taught that Halloween is not inclusive of all religions.
The cultural roots of Halloween are mostly attributed to Celtic and Christian influences. Many believe that Halloween has pagan roots originating from Samhain, a Gaelic celebration held on October 31st to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Samhain is also likened to a festival of the dead, being set at a time when the door to the Otherworld (the realm of the dead) is opened enough to allow spirits and other beings to come into our world. Feasts were held to appease souls of the dead and people dressed up in costumes to disguise themselves to harmful spirits.
Others think that the holiday developed independently of Samhain. Instead, those who recognize the Christian origins of Halloween believe that the holiday came from All Hallows’ Day and All Souls’ Day. All Hallows’ (or All Saints’ Day) is a solemnity celebrated on November 1st in honour of all the saints. Similarly, All Souls’ Day is a day to honour all the good Christians who have departed this world. The word “Halloween” itself reflects its Christian roots, coming from “All Hallows’ Eve”. However, the holiday is far from unanimously accepted by all Christian denominations. Some feel that Halloween’s pagan influences are incompatible with the Christian faith. In fact, the Vatican condemned Halloween as anti-Christian three years ago.
To assert that Halloween excludes everyone who isn’t Celtic or the right denomination of Christian is a bit ludicrous. Many cultures have day of the dead festivals. Mexico celebrates el Día de los Muertos, which dates back hundreds of years to an Aztec festival. Korea has Chuseok, a three-day harvest and ancestral worship holiday held around the Autumn equinox. China has a few – the Chung Yeung Festival, Qingming Festival, and Yu Lan – all to pay respect to the dead.
There’s no doubt that Halloween can be offensive. But I’m thinking of the costumes that make light of child abuse or mental illness or racism or the ones that make you cringe and say “too soon.” I’m thinking of that “foreclosure mill” firm whose employees dressed up as homeless people. This is usually not a problem for children in elementary schools so long as their parents have some common sense. Don’t dress up your child like a Native American or a saucy French chambermaid and things will be fine.
Halloween, especially for children, is a time to be creative. The same friend who was learning that Halloween isn’t inclusive said that she really enjoyed the holiday as a kid because she could participate even though her family didn’t have a lot of money. I feel the same way. Unlike most other mainstream holidays, which necessitate Christianity and an extravagant dinner or gifts, Halloween was, at least in my mind, for everyone. There’s no doubt that the best costumes are homemade. I still have my Nightmare Before Christmas Sally Wobbles costume that I sewed from old t-shirts in 9th grade.
Despite what the Ontario College of Teachers says, I think Halloween can be multicultural. For instance, I was delighted one year when my friend dressed up as Sun Wukong (“the Monkey King”), the protagonist of the classic Chinese epic I grew up with, Journey to the West. And unlike with most Hollywood movies, no one cares when Poison Ivy is Asian or when Spock is Black during Halloween. Being culturally sensitive doesn’t mean we have to take things away. It just means we have to pay attention.
|Jet Li as the Monkey King in the 2008 adaption, The Forbidden Kingdom
|My friend Zack as the Monkey King