When did Halloween become so darn dangerous?

A couple of things I’ve read today, All Hallow’s Eve, have really stuck with me and made me really wonder about the state of our society.

First, I was reading through a local guide to Halloween events and was struck by the fact that each of those listed had the word “safe” in its title. But why do we need to know that the event is safe in the first place? Because, of course, there’s much about Halloween celebrations that is no longer safe.

Even before that, my 5yo and I were walking together down on the Pearl Street Mall, a major pedestrian and tourist center in town, and were startled by two men dressed in costume. Not any old costumes, but quite elaborate and grotesque nightmare outfits, one as a horrific Orc or similar, carrying two bloody and dismembered heads on chains, the other as, well, I don’t know, but it was phantasmagorical and quite frightening. G-, unsurprisingly, was fascinated by the pair and insisted we follow them for quite some time. Luckily a few minutes after we first saw them, one had to pull off his full-head mask and we got to see it was just a regular guy in a fancy outfit.

But even with that sneak view of the man underneath the outfit, G- was totally obsessed with them and kept asking me questions as the day went on, and doubly so at bedtime.

Perhaps it’s because we haven’t desensitized our kids through frequent exposure to modern media, but why should we have to? I hate feeling like a prude or old fogey or something, but I feel like we constantly have to worry about the culture around us.And I haven’t even mentioned the depressingly frequent use of obscenities in almost all settings…

Oh, and the third data point: Hundreds arrested during Halloween bash at a college party in Madison, Wisconsin. This follows a similar experience here in Boulder last year when locals set cars on fire, got into fights and even ended up in hospital.

What the heck is wrong with these people, one and all? What happened to having fun, to being silly but playful regarding Halloween and partying as a way to meet folk and maybe “get lucky”?

It’s days like this that make me quite sympathetic to folk who want to abolish Halloween entirely. And yet, I know that my kids love dress up and enjoy Halloween.

So how can we throw out the proverbial bathwater, but keep the baby?

Bah, humbug.

9 comments on “When did Halloween become so darn dangerous?

  1. We just keep having fun in spite of it all. Though the trend certainly is towards “Safe” city events or church carnivals (boring if you ask me, I love the old-fashioned door to door trick or treating!). I can remember clearly when all this started – back in the 70’s. There was some media attention to blades in candy apples (or some such thing) and everyone became paranoid, even so far as to take candy to the hospital to be x-rayed. I don’t know if it’s that we’re more aware of problems now or if it’s that there are more problems – either way we don’t let ‘them’ win.

  2. Down here (in New Zealand), it’s frowned upon as an unwelcome American custom, and why are children so darned obsessed about getting candy? Sadly, Dave, I haven’t an answer to your final question. But I did have a late grandmother who had had a stroke, who couldn’t give any to the kids, and was scared (read terrified) by the little SOBs.
       We just think there are better ways for children to spend October 31 than going around getting candy. If the dressing up is what’s fun about it all, how about just getting kids together at one house and tell ghost stories? Forget the trick and treating, and just celebrate it as a fancy-dress and catch-up event. Ten to one the kids will still have as much fun, and the parents won’t have to be as worried about their going door to door. Now that’s a custom I would be happy with.

  3. Well, count me in the curmudgeonly crowd, too, if curmudgeonly means “I want to protect my child from violent and materialistic pop culture influences.”
    My daughter is 15 months old. Last night we had kids – babies – younger than her come with their parents to get candy. These babies had fistfuls of chocolates and sweets – one infant was sucking on a lollipop! That shocked me because we’re pretty tight about sugar intake. To top off the not-so-hallowed eve, my husband’s car got egged. At least this year, we didn’t see smashed pumpkins in the yard.
    The best thing we did this year, and what will probably become a family tradition, is something our local parks department arranged. On Saturday night we went on a night hike through the redwoods. The parks department set up a 1/2 mile stretch of forest path with lit pumpkins, and at the end of the trek were bonfires and Celtic music under the stars. Very Samhain-y. Very cool.
    Way better than a Snickers and a plastic gun.

  4. I’d rather my daughter saw icky monster costumes than witness real live lynchings, or white only water fountains. So by all means we are definitely much safer today.
    I was annoyed by the prudishness I read about in the local paper. So I did a little online research. I found people who claimed that Halloween traditions came from the virgin sacrificing pagans who would burn human fat made candles in their pumpkins to ward off spirits and revel in hedonistic rituals while worshipping the god of the dead. I read about Catholics who replaced pagan holidays with catholic holidays to help boost their patronage and then there’s begging for soul cakes on All Saint’s Day in exchange for promises to pray for one’s ancestors to hurry out of purgatory and make it to heaven. Of course, there’s Druids who celebrated their deceased ancestors by honoring the harvest and the end of the farming season and the beginning of the cold and waning of the sun. I read about fairies playing pranks in villages like tipping outhouses and scattering the ash can driving organizations to push good wholesome Halloween parties where the kids bob for apples and wear costumes and dance. Stuart Schneider writes in ‘Halloween in America’ (1995) “…that neighborhood committees and local city clubs such as the Boy Scouts mobilized to organize safe and fun alternatives to vandalism. School posters of the time call for a “Sane Halloween.” Good children were encouraged to go door to door and receive treats from homes and shop owners, thereby keeping troublemakers away… By the 1930’s, these “beggar’s nights” were enormously popular and being practiced nationwide, with the “trick or treat” greeting widespread from the late 1930s.” Novelist Wesley Lowe writes perhaps the most interesting piece yet about witches and their broomsticks. “When setting out for a Sabbath, witches rubbed a sacred ointment onto their skin. This gave them a feeling of flying, and if they had been fasting they felt even giddier. Some witches rode on horseback, but poor witches went on foot and carried a broom or a pole to aid in vaulting over streams. In England when new witches were initiated they were often blindfolded, smeared with flying ointment and placed on a broomstick. The ointment would confuse the mind, speed up the pulse and numb the feet. When they were told “You are flying over land and sea,” the witch took their word for it.”
    For me – Halloween is an excuse to dress and act as one’s alter ego for one night. It’s a reason to get outside and talk to each other and survey the front yard of the neighborhood. It is the last reason to mow the lawn. It is a welcomed indulgence for our kids. It is the only time to invite a child to immerse down into the messy guts of a gourd and scoop it all out with bare hands squeezing the slimy seeds through little fingers, seeds that will be toasted with a dash of salt and eaten while they’re still warm. It is the first celebration of a the bountiful harvest ending on Thanksgiving Day when the harvest gives way to shopping till we’ve bought enough for baby Jesus and retailers to be rolling in their jubilation. It is a reason to light candles and cackle into the cool night air. It is the beginning of a long dark night where we cocoon in sweaters and turtle necks and the sandbox is covered until the world unwraps and blooms again.

  5. I wrote my blog about Halloween as well, with the beginning truth..”Oh my gosh, I must be an empty nester, I forgot Halloween.”
    While driving in my community , family oriented neighborhood, of Los Angeles, I was reminded by the ghosts flying, witches in the trees, and tombstones on the lawns…it’s time.
    I am grateful for the reminder because whether my daughter is a junior 3000 miles away from home at college or someday bringing the little ones of her own , over , I love Halloween. I remember her first costume and her current that she IM’d me.
    I don’t want my life to get so busy or so jadded that we can’t be silly , connect with our neighbors saying trick or treat as they ring our bell, or go off to a friend’s party.
    I still like to play and to celebrate imagination. Natalie Caine

  6. Hi everyone,I would like to say that Halloween(samhain) is a celebration of bringing in the harvest and a new year,etc. sorry to say witches do/did not ride on broomsticks.pagans didn’t sacrifice people.What that novelist wrote is untrue.Just a myth like christians eating a newborn.Unfortunalty my son is not into costumes,maybe next year,lol.

  7. In our neighborhood, we are the favorite house to visit on Halloween, the neighbors tell us. We never give out candy, but instead sidewalk chalk, or pencils, or crayons etc. However the thing the kids like most is that my husband won’t give them anything until they do a “trick” – which is a song or dance, or maybe a silly joke and once someone recited the periodic table!
    Our kids are all grown and my daughter was worried at Halloween that her 5 year old son’s friends would make fun of him because he wanted to be a monkey instead of one of the gruesome monsters or popular tv characters. She was surprised when all his little friends loved his costume best.
    I found this site while trying to discover why the mailto link on my site appears not to work. Now I gather I should take it off and replace it with a form. What next?
    I don’t see a search field on your site. I’d be interested in your opinion on all the drugging for ADD going on.
    Hmm so you won’t post my piece because I thought 1+ 8 could equal trouble. So now I get what looks like even more trouble!

  8. I love to see children happy, but in todays society, it is not Safe! I grew up where we did not celebrate Halloween, it used to be ANYTHING FOR THANKSGIVING? Then bring to the church for the poor. However, when I had children it started with costumes, but more a party in the home, dunking for apples, games, etc. Even though I am of Irish decent, I do not approve of it. I may be old fasioned, but I enjoy family Thanksgivings, and while on that subject, everyday should be thanksgiving for the wonderful country we live in, freedon of speech, liberty and happiness.
    Christmas should not be so commercialized, but be at least for Christians a Day of JESUS BIRTH, and Church.
    However, I doubt anything I said will impress many people, but I am all for children having good times, they are only young a short period.
    Stay safe all and God Bless you and America.

  9. Dang, we always went door to door. I think as long as you accompany your kids, y’all should be okay. On a related note, Chapel Hill is shutting down its HUGE Halloween celebration, it was definitely not kid-friendly, but it was great fun for college students.
    I don’t think Halloween is anymore dangerous, just maybe that people focus on danger and bad stuff more as it gets reported more often.

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