A chill creeps into the air, tree limbs are suddenly stark and
bare, and children of all ages disguise themselves as ghosts,
goblins, and witches.
For many American parents, the celebration of Halloween is a
long-standing tradition of American childhood, as integral a part of
autumn as a cup of hot cider or a football bonfire.
But for a growing number of today's school administrators,
Halloween has become pretty spooky.
Fears of school violence, protests from parents about the
holiday's pagan roots, and discomfort over losing class hours in an
age rigidly focused on test scores have put a damper on traditional
classroom festivities. Even as adults sink record amounts of money
into lavish costumes and parties, more schools are either easing
the holiday out altogether or celebrating it in ways that replace
dark and disturbing images with more wholesome and educationally
sound activities. * At Manatee Elementary School in West Palm Beach,
Fla., students march in a "storybook" parade, with costumes linked
to the school's curriculum. Third-graders this year will be
sporting Greek togas to supplement classroom lessons on ancient
"There will be nothing scary, nothing spooky," says Patricia
Mangiafico, assistant principal. "That's just not appropriate for
* At the 27 charter schools in Michigan, North Carolina, and New
York run by Grand Rapids-based National Heritage Academies, there
are no Halloween celebrations during class time, although a few of
the schools hold evening "fall festivals."
"School administrators have got enough on their plates today
without the distraction of having kids dress up and act out," says
Todd Avis, director of education for the schools.
* In Conway, N.H., a school-board meeting will be held in
November to discuss whether Halloween should be removed from
elementary schools' curriculum. A former board member pushed the
issue, saying that Halloween glorifies evil and death and
celebrates the occult.
* In Troutdale, Ore., teachers at Sweetbriar Elementary School
got together and fundamentally reshaped the Halloween tradition.
Concerned about the inequity (some children wore lavish costumes
that others could not afford) and the frenzy the holiday created,
they established more-quiet activities featuring simple costumes
made in school. This year, first-graders, for instance, will act
out a teddy bears' picnic, wearing paper ears they cut out.
"It won't be so much of a distraction," says principal Pat Baker.
If schools are uncomfortable with Halloween, the American public
in general seems to feel the opposite. In economic terms, the
celebration is second only to Christmas, with retail sales of more
than $3.5 billion, according to the National Retail Federation in
But perhaps in part because of the elaborate nature of some
celebrations, there has been a backlash in many circles, including
some conservative Christian groups that see Halloween as the
unnecessary glorification of a pagan ritual.
"I certainly would rather not see people celebrate it or be
involved with it," says the Rev. Keenan Roberts, associate pastor
at the Abundant Life Christian Center in Arvada, Colo. He says the
distaste he and some others feel for the holiday didn't exist even
a generation ago. "I was raised in a pastor's home myself, and back
when I was a kid, nobody thought anything about [celebrating
Halloween]," Mr. Roberts says.
Not for my children - or yours, either
But today, he notes, excessive media attention to some of the
gorier aspects of the holiday has caused more parents to question
the extent to which they want their children involved.
Some see the rejection of Halloween as part of a larger social
backlash. They believe that for many parents, playing up Halloween
in school - even as Christmas celebrations become more subdued - is
one more infuriating example of the triumph of secular values in
the classroom. …