I was listening to WBEZ, my local NPR affiliate on Monday morning and thought that perhaps my ears were deceiving me after hearing the tail end of a story about a local school district in Skokie, Ill., just a few miles from my home, which has cancelled Halloween celebrations this year. For years, we've become accustomed to hearing stories about Christmas-related controversies, but I had no idea that Halloween is also becoming a political football in some parts of the country.
The Skokie-Morton Grove school district No. 69 has cancelled Halloween celebrations in order to be sensitive to those who can't afford costumes or don't celebrate the holiday due to religious or cultural reasons. The notion that parents can't afford costumes is absurd — my mom never bought costumes for me or my five brothers growing up, but our homemade outfits worked just fine. And if you don't feel like making costumes, you can buy them for $15 or less.
But while the cost issue seems to be a diversion, the real issue seems to be that some parents don't want their children exposed to Halloween at all.
"This is a cultural sensitivity thing for us", Skokie Superintendent Dr. Quintin Shepherd told the Skokie-Morton Grove Patch.
According to Fox News, about a dozen schools have tried to ban "costumes, parties, and parades" this year or last, but some were forced to back down after outraged parents pressured schools to reinstate Halloween celebrations. Last year, Brian Anderson, the principal at Buckman Elementary School in Portland, Ore., told the Portland Mercury that "We're pushing our traditions on an ever-changing population."
He went on to say that he used to work at an elementary school that was 40 percent Russian. "The Russian kids wouldn't come to school that day because people were dressing up and celebrating Halloween", he said. "Halloween is, in many ways, personal to some people and to other people it's very offensive."
I've spent time in Russia and I have Russian friends and I cannot imagine Russians abandoning any of their deeply cherished cultural traditions because some found them "offensive". There is no reason why the teachers at their school in Portland, or any other school that has students that don't celebrate Halloween, can't organize some other activity for them on that day.
This isn't just an issue about assimilating immigrants; some or perhaps a majority of the parents who object to Halloween are native-born Americans, many of them evangelical Christians. But the controversy does indeed raise questions about how to introduce American traditions like Halloween to immigrants.
The fact that various school districts are banning Halloween celebrations obviously doesn't mean that kids whose parents approve can't go out and trick or treat on their own time. But the idea that they can't wear costumes to school because some find them "offensive" is ridiculous. Drawing deep conclusions about the meaning of Halloween is silly — it's nothing more than a fun occasion for children to get dressed up and eat candy. It's an American tradition and it's one worth introducing to newcomers.
No one should be forced to participate in any kind of cultural celebration they don't want to be involved in, but there's no reason why children can't learn about all sorts of religious and cultural holidays celebrated here and around the world. One parent from Skokie who commented on the Patch Halloween story said that while they don't allow their children to participate in Halloween celebrations, they would hate to see the holiday cancelled for everyone else. Now that's what I call tolerance.
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