Halloween – Fear or Fun?

No Comments | October 2015
© Shutterstock | Merydolla

© Shutterstock | Merydolla

Halloween is here once again; a day revolving around poltergeists, witches, zombies, black cats and bats. A superstitious night, fixated upon uncanny, otherworldly, ghoulish costumes and plenty of death imagery, celebrating a day of the dead and all in the name of ‘fun.’ Unfortunately, the gruesomeness and emphasis on real-life gore has become so extensive, that people no longer know what is real. Sadly, in 2014, a deeply disturbing incident occurred. Residents who saw a man drag his decapitated mother’s body into a street believed they were witnessing a macabre Halloween prank. The body was found near a home decorated with Halloween pumpkins, fake cobwebs and a mock graveyard. “Everyone thought it was like a Halloween prank,” a neighbour commented.[1] This is not only tragic but alarming and one wonders where is the fun in the deathly connotations of Halloween?

Origins of Halloween

Where and how did Halloween originate? Halloween originates from the Celtic festival of death, marking the beginning of their New Year. “To Witches and Pagans, Samhain is the Festival of the Dead, and for many, it is the most important Sabbat (Holiday) of the year.[2] ‘Samhain,’ pronounced sow-en or saw-win, “dates back to the ancient Celts who lived 2,000 years ago” and is celebrated on 31st October or 1st November.[3]In the Celtic Tradition, the year begins at Samhain[;] this is the most powerful night of the year to perform divination. Divination is done in many forms but all seek to establish a look ahead, whether the answer appears good or bad.”[4] In Christian tradition, Halloween is the abbreviated term for ‘All Hallows of Eve,’ the day before All Saints’ Day, a day when Christians commemorate all the known and unknown deceased saints of the Church.

Halloween Costumes

Halloween decoration in front of a house. © Shutterstock | Orhan Cam

Halloween decoration in front of a house. © Shutterstock | Orhan Cam

More recently, Halloween has become gorier resulting in more extreme costumes.[5] Halloween costumes for young children have ranged from “killer clowns brandishing blood-soaked machetes, deranged convicts and zombie ninjas armed with knives. Add to that the…fictional killers who gave people nightmares during the ‘80s and ‘90s – Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees from ‘Friday the 13th’ and Chucky, the murderous doll from ‘Child’s Play’—now available in sizes that can fit a five-year-old.”[6] Generally, adults and parents try to present good and positive role models to children, which is vital in their day-to-day lives. However, such costumes symbolising violence, bloodshed and death, undermine this and have a very negative and harmful impact on young children. Regardless of the fact that they are only costumes worn for fun, they are linked to horror and violence, which irrefutably has a negative impact on everyone.

Fun and Fear

Surely, babies and young children will not perceive passers-by on a dark night dressed as zombies, with disfigured parts of the body covered in blood and vampire-like teeth, as entertaining. According to Dr. Mirriam Stoppard, “Nearly all children have some irrational fears, such as fear of monsters, ghosts, or dragons. Remember, to your child a fear is serious, so you shouldn’t try to tell them that fears are unreal.”[7] Younger children need assurance and comfort from fears, so even if they are dressed as fluffy characters, princesses or heroes, they will still come across other people dressed as werewolves, zombies and monsters. Parents can help their child to deal with their fears. Baby and childcare expert Dr. Spock says, “You can help your child deal with particular fears, whether about dogs or insects or monsters, by lowering the level of tension in general. Avoid scary films and TV programs.[8]

Children are naturally more prone to being scared easily. Psychologist Dr. Lawrence Ross says, “As Halloween draws near many parents wonder whether allowing their children to watch horror movies can be harmful for them. It is true that many children and adolescents are drawn to horror movies[.] It is equally true that many of these same children experience negative effects of trouble falling asleep, nightmares, fear of the dark, anxiety, increased feelings of vulnerability and increased concerns about possible (and sometimes unlikely) dangers that can befall them[.] These negative effects sometimes last days or weeks but sometimes they can last much longer.”[9]

Clearly, young children should not be exposed to horror movies, but even teens can be affected. Family therapist Jeanne Meijs explains, “Many parents deny access to porn sites and violent games on children’s computers, tablets and phones – and this is indeed important…Witnessing perversion and violence is something they are unable to deal with at a young age. Who would feed liquor or poisonous plants to a child that had just learnt to eat? Similarly you don’t feed children of twelve, thirteen or fourteen, who are just beginning to feel the first hormones playing in their bodies, sadism and horror. That would be bad in taste, to put it mildly.[10] Halloween emphasises horror, death and the occult, primarily through horror movies and video games. Parents can help to prevent the exposure of their children to these things.

Horror Movies

Halloween decorations. © Shutterstock | Maya Kruchankova

Halloween decorations.
© Shutterstock | Maya Kruchankova

Halloween night is peak time for horror movies and each year the movie industry creates even more horrifying images than they have in the past. The Los Angeles Times reports, “Just when you think Halloween Horror Nights can’t possibly get any better, the annual Universal Studios Hollywood event finds new and more impressive ways to terrorize you. Like an evil genius devising more deviously clever ways to dispatch his victims, Horror Nights has upped its industry-leading game once again with a host of otherworldly and mythological puppet creatures that will take your breath away with their frightening realism.”[11]

Horror can impact anyone, as Dr. Ross explains, “Even for adolescents, horror movies can have serious lasting effects. It is certainly true that the amount of violence and blood and gore has increased and has steadily been depicted with more detail and realism over the last 50 years. Beyond this the horror movies watched by adolescents often contain disturbing sexual images and situations that can alter their view of human sexuality. The primary reason that horror movies can be so harmful is that although we may know in our mind that the movie is not real, our body and our physiological responses react to the images and events as if they were real![12]

Most people do not enjoy horror and gore, but the commercialism of Halloween has a strong influence on society. It is celebrated to such a scale nowadays, that even people who do not wish to celebrate Halloween may do so, so as not to be ostracised or perceived as ‘spoilsports.’

Access to Horror on the Internet

Halloween decorations in the front yard of a house in America on Halloween. © Shutterstock | Arina P Habich

Halloween decorations in the front yard of a house in America on Halloween.
© Shutterstock | Arina P Habich

In these modern times of digital dependence, everyone has a technological gadget including many children. With the Internet, horror films and games have become widely accessible. Games such as “Giant spiders, bleeding walls, inexplicable whispers…the games that will leave you quivering in fear” and ‘freakish’ games like Alien Isolation and The Evil Within rank amongst the top ten horror video games during Halloween.[13] The use of the Internet on any gadget can be both beneficial and detrimental and needs to be closely monitored where children are concerned. The author of several parenting books and family therapist, Jeanne Meijs, explains, “Modern parents have a double task now that ‘going out’ is just as much of a temptation inside the house as outside…Parents who take care to keep an eye on their children are not old-fashioned, but rather as modern as can be. They are conscious of the power of digital violence. As parents we need to be alert to what our children are doing, and with whom, on the Internet.”[14]

Halloween-related Incidents

Regardless of people passionately debating that Halloween is fun and entertaining, the dark side of Halloween has an undeniably negative impact on many individuals. It is a time for wild partying and drinking for many people. The New York Times reports, “Halloween is one of the deadliest nights of the year because there are more drunken drivers and pedestrians on the road, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”[15] A tragic and shocking incident related to Halloween, included a murder confession of a teenager who copied a Halloween film. “A 17-year-old wrote in a confession…that the horror movie remake of ‘Halloween’ gave him the idea to kill his mother and sister…In a four-page written confession to police hours after his arrest, Evans said he had watched the remake of ‘Halloween’ three times earlier that week.”[16] Although these may be two of a handful of such incidents in relation to Halloween, the truth is that it was a murder inspired and motivated by a Halloween horror film.

Halloween Pranks or Real Crime?

Witch table with halloween pumpkin. © Shutterstock | Shaiith

Witch table with halloween pumpkin. © Shutterstock | Shaiith

The emphasis on Halloween gore is so realistic these days, that unfortunately on a few occasions, passers-by have mistaken dead bodies for Halloween displays. “In 1997, a Connecticut woman was hit by a car outside of a haunted house display. Passersby, on their way to partake of the fright and gore at the Nightmare at Floydville Road, thought the woman who lay there dying, bloodied and in pain, was part of the act…Kimberley Kitrinos eventually died from her injuries and police were able to track down the drive…A bit more recently, in October 2005, a Delaware woman committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree. People who saw the body hanging across the street from some houses on a relatively busy street thought it was a Halloween decoration and didn’t call the police or 911. The next morning, people went to work and saw the body of the 42-year-old woman, but no one thought anything of it, thinking it was a Halloween prank. Hours later someone finally called the police, who discovered that the body was in fact real.” In Los Angeles October 2009, a man’s corpse decomposed on his balcony, in full view of his neighbours, for days and no one called the police because they believed it to be a very convincing Halloween display. In 2013, a Denver postman came across a body on someone’s front porch and walked away thinking it was a Halloween decoration. Sadly it turned out to be a man who died on his porch after a late shift at work.[17]

These incidents are tragic and one feels a revulsion at the thought of such occurrences. The macabre commercialism of Halloween has become excessive and is responsible for such tragic and unfortunate incidents. Such deaths on any other day apart from Halloween would never be ignored.

No Fun in Halloween Expenditure

It seems that the only ones who are really having fun on Halloween are the businesses that are profiting by millions every year. In 2014, it was predicted how much Americans would spend on Halloween, “The National Retail Federation (NRF) forecasts total Halloween spending—including candy, costumes, and decorations— to come to $7.4 billion this year…The NRF estimates that Americans will spend $350 million just on pet Halloween costumes.”[18]

It is a positive that people love their pets and take good care of them but buying them Halloween costumes is ludicrous! Spending so much on one day is excessive and wasteful on a national scale.

No Fun in Food Wastage on Halloween

The food wastage at Halloween in terms of the big, carved pumpkins also needs reflection. “But while US pumpkin buyers enjoy turning their fruit into a tasty dish, their UK counterparts have been far more reluctant to cook the scooped-out insides, with only a third choosing to do so, according to research from the Pumpkin Rescue campaign. As a result, 18,000 tons of perfectly edible squash is tipped straight into the bin every Halloween – weighing the same as 1,500 double decker buses.”[19]

Where is the fun in outrageous amounts of food wastage for celebrating one day? According to the World Food Programme, “Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth.[20] The fact and thought of such excessive food wastage compared to the heart rending images of children dying of starvation in parts of the world, makes this reality of food wastage on Halloween even more repugnant.

Conclusion

Many people argue that Halloween is about bringing communities together, meeting neighbours and treating children. However, this is no longer the case. The reality is that Halloween encourages anti-social behaviour and creates a greedy and selfish attitude within children. Most parents supervise their younger children as they ‘trick-or-treat,’ but safety is a huge concern for everyone involved in the traditions of Halloween. As has been proven in this article, there is nothing good or positive to be promoted regarding Halloween. The negative influences and beliefs of those who celebrate this day of the dead have crept into society and it has become grossly over-commercialised, with more extreme merchandise that encourages negative concepts of violence and death. This does not mean that people cannot and should not have fun. It would be ideal if local communities were to organise their own fun days on dates apart from Halloween. Such events could involve the elderly and would mean that they no longer had to open their doors to children posing as threats behind menacing masks.

For more information on the origins of Halloween read, ‘Halloween – Harmless or Harmful Fun’ from the October 2011 issue of The Review of Religions.

About the Author: Navida Sayed is a long serving member on the Editorial Board of The Review of Religions and is currently Editor of the Christianity Section. She has been the Coordinator of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Women’s Research Team UK since 1992, whose work has predominantly revolved around Biblical studies.

 

Endnotes

  1. “Son Kills & Decapitates Mother In What Witnesses Thought Was A Halloween Prank,” The Huffington Post, last modified October 30, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/30/son-kills-decapitates-mother-witnesses-halloween-prank_n_6073540.html.
  2. “The History of Samhain and Halloween,” The Pagan’s Path, last modified October 13, 2009, http://www.paganspath.com/magik/samhain-history.htm.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Samhain – The Wheel of The Year,” The White Goddess, accessed October 1, 2015, http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/the_wheel_of_the_year/samhain.asp.
  5. Andre Mayer, “Halloween: When Did It Become so Gory?” CBC News, last modified October 31, 2013, http://www.cbc.ca/news/halloween-when-did-it-become-so-gory-1.2288573.
  6. Melissa Rayworth, “Halloween Costumes For Kids Are Gorier This Year Than Ever,” The Huffington Post, last modified October 24, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/halloween-costumes-for-kids_n_2011495.html.
  7. Dr. Miriam Stoppard, Complete Baby and Childcare (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2006), 136.
  8. Benjamin Spock and Robert Needlman, Dr. Spock’s Baby & Childcare (London: Simon & Schuster, 2011),189.
  9. Lawrence Ross, “Can Watching Horror Films Be Harmful To Our Children?,” Tidewater Parent, publication date October 22, 2013, http://tidewaterparent.com/2013/10/22/can-watching-horror-films-harmful-children/.
  10. Jeanne Meijs, Understanding The Journey (Edinburgh: Floris, 2013), 136.
  11. Brady MacDonald, “Review: Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights Gets Better as Crowds Grow Bigger,” Los Angeles Times, publication date September 21, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/travel/themeparks/la-trb-halloween-horror-nights-review-universal-studios-hollywood-20140920-story.html#page=1.
  12. Lawrence Ross, “Can Watching Horror Films Be Harmful To Our Children?,” Tidewater Parent, publication date October 22, 2013, http://tidewaterparent.com/2013/10/22/can-watching-horror-films-harmful-children/.
  13. Oliver Cragg, “Top 10 horror video games for Halloween,” Independent, publication date October 31, 2014, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/gaming/top-10-horror-video-games-9830279.html.
  14. Jeanne Meijs, Understanding The Journey (Edinburgh: Floris, 2013), 136-137.
  15. Ashley Southall, “Deadly Halloween Across the Nation,” The New York Times, publication date November 2, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/us/deadly-halloween-across-the-nation.html?_r=0.
  16. Scott Gordon, “Confession: Horror Movie Gave Teen Idea to Kill Family,” NBCDFW, publication date January 24, 2013, http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Confession-Horror-Movie-Gave-Teen-Idea-to-Kill-Family-188296041.html.
  17. Kathy Landin, “5 Horrible Accidents People Thought Were Halloween Displays,” Total News Wire, publication date October 23, 2014, http://totalnewswire.com/halloween-true-stories-of-tragedy/?trackback=tsmclip.
  18. Bourree Lam, “Wait, Americans Spend How Much on Halloween?,” The Atlantic, publication date October 21, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/wait-americans-spend-how-much-on-halloween/381631/.
  19. Tom Bawden, “Save Our Pumpkins: UK wastes 18,000 Tons of Food While Carving Halloween Jack O’Lanterns,” Independent, publication date October 27, 2014, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/save-our-pumpkins-uk-wastes-18000-tons-of-food-while-carving-halloween-jack-olanterns-9820896.html.
  20. “Hunger Statistics,” World Food Programme, accessed October 2, 2015, http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats.

 

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