Sunday, October 29, 2006

Those Christians Spoil Everything!

Just read this article in FW Weekly, the local alternative (read: liberal) weekly newspaper. Apparently, the most pressing issue to one Mr. Bills is church-sponsored Fall Family Fun Festivals that compete with Halloween trick-or-treating.

There are many things that local Bible-thumpers have lined up to stop or prohibit in the last few years. Abortion and gay marriage get most of the press, but another prohibition is becoming increasingly widespread and equally nefarious. Silently and unobtrusively, Christian naysayers are boycotting Halloween.

Cue the spooky music! Oh, no! They're trying to get rid of Halloween?! Why hasn't this been on Channel 5?! Is there an "End Halloween NOW" organization that we just haven't been told about yet? Why aren't all the political candidates discussing this? When Republicans discuss family values is this code language for legislating trick-or-treating out of existence?

Ok, sarcasm off.

I'm not sure what planet Bills has been living on, but to my knowledge, a lot of churches have always boycotted Halloween, given that it's been a pagan holiday for centuries (that's what all those witches and black cats are about, after all). What Bills is complaining about is a phenomenon that's at least 30 years old, if not older: churches having "fall parties" on Halloween which eschew the scary trappings for more scarecrow-and-pumpkin" decorations. The church I attended as a kid had one as did most other churches on the west side of Fort Worth. They had the same games (tic tac toe, beanbag toss, cake walk) that one plays at any elementary school carnival. The big difference, of course, was that there were no Draculas or Frankensteins or witches among the crowd. Just Raggedy Anns and clowns and angels and such.

But to Bills, having a party on Halloween without calling it "Halloween" is, well, subversive.

It’s nothing anyone has said aloud. It’s probably not even something the naysayers want much attention brought to. But it’s happening. Halloween is slowly being snatched up and replaced by “wholesome” religious gatherings.

Interestingly, in describing these Halloween party poopers (or trick or treat poopers, if you will), Bills uses language usually reserved for racists and homophobes:

They’re not picketing or publicly condemning Halloween. It’s more like a “whisper” campaign. They’re surreptitiously intimating that Halloween is the devil’s work, that it’s a heretical, pantheistic ritual that has no place in Christendom, that the observance of it encourages witchcraft and black magic. And pursuant to these outrageous assertions, they’re refraining from decorating their houses, refusing to pass out candy, and — much to the chagrin of even their own children — excluding themselves and their families from the trick-or-treat festivities.

Maybe Bills hasn't been paying attention to Halloween for the last 30 years. Maybe he never heard all the urban myths about cyanide in Pixie Sticks and razor blades in apples (that was when I was a kid), but the idea of gangs of kids running around in the dark without parental supervision has been considered dangerous since the 1970s. That's when we first started talking about "wear light colored costumes" (hard to be Dracula in a white cape) and checking all the candy before eating any and not eating anything homemade (no popcorn balls!). By the 1980s, scary costumes worn to school were replaced with "career day" clothing like nurses, fire fighters, and doctors.

In short, what Bills is condemning churches for doing is just a product of our cautious culture and has been building for at least four decades. Most parents don't want to take the risk of their children getting hit by cars while crossing dark streets, approaching strangers (which we spend the other 364 days of the year telling our kids to avoid), and taking food that might not be safe. They would rather let their kids dress up and go to a party where they know who is there and what they are going to do. That's not subversive. That's safe.

The worst part of Bills's column is its insinuation that this is just more meddling by those damn Christians who should be spending their time worrying about the pagan roots of Christmas and Easter instead of the blatant paganism of a holiday celebrated by dressing up like witches and ghouls. Bills acts as though children don't have fun on Halloween unless they are egging someone's house or begging for food from neighbors. In truth, kids have fun on Halloween because they get to dress up, play games, take a turn in the bounce house, go on a hayride, and get some candy. And it doesn't matter to the kids whether that candy comes from adults they know or adults they don't. But it does matter to their parents.