How to Opt Out of Halloween Festivities

Posted October 1, 2007
Updated October 13, 2007

Kim Weir's family used to hide on Halloween night. She and her husband felt the holiday conflicted with their Christian beliefs, so they tried pretending it wasn't happening.

"We would turn out all the lights and pretend we weren't home, hide in the back of the house and watch a movie," says Weir, founder of Engaging Women Ministries and a mother of three, who lives in Texas.

The trouble was, in a country where Halloween-related spending is projected to top $5 billion this year according to the National Retail Federation, it's nearly impossible to hide from this festival of candy and costumes. "As our kids got older," Weir says, "they would be like, 'why don't we celebrate?'"

Rabbi Irwin Kula, co-president of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, faced the same question from his children. The frenzy surrounding Halloween was more than they could ignore.

"When you have $5 billion being spent and millions of kids in the streets, there is a lot of cultural, psychic and spiritual energy," Kula says. "Anybody who gets up Halloween morning knows it. By 2 p.m., you're walking in the street and there's an energy in the street that's not there the day before."

For parents who don't want to participate in Halloween - whether because of religious concerns, objection to its intense commercialization, or simply because they were raised in countries that don't celebrate it - October 31 can be a complicated day. Especially if their kids don't like being the only ones in class not participating.

Mark Young, who lives in New York City, was raised in a Jewish family that celebrated Halloween. But he remembers growing up with friends "who felt like they were left out" because they weren't permitted to trick-or-treat.

So what's a parent to do if they don't want their family to celebrate Halloween in the standard ghosts-and-goblins way? Here are some strategies for those struggling with this much-hyped holiday:

Discuss your objections with your kids and share your experiences with them.

If you were raised in a home where Halloween was considered offensive, explain how you handled that growing up. "Age appropriate conversation is critical," Kula says. "The older their age, the more you have to be articulate about your own values."

It may help to take a fresh look at the subject, even if you're fairly sure of your opinion. Research may reinforce your objections or minimize them.

"Parents really need to ask themselves why they're choosing to say 'no' here. Because the choice of when we say 'no' to our kids and when we say 'yes' often has more to do with us than with our kids," Kula says.

Consider co-opting typical Halloween imagery to teach your kids some positive lessons.

On a recent Halloween night, Weir and her husband invited their kids and a several other teenagers to a local cemetery.

"We had a scavenger hunt in the cemetery - find the tombstone with the longest name, the tombstone with the person who died the youngest or oldest. Then we all gathered around one, gave prizes, and we talked about dash in the middle of the tombstone. We said, 'We know this person was born in this year, the person died in this year, but what about the dash?'"

Weir then spoke about how best to live one's life, turning a spooky party in a cemetery into an opportunity to share her views with a group of teens.

If you object to Halloween's rampant commercialization, put the focus on giving rather than getting.

"When we're at our doors and people knock, we can turn it into a giving holiday," Kula says. Instead of going trick-or-treating, tell your children, "'You pick out the candy you'd like to give, and you take five pieces for yourself. And then when people come to the door, you be the one to give,'" he says. Another option is telling kids they can trick-or-treat, but they need to share their haul with others.

To further take the focus off the commercial, consider crafting homemade costumes instead of buying expensive outfits depicting licensed characters from movies or TV.

Want the fun without the fear? Plan your own celebration for October 31 that doesn't include the horror factor.

KinderCare daycare centers across the country have autumn and harvest celebrations for their students with no mention of Halloween. "If we go to the pumpkin patch, we go to see how pumpkins grow and what things you find at a pumpkin patch. It's not about the whole jack-o-lantern thing," says Sharon Bergen, KinderCare's vice president of education and training.

"If you're concerned about having your kids go to a party with ghosts and goblins and people with hatchets in their heads," says Weir, "then you have the party. Build a camp fire and have s'mores," she says, but tell stories - scary or otherwise - that you choose.

Kula suggests addressing the scary stuff head on. "Say your kid wants to be the scary monster," Kula says. "They come home and say, 'I want to be from Friday the 13th' and it scares you to see that kind of darkness coming out of your child. It's an incredible opportunity to say something about it, to shift the conversation."

Some kids love the dress-up aspect of Halloween, but are glad to skip the vampire bats and haunted houses. Pankaj Gautam's four-year-old daughter loved her school's Halloween costume party last year. But the site of older trick-or-treaters in scary masks at the door of her family's Dublin, California, home frightened her.

"The fun part is the whole costume thing, you know. She can be all fairy tale," says Gautam. "But there are a few things which she gets scared of. If we can avoid that part, then it's perfect."

If opting out is a new decision, give the kids some warning.

"It's very bad to make the decision on Halloween night," Kula says. "Just as pumpkins and costumes begin appearing a month before, make the decision a month before."

If the kids keep lobbying after you've told them no, he advises standing firm: "Say, 'we don't celebrate because it doesn't feel right to us. Other people are welcome to celebrate, but one of the great things about this country is that we can choose.'"


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