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In defense of Halloween

Could the censorious scolds and overprotective parents just give it a rest for this one day?

This candy is unhealthy. But Halloween is not.Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The “war on Halloween” has never gotten as much traction in the right-wing media outlets as the purported “war on Christmas” that Fox News brays about every winter. That may be because Halloween killjoys come from both sides of America’s endless culture wars: Some conservative Christians have long disliked the holiday’s pagan roots, while the school districts banning Halloween celebrations in recent years have tended to use lefty buzzwords about inclusivity to justify those decisions. And the biggest threat to Halloween of all — overprotective parents — knows no ideological boundaries.

We’re certainly not here to offer parenting advice. But, in the same way that enemy armies in World War I observed a truce to honor Christmas, might we suggest that Halloween be a truce day in the exhausting trench warfare that has become modern American culture? Would it kill anyone to just let kids have fun without pouncing to judge their costumes, behavior, parents, or calorie intake? If you’re the sort of person looking for a reason to be offended and then broadcast your umbrage on social media — could you just go read a book tonight instead?


This year has already seen its share of Halloween controversies. A district in New Jersey banned Halloween festivities during the school day, drawing a rebuke from the state’s governor (”Give me a break,” he wrote). In Massachusetts, the Northborough school superintendent cancelled — and then swiftly uncancelled — Halloween parades, explaining that the initial decision aligned with “the district’s core values of equity and inclusion.” The reasons given in Northborough were typical: Not everyone can afford a costume; some kids feel anxious about wearing one; and the holiday doesn’t accord with the personal values of some families.

It is not possible to run a school in a way that aligns with the beliefs and values of all parents, though. There will always be balancing acts for schools. And what the critiques of Halloween typically fail to account for is the other side of the ledger — what is lost if the scolds get their way. For one thing, the holiday is a fun outlet for creativity, and that’s not nothing (“It makes me feel upset that I don’t get to show my friends my costume,” one elementary school student in Northborough told Fox 25). By its nature, Halloween is also a bit transgressive: a night to purposely look grotesque, assume a different identity, stay out past bedtime. That, too, has value.


It especially has value now, when kids are more over-programmed by their parents than ever. A new article in the Journal of Pediatrics links the rise in depression and anxiety among children to the declining amounts of independent, unstructured time. One night a year is not going to change that — especially when parents refuse to allow their kids to go trick-or-treating on their own — but it might at least help.

It should go without saying that nobody should be pressured into participating in Halloween. Schools — and everyone else — should respect the wishes of those who leave the porch light off tonight. The Globe does not generally endorse egging. But at the same time, the more regimented and rule bound life for kids becomes — the more they have to worry about saying the right thing on social media, the more they have to worry about navigating parental expectations — the more important it is to have just one day to take a break from those norms.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.