America Makes Halloween Mask More Friendly

Christina Minor
Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald
October 30, 2001

Halloween is the one holiday that asks people to suspend disbelief. It gives them a chance, for just one moment, to mask themselves and create a character. It offers them a chance to play a role, to escape from their ordinary lives.

For kids, though, some roles are off-limits these days.

Concerns about evil images and violent characters even before the September 11 terrorist attacks have put gory, mean-spirited monsters, once as Halloween as pumpkins and candy, on the endangered species list. Many Halloween parties for kids, now called "fall festivals," don't even allow ghosts and other scary costumes.

Halloween, it seems, has met its maker.

"(It's) a time to be creative and inventive," said Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia. "But we don't need the gory, scary images to do that."

Halloween began as the ancient Celtic festival, in which the Celts believed ghosts of the dead returned to Earth. Sacred bonfires were built, and people would dress in costumes and burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. Trick-or-treating in costumes originated in Europe. On Halloween, people who feared meeting ghosts if they left their homes wore masks to "blend in" with the spirits. To keep ghosts away from their homes, candy dishes were left on porches in hopes the spirits would eat the candy and not enter their homes.

Scary Monsters Part of the Fun

Immigrants helped make Halloween a yearly celebration in the United States, with children dressing in costumes and going door-to-door in search of tricks and treats. The tradition grew from there. People began hosting parties for children, and offering games and food all with scary monsters part of the fun.

But Michael Nuccitelli, a family and child psychologist in New York, said Americans have begun to change the face of Halloween in recent years with the focus off the dead and frightful images.

"It's been a trend in the last few years that festivities have dropped off," he said. "Back in the 1970s and 1980s, we heard about razor blades in candy and kids being beaten up. Parents became concerned, and I think that set the precedence for today."

Nuccitelli said parents also have changed their trick-or-treating habits. Visiting homes throughout the neighborhood was once acceptable. Now children mostly visit close friends and family. Some even trick or treat during daylight hours.

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