Parents and other residents in the sleepy Connecticut town of Milford are outraged by the school district’s recent decision to ban the popular Halloween parades at the city’s elementary schools, due to fear of excluding Muslim children who won’t participate in the tradition.
Victoria Johannsen, mother of a third-grader at Live Oaks School, said she heard about the decision via a letter last week from the school’s principal. The letter declared there wouldn’t be any Halloween parades at the elementary schools this year — a decision that, according to the letter, “arose out of numerous incidents of children being excluded from activities due to religion, cultural beliefs, etc.”
Virtually all Halloween traditions are based either in ancient pagan culture, or in Christianity. From an Islamic point of view, they all are forms of idolatry (shirk). As Muslims, our celebrations should be ones that honor and uphold our faith and beliefs. How can we worship only Allah, the Creator, if we participate in activities that are based in pagan rituals, divination, and the spirit world?
Many people participate in these celebrations without even understanding the history and the pagan connections, just because their friends are doing it, their parents did it (“it’s a tradition!”), and because “it’s fun!”
So what can we do, when our children see others dressed up, eating candy, and going to parties? While it may be tempting to join in, we must be careful to preserve our own traditions and not allow our children to be corrupted by this seemingly “innocent” fun. When tempted, remember the pagan origins of these traditions, and ask Allah to give you strength. Save the celebration, the fun and games, for our ‘Eid festivals. Children can still have their fun, and most importantly, should learn that we only acknowledge holidays that have a religious significance to us as Muslims. Holidays are not just excuses to binge and be reckless. In Islam, our holidays retain their religious importance, while allowing proper time for rejoicing, fun and games.
In addition to canceling the parades, the letter stated the district is forbidding students and staff to wear Halloween costumes during the day, and decreeing that any classroom activities be “fall themed, not Halloween, and food is not an option.”
Johannsen said she was shocked by the decision. “I think it’s crazy,” she said. “I don’t understand why other avenues weren’t pursued” to accommodate the families who felt excluded.
Though she respects the desire to respect other people’s beliefs, she said the decision isn’t fair to students who cherish the annual parade, which allows them to show off their Halloween costumes. “I don’t think we’re excluding anybody,” Johannsen said. “I think they’re excluding themselves.”
She is one of more than 200 people who have signed a petition at Change.org calling on the schools to restore the parade. The petition, started by Milford resident Rebecca Lilley, calls the cancellation of the parade nothing less than an assault on tradition.
“These are our American customs and traditions and we should not have to give them up because others find them offensive!” the petition reads. “I’m so tired (of) my kids missing out on some of the things we all got to do as children and are some of the greatest childhood memories I have due to others saying they find it offensive.”
Those who signed the petition include Milford resident Heather Sharpe, whose children — now 15 and 20 — both participated in the Halloween parades when they were in grade school. “I now have nieces and nephews who won’t be able to experience that,” she said. “Everything has gotten to the point where everything has gotten so P.C. that kids are not allowed to have any fun any more.”
Both she and Johannsen said a better response to concerns about exclusion would be to find an activity that those who can’t participate in the parade can do while it’s going on. “If anything, they should be asking the people who feel excluded what they like to do, and having a party for them,” Sharpe said.
Jim Richetelli, chief operations officer for the Milford Public Schools, said he had “no direct knowledge” of the decisions about Halloween. But he said respecting the diversity of Milford’s student body is always a key concern. “Milford Public Schools do have many children from diverse beliefs, cultures and religions,” Richetelli said. “The goal is for all children to feel comfortable and definitely not alienated when they come to school.”
He pointed out there will be seasonal activities, including those scheduled by the PTA. Indeed, the letter Johannsen received mentioned a PTA “Trunk or Treat” event where children can wear their costumes. “Those children who want to participate in these events will have the opportunity to do so,” Richetelli said.