WASHINGTON – The backlash against traditional Halloween celebrations in schools became so prevalent that experts even coined a term for it: Satanic panic.
The term was invented to define the reaction of groups who became concerned about reports of satanic rituals in society, beginning in the 1980s and continuing through today, said James Stewart, an expert on hysteria and fads.
But schools are overreacting to parent complaints and should not feel the need to change their policies, said Stewart, the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Dakota.
“Schools are doing the p.c. (politically correct) solution. It’s just about p.c. fadism,” said Stewart, who said schools should ignore parents on this issue.
That’s easier said than done for school systems. Don Morrison, a spokesman for Harford County Public Schools, said it is more than a fad or politically correct dilemma for some parents.
“There are those people who think that Halloween is anti-Christian,” he said.
Some Christians worry about Halloween because it is the most important religious day for Wiccans, a neo-pagan religion that is often mistaken for a satanic religion, said Ingrid Shafer, a professor of philosophy and religion at the University of Arts and Sciences in Oklahoma.
“In certain Christian circles, they only see things in black and white. Halloween is thrown in with other customs that may seem destructive,” said Shafer.
But she noted that Halloween is actually an adaptation of the Christian All Hallows’ Day and has no link to anti-Christian or satanic religions.
“Those who are afraid of Halloween don’t understand the history. I think it’s because of confusion about the pre-Christian realm,” said Shafer.
Stewart said the modern version of Halloween is simply an innocent holiday that is taken too seriously.
“There’s nothing threatening about Halloween. Halloween is just a bunch of kids dressed in costume going for candy,” said Stewart.
Even if it was what its detractors fear, children would likely not pick up on the religious ramifications of the holiday, said Sherry Kragler, elementary school professor at Ball State University. They just think of it as time to celebrate, she said.
“Adults have a tendency to put a spin on things that kids don’t. As a parent, Halloween was just a time to dress up and have fun,” said Kragler.