Is it ethical to celebrate Halloween?

Our ethical columnist suggests that consumerism is a trick, not a treat.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

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Dear Ethan,

We love Halloween in our house. It’s a great opportunity for the kids to dress up and play games with their friends. When they play ‘trick or treat’, they get to meet adults in the neighbourhood in a friendly setting – such a rare thing, these days, with all that stuff about ‘stranger danger’. But I do wonder whether the whole thing is getting a bit commercialised with all the concerns about reckless consumption. Should we be celebrating Halloween?

Bob Apple
New England

Dear Bob,

People think I’m a terrible curmudgeon sometimes, but there are some festivals that are worth celebrating. Halloween is one of them. I know some Christian types don’t like all that talk of ghosts and demons. But we shouldn’t take any advice from a religion that claims authority from some kind of ‘supreme being’ to run amok over the Earth. The only Satan that gets any encouragement from Halloween is consumerism – but more of that in a moment.

If we look back to the roots of Halloween, we can see why it is worth celebrating. The History Channel tells us that the origins of Halloween lie in the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-in’). The Celts celebrated New Year on 1 November: ‘This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.’

Of course, being ginger-headed barbarians, the Celts got it all wrong by building bonfires and sacrificing animals, but the basic message is a good one: it’s winter, it’s cold, and lots of people are going to die (or ‘return to the bosom of Nature’ as I prefer to call it). With all our modern warm housing, electric lighting and stable food supply, we have lost touch with the natural world and the all-important dread when summer ends.

And in just the same way that Christians moan about people forgetting the ‘spirit of Christmas’, I think people have forgotten the true meaning of Halloween, which is a shame as our children should learn more about Mother Nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. Last year, Sheba was away for Halloween but I took the opportunity to introduce the children to a proper respect for Gaia. After a day of fasting, we sat together in a dark, unheated room, shivering all night while I intermittently practiced my impressions of various wild animals. As dawn broke, the children were exhausted, quivering wrecks who were a little wiser about the power of Nature. Surprisingly, Sheba wasn’t impressed with this educational experience. Perhaps she was just jealous because she hadn’t taken part. Who knows?

Halloween also reminds us in our science-knows-best world that there are many mysterious, powerful forces that humans don’t understand – and nor should we even try. All we can do is try to be sensitive to them: the voices we hear in the wind, the strange creatures we see in the shadows, the unfathomable power of crystals.

I agree that Halloween has been commercialised in a most ridiculous way. Apparently, you Americans spend more on Halloween than any other feast apart from Christmas. That only goes to show how greedy human materialism can spoil everything. There is simply no need to buy all those stupid costumes, the mountains of tooth-rotting candy and other paraphernalia.

This is all summed up in the monstrous ‘game’ called ‘trick or treat’, the lesson of which seems to be that demanding money or other goods with menaces is the way to get on in the world. If only children learned from the stomach aches and vomiting that accompany any night of excessive candy consumption that greed is not good. Sheba keeps a packet of ‘funsize’ bars by the front door for when children come knocking. I’ve found that a more effective method for a quiet life is to collect our dog Springy’s urine for a few weeks before hand. Then I spray the wannabe vandals with the pungent liquid when they set foot on Greenhart land. When the odorous urchins run home in tears to mummy and daddy, I can rest assured that the other nearby houses will be safe from the little horrors for another year. I can’t believe people aren’t thanking me for this service. (Obviously, this only applies to children whose ages haven’t yet hit double figures. Older children – probably driven into a feral rage by all the food additives in that confectionery – are prone to blind, mindless violence. So when they come knocking, I make sure the lights are out so they think there’s no one home.)

But just because the fat cats have done their best to spoil Halloween doesn’t mean we should go along with their version of what it’s all about. There’s lots of fun to be had with simple parlour games involving fruit, or cutting scary faces out of pumpkins. Perhaps the best thing about Halloween is that it’s one of the few events that doesn’t seem to require the butchering of millions of animals in the name of some kind of festive feast. Americans may celebrate Thanksgiving, but those poor turkeys waiting to have their heads lopped off so they can bleed their life away into some slaughterhouse drain won’t be. Nor will those who will suffer from the climate change generated by the gases produced by farmed animals as they fart their way from one meal to the next – all so we can hack and devour their flesh on ‘special occasions’.

On the other hand, just because adults are nice to your children on Halloween, that doesn’t mean that adults aren’t a danger to them the rest of the year. After all, it is adults, not children, that are screwing up the planet with their wanton consumption. On this basis, I think it’s best for caring, concerned parents like yourself to keep your children away from the dangerous influence of unethical adults as much as possible.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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