For the longest time after America was founded, it was a primarily Protestant country. This is not the case anymore. America has become a melting pot of many different cultures, religions, and peoples. As such, trying to find a way to respect everyone’s point of view and offend no one has politicians and policy makers in a bind.
A school in Milford, Connecticut recently announced its decision to ban Halloween festivities, in order to ensure that students from those religions and cultures that do not celebrate Halloween do not feel excluded. While the decision was almost immediately rescinded, this school was trying.
As a member of a minority religion that doesn’t celebrate Halloween, when asked, “What are you dressing up as?” or, “What are you doing for Halloween?” my answer is, invariably, “Nothing.” When costume parties are announced during the weeks leading up to Halloween, my decision is invariably, “Not going.” This can get annoying and frustrating, when others assume that everyone follows the same practices and customs that they do.
However, the decision to cancel a beloved American tradition does not address this issue of religious discrimination. It merely exacerbates the issue.
Parents in that Connecticut school district were riled up over that decision. The comments on the petition they signed bordered on xenophobic and insular. Clearly the effort to be inclusive backfired rather spectacularly.
Rather, schools should focus on celebrating diversity; discussing the differences between religions and cultures with a multitude of different holidays and customs. Focusing on one holiday from one religion exclusively is not the answer. But neither is focusing on no holidays from any religion.
Talk about Hanukkah and Kwanza during Christmas preparations. Talk about Passover and Easter. Discuss Ramadan. Talk about Halloween and compare it to Purim (a Jewish holiday where a custom of dressing up is also prevalent). Talk about many religions and cultures, while being respectful of all religions and cultures.
Again, as a member of a minority religion, I understand that not everyone follows my customs. I understand that not everyone does things the same way that I do, and I do not expect them to. I think that most minorities would agree. All we want is to follow our own practices in peace, with others respecting our religion the way we respect theirs.
Instead of celebrating this and teaching students to accept and respect all different viewpoints, decisions such as these teach students to shun everything that has to do with religion, so as not to offend anyone. Students are not taught to celebrate diversity, they are taught that being different is bad.
This school’s decision to cancel Halloween came from a good place, but it is the wrong approach to the problem. A more successful method would be to embrace Halloween, along with other holidays from other religions.