Halloween to the Max

Max-Dan 2

Daniel “Wild Thing” Cumming

Happy Halloween, pagans and Christians all! It’s interesting to read our mashup culture in the costumes. (How do you dress up like a Republican-majority Senate?) Our son Daniel visited us last week, and spent his most creative hours working on a Halloween costume that combined Max of Where the Wild Things Are (see picture) with an overlay of the ripped black leather and weaponry of Mad Max, the Mel Gibson movie series he spend much of the rest of his time watching.

Daniel as Mad Max

Mad Max Jr.

He’s in New England now (not sure where he’ll trick or treat tonight), and I hear he stayed with our friends the Silks in West Hartford for the last two nights. Interestingly, Mark was quoted at length in a Hartford Courant article on Halloween and the move by Newington, Conn., elementary schools to ban a Halloween costume parade after some parents objected on religious grounds. Halloween was originally a Celtic festival, Samhain, set on one of the two days in the calendar year when the veil between the spirit world and our world was said to be the thinnest. An excerpt from the article:

Professor Mark Silk, director of the Greenberg Center for Study of Religion and Public Life at Trinity College, said it’s likely that pagans’ ownership of Samhain has justified some Christians’ belief that Halloween is to be avoided.

But, “it’s worth noting that in the history of Protestantism in New England, the Puritans wanted no part in Christmas,” or any other dates on the Catholic liturgical calendar, Silk said.

There’s been a recent push to, “put the Christ back in Christmas,” but, “it’s based on imagining that Christ was ever in Christmas in American culture,” Silk said. “The original position of settlers in New England was, ‘We don’t want any Christmas. It’s Christ’s Mass, we don’t do Mass,'” Silk said.

The 19th century marked a huge increase in commercialization of holidays like Christmas and Easter, and Halloween is catching up to those in a big way, causing push-back from those who do not want to see such celebrations secularized, he added.

“Halloween became part of that, you could call it the liturgical calendar of American religion,” Silk said.

While conservatives “just sort of stepped away” from the holiday chaos for a time, “what you have now are people who feel like they can enter their objections in the public sphere in a larger way, and if people have religious objections, even if they’re ones they’ve only discovered in the past 10 years or something, it counts.”

While many are inclined to dismiss Halloween objectors’ views as overreaction, Silk said he can understand the feeling of discomfort. While living in Atlanta, Silk, who is Jewish, said his wife objected to the Christmas trees in the lobby of their children’s public school.

“The initial reaction of the principal was sort of, ‘Oh come on, everybody does Christmas,'” Silk said. But upon explaining that they did not, in fact, celebrate Christmas, “then they were great, they said come in and explain about Hanukkah.”

Such discussions are, “part of the negotiation of religious acceptance and comfort in the public square,” Silk said. “Pluralism involves these kinds of struggles all the time as society evolves, and for most people it’s something they haven’t ever thought about.”Max - Daniel 1

About Doug Cumming

Writer, W&L journalism professor emeritus
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