Most people harbor very strong opinions about Halloween. The idea of a quasi-holiday that’s full of mild naughtiness, scary movies, and candy still has plenty of cultural resonance, but it’s not like Halloween doesn’t have its detractors. Candy is bad for your teeth. Teenagers can be obnoxious. Removing toilet paper from a tree in your hard is tedious. And decorative gourds look like cancerous polyps.
Lately, though, Halloween isn’t just under assault from grumpy buzzkills who pretend not to be home when little girls dressed as Maleficent shyly ask for a bite-size Snickers. It’s also become high season for white privilege and other forms of entitlement. Racist or otherwise incredibly tone-deaf costumes—hello Sexy Ebola Nurse!—don’t seem to be going away, no matter how much Internet shaming there is. Related events like Día de Los Muertos have likewise become contentious battles over cultural appropriation. And let’s not forget the slut shaming. There’s always lots and lots of slut shaming.
Halloween isn’t quite the party it used to be. Brooklyn’s Observatory, which featured magick and esoteric programming like “Witch Pictures: Female Magic and Transgression in Western Art,” closed its doors this year. Huge celebrations like the one in San Francisco’s Castro are increasingly a thing of the past. For decades the site of the most outrageous costumes you could ever hope to see (and semi-officially run by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence), the Castro Halloween ultimately succumbed to its own success. Once crowds started swelling into the hundreds of thousands and people began getting stabbed and shot, the SFPD attempted to flood the zone. But that didn’t work, either, so the event was cancelled outright in 2010. Now the country’s most famous gayborhood mourns its old celebration like a lost limb.
And if you still need a reason to not like Halloween as much, there’s also the consumerist orgy component. Aside from buying shaving cream just to spray it in the air, Americans spend $350 million on pet costumes alone. Halloween is, as Salon put it, “the number one holiday for wasting money on garbage.” It’s enough to make even that family in your hometown who got really, really into Halloween reconsider the whole thing.
The people who seem to be making the most out of Halloween these days are, unfortunately, the haters. For vast swaths of America, Halloween really is the devil’s holiday, and everyone who celebrates it is actually working under Satan’s sway. (Google “Is Halloween Evil?” and you will find more tortured Scriptural exegesis than that apocryphal medieval conclave poring over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin). To add to the peculiarity, October 31, 1517, was the date Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church in Wittenberg. Halloween is actually Protestantism’s birthday.
It’s kind of strange, but if you are a particular kind of God-fearing evangelical, inclined to prohibit your children from reading Harry Potter and such, it really does look like Satan’s hold on America is growing. In Oklahoma City, the capital of one of the reddest, most devout states of all, the Satanic Temple swore to install a mildly disturbing, seven-foot-tall statue of a goat-headed deity, flanked by two children and a pentagram. The “Baphomet” is intended as a protest against Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments sculpture, and, along with the Black Mass that was celebrated there in September, it’s making people who already hated liberals and the ACLU go berserk. The contretemps got even more heated when a guy drove into the six-foot Mosaic statue, allegedly because the Devil told him to. So charged has the atmosphere become that a 21-year-old “religious zealot” beheaded a college student for practicing witchcraft. On top of it all, same-sex marriage became legal in Oklahoma on October 6.
Faced with such desecrations and moral contaminants, the anti-Halloween contingent is going on the offensive. For his part, Pat Robertson encouraged 700 Club viewers to “give a black eye to Satan” this Halloween (because abortion, naturally.) Even the Catholic Church, which has otherwise been on a roll all year with the compassion and the refreshing candor, called for Halloween to be scrapped and replaced with “Holyween.” One Father Aldo Bounaiuto, who had literally just exited a conference for practicing exorcists, told the UK’s Daily Telegraph that Halloween “is anything but innocent, it is a subterranean world based on the occult.”
Kirk Cameron, who is a vocal creationist and homophobe, is also urging fellow Christians not to ignore Halloween, but to subvert it by proselytizing to the unsaved. Claiming that the holiday has Christian origins—which, as a derivation of the Celtic harvest festival, Samhain, it definitely does not—Cameron wants people to “save” Halloween by saving souls. (This probably has some kind of marketing tie-in with his upcoming film, Saving Christmas.) It seems unlikely to take off, but imagine your disappointment if you were to receive Jack Chick tracts instead of an Almond Joy.
Let’s leave aside the implication that parents are casting their children’s souls into the lake of fire by taking them trick-or-treating. It seems the more that Halloween starts to look like a cringe-inducing anachronism to the people who used to love it, the more the people who see it as a portal to perdition seem to be all over it.