Is Halloween’s blood and gore appropriate for kids?

Two parents debate whether or not Halloween should be a celebration of blood, fear and death.

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“Yes”
David Eddie, dad of three

For years, our Halloween decorations included a dummy with a pillowcase for a face wearing clothes stuffed with rags, sitting on a chair on our front porch. But the neighbourhood kids all got used to it, so one year my wife inserted herself into the clothes, tucked rags at her ankles and cuffs, and sat stock-still in the chair. When kids approached the door, the “dummy” came to life—and the poor trick-or-treaters almost jumped out of their skins in fear.

Ours is not the most elaborate Halloween display in the neighbourhood, but we do try to max out the creepy factor. We’ve had live rats crawling around the porch, severed hands, witches hanging from nooses and spooky sound effects. We’ve also supported our kids when they decided to dress up as serial killers, axe murderers and, one time, a doctor whose surgery had gone terribly wrong.

Bad parenting? Bad neighbouring? Bad karma? I can see how some might say so. But here’s my feeling: In a couple of months, kids will be celebrating a holiday that’s all about family, warmth and coziness, presided over by an apple-cheeked figure who snacks on milk and cookies. Halloween is the antidote to that. It’s about the other side, the dark side, the side of life we as parents would like to pretend doesn’t exist—but it does. It’s about going out into the night and confronting your fears, a little more each year. And what’s better than facing your fears and finding out they’re not as scary as you imagined? It’s like going on a roller coaster. First time: terrifying. Subsequent times: totally fun.

I also like the honesty of Halloween. Christmas teaches kids they’ll be given stuff they want as long as they’re “nice.” Halloween teaches them to go toward the things they fear and demand what they want. Of course there might be danger or obstacles in the path—and someone they had dismissed as a dummy might suddenly jump out of a chair to terrorize them.

But I ask you: Which is the better metaphor for life?

“No”
Lauren Ferranti-Ballem, mom of two

I hate Halloween. Always have.

I was the kid who nervously hung back while my friends made their fifth tear through the neighbourhood haunted house. Who preferred to observe from my well-lit foyer instead of running the streets with kids drunk on sugar and the power that darkness and a later curfew gave them.

I’ve grown into the parent who hustles her kids across the street and away from the moaning, strobe-lit, fog-shrouded spectacle, partly because it still freaks me out. To me, Halloween feels chaotic and out of control. Why would anyone seek that out? Why would we put children through it?

My kids, ages three and six, like knocking on doors for candy, so we do a polite tour of the side streets. I want them to feel safe in our neighbourhood, but I don’t see that in the way they tentatively creep up porch steps and shrink away from over-the-top displays.

I appreciate the creativity Halloween inspires—kids love to dress up, and they have hilarious ideas. I enjoy crunching through the leaves and sharing cups of mulled wine with other parents, and I feel nostalgic for the sound of jingling change in the UNICEF boxes we wore around our necks. Can’t we bring those back? Swap them for the rattling chains, rotting corpses and wailing soundtracks?

It’s not my imagination: It’s gotten worse. Halloween has mutated from the innocent white-sheet ghosts of my childhood to something gorier and more graphic. We’ve lost loved ones recently, so I’ve talked to my kids about death. But it doesn’t in any way resemble the cobwebbed tombstones and bloodied stumps that clutter front yards on our walk to school. I resent those stumps and the chumps who dig careful graves for them. I’m the one who has to wake up to my kids’ nightmares and offer weary reassurance that no, neither their dad nor I will suffer the same fate.

Life is scary enough. We don’t need a parade of pale and bloated severed limbs to remind us.

A version of this article appeared in our October 2015 issue with the headline “Is Halloween’s blood and gore appropriate for kids?” p. 112.

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