U.S. editorials on Halloween

Oct. 31, 2001 at 10:38 AM
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New York Times

Halloween looks a little broken this year. The decorations are in place -- synthetic spider webs, orange lights dripping from the eaves, double-jointed paper skeletons with rivets at the hips, knees and elbows. Children walking from house to house, clutching bags of candy, will make a satisfying rustle in the dry leaves. But if there's any fright left in this poor, creedless holiday, it will be only a nutritional fright. The guile is gone. The real world is too full of real tricks.

All the familiar icons of evil gather on Halloween, but tonight every one of them will look as ironic as a toddler in a red devil costume. Those icons allude to the thrill of being scared, when being scared was still a thrill. No need to invoke, even in play, the supernatural manifestations of evil when the human ones seem so powerful. The toying with death is really a toying with nothing like death. Halloween would have been harrypotterized this year in any case. Now it's been osamaed too.

More than ever, the old depleted festival of ineffectual evil -- a witches' brew of ingenuous badness -- has been turned into a holiday about identity. "What do you want to go as?" can be a profound question, especially when asked of young children. Everyone hopes that dusk will be filled with little firemen and police officers, with Yankees and Diamondbacks. Surely some high school kids will go as Rudy Giuliani, or even as Rudy Giuliani in drag. The fact is that we all expect the forces of good to triumph tonight, and we would be happy to take that as an omen.

Portsmouth, N.H., Herald

With Halloween coming up, we again urge cautious awareness, not reactive fear, as an approach to dealing with this child-oriented celebration.

We have all been through a lot these past several weeks, and public anxiety appears to be at an all-time high. However, it is important that, as President Bush has said, we all get on with our lives, and observing Halloween is big part of that.

Back in the old days, when those of us who are parents today were children, our parents warned us not to accept candy from people we did not know, not to visit some of the houses in the neighborhood where certain residents lived, and not to eat anything that was not wrapped in its original packaging. Those same precautions certainly hold today.

We realize, however, that, when it comes to the safety of their children, many parents today are even more concerned than their own parents were. The anthrax scares and terrorist attacks have heightened our awareness of the threats that face all of us today.

But rather than hold their children back from enjoying this year's spooky ritual, we suggest that those parents either arrange their own parties at home or send their kids to parties arranged by schools or organizations like the Portsmouth Children's Museum. It is an easy way to allow children to take part in a special American holiday while keeping them in a controlled and safe environment.

We also urge trick-or-treaters to go easy on the pranks this year. Everyone is on edge, and reactions to Halloween "tricks" may not be as good-natured as they have been in previous years.

And, certainly, no pranks that play on current fears should be perpetrated. They are simply not funny and, with tightened security, could lead to arrests and prosecutions.

Children everywhere are dreaming of spooks and goblins as Halloween approaches. It offers the kind of fun tinged with fear that children love. It is both a scary and comforting ritual, which delineates a change in the rhythm of the seasons, gets us out of doors and brings us closer to our friends, families and neighbors.

For children, it is something they have been looking forward to since the new school year began and gives them a break from the tedium of nightly homework assignments. For adults it is an opportunity to join their children in an rare adventure and -- this year more than ever ¡X to recharge their almost dry emotional batteries with the kind of electricity that only the happiness found in a child's giggles and joyful screams can produce.

No act of horror or evil should mar our celebration, but we must also be aware that we live in a much different world, where some ogres and monsters are, indeed, real.

Waterbury, Conn., Republican-American

When will it be OK to start celebrating holidays again? When anxiety-ridden Americans return to their senses, but there's no telling when that will be.

Jesse Jackson is the latest to fall victim to the national dementia, but he also exhibits symptoms of the related disease, hyperactive yammering vacuosis. HYV attacks public figures almost exclusively, rendering them powerless to fight the impulse to contribute to the war against terrorism with preposterous proclamations, such as boycotting Halloween.

"In these circumstances, I'd say that we should cancel Halloween, take off the masks, stop the door-to-door visits, and spend the night with our families," he wrote in a syndicated article this week. "... This year, the risks seem magnified and the spirit seems wrong. It's hard to think about painting blood on faces when we've seen too much real blood on real faces."

The logical extension of his arguments, however, would require cancellation of Veterans Day observances. After all, it falls just two months after the terrorist attacks and memorializes all the American blood that was spilled over the centuries in defense of our liberties -- the very same freedoms that allow trick-or-treaters to don costumes, go door to door to collect candy that they can eat until they get sick or until their teeth fall out, and otherwise live normal childhoods if it wasn't for all the basket-case adults infesting their lives.

One of the ironies of post-Sept. 11 America is how people can be simultaneously apoplectic about giving up tiny slices of a constitutional right or two so the government may better prosecute the war while they freely surrender their right to live normally by cowering to dangers that exist almost entirely in their heads.

To wit: The rumor going around Greater Waterbury is that terrorists will destroy the Brass Mill Center mall tonight, so people will be afraid to go there. But put yourself in Osama bin Laden's sandals. If you were going to destroy a shopping mall on Halloween, why would you target one in Waterbury, Conn.? Wouldn't you do the Mall of America? Then again, why would you blow up a shopping mall on Halloween night, when most Americans are out trick-or-treating or enjoying parties, or are at home passing out candy or watching Boris Karloff movies on TV?

Next to Christmas, Halloween is the most commercialized celebration in the United States and thus the second most anticipated "holiday" among children. Don't terrorize children by telling them it's not safe to go out tonight. Don't be a Halloweenie.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Halloween is a bit scarier than usual this year.

As costumed children traipse through neighborhoods across America, there's a strong possibility that real ghouls are stalking them, and all of us, seeking to do more terrible harm to the country and its people.

The Justice Department has, for the second time since the atrocities of Sept. 11, issued a nationwide warning of potential new threats, asking government agencies, law enforcement personnel and ordinary citizens to be alert for anything out of the ordinary, anything that might raise flags of concern.

The warning is at the same time frightening and frustrating. It's clear that the decision to issue the alert was not taken lightly, and that the information it is based on is "credible" in the government's eyes; yet, without even a hint as to what form the threat might take, it's difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to know how to respond.

Should Americans stop traveling by air for a few days and stay in their offices instead? Then what if terrorists decide to attack another office building? Should people skip work and instead go shopping, or take in a movie? That wouldn't help if mass murderers decide to bomb malls in major cities. There simply is no way to know, given the vagueness of the threat and the warning, what one should or shouldn't do.

The best response, we believe, is for Americans to continue to go about our normal lives -- whatever "normal" means since Sept. 11 -- while keeping our eyes peeled for anything that sparks any worry or alarm.

This may not help, because nobody knows what to be on the alert for, where to look for suspicious behavior, or what that behavior might be. But it could help, and we might never know it: An extremist with a bomb, for instance, might find extra security at an airport or some other public place and abandon his mission when he discovers he cannot wreak the havoc he hopes to do.

Some criticize the decision to issue such amorphous alerts, saying they not only don't help but also might hurt by conditioning people gradually to downplay or disregard them. It is, indeed, a fine line between caution and carelessness, but it must be walked.

Some have said there would be awful political problems for the government if some catastrophe occurred and it had not issued any warning. Forget politics; there would be a horrible moral problem for any government that abandoned its responsibilities that way, and the Bush administration will not do that.

If nothing terrible happens, of course, we are sure there will be criticism of the government for "crying wolf," but the critics will be wrong, as they usually are in such situations. After Jan. 1, 2000, many were sarcastic about the warnings of a Y2K computer crisis, because very few problems actually arose; but things went well precisely because the highly publicized warnings prompted people to react.

With any luck, this alert will have the same effect on public behavior, and the same result: a non-event.

In these times, said President Bush, "Every American is a soldier, and every citizen is in this fight." And when a warning like this is issued, every American is also a police officer, a security guard, a surveillance camera and a watchdog -- whatever he or she must be to keep our country as secure as possible.

The terrorists hope to win not by killing all of us, but by destroying our unity and our resolve. The administration's decision to give us even a vague warning is a sign that it trusts us to use the information wisely, and that it knows that our unity and resolve are still stronger than the evil that thinks it can threaten either.

Montgomery, Ala., Advertiser

In a time of national tension, the diversions of everyday life, the familiar traditions and practices of the past, take on a special appeal. So it will be tonight, we hope, when youngsters don their costumes for Halloween.

Children should be supported by adults tonight, given the chance to be children in an atmosphere that has markedly changed since Sept. 11. Certainly there are threats that seemed scarcely imaginable two months ago, but it would only compound the national tragedy to allow them to rob childhood of its joys.

Parental precautions have long been a part of Halloween and obviously should continue tonight. But they don't have to be so burdensome that they ruin the once-a-year fun of walking through the neighborhood in costumes ghoulish and garish.

Sensible precautions such as sticking to areas and homes known to the parents and examining the treats handed out to the kids can and should be taken in a manner that doesn't put a damper on the fun.

There are alternatives to the usual trick-or-treating as well, such as the "ZooBoo" at the city zoo from 6-9 p.m. Some churches have alternative Halloween events. There are plenty of ways to allow children to enjoy Halloween, and we hope parents will find ones that suit their families.

Adults know all too well how our world has changed in the wake of the terrorist attacks, and children certainly have not gone unmarked by events, either. Yet in the pleasures of ordinary diversions, even in the essential silliness of Halloween, there is a certain comfort to be had.

President Bush repeatedly has urged Americans to proceed with their lives to the fullest extent they can, to deny the terrorists the satisfaction of halting American life and reducing it to a timid existence. There are countless ways to do this, of course, but allowing children to enjoy Halloween -- and for adults to enjoy their enjoyment -- is certainly one of them.

Greet a goblin tonight. Be generous with the candy. And be especially appreciative of life in your country.

Battle Creek, Mich., Enquirer

There has been a great deal of controversy over Halloween this year, much of it sparked by rumors that began to spread shortly after the tragic events of Sept. 11.

Lakeview Square is among numerous malls and other organizations that have canceled or cut back on Halloween activities this year.

And while terrorism continues to be on our minds, we must not neglect to take precautions for the less frightening -- but far more likely -- hazards that our children might face if they are out trick-or-treating tonight. Precautions should include:

-- Buddies. It's best for parents to accompany their children on their rounds. If your children are older and you feel comfortable letting them go out on their own, have them go with a group of friends and instruct them to stay within a particular area or neighborhood with which they are familiar.

-- Traffic. Make sure your children are cautious when crossing streets and remind them to watch for vehicles backing out of and pulling into driveways. Likewise, motorists need to be on the lookout for little ghosts and goblins that might dart quickly into the roadway or are paying more attention to their candy bags then the traffic in the street.

-- Costumes. Creativity is fine, but be sure that masks don't obstruct children's vision, costumes are well-ventilated and outfits with capes or flowing fabric don't cause kids to trip and fall. Costumes -- including accessories -- should be made of flame-proof materials and warn your children not to get near open flames, such as candles burning inside jack-o-lanterns. It's also a good idea to have costumes that are colorful or have reflective tape to make the trick-or-treaters more visible. Carrying a flashlight can be helpful in particularly dark areas.

-- Treats. Warn your children to watch for unusual treats or things that are not properly wrapped, and tell them not to eat anything that appears suspicious until after they bring it home for you to check out.

Halloween is a favorite holiday of children, and we shouldn't allow the events of recent weeks to spoil it. But as is the case every year, it's important to keep safety foremost in mind when out trick-or-treating.

Provo, Utah, Daily Herald

It's normal to be on guard at Halloween time.

Besides the fact that the holiday's traditional cry "trick or treat" is really a threat of mischief unless goodies are produced, tales of needles and razor blades in candy have become part of Halloween lore.

And thanks to current events, some parents are experiencing greater anxiety this year.

Between terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and anthrax spores turning up in congressional office buildings, network news offices and other places, parents are rethinking the idea of letting their kids go door-to-door asking for candy.

In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested parents not take their children trick-or-treating, not for fear of terrorism but so that police wouldn't have to waste time on false anthrax reports.

"We simply don't have law-enforcement resources to look at every single Pixie stick," Huckabee told reporters.

While we need to exercise caution, we don't think parents should scrap a cherished American tradition out of fear. How can we expect our children to cope with what has happened if we teach them to fear everything?

All it takes is common sense. Here are a few tips that may help with tonight's festivities:

-- Go trick-or-treating in your own neighborhood, to people you know. That will greatly reduce the fear of getting doctored candy.

-- Don't accept unwrapped candy or homemade food.

-- Don't eat anything until you get home and inspect each piece for any evidence of tampering.

-- Make sure costumes are made from flame-resistant fabrics. Avoid outfits with materials or baggy sleeves that could fall into a flame.

-- Carry a flashlight when you go out and wear bright colors or have reflective stripes.

-- Don't wear masks or outfits that can obstruct vision. Try makeup instead.

-- Don't overreact if you find powder in your bag. Chances are it's a leaky Pixie stick or the cornstarch from bubble gum.

Burlington, Vt., Free Press

"You don't want to have the same thing as everyone else. You find out what your friends are wearing and do something different. My best friend Emily is going as a witch, so I'm going to be a hippie."

That Halloween fashion advice comes from Sarah, a bob-haired second-grader buying her costume at Spookytown, a seasonal holiday shop, in University Mall in South Burlington last weekend.

"I think that after the World Trade Center, a hippie is a good thing. They were for peace, weren't they?" she added, playing with a plastic peace-symbol necklace.

At least one hippie chick will join firefighters, Uncle Sams, cops and Green Berets in Vermont neighborhoods tonight in what is surely the country's most ambivalent Halloween in recent memory.

An old pagan celebration that mocks death, parodies horror and thrives on blood-curdling fantasy feels wrong in a year when evil is all too real -- and deadly. Yet, as the ancient Celts who created the holiday must have recognized, taunting death helps us gain courage in this life by turning our deep fears of personal mortality into child's play.

Who among us in the weeks since Sept. 11 hasn't been troubled by life's precariousness? Or stopped by the thought that we could go to work one Tuesday morning and never come home? Probing further, we wonder how people might remember us should we die so suddenly. We take inventory of what we yet want to do in life, and shiver at the prospect of dying with regrets of what might have been.

Anthrax. International terrorists. War in Afghanistan. Those are serious matters. We are only starting to perceive how in some fundamental, final way our lives have been forever altered by the events of Sept. 11. All the more discomfiting, the first national festival since the tragedy is Halloween -- hardly a rally-round-the-flag occasion or a holiday conducive to spiritual contemplation.

For our national post-trauma therapy, however, Halloween might be the ideal holiday. For a moment, we get a reprieve from our worldly fears; we can laugh at our darkest nightmares.

Moreover, children are acutely sensitive to their surroundings and this year's Halloween trick-or-treaters might reveal something important about the emerging American psyche.

For some reason, the thought that one sassy Vermont girl will be a hippie tonight -- that one young American has not lost her innocence -- is a sign of hope.

(Compiled by United Press International.)

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