By now it's common knowledge here in the U.S. that of all our holidays only Christmas surpasses Halloween in terms of retail sales. I'm glad it's become so popular. I love the ancient "pagan" holidays (e.g., winter and summer solstice, the equinoxes, May Day, etc.) because they’re secular, fun for both kids and adults, and based on observable scientific fact. People sometimes try to attach Halloween to Christianity, but it predates the birth of Christ by thousands of years. Several years ago I went to a fantastic Pacific Science Center Planetarium show in which they detailed the astrological phenomenon that likely prompted ancient peoples across Europe to celebrate what we now call Halloween. Like all pagan celebrations it was a pre-scientific attempt to make sense of the physical world that ancient people observed around them. It was a magnificent exercise in imagination, one so powerful we still enjoy it today.
Our school’s “high holidays" come during the January-February run of Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day. It’s a feverish rush from one celebration to the next culminating in a classroom decorated with rainbow people, dragons, and pink hearts.
In contrast, the build-up to Halloween is a long, steady march that begins somewhere around October 1 and culminates in an evening costume party to which the children bring their families.
I know it's time to get started on our Halloween curriculum when the kids start waylaying me with detailed descriptions of their Halloween costumes. When this starts happening, I get out my clipboard at circle time and ask the children to raise their hands and tell us what they were going to be, then compile a comprehensive list.
I love this exercise. We run down this list at almost every circle time during the month of October. It's a great way to get everyone participating. I’ll read their names and their proposed costumes. Some children stick doggedly to their original designs, while others treat it as a creative exercise, changing their minds right up to the big day itself.
I often see parents rolling their eyes at their child’s latest iteration, especially when it switches to “alligator” two days before Halloween after a month of wanting to be a "ghost." Some parents scramble to help their child fulfill his preschool wish, but I like to remind them that our school discussion about costumes is a separate discussion from the one they have at home.
This process can lead to some imaginative solutions. For instance, during my first year teaching, a boy named Jace announced day-after-day that he was going to be a "Power Puff Girl." He always pronounced it boldly with his fist held over his head. When he arrived at our party, however, he was dressed in what was clearly a lion costume.
I said, "I thought you were going to be a Power Puff Girl." Behind him his mother Rena was frantically making gestures telling me to shut up. Evidently, there had been some creative negotiations at home.
Jace didn’t miss a beat. He threw both arms over his head and answered, "I am a Powerpuff Girl!" And, indeed, he was.
(Reposted with revisions from October 4, 2009)