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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 12:42 GMT
Boo! Is Halloween too scary?
Scary masks poster

By Claire Heald
BBC News Magazine

The sinister side of Halloween is being exploited, says one leading church figure, when it could celebrate the triumph of good over evil. Can Halloween go cuddly?

Halloween, Fright Night, All Hallow's Eve. Call it what you will, but it's supposed to be scary... right?

Not according to one cleric, who wants people to come away from Halloween's darker side.

The Rt Rev David Gillett, the Bishop of Bolton, says the "more horrific" of masks prove too scary for many children. With the Mothers' Union - a Christian parenting group - Bishop Gillett is backing a campaign called Halloween Choice to promote the lighter side of the festival.

Child going to trick or treat
A time to have fun?
"The emphasis has become so evil and scary, I've spoken to children and adults who find it too scary," he says.

Bishop Gillett wants a shift away from horror character masks, like Hannibal Lecter, towards the Christian celebration of good over evil. And, he wants an end to the trick or treating-style harassment that brings out extra police patrols and can be a nuisance to some.

Costumes could have a brighter side, he says, and home-made outfits would let people set their own fear factor. Shops could stock up on hair braids, bright balloons, face paints and glow tubes, instead of fake blood and evil eyes.

"Why not lighter costumes? Brighter colours?" he asks. "Face masks that people could paint themselves in a way that sets their own level of spookiness?

"It's not to do with the occult, or asking supermarkets to stop what they are doing. It's saying when children are in a supermarket and asking 'Get me something for a Halloween outfit', they can buy something other than the horrific choices.

Creepy cash

Party-wise, churches have begun to organise alternative events for children around Halloween - parties with songs, games, quizzes and stories. But Halloween's creepy roots stretch way back, to the Celtic feast of Samhain as well as All Hallow's Eve, and in the last few years, selling scariness has been highly lucrative for supermarkets.

Children in Halloween costumes
Is cute Halloween the way forward?
UK spending on Halloween will top 120m this year, says Bryan Roberts from industry analysts Planet Retail. This compares with 12m five years ago. The pumpkin market alone is worth 25m. It is the third most profitable seasonal push in supermarkets after Christmas and Easter, with whole aisles turned over to pumpkin costumes, witches hats and the like.

The make-you-jump thrill is, surely, part of the attraction. Would children trade all this dressing up and trick or treating for a "nice" Halloween?

Halloween chocolates
Or too much commercialism?
At outlets like Angels Fancy Dress, in London, it is standing room only at peak shopping time as workers take their lunch not with a knife and fork but complete with a devil's trident.

But Halloween is not all about "hell and horror", says owner Emma Angel. The choice, to which Bishop Gillett refers, exists already.

Alongside its vampire teeth, scream-style masks and sinister clown outfits, Angels has sold Ghostbusters gear, banana costumes, "mad" doctor's scrubs, and, for children, a pink candy witch. Hardly spine-chilling.

We are already in touch with Halloween's brighter side, she says.

"It's just a great fun time of year for people to dress up, adults and children. Ghostbusters outfits are fun, not evil.

"People don't come in and say, 'I want to be Satan in disguise' or 'I really want to scare people'. They just want to put a pair of vampire's teeth in a funny way."


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Halloween is over commercialised, and trick-or-treaters are annoying. It's predominately an American secular celebration of commercial greed, the third largest such event in the western world today.

For me, today is the far older celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-ain), which was celebrated by the Celts as new-year, and is also observed as such by many Pagans today. It's not a light celebration, it's about the start of the dark season from now until Beltaine in the spring, sixth months from now. The death of summer and the coming of winter.

The reverend seems to miss this point, he also seems not to understand that light and dark are a natural balance and have nothing to do with evil and good.
Faye, Leeds, UK

Halloween is supposed to be scary. Some of my best memories as a child are of when I was scared. They can have their fluffy bunnies at Easter, and their cutesy reindeers at Christmas. But let's keep Halloween as it's meant to be and scare the bejeezus out of them. It's fun.
Julian Burrett, Gloucester

Halloween has been banned in our house. Trick or treaters scare the wits out of my daughter. I don't see the fun side of witches. My hometown in Zimbabwe has had bad experiences with witches/witchcraft. I don't see the fun side. We all have our limits, and some things are just not fun, no matter how they are dressed up.
A. Booyse, Stevenage

Halloween's supposed to be scary. The pagans (and many others) believe it's the night of the year when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is at its thinnest, and the souls of the dead walk the earth. It was never supposed to be fluffy, warm and cuddly!
Michelle, London

Halloween is now just another event in the retailers' calendar. Shops are making a fortune from the consumers and somehow persuading them that they really DO need to spend 20 per family member on a mass-produced costume? Why do we need 'Happy Halloween' cards? Dressing up as a ghost can be traced back to the origins of Halloween, but sending a card? Rampant commercialism!
Alan, Glasgow

I don't answer my door on Halloween, I don't agree with trick or treating - it's tantamount to begging and I will not have that on my doorstep.
Emma, Newbury

I love all the scary stuff - and, hey, it only comes once a year. I do notice now though the lack of scary films associated with the time of year. I miss the previous Halloween nights where I watched horror after horror
Adrienne, Oxford

The best costumes are the ones that we create ourselves. Face painting encourages children to be creative and also gives them something unique that no other child would have. We should be encouraging this - it is a lot cheaper and a lot more fun!
Anand, Fareham

I am a British person now living in the USA, and here Halloween is a fun night where the kids dress up and go trick-or-treating around the neighbourhood. Every house will give a small piece of candy, so just treats, no tricks. Yes, is has become commercialised here, but I would not miss the looks on my kids' faces and seeing the fun costumes from all the other kids. Lighten up. Happy Halloween!
Justine, Boston, USA

Here in Mexico there is a similar tradition called Dia de Muertos (The Day of the Dead), which is a mixture between Christian traditions and ancestral Aztecs traditions. It is celebrated the 1st and 2nd of November. The problem is that each year is more mixed with the Halloween celebration, but I suppose it's just a natural evolution.

The original belief is that the dead return to visit friends and family so you have to build an altar with their favourite food and drinks. It's also an opportunity to remember them and eat traditional food with family and friends.
Carlos, Mexico

Halloween is a great time of year. You're always going to get your typical cynics, but why let them spoil all the fun? I love watching the scary movies. Our office is so messed up today - ghost, vampires and all sorts are running around. You can't help but smile.
Mert, Glossop

Halloween may be celebrated, but trick or treat should be banned. It is tantamount to a veiled threat and should not be tolerated.
Gillian McNally, London

When I was a little kid in Scotland (I'm only 25) we went guising, not trick or treating. We had to do a turn - sing or dance or say poetry - in order to get sweets. We made our lanterns from turnips, and bobbed for apples and ate hanging treacle scones!

The point of dressing up on Halloween is to blend in with the evil spirits who are abroad - that's why they have to be scary!

Halloween isn't just too commercial, it's too americanised. We have our own Halloween traditions but they're being forgotten in greed and laziness!
Ruth, Lancaster, UK

I spent three hours last night carving pumpkins. Every year I make sure the window is better than the last. The kids and adults come from all over to see it. I think the reverend needs to lighten up and get himself a carving kit!!
Terry, Ashington

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