Halloween is a time for tricks and treats, when children--and some adults--run about in costume going door to door and asking for candy. Stories of monsters, ghosts, and witches become easier to believe as people decorate their houses with jack-o-lanterns, cobwebs, and gravestones. There are plenty of ways to get into the spirit of this holiday, including watching movies like Friday the 13th, or the more kid-friendly It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, as well as reading books like the old classic such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving or a new favorite like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz.
But Halloween is not for everybody. Though the holiday has become rather secularized, its origins are a mixture of pagan harvest festivals and the Roman Catholic feast days All Saints’ and Souls’ Days; therefore some Orthodox Jews and Muslims do not celebrate the holiday. Other Christian groups also refrain from partaking in Halloween festivities, as they dismiss the day because of its partially pagan beginnings and fear that celebrating Halloween equals celebrating witchcraft or Satanism.
And those attitudes are fine--everyone is entitled to their opinion and to practice their religious beliefs freely. However, when these religious beliefs, especially fears about the occult and witchcraft, involve suppressing people’s access to literature, it becomes a problem.
One of the most infamous fights to ban books due to their inclusion of witchcraft is centered on the world-renowned Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter made the top 100 most frequently challenged books of the decade 1990-1999, and topped the list of 2000-2009. But even beloved classics like Bridge to Terabithia and Where the Wild Things Are are prohibited in schools and libraries--which are meant to be bastions of learning and new ideas--because they supposedly encourage Satanism and an interest in the supernatural.
Even if a supernatural work does not contain any redeeming Christian virtues, that’s okay; people can still be religious and enjoy paranormal books and shows. I am a practicing Catholic and I adore stories with witches, werewolves, and vampires, such as book series The Mortal Instruments and Vampire Academy, or TV shows Charmed and Supernatural. Being exposed to these types of works will not cause children to sell their souls to the Devil.
When I was in eighth grade, at a Catholic elementary school, my teacher was Sr. Arlene, a member of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus. We were discussing challenged books like Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, which has also been criticized as anti-religious and anti-Catholic. And I remember she said something like this:
“I’ve read the books. Yes, I needed to read them before I could tell you whether they were bad or not. You can’t just take other people’s word. You will never know what a book actually says until you read it yourself.”
Widespread access to literature is a vital piece of children’s education. Books allow children to experience the world and form meaningful connections with others and teach them how to think for themselves--something that would benefit adults as well, no matter their religious beliefs. Literature--especially children’s literature--should not be banned but rather celebrated, every day of the year.