When Halloween Was a Celebration Rather than a Calamity


With each passing day, America is coming to resemble a deep, yawning booby hatch.

I was reminded of that this morning reading about the efforts of the University of Florida’s Bias and Education Response Team to provide 24/7 counseling to students offended by “politically incorrect”costumes.

This prompts some memories of a couple of experiences from my childhood that are amusing in terms of  illustrating how radically the whole Halloween protocol has changed over the last 40-plus years.

When I was 12, I and some classmates conceived a skit about Adolph Hitler during his last days in his Fuhrerbunker for a 7th grade social science class project.

I portrayed Hitler. My ever-resourceful Mom altered Dad’s old Air Force uniform for my Hitlerian field-gray tunic and, of course, I sported the trademark  toothbrush mustache and hair parting.

The 15-minute skit dealt with Hitler’s slow but stark realization that the war was hopelessly lost and concluded with my shuffling into another room and ending it all with a bullet to the head.  I remember the cap-pistol pop making a jarring and deep impression on my classmates as I collapsed onto the floor.

I must point out that it was a big hit. We not only earned A’s for the effort but our teacher, a wonderful, enthusiastic and dedicated educator named Mrs. Pickett, was so impressed with all this disruptive adolescent creativity that she insisted that we perform for all 6 social science classes.

That turned out to be my proverbial 15 seconds of fame – actually, 15 minutes times 6  (90 minutes), in this case – though an unfortunate byproduct of this noteworthy thespian achievement was my earning the nickname “Hitler” among some of my classmates.

I got the inspiration a couple of weeks later to wear the same outfit for a Halloween party held at the local First Baptist Church – and, bear in mind, this church was located in a small town in the Deep South – and ended up winning the first class costume award.

Reflecting on all of this, I draw two insights: First, that wearing Nazi costumes at Halloween once was no big deal, because Nazis, after all, really were very bad and scary people, and, second, that evangelical Christians once had no issue with Halloween. Imagine that!

Way back then no one even conceived of “Hallelujah Nights” or “Family Harvest Festivals” as conservative Christian alternatives to demonic Halloween celebrations.  In fact, Halloween was scarcely conceived as demonic or disturbing at all.

Granted, times have changed, and I freely admit that if I were a 19-year-old college student today, I wouldn’t walk across any campus sporting a Hitler tunic and mustache. Young adults certainly have a moral and ethical responsibility to weigh carefully the effects of one’s speech and self-expression on others.

Still, I have to express a certain affinity – not to mention, longing – for a time, not too terribly long ago, when free speech and expression not only were revered but also were defended passionately and when conservative evangelicals regarded Halloween as a festive occasion rather than an immediate, existential threat to faith.


About Jim Langcuster

A Southern late-Baby Boomer whose post-retirement focus is on building a post-racial, post-Confederate Southern regional identity. If the election of 2016 underscored one thing, it is that this country is intractably divided and that radical devolution of power to localities and states is the only way to save the American Union.
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