Halloween falls out of favor with Southern evangelicals

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: October 27, 2005

Halloween is unevenly practiced in America _ celebrated by Roman Catholics in the Northeast, but frowned on by evangelical Christians in the South.

Trick-or-treating is especially welcomed in heavily Roman Catholic neighborhoods in the Northeast, home of the Irish immigrants who introduced their ancient, pagan-inspired festival to the New World 150 years ago.

Halloween is least welcomed, or even observed, in Southern states, where evangelical Christians are becoming increasingly worried about growing secularism and the resurgence of paganism in popular culture.

A survey of 1,005 adult residents of the United States conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found remarkable variation in attitudes about Halloween and even in the numbers of trick-or-treaters who were received last year.

"It's an old holiday. Halloween is particularly popular in places where people have been doing it for years and that's the Northeast," said University at Albany sociologist Richard Lachmann.

An average of 43 trick-or-treaters were welcomed last year by Roman Catholics living in the Northeast. But the average was only 19 trick-or-treaters at the homes of Southern Protestants who describe themselves as spiritually "born again."

"There is not a whole lot that fundamentalists find acceptable about Halloween or even All Saints Day, which, after all, is primarily a Catholic holy day," said Jo Paoletti, an American studies scholar at the University of Maryland. "They are pretty unhappy with all of the pagan symbols that accompany Halloween."

The survey asked: "Do you think Halloween is generally a good, wholesome activity for children, or do you think it is not good or wholesome for kids?" Seventy-three percent said they approve of the children's festival, 20 percent object to Halloween and 7 percent were undecided.

People who describe themselves as "very conservative" were three times more likely to disapprove of Halloween than were self-described "very liberal" folk. Evangelical Protestants were twice as likely as Catholics to dislike children's festival.

But there are other factors besides religion that makes Halloween unpopular. Half of the black people in the survey said they don't think Halloween is a good activity for children.

"Black people are more likely to live in urban places where it really isn't a good idea to let your children wander the streets alone at night," Lachmann said. "And its really only feasible to trick-or-treat if you don't have to walk far to get from house to house."

An average of only 18 children were received last Halloween by households in rural areas while suburban households averaged 33 trick-or-treaters.

Halloween is particularly popular among the other minorities in the poll. Asians and Hispanics accepted a larger number of trick-or-treaters last year than did non-Hispanic whites.

"Halloween is wildly popular in Japan, where they have a fascination with all things American," said Paoletti. "And is just happens that Hispanics at this same time of the year have their ancient Day of the Dead festival."

The survey was conducted by telephone from Oct. 9-23 at the Scripps Center in a project sponsored by Scripps Howard News Service and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

The poll has a margin of error of plus 4 percentage points.