Halloween under fire in the US while Canadians have a lighthearted view

Canadians and Americans mark Halloween in many of the same ways, but the differences are growing, says York history Professor Nick Rogers.

“The evangelical right in the States are a huge voice, and they are saying that Halloween is too permissive, even Satanic, and encourages a neo-pagan cult – wicca,” says Rogers. “In contrast, Canadians who are opposed to Halloween just stay home.”

In his book, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night (Oxford University Press 2002), Rogers traces Halloween from its Celtic and Christian origins to its arrival in North America as an Irish and Scottish festival. It would be interesting to study how recent immigrants to Canada view the holiday, Rogers says, and it is possible there will be more opposition to Halloween in Canada in the future. However, at this point there is little here that compares to the Hell Houses organized by some American churches, he says.

Halloween Hell Houses are houses in which a number of horrific scenes are portrayed, designed to create terror and revulsion. The final scene is a vision of heaven. When visitors see it, they are asked to repent their sins and accept salvation. Many of the scenes – for example, of an abortion – are used to promote conservative Christian beliefs.

It is a far cry from the neighbourhood-based Halloween celebrations of the 1950s with homemade costumes, says Rogers. Halloween in Canada has changed since then: in the 1970s, for example, gays embraced the holiday as a drag night, a celebration of coming out. After that, all kinds of adults made Halloween a night of masking and revelry, with the help of bartenders. Today, it is the second most important retail holiday of the year, after Christmas.

Left: Canadians take a lighthearted view of Halloween celebrations

“By and large, Canadians seem to let the holiday roll on and see it as a bit of fun. They take it lightly, which I think is the smart thing,” says Rogers.