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Halloween spirit

Bill FoxBy Bill Fox/Columnist

Halloween or Hallowe’en, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a celebration observed in a number of countries on the last day of October.

I’m concerned about the way that Halloween has changed over the years. Halloween has now become the second highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. When I was young, it was not unheard of for children to dress up in more makeshift costumes. I remember one year I was a cowboy and another year a hockey player. For girls little angels or witches seemed to be the norm. One year, as a last resort, my parents would put a sheet over me with eyeholes so I could be a ghost. Do you think those costume choices would go down well today?

It seems to me that Halloween has changed, especially in the last 10 to 15 years. Since the beginning of October I have seen homes decorated in a fashion meant to frighten youngsters. These inflatable lawn ghosts, monsters, etc. would have been unheard of years ago. It’s fine that people want to get into the spirit of Halloween (pun intended) but where is it all going?

I remember, as a youngster of about six or seven, I watched what I would consider at the time to be a scary movie. It was about a gorilla that had escaped from a circus. For years afterwards I had nightmares about a gorilla coming into our home. Now today that dream seems so silly, yet as a child, it seemed quite possible that a gorilla could come into our home in Scarborough and kill our family.

With that in mind, I hope that youngsters today are not being horrified by some of the decorations and costumes that seem to have come onto the scene in the past several years. I remember seeing a film clip of a three to four year-old child being horrified by her older brother who had put on a scary clown mask.  Even after the mask was removed, it took some time for the child to settle down. What appeared to be an innocent prank, turned into a traumatic experience for the child. But how many children today are afraid of clowns? I guess I will have to ask a clown.

As children grow, many parents notice that their once fearless pre-schooler is suddenly afraid of the dark, frightened by thunderstorms, or convinced there are monsters (or gorillas) hiding under their bed.  Psychiatrists say that childhood fears may be especially powerful this time of year, when scary Halloween decorations, masks and costumes are everywhere.

According to experts, young children have a growing-and vivid-imagination and are often unable to differentiate between what’s real and what’s pretend. That’s why they may suddenly become fearful of objects or events that they did not seem to mind only months earlier or are very frightened by trick-or-treaters dressed up in scary costumes.

“It’s natural for children to develop childhood fears – it’s part of their normal growth and development,” says a noted psychologist. “As kids try to figure out the world around them, they are not entirely sure of what’s fantasy and what’s reality, so their imagination can create incredible things, like monsters. Halloween is also difficult for young kids to understand – why would a person do something scary on purpose? I know for adults with the best of intentions, it is only getting into the spirit of the celebration.

For children who are frightened by Halloween, experts suggest that parents offer alternative activities to distract from the scary aspects of the holiday. He suggests asking your child to help in the Halloween preparations, such as carving the pumpkin or getting the candy ready. Rather than taking a child trick-or-treating, parents may want to have a child who is especially fearful assist with handing out candy, since kids feel safer and more secure in their own home.

I hope that we all can remember that originally Halloween was for the kids and was a chance for them to pretend to be somebody or something special and different and get candy. I’m at bdfox@rogers.com if you care to comment.