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Halloween, pagan ritual or 'just fun for kids'

October 20, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

For children, Halloween traditionally has been a time of going door to door in costume to ask for treats, bobbing for apples and carving jack-o-lanterns.

In recent years, however, some Tri-State area schools and groups have distanced themselves from Halloween because for some the celebration conjures up darker images of devil worship and satanic cults.

Of 21 area residents interviewed Monday, only two said they had serious concerns about Halloween events.

"Halloween has always been Halloween to me," said Harriet Witherspoon, 57, of Chambersburg, Pa. She said it is her opinion the celebration doesn't have anything to do with cults or satanic rituals.

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Like Witherspoon, a majority of those interviewed Monday said concern about Halloween has gotten out of hand.

"I think it's ludicrous that people read satanic things into it," said Ed Weller, 46, of McConnellsburg, Pa.

The McConnellsburg schools his children attend have gotten away from Halloween activities such as wearing costumes and participating in tomfoolery, Weller said.

"I think they're missing a lot," he said.

"What are they going to do next, change Christmas?" asked Joyce Peck, 47, of Hagerstown.

"It's a pagan holiday to me," said Debbie Dean, of the North End. Dean said she let her children participate in the school's Halloween parade when they were little, but doesn't allow them to go trick or treating.

Lois Lewis, 32, said she takes her daughter trick or treating, but also tells her Halloween is the devil's holiday.

Lewis said she favors a decision Bester Elementary School officials made about seven years ago to replace Halloween parties with a fall festival.

Some schools hold costume parades or parties, but have rules banning weapons or costumes depicting blood or gore.

Masks are discouraged at Bester because they can make it difficult for youngsters to see where they're walking, said Assistant Principal Tim Abe.

Some community groups are historically sensitive to Halloween celebrations, said Theresa Flak, Washington County's assistant superintendent for instruction. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses exclude their children from any holiday celebrations, she said.

The latest event to fall victim to the Halloween dilemma is the Downtown Assessment District's "Halloween on the Square."

This year, organizers changed the event's name to the Harvest Hey Day Celebration for various reasons, including bad connotations associated with Halloween, said Downtown Coordinator Karen Giffin.

Several people said they wished Halloween would return to the way it was when they were children.

"I just thought it was candy and trick or treating," said Francesca Dellamea, 30, of Hagerstown's North End.

"It's the people that you cannot trust anymore," Dellamea's mother, Edda, said.

She didn't worry about their safety when she sent her children trick or treating, but these days strange things have been found in candy, said Edda Dellamea, 58.

"I think it's just fun for kids and they should keep it the way it is," said Gina McAbee, 43, of Pennsylvania Avenue.

At Pangborn Boulevard Elementary School, the PTA sponsors a Halloween party at night for students, said Kevin Demosky, president. Attendance and costume are optional.

Many kids live in neighborhoods that no longer hold trick or treat nights because of the stigma attached to Halloween, Demosky said.

"This was our way of offering trick or treating to all the students, if they don't have the opportunity, in a safe and wholesome environment," he said.

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