Why We Shouldn’t Sanitize Halloween

One mindful parent’s attempt to balance the lure of gore and guts with her children’s need to experiment safely with fear.

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We went to Wal-Mart for curtains and a rug on an ordinary autumn afternoon. On our way to the checkout, there was no bypassing the enormous Halloween display: an animatronic skeleton with a fiendish glare sat next to a wall of masks including (but not limited to) a werewolf with teeth like serrated blades and a zombie that lacked half the flesh on it’s ghoulish green face.

“Mommy! Can we get some scary Halloween stuff for the house?” My seven-year-old daughter, Opal, treated the exhibition of terror and faux-death as if it were as inviting as a row of jolly elves at Christmas time. It put her in the spirit.

The next ten minutes consisted of talking Opal down from a sign that said “beware” in what looked like the dripping blood of someone who was actively dying, to something less disturbing, like, say, a spider made of oversized pipe-cleaners. She begged for a devilish skeleton door-knocker and I talked her down to a quaint little pumpkin for the front window. She was underwhelmed.

The rack of kids’ costumes was directly across the aisle from an array of tombstones, weaponry and plastic dismembered body parts. Opal settled happily upon a…