The pumpkins are carved, the spooky decorations are swinging in the wind and the neighbourhood kids are raring to go. Excitement is at a fever pitch in the days leading up to Halloween.
One home, however, is markedly absent in its seasonal décor. Christine Lee-McNaughton, 43, knows better than to outfit her Manitoulin Island house with anything Halloween-related. The mother of one has had to put a damper on celebrating what was once her favourite time of the year because her daughter, 11, sees the event as terrifying and upsetting, and won’t have anything to do with it.
“When she was younger, she’d plan her costume a year in advance,” Lee-McNaughton told HuffPost Canada.
“She used to love it and now she’s absolutely terrified.”
WATCH: What to do when Halloween spooks your kid. Story continues below.
In recent years, Halloween’s growing popularity has made it somewhat of a “high holiday.” And, according to Statistics Canada there were close to 4 million children in the country who were of prime trick-or-treating age (five to 14) in 2017. That’s a lot of candy.
But what about the kids who, for religious, cultural, or philosophical reasons, don’t celebrate this popular tradition?
In Lee-McNaughton’s case, the decision to forgo Halloween is completely due to her daughter’s fear. Her preteen was an eager participant in the festivities until about two years ago, when she suddenly began to dread the day.
It was around this time that the family had started to attend a new church and the daughter attended Sunday school while the parents worshipped upstairs. While she can’t absolutely attribute her daughter’s change of heart about Halloween to these events, Lee-McNaughton does recognize that they may be connected.
“I’m concerned because I want to get to the root of this fear and what can we do to help her,” she said.
The reasons can be religious, cultural, and philosophical
Emily Smith’s* house is dark each Halloween. That’s because the Vancouver-based mother of two daughters, ages 11 and seven, has never celebrated the holiday – not in her kids’ lifetimes, nor in her own. The 37-year-old was not raised participating in the event.
With both her family while growing up, and her family with her husband and children now, her reasons for eschewing the yearly event are “a combination of religious, cultural, and philosophical,” said Smith, who asked for her real name not to be used to protect her childrens’ identities.
“I identify as a Christian and feel uncomfortable celebrating the Pagan history and beliefs that Halloween is based on. I personally find the idea of dressing up as devils, wicked spirits or other scary or grotesque concepts off-putting and I don’t want to do it or associate with it, as it makes me uncomfortable and frightened,” she told HuffPost Canada.
While popular culture sees Halloween as an innocuous and fun opportunity to don costumes and indulge in treats, for many, Oct. 31st is representative of darker forces.
Various religious affiliations frown upon the conjuring of evil spirits, ghosts and witches, even if doing so is done with one’s tongue firmly placed in cheek. As a result, children whose families adhere to these values are tasked with navigating a time each year when orange and black rule, and ghouls abound. It’s not an easy task.
“The closer I get to Halloween, the bigger the pit in my stomach gets. It’s hard not to dread it and have anxiety. I sometimes imagine home-schooling my kids just so I wouldn’t have to deal with it,” Smith said.
Not celebrating can affect a kids’ sense of belonging
Psychologist and author Sara Dimerman has seen the stresses that non-celebrating families encounter. “There’s a big impact on kids when they feel that they’re on the outside,” Dimerman told HuffPost Canada.
Acceptance, belonging, and being part of the group are the goals of most kids, and not participating in such an anticipated event can have a negative effect. Dimerman suggests parents consider a school environment where beliefs – either for or against particular holidays or celebrations – are shared.
“Kids want to belong. When you’re an adult you can pick and choose where you want to belong,” she said. “When you’re a child, you can’t.” For this reason she explains, children shouldn’t be placed in an environment where the values are different from what they are learning at home.
Smith can vouch for this firsthand.
“My kids often get told that they are weird and that our family is weird. That they don’t like candy, dressing up, and never have parties,” she said.
WATCH: Why one school banned Halloween. Story continues below.
It’s tough, she added, especially when she’s made a concerted effort to make her kids feel included and also to teach them to be accepting of other beliefs.
“I make sure to send class treats for them to share with their classmates on ‘just because’ days,” Smith said. “We’ve taught them to ask what their classmates are going to dress up as and to find common ground in what they also enjoy.”
And yet, in spite of her efforts, it has continued to be a challenge for both her and her children. “I never expected to be confronted and verbally attacked by so many other parents … about denying my kids and being a bad parent.”
Ironically, Halloween night has become a favourite in her family, and other neighbourhood families have joined in their non-Halloween festivities, which can include dinner and bowling. The numbers have grown over the years, she added.
Another option is staying home, lights off, hunkered down for the night.
“The kids’ favourite thing to do is just have an epic movie night in the dark with treats and fast food. They choose what we eat, and what treats and what we watch and how late we stay up,” Smith said.
Back on Manitoulin Island, Lee-McNaughton is preparing herself for the upcoming holiday that will pass as a non-event in their household. “Halloween is one of my favourite days of the year,” she said. “I’m one of those Pinterest moms who like to make cute foods so I’m kind of crushed. I’m so torn; in my daughter’s mind, this is it.”
It’s not all bleak though, as Oct. 31st instead gives her some special time with her child. While other kids are trick-or-treating, Lee-McNaughton’s daughter prefers to hang out with her parents, watch a family movie, and cuddle.
Not a bad compromise on an evening when, depending on who you ask, anything is possible.
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