RELIGION

New Jersey School Cancels, Then Reinstates Halloween Celebration Over Alleged Pagan Origins

MAPLEWOOD, N.J. (RNS) A New Jersey elementary school canceled and reinstated its Halloween celebration this week in a debate that reflects societal ambivalence about the holiday’s religious origins.

On Monday (Oct. 13), parents of students at the Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood received a note home from Principal Mark Quiles saying that the annual Halloween celebration at the school would be canceled.

“We have a very diverse school district,” district spokeswoman Suzanne Turner said. “Every year, we have students who opt out of the [Halloween celebration] and the principal felt that number was significant enough,” to discontinue the event, she said.

For years, Christian evangelicals have objected to what they see as Halloween’s pagan origins. Some churches have adopted alternative harvest celebrations, while others have constructed elaborate “Hell Houses” designed to depict the torments of hell and the promise of salvation through belief in Jesus.

But a day after canceling the in-school Halloween celebration, parents received a note home from Acting Superintendent James Memoli saying the cancelation has been reversed, and the event would take place as it has in the past.

“The issue regarding whether or not we celebrate Halloween transcends one district school, and deserves a broader discussion,” he said in the letter.

“Given how close we are to Halloween, we do not have time to engage in this District-wide discussion without disrupting plans that are already in place in other school[s].”

Turner said the district had heard from parents both supporting the decision to cancel the festivities, and disagreeing with it. The decision to reinstate this year’s event was not in response to parent complaints, she said.

Memoli said district leaders would discuss the issue in time to make a district-wide decision on in-school Halloween events before the holiday next year.

“We respect that each student and family has the right to choose whether or not to participate in the Halloween celebrations, and as always, alternate activities will be provided for students who will not be participating due to religious or other objections,” he said in the note.

The state Department of Education only offers districts guidance on days off for holidays, DOE spokesman David Saenz Jr. said.

“The list of holidays approved by the State Board of Education is a list of religious holidays that local school officials must honor if they receive requests for excused absences for individual students,” he said.

“Local officials have the option of not approving a request for a religious holiday not on the list.”

Halloween does not appear on the list.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 Symbols
    Like many religions, pagans employs certain symbols both as representations of their faith and as images and objects that con
    Wikimedia Commons
    Like many religions, pagans employs certain symbols both as representations of their faith and as images and objects that contain power in and of themselves. The pentacle is probably the most common in paganism, often depicted in art and jewelry. Some say its five points represent the four directions plus the sacred spirit.
  • 2 People
    As Harvard's <a href="http://www.pluralism.org/resources/statistics/tradition.php#Paganism" target="_blank">Pluralism Project
    Wikimedia Commons
    As Harvard's Pluralism Project notes, it is difficult to determine the number of pagan adherents around the world as estimates vary widely. The number may be anywhere between 200,000 and 1 million, or possibly more. Most pagans don't exhibit their religious identity outside of the ritual space (unless they wear clothing or jewelry depicting pagan symbols such as the pentacle.) According to The Pagan Census, modern pagans are distributed fairly even throughout the U.S., with a slight majority on either coast. Men and women of all ages, races and backgrounds practice paganism, though the census said the community tends to skew toward white, middle class women.
  • 3 Sects
    Contemporary paganism is <a href="http://www.patheos.com/Library/Pagan/Historical-Development/Schisms-Sects.html" target="_bl
    Getty Images
    Contemporary paganism is widespread and somewhat scattered, hence the difficulty counting adherents. Modern paganism does not descend from a singular ancient religion but rather many ancient indigenous and folkloric traditions, and there is no central text to refer to that can shed light on doctrine. There are, however, subtle distinctions that delineate Celtic and northern European sects, Baltic and Slavic sects, Greek and southern European sects, American neopaganism, and other groupings around the world. Some covens (organized groups of pagans) worship specific deities, such as Diana or Odin. Others practice ancient Druidism, such John Rothwell ("Arthur Pendragon") pictured, while some focus on activism, such as the Reclaiming tradition.
  • 4 Sites
    In general, pagan worship centers around earth and spirit, as opposed to specific structures imbued with sacredness (ie. a ch
    Getty Images
    In general, pagan worship centers around earth and spirit, as opposed to specific structures imbued with sacredness (ie. a church, Mecca, the Vatican, etc.) Forests, hilltops, urban warehouses and individual's homes can operate as ritual sites, especially because many pagans take measures to "create sacred space" for rituals regardless of where they are. That said, some natural or ancient sites, such as Stonehenge or Machu Picchu, may hold particular importance for some pagans.
  • 5 Triple Goddess
    The <a href="http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=KnJgevpp3DMC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=triple+goddess&ots=3V-IUtp3YH&sig=ETA-p
    Wikimedia Commons
    The triple goddess in modern paganism embodies the maiden, the mother and the crone. These three aspects are meant to encompass the full power of the goddess, reflected in the moon's cycles. The waxing moon represents the maiden; the full moon represents the mother; and the waning moon represents the crone. Pagans will often hold gatherings or do personal meditation to observe these moon phases. In addition to the goddess, some pagans worship a masculine divinity, occasionally in the form of the Horned God or the Green Man. Many also revere the natural world as divine, as well.
  • 6 Sabbats - Quarter Days
    There are <a href="http://books.google.co.za/books?id=rwzttsI9-NwC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepag
    Wikimedia Commons
    There are eight sabbats that make up the pagan "wheel of the year," though not all pagans observe all eight. Each sabbat corresponds with different seasonal events of the year. Pagans celebrate the winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice and autumn equinox (or "quarter days") to mark the deepest part of the season and the lengthening or shortening of daylight.
  • 7 Sabbats - Cross Quarter Days
    The other four sabbats, or "<a href="http://books.google.co.za/books?id=rwzttsI9-NwC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summar
    Getty Images
    The other four sabbats, or "cross quarter days," are Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. Imbolc falls in early February and celebrates the onset of springtime, encouraging the sprouting of seeds and new life. Beltane is an early summer celebration in May, often seen as a fertility festival. Lughnasadh falls in August and is the first of several harvest festivals. Samhain coincides with the western Halloween and is a holiday for paying tribute to the deceased. It is often seen as a time when the veil between this world and the afterlife is thinnest.
  • 8 Altars
    Pagans often <a href="http://books.google.co.za/books?id=44aJEQfacdoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=pagan+altars&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yhfxU
    Wikimedia Commons
    Pagans often construct altars for rituals and to keep in their homes, and these may act as offerings to specific deities or to 'the goddess' more generally. Each object holds certain meaning, such as rocks to symbolize earth, seeds to symbolize intentions and new life, bread to symbolize bounty, and so on.
  • 9 Tools
    Pagans occasionally <a href="http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=6YzI4HDTmaAC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=pagan+athame&ots=B6pBUf
    Wikimedia Commons
    Pagans occasionally employ tools in rituals and personal practice that may either function in ritual procedures (such as an athame, pictured), aid in divination (such as a pendulum), assist in cleansing (such as water or incense) or pay respects to a specific deity (such as a statuette). Other tools may include drums, candles, ribbons, cauldrons and more, depending on the specific ritual or practice for which they will be used.
  • 10 Fire
    <a href="http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=6YzI4HDTmaAC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=pagan+athame&ots=B6pBUfKGzG&sig=0MfPQjGir9f
    Wikimedia Commons
    Fire plays a prominent role in many pagan rituals and in personal practice (through candles and incense.) During some rituals pagans circle around a large fire, which is seen to hold transformative power. Fire may also be used in cleansing, divination, trance and ecstatic dancing.
  • 11 Rituals
    The anatomy of any pagan ritual will vary from group to group, but Reclaiming -- one of the best-known American pagan groups
    Wikimedia Commons
    The anatomy of any pagan ritual will vary from group to group, but Reclaiming -- one of the best-known American pagan groups -- identifies several key components. Typically rituals begin with grounding and cleansing, then move to the 'casting' of a circle. Leaders and/or participants will often invoke deities, then guide one another into trance or magic work. At the end, participants often share food and drink before closing the ritual by devoking and opening the space once again.
  • 12 Magic
    Magic in paganism and witchcraft is primarily about <a href="http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=6YzI4HDTmaAC&oi=fnd&p
    AP
    Magic in paganism and witchcraft is primarily about change and transformation. By some accounts, magic allows practitioners to remove the barriers of what they think is possible so that they can manipulate the physical or spiritual world. Most groups shun what is sometimes referred to as "black magic" and instead employ magic crafts that encourages practitioners to draw health and fortune into their lives and the lives of others. Some magical activities include chanting, trance, craft work and more elaborate manipulations of objects.
  • 13 Invoking Deities
    One of the key elements of pagan rituals and personal practice is the <a href="http://www.reclaiming.org/about/witchfaq/ritua
    Getty Images
    One of the key elements of pagan rituals and personal practice is the invocation of specific deities. The chosen deity may correspond to a certain sabbat (such as Brigid for Imbolc). The invocation is intended to invite the god or goddess to assist the ritual or so the participant may come to know the divine through embodiment.
  • 14 Pagan Leaders
    Modern pagan leaders are often hard to identify due to the dispersed nature of the faith. Individuals may be <a href="http://
    Wikimedia Commons
    Modern pagan leaders are often hard to identify due to the dispersed nature of the faith. Individuals may be trained and ordained by specific seminaries or by independent groups (such as Reclaiming). In general, pagan sects are non- or semi-hierarchical, but certain individuals may hold sway in the community due to their large followings (Such as Starhawk, pictured) or their influence through authorship.
  • 15 Marriage
    Along with legal marriage and domestic partnership, some pagans practice <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=L9mPdewmqR
    Wikimedia Commons
    Along with legal marriage and domestic partnership, some pagans practice handfasting, a ritualistic but not legal form of marriage. According to BBC, handfasting rituals are believed to predate Christianity and was certainly present by medieval times. During the ceremony, the couple will tie their wrists together with ribbons or twine to represent their union.
  • 16 Activism
    Though not a rule for pagan communities, some groups make <a href="http://www.starhawk.org/pagan/activist_spirituality.html"
    Getty Images
    Though not a rule for pagan communities, some groups make activism and community work central to their practice. Some of the causes promoted by pagan groups include environmental protection, gender and racial equality, LGBT rights and the preservation of sacred indigenous sites.
  • 17 Community
    Paganism is by no means an adults-only tradition. The 1999 <a href="http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&amp;lr=&amp;id=aQEzgn
    Wikimedia Commons
    Paganism is by no means an adults-only tradition. The 1999 Pagan Census found that just over 40% of participants reported that they had children. The growing number of children in the pagan community has lead some groups to open their rituals to families and youth, adjusting some practices that may not have been appropriate or accessible for young people.  
  • 18 Personal Practice
    The Pagan Census found in 2003 that just over 50% of respondents said they were <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=L9m
    Wikimedia Commons
    The Pagan Census found in 2003 that just over 50% of respondents said they were solitary practitioners. This means they do not belong to a coven and may not have been 'trained' by a larger spiritual organization. Solitary practitioners observe rituals and practice magic on their own, or perhaps occasionally in small groups. Even for those involved in covens, personal practice is seen as key for developing magic skills and deepening spiritual connection.
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