Can a Kid Be Barred From Participating in Halloween?
Halloween is right around the corner. For kids, it’s a joyful time of exciting, spooky fun: Dressing up in costume, staying up late, and roaming the neighbourhood streets with friends. And most of all, trick-or-treating for big bags of candy from friendly neighbours. Most parents see it is as a harmless night of fun for their offspring.
Others, perhaps surprisingly, consider that it has objectionable religious undertones.
It stems from that fact that, according to Wikipedia, some historians believe it stems from ancient Celtic harvest festivals and may have pagan roots, while others view it as a Christianity-based holiday. This means that in some separated and divorced families, the question of whether kids should participate in Halloween can become yet another frontier of disagreement and discord.
This was the situation in an older Saskatchewan case called M.K.T. v. T.G.T., where the separated parents of two children, aged 12 and 10, were trying to resolve their parenting time differences in court.
The father wanted joint custody, with free and liberal contact with the children. The mother asked for sole custody, but agreed it was important to keep the father in the children’s lives through regular access.
However, the mother did take issue with the father’s stance on religious holidays, since she herself had newly-recommitted to her Fundamentalist Christian beliefs. These principles did not allow for the celebration of Christmas, Easter, Halloween, birthdays, or other “pagan” ceremonies. The court described the sect’s beliefs this way:
Sometime in 1998 the [mother] joined the Living Church of God (the “Church”). The Church is Christian but would not be described as mainstream, and I mean no disrespect by that observation. The Church’s holy days are only those found in the Bible. Accordingly, the conventional Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter are not recognized and considered pagan in origin. Additionally, the secular trappings of those holidays such as Christmas trees, exchanging presents, Easter eggs, chocolates and the like are rejected as manifesting a pagan ritual. The Sabbath is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The activities during the Sabbath are extremely limited. Birthdays may be acknowledged by a celebratory dinner, but may not involve the giving of presents as that is deemed an affront by the Church.
In light of her strong beliefs in the teachings of the Church, the mother wanted to control when and whether the father had access, and wanted the right to choose when that access took place. This was partly to make sure that the children did not celebrate these Christian and pagan holidays in a manner she did not approve of.
The court considered each parent’s position. On the main issue of custody the court ruled that – in light of significant differences and disagreements between the parents – joint custody was simply not workable for them. Instead, the court granted the mother sole custody.
On the issue of religious and quasi-religious celebrations, the court stuck a balance that nonetheless meant the children were to be excluded from Halloween, precisely due to its apparent pagan underpinnings.
Specifically: The father was allowed to have the children participate in his own Christian holiday celebrations only, i.e. Christmas and Easter. The court reasoned that under these circumstances it would certainly not harm the children to be exposed to mainstream Christmas and Easter celebrations that were commonly-celebrated in their community. Indeed, it would not be in their best interests to shelter the children from them. However, this was only if they were willing – the father was not allowed to “force” them to participate in his celebrations, nor was he allowed to try to dissuade the children from adopting the mother’s more fundamentalist religious beliefs. Also, if the father’s access happened to fall on one of the mother’s Church Holy Days, then he had to accommodate a switch to another day.
Halloween was another matter; the court accepted the mother’s position that it had a “pre-Christian, pagan genesis” that was untenable to her own fundamentalist beliefs. In light of the children’s ages and the mother’s firmly-held beliefs on the issue, the court ordered that the father was not to permit the children to participate in trick-or-treating.
For the full text of the decision, see:
M.K.T. v. T.G.T., 2004 SKQB 162